For International Women’s Day, ANDREA explains why the Mitting inquiry is far from fair, impartial and meaningful.
ON INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day 2019, the inquiry into undercover policing has another year under its belt.
Last year, I wrote of my growing frustration at the lack of impartiality of the chair, Sir John Mitting, and of his seemingly unfettered belief in what the police choose to tell him.
Yes, that’s the same Metropolitan Police Force whose officers spied on the Stephen Lawrence family, which was responsible for stealing dead children’s identities, which colluded in the illegal blacklisting of thousands of construction workers and which was allowed to deceptively enter long-term intimate relationships with women who believed them to be activists. Highly trained liars, yet Mitting accepts their false word at face value.
The public inquiry was set up by then home secretary Theresa May to investigate the (mis)conduct of undercover police officers in England and Wales.
We now know that 250 officers spied on more than 1,000 political groups since 1968. These undercover spies often formed relationships with women as part of their “tradecraft,” concealing their true identities with the help of state-produced fake ID such as driving licences and passports.
At least 20 of the undercover officers deployed in political groups between the mid-70s and 2010 are known to have had sexual relationships, some lasting for many years (I lived with Special Demonstration Squad officer “Carlo Neri” for two years, in the belief that he was a locksmith and left-wing activist).
With anonymity decisions running at 75 per cent for the National Public Order Intelligence Unit and 33 per cent for the Special Demonstration Squad, it has become even more apparent that the chair holds the rights of perpetrators in higher regard than the rights of victims.
He clearly sees the officers’ human rights as sacrosanct, withholding the names of the spycops who invaded our homes, our families and our intimate lives.
In the last year, two new women have made the devastating discovery that they too were deceived into relationships by undercover police spies.
“Sara” and “Ellie” both had long-term relationships with “James Straven.”
Straven initially told the inquiry he had no sexual relationships while undercover and signed a statement to that effect, seeking total anonymity.
He was later forced to admit to being in both relationships while infiltrating animal rights groups between 1997 and 2002.
How does Mitting continue to work on the basis of listening to the police first and engaging with victims as an afterthought?
Straven is just one in a long line of paid liars who can’t be trusted with a grain of truth let alone full and frank disclosure. Yet these men who abused us are given access to our files before we see a shred of evidence. How can this represent a fair, impartial, meaningful inquiry?
I wrote last year of the issue of officers’ real names and how the responsibility for whether to share with fellow activists and/or put names into the public domain causes considerable distress to those of us affected.
This intolerable situation continues, with more women being given the name of the officer privately, but yet it is not being published by the inquiry.
In my own case, Carlo Neri was granted a restriction order (to protect his family, not him, we are told) and those of us affected were informed it was a “moral decision” as to whether we chose to publish the name. Highly insensitive and absolutely compounding the trauma of our discovery that he was a police spy.
We are told that real names will be made public at the evidential stage (though not Neri or Marco Jacobs, whose name has never been disclosed).
The inquiry is running years behind due to deliberate obstruction by the police and the chair has now delayed the start of evidence hearings until 2020.
The inquiry should have concluded in 2018; it is now due to report in 2024.
The British Establishment continues to cover up this scandal, through a strategy of delays and institutional dishonesty.
We have asked time and again — given that sex, race and class discrimination are at the very heart of this scandal — is Mitting really the man for the job?
Not only is he a member of the Garrick Club, an archaic men-only institution, we are disturbed to learn of decisions he has handed down as a high court judge.
Take the case of Nicola Stocker, which is currently under appeal. Mitting ruled in favour of her ex-husband’s defamation claim against her.
Nicola posted on social media that Ronald Stocker had “tried to strangle” her. Mitting determined that “tried to strangle” implied an attempt to kill by strangulation.
He found that Ronald Stocker “did in temper attempt to silence her forcibly by placing one hand on her mouth and the other on her upper neck under her chin to hold her head still.” However, as “his intention was to silence, not to kill” he ruled that her comment was libellous.
This demonstrates a jaw-dropping lack of understanding of violence against women. Where does that leave us, when at the very core of our experience there is systematic, misogynistic abuse?
Our fight for truth and justice continues outside of the inquiry. One of the original eight women, Kate Wilson, has now taken her case to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.
Wilson wants to know the truth about how she was deceived and which senior officers knew about it.
Wilson, her lawyers and our group have long argued that sexual relationships were known about and signed off by managers.
Deceiving women into long-term intimate relationships was part of the job description.
We often hear about failures of management and lack of oversight, but we know that it is this very structure and the individuals in charge who must be scrutinised and held to account.
In Wilson’s case, the Met tried to close down an order to disclose more documents, arguing it would “waste taxpayers’ money.”
They know they are sitting precariously on top of a massive anti-democratic scandal. Lofty perhaps, but not invulnerable. A few more shakes and the house of cards might well fall. Until the truth is uncovered, our campaign is far from over.