“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?
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.