Fighting police secrecy: recent developments (alongside this case)

Today we announced that the next hearing in this case will take place in mid-March. Alongside this case, here is a round-up of other developments in the struggle for justice and accountability over undercover policing – and how they link to this legal action:

– This Monday 27 January, in Southwark Crown Court, John Jordan, The Guardian, the BBC and the Press Association will be “challenging a decision by prosecutors to hush up a miscarriage of justice”. John Jordan’s conviction was quashed when it was revealed Boyling (who one of the officers involved in this case had given ‘evidence’ without revealing his true identity. Rob Evans of The Guardian reports: “Jordan will be seeking to compel prosecutors to tell him why his conviction was unsafe, with the help of his barrister, Matthew Ryder. The three media organisations will also argue that there is a very strong public interest in disclosing to the public the confidential reasons behind the quashing of the conviction.” Read more here.

– Individuals, organisations and lawyers affected by undercover policing or representing those who have been affected (including the women involved in this case and their solicitors), have joined voices to express their lack of confidence in Operation Herne (the police inquiry into the operations of the Special Demonstration Squad), and to call for a full public inquiry. A public meeting is to be held in London in February. Read more here and at Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS).

– Peter Francis, the whistleblower former undercover officer (who has given support to women in this case), has not been offered protection by Operation Herne, and instead is being threatened with legal action under the Official Secrets Act. Channel 4, who aired a documentary with Francis’ testimony is facing legal action demanding that it hand over tapes to Operation Herne – even though Herne is supposed to be investigating the police operations themselves, not those who are trying to bring the issues to light. Read more here.

– This week, the Drax protesters had their convictions quashed, yet even here police tried the patience of the courts over their secrecy. Lord Chief Justice Thomas said “When a court is asked to overturn convictions in a case of potential police misconduct, it is not satisfactory that the police should decide which sections of documents to redact and which to make public. That should be a decision for the courts not the police.” These concerns echo those of the women taking this legal action, as their upcoming hearing will be a bid by the police to keep documents secret.

All of the above developments underline growing concern over lack of progress for accountability, justice and openness.

The women involved in this case concluded last August that they could not co-operate with Operation Herne, due to the police’s ongoing insistence on their Neither Confirm Nor Deny (NCND) policy. This legal action has faced attempt after attempt to have the case thrown out or heard in secret [link to the case so far], and this March they face a fresh battle, as police lawyers attempt to have their common law claims struck out – again, over NCND.

We urge all our supporters to do what you can [link to Act Now] to show support for this case and for the other actions for accountability and justice. The battle goes on.

To keep updated about developments in this case, please follow us on facebook, twitter, and/or sign up to our supporters email list (see top right of this website). If you are a journalist or blogger, send an email request to be added to the press list: contact#@#policespiesoutoflives.org.uk (remove hashtags which are there to prevent spam)

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Whistleblower and Channel 4 threatened by police

The Guardian newspaper reported this week (on Monday 13 January 2014) that Senior Police are trying to force Channel 4 to hand over documents and unseen footage arising from their interviews with Peter Francis, a former undercover officer who turned whistleblower.

The police say that they need the material as they are investigating whether a breach of the Official Secrets Act and other offences have taken place.  Last week police lawyers said they were seeking a court order to compel Channel 4 to hand over “all written and electronic correspondence with Mr Francis together with any notes and all unedited video footage.”

Peter Francis featured in a Dispatches documentary The Police’s Dirty Secret, broadcast in June 2013. The documentary included his meeting with Helen Steel and Belinda Harvey, two of the claimants in this case, where they discussed the activities of the unit and the use of undercover relationships.  During the programme he also made shocking revelations about police spying on the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.

It is a scandal that rather than taking action to prevent future police abuse of campaigners, the police are instead seeking to cover up the actions of the unit.  Their demands for documents and other material from Channel 4 are in stark contrast to the police refusal to disclose any documents at all in the case brought by the eight women.

Francis has offered to assist the women in their claim against the police and has already provided a statement to help them in challenging the police’s so-called “Neither Confirm Nor Deny” (NCND) policy.  The police threat to use the Official Secrets Act and failure to offer protection to whistleblowers raises serious concerns that the police are seeking to undermine this case and prevent the whole truth from emerging.

In this week’s Guardian report, Francis responded to the latest police pressure, saying: “The threat of prosecution is designed not only to keep me quiet but also all the other hundred or so former undercover officers from ever speaking out. It saddens me but does not surprise me that the police don’t like their dirty undercover secret being revealed to the public. They should investigate the allegations properly.”

The women who are bringing this case, and their many supporters, agree. We are calling for the past to be thoroughly and openly investigated, and for action and change to prevent these human rights abuses from ever happening again, including stronger support for whistle-blowers (see our statement Where We Stand).

On all counts, this latest police action is a step in the wrong direction. By threatening those who speak out, how can Operation Herne hope to build trust that it is genuinely investigating serious human rights abuses by undercover units?  On the contrary; it seems as though they are more interested in protecting police operations than in investigating them – and more interested in protecting the police than the public.

We extend our solidarity to Peter Francis, and strongly hope that neither he nor other officers will be deterred from coming forward as witnesses against illegal and immoral abuses perpetrated by the police.

The Guardian Monday 13 January 2014: Police demand notes from Channel 4 on Lawrence spying whistleblower

UPDATE: Further developments also reported here.

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Dispatches Documentary

Last night’s Dispatches documentary, entitled The Police’s Dirty Secret is now available on 4oD (Channel 4 on Demand). UPDATE: The documentary is no longer available to view on 4oD. An introduction may be found here and a clip may be viewed here.

In the documentary, Helen and Belinda speak openly for the first time about their experiences, in the hope of increasing public understanding of the nature and effects of the police abuse. Alongside six other women taking legal action against the police, they seek to highlight and prevent the continuation of psychological, emotional and sexual abuse of campaigners and others by undercover police officers.

On Friday they and their fellow claimants issued a statement – Where We Stand – calling for, among other things, “the past to be thoroughly and openly investigated, so that the damage may be acknowledged, those responsible may be held to account, and that as a society we may come to terms with what has happened, heal the wounds that have been inflicted and be confident that the practice has ceased.”

Amid further revelations arising from investigations into undercover policing, the claimants and their support group “extend our solidarity and sympathy to all those affected, and to all those coming to terms with systematic abuse by the police.”

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