Release the cover names

Being hit by the news that your friend, lover or comrade was an undercover  officer can be shattering, yet it is through this news that the spycops scandal broke and we have become aware of the appalling abuses committed by these officers and the units behind them.

19 undercover officers have been identified so far but it is thought there have been over 200 operating since the SDS was set up. Each officer had a name they used while undercover, and it is these  we are demanding that the Inquiry release,  so that the people  affected can give their evidence to the Inquiry, and the true extent of  this scandal is exposed.  The  Inquiry has released confirmed the names of a handful of officers so  far, but these were all ones already identified by campaigners.

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Why must the cover names be released?

“The  five years that have passed since the exposure of the first undercover  officers have seen an avalanche of revelations about the abusive and  sometimes illegal activities of Britain’s secret police; and this  information, uncovered by activists, journalists and whistleblowers, is  just the tip of the iceberg. Around 200 undercover officers are known to  have been used to infiltrate political movements in Britain since 1968,  affecting potentially thousands of groups and individuals who have no  idea that their companions, friends, partners, or even fathers were, in  fact, police spies.

The  lessons from Germany during the fall of the GDR are clear: legal  processes, courts, and government inquiries alone cannot be trusted to  uncover the truth. It took direct action and pressure from the  grassroots to forcibly expose the abuses of the Stasi. Today…. we  remember the bravery and conviction of the people of the GDR; and to the  police and the Pitchford inquiry we have this message: enough is  enough, it is time to release the cover names and open the files.” Statement made by eight women suing the police over relationships with undercover officers.

In a letter  to Lord Pitchford, 133 non police, non state core participants explained that in  order to be successful, the Undercover Policing Inquiry must release a  list of names of all the organisations about whom intelligence was  gathered and the cover names (not the real identities) of the  individual officers responsible for infiltrating and reporting on  activists and campaigns. Without  this basic information, it is impossible for the Inquiry to have a full  picture of undercover policing.

The only people currently able to  contribute to the Inquiry are those that who have already themselves  researched and revealed the existence of undercover officers, or those  who have been informed by the media they had been subject to covert  surveillance. This  means the overwhelming majority of individuals and organisations  targeted since 1968 have had no opportunity to consider the possible  consequences of the actions of undercover officers and cannot currently  participate in the Inquiry.  By  their own admission, police records were patchy and much of what was  documented has subsequently been lost or destroyed.

Even without the  resistance to genuine openness and transparency we are experiencing, it  is plain the police alone cannot provide an adequate narrative of their  actions. The only way to discover a true picture of the impact of their  undercover operations is to hear the testimony of those about whom  intelligence has been gathered.

The process for their release
Though  it is a public inquiry, Pitchford has power to restrict attendance at  hearings and the release of some evidence. These are known as  ‘Restriction Orders’ and applying for restriction orders on cover names  are how the Police are trying to keep them secret. Pitchford made a ruling on the approach he would take to restriction orders and anonymity  (see progress briefing 1). His ruling was tentatively promising, recognising the chilling effect not releasing cover names would have on the Inquiry, however he plans to undergo a balancing  exercise for each application for a restriction order he receives from  the Police.

In  January, Pitchford set out a timetable for restriction order anonymity  applications, but it has experienced significant delay and they many are not expected to be dealt with until 2018. The police seem to be deliberately delaying the process. It is expected that the police will apply for restriction orders for almost all the officers and many backoffice staff and supervising officers as a way to delay the proceedings. The police will claim that there is a risk that officers will be harmed if their cover names are released, but there is no evidence of that, with nearly twenty officers having had their cover names exposed by activists.

What you can do?

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