“More consistency needed” – women respond to College of Policing’s comments re new training programme

Eight women taking legal action against police after being duped into long-term intimate relationships with undercover police officers say they can only give a cautious welcome to comments by Alex Marshall of the College of Policing , in which he declared that a “new training programme” would “explicitly” state “that sexual activity while undercover is not allowed”. The women say more consistency is needed, and that those affected by a 25-year pattern of abuse are still facing an unnecessarily bitter fight for justice.

They point out that Mr Marshall’s comments to the Home Affairs Select Committee represent just one of many contradictory statements from police sources. Bernard Hogan-Howe said last week that superior officers would “not condemn” past sexual conduct. Two weeks ago police lawyers claimed in court that parliament must have intended that sexual conduct by undercover officers could be authorised – a claim disputed by the women’s legal team.

Since June the women have been calling for ‘a clear and unambiguous statement that the abuse has ceased, and will never, in any circumstances, be permitted’; and ‘action and change to prevent these human rights abuses from ever happening again’. They say Mr Marshall’s statement about a new training programme represents just a small step.

A spokesperson on behalf of the support group for the legal action said: “It’s a welcome step but we must be cautious. We’re still not getting the consistency and action that the public is owed. We are talking about deep abuse of people’s lives, the violation of their human rights, that we know has taken place over the last 25 years. The abuses indicate a profound level of institutional sexism, and also institutional prejudice against members of the public who engage campaigning for social and environmental justice.

“There are still many questions which need answers: When does the new training start? What’s happening in the meantime? What about past transgressions? Are any officers facing disciplinary action – or are their superiors taking Hogan-Howe’s stance? Is there any protection for whistle-blowers? Will the police change their legal tactics – or are they going to continue to make their victims have to fight for justice?”

Additional links:

– A selection of contradictory police statements (part of HASC evidence February 2013)

Where We Stand – statement from the women and their supporters

Police Spies Out Of Lives – support group for women’s legal action


Why police justifications miss the point

“This is not about a need to do it. It is about a desire to do it. They have the power and they think they can get away with it.”

As the police continue their pursuit of secrecy for human rights abuse claims against them, so-called ‘terrorism’ is used to justify their actions, and commanders defend the ‘bravery’ of their police officers. But as three of the women argued earlier this year, in oral testimony to the Home Affairs Select Committee, searching for justifications misses the point. Here are extracts from the questions and testimony.

Q23 Mr Winnick: None of us would like to go through the experience that the three of you have gone through. … but to be the devil’s advocate … the police would argue that there are occasions, not only with terrorism but in other groups, where there is the possibility … of violence, and that in those circumstances they have a right to protect the public by putting in an undercover agent. Would you accept that, or would you-

Clare: I do not think there is any justification for having sex and intimate relationships with people.

Q24 Mr Winnick: I am coming to that in a moment. Before we come to the sexual aspect – and there is no reason why you should say yes – do you accept there are certain circumstances, terrorism obviously, where violence could be inflicted and the police may well be wrong and exaggerating? I would not put it beyond that.

Lisa: We were not involved in terrorist groups. There was no justification for somebody….

Mr Winnick: As far as you are concerned, yes.

Lisa: ….coming to my father’s funeral with me. There was no justification for putting an undercover cop into my family’s life.

Q25 Mr Winnick: Would it be right to say that as far as your three groups are concerned there was no possibility of violence at any stage? Would that be right?

Clare: Can I just say that one of the things that I found very, very distressing about what has happened since this has come to light and come out on the public arena is the number of people who are trying to justify it by making comments about, “Oh we have to prevent terrorism”, or things like that? There was an interesting interview with Peter Bleksley, who was an undercover policeman, on Radio 5 a couple of months ago. He said that he had slept with a target in his investigations. He mentioned on the radio that she was a very attractive woman, and the radio presenter said, “Would you have slept with this person if it had been a man?” and he said, “No, I’m not gay.” I think that answers the question. This is not about a need to do it. It is about a desire to do it. They have the power and they think they can get away with it. That is what it is about. It is deeply distressing, and I do not think it should be allowed in any circumstances. It is so intrusive into people’s lives, and, as my friends have said, it turns your life upside down. Everything that you thought you knew suddenly becomes unreal; everything changes. You do not know who you can trust any more. It destroys everything.

Later on in the proceedings:

Q32 Bridget Phillipson: The wider debate is always, as you talked about, about the generalities – “It is important that we have this in order to target terrorists or others” – but in your cases it is hard to understand why you were used in that way.

Clare: I do not see how having sex or intimate relationships would ever prevent anything, to be honest, because either you know something is going to happen, in which case you can investigate it, or you are doing it on a speculation and anybody could end up trapped in your web. The other thing about it is that we are supposed to have a legal system in this country where you are innocent until proven guilty and that you get a fair trial. What happens with police officers going in and having relationships with people is that they act as the judge, the jury and the person who sentences. They can do what they like to you. There is no oversight. You do not get a trial. It is really quite offensive to suggest that someone could deserve this just on the basis of what they may or may not be involved with.

And later on again:

Q39 Mr Clappison: I think mine is perhaps more of a reflection of how you are affected. It is impossible to hear you speak without feeling very sorry for what you have gone through. Also, as a layman looking at it in the round and putting aside any political views, the whole thing sounds surreal and crazy, to be quite honest. Do you think there was anything at all that you were involved in – you may have had views and activities – that justified what took place?

Alison: No.

Lisa: I do not think there can be a justification.

Alison: We had the argument right at the beginning among ourselves about whether there was ever a case, and the two examples that completely swayed me to believe that there was never a time when it was okay were: would you task an officer with raping a child to infiltrate a paedophile ring, and would you task an officer with raping a woman to infiltrate a human trafficking ring? Maybe they do, but it doesn’t seem right to me.

Clare: I agree. I do not think there are any circumstances in which it can be justified. I think the other thing is there has been talk about damage and things like that. There is probably more damage and violence that happens on a regular basis on a Friday night in town centres when people get drunk, but there is not a proposal to infiltrate every pub in the country on the off-chance that you are going to be able to prevent violence and damage. This is about political policing and trying to interfere with what is actually a recognised right to freedom of association and freedom of expression.

Extracts are from transcripts of oral evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee during their enquiry into undercover policing, February 2013. The full evidence can be read here, and the Committee’s Interim Report can be read in full here.

Not long after giving evidence, the women issued a statement concluding “There are no circumstances in which it would be acceptable for an undercover police officer to engage in intimate relationships with either targets or members of the public under the guise of their undercover identity.”  They invite supporters of this statement to stand with them.


“I’ve yet to see the Bond film where…”


One of the eight women in this case recently described her reaction to hearing Judge Tugendhat’s “James Bond” reference. Below is an extract from Alison’s written submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee. ‘Alison’ is a pseudonym.

I lived with the man I knew as Mark Cassidy for five years; I believed he was a joiner from Birkenhead. He fitted a new kitchen in our home before he disappeared in Spring 2000; it took him a long time and he struggled with the router. That, I realised some time later, was because he wasn’t a joiner but a police officer working undercover for the Metropolitan Police Special Demonstration Squad.

Without evidence to the contrary, I had chosen to believe that Mark cared about me and that when he told me he loved me that he meant it. To choose otherwise, I felt was unnecessarily self-destructive. Since discovering more recently that in his true identity Mark apparently had a wife and children, I have had to review my earlier perception of our relationship, and the pattern that has emerged from talking to the other claimants whose partners disappeared in similar ways has made me question again the extent to which any of our relationship was real. Our ‘Dear John’ letters for example are unnervingly similar.

Falling in love with the enemy is a cliché spy story that has been told many times. When it becomes your own personal history, it’s a narrative that sits awkwardly and is very difficult to explain. Hearing Judge Tugendhat cite James Bond in his recent judgment, referenced again by Michael Ellis MP at the Committee meeting [of the Home Affairs Select Committee], makes me wonder the extent to which our experiences have been fully understood. I have yet to see a Bond film where 007 moves in with his target for five years, tends the garden and attends relationship counselling! If parliamentarians really did have Fleming’s Bond in mind when drafting RIPA, as suggested by Judge Tugendhat, the playboy lifestyle portrayed in the films was a very far cry from the domestic life of Mark Cassidy.

Being hurt and betrayed by a dishonest lover is painful enough. To discover that your lover was lying about his very identity and was in your life because his employer – the police – positioned him there to gather information on you and your friends places the experience in a different dimension.

This extract comes from Alison’s written submission to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, as part of the committee’s enquiry into undercover policing.

If you quote any of the above account, for articles, blogs, or academic research, please let us know. Please respect that while these words appear in the public domain, they belong to people who have had their private lives profoundly abused. Thank you.


Women outraged by Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s comments to Home Affairs Select Committee

For the eight women taking out legal action against the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, Hogan-Howe’s comments to the Home Affairs Select Committee on 27 November in which he states it is ‘almost inevitable’ that undercover officers will have sex with those they target is both outrageous and alarming. Although claiming not to condone such behaviour as acceptable ‘strategy’, he made no effort to express remorse for the actions of his officers, which have caused serious psychological damage to the women concerned, nor to show compassion for the devastating experiences of the women. The suggestion that ‘boys will be boys’ and are incapable of acting with self restraint towards women in political movements shows institutionally sexist attitudes are prevalent at the very highest levels of the Metropolitan police. Instead Hogan-Howe should be sending a message to his officers that such conduct is not acceptable in any circumstances.

The commissioner’s comments contrast sharply with comments made by the ACPO lead on serious organised crime, Chief Constable Jon Murphy, commented in respect of sexual relationships, last year “It is never acceptable for an undercover officer to behave in that way… It is grossly unprofessional. It is a diversion from what they are there to do. It is morally wrong because people have been put there to do a particular task and people have got trust in them. It is never acceptable under any circumstances … for them to engage in sex with any subject they come into contact with.

For further information, contact Harriet Wistrich at hw@birnbergpeirce.co.uk or 0207 911 0166.


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