Recent media coverage

As we announced yesterday, the women and their legal team are examining the two reports that were released yesterday, and the announcement of a public inquiry. In the meantime here is a select list of media articles on the events…..

BBC Newsnight 6/3/14 (available for 7 days from broadcast date)

BBC – “Undercover police – what have we learned?”

BBC – “Stephen Lawrence police ‘spy’ prompts public inquiry”

BBC – “Police spying and corruption at heart of Lawrence case

Bristling Badger Blog : “What kind of public inquiry?”

The Guardian – “Undercover police could face criminal charges over relationships with activists”

The Guardian – “How the scandal of Scotland Yard’s secret spy unit emerged”

The Guardian – “Scotland Yard undercover unit condemned in home secretary’s report

We would urge supporters of this case to use the lens of the Where We Stand statement when scrutinising reports.

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Today’s news #2 – Herne report

In the second big news of the day, Operation Herne’s second report was published. This is the police investigation headed by Mick Creedon (the report is therefore has been referred to as the Creedon report).

This report includes the issue of undercover officers engaging in relationships.

The women and the legal team for this case will be reading this report closely and will comment once they have reviewed its contents.

At the same time, they are preparing to face the police’s application to ‘strike out‘ their legal claims (at a court hearing later this month), as the police say that their own Neither Confirm Nor Deny “policy” stops them from answering claims in court. The women are having to fight battle after battle to get justice for the gross violations of their human rights.

The women’s position has been set out clearly in their statement Where We Stand, in which they assert that there are no circumstances in which relationships should take place, and that the practice shows institutional sexism and institutional prejudice against members of the public engaged in creating social and environmental justice.

We urge supporters of this case to use the lens of the Where We Stand statement when scrutinising all of today’s announcements.

The Guardian – today’s live blog introduced the Herne report at 3.27pm onwards, plus here’s their report on the Herne report.

The Herne Report (also referred to as the Creedon report) is here.

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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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Joint statement: No faith in Herne; call for full public inquiry

This last autumn the women who are bringing this case, and their solicitors, met with other individuals, organisations and lawyers affected by undercover police operations. A statement (see below) below was issued as a result.

In the statement, the signatories – including those involved in this case – emphasise that they have “no faith in Operation Herne” (the official police inquiry into the activities of the Special Demonstration Squad) “nor any of the often secret, internal police or prosecutor reviews” and call for an “independent public inquiry” which “must have full powers to compel police officers to give evidence”.

There is now a website: Campaign Opposing Police Surveilance (COPS) and a corresponding facebook page.

Here is the statement in full:

We the undersigned are a mixture of individuals, organisations and lawyers affected by undercover police operations or representing people who believe that they have been the targets of undercover policing

In June this year the public reacted with shock and outrage to revelations that undercover police surveillance was used against members of Stephen Lawrence’s family, to find “dirt” that could discredit them.

This is yet another revelation about the nature and extent of secret policing in Britain, showing decades long spying on and interference with political movements and campaigns.  In addition to efforts to spy upon or smear people such as the Lawrence family who have lost loved ones, particular disgust has been expressed at the gross intrusion of undercover officers forming intimate sexual relationships with some of those upon whom they were spying; at the use of the identities of dead children to obtain cover; and at police links with the blacklisting of trade union members.  It has also become apparent that many criminal convictions have been rendered unsafe as a result of misconduct by the police and prosecutors.

We have no faith in Operation Herne nor any of the up to 16 often secret, internal police or prosecutor reviews. They are not sufficiently transparent, robust or independent to satisfy public concern and they do not come close to addressing all of the issues raised.

The public is entitled to know what has been going on in their name and paid for by their taxes.  We therefore call for an independent public inquiry into all the revelations that undercover policing has been used against political protest and campaigns. This inquiry must have full powers to compel police officers to give evidence.  Such political policing has no place in a democratic society and a mechanism must be found to ensure that such unjustified conduct does not continue into the future.

Tamsin Allen, Mike Schwarz, Bindmans Solicitors
Lois Austin
Raju Bhatt, Bhatt Murphy Solicitors
Blacklist Support Group
Ruth Bundey, Harrison Bundey Solicitors
Jules Carey, Marian Ellingworth, Tuckers Solicitors
Louise Christian, Christian Khan Solicitors
Deborah Coles and Helen Shaw, Co-Directors INQUEST
Liz Davies, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
Claire Dissington, Anti Nazi League
Estelle du Boulay, Director, Newham Monitoring Project
Suresh Grover, The Monitoring Group
Imran Khan, Imran Khan & Partners Solicitors
Anna Mazzola, Consultant Solicitor, Bindmans Solicitors
Frank Smith, blacklisted trade unionist
The Socialist Party
Michelle Stanistreet, General Secretary, National Union of Journalists
Harriet Wistrich, Birnberg Peirce Solicitors, Belinda Harvey, Helen Steel & 6 others in legal action against undercover relationships
Youth Against Racism in Europe

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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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