ABUSE OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Undercover officers having intimate and sexual relationships with members of public they are targeting is an abuse of their human rights. It is degrading treatment, that interferes with their private and family life, and their rights to freedom of expression and association. Another serious issue is the abuse of the human rights of the friends and families of targets, which is considered by police to be ‘collateral intrusion’ (see below), and which perversely seems to appears to require less rigorous tests to authorise than intrusion into the lives of “suspects”
“I acknowledge that these relationships were a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma.” – Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt, the Metropolitan Police.
TAKING THE POLICE TO COURT
Alongside the people affected’s common law claims, some of the women are bringing claims under the Human Rights Act. Although all of the people affected had their human rights breached by what happened, only some of them are able to make claims under UK law. This is because the European Convention on Human Rights wasn’t incorporated into UK law until 2000, when the Human Rights Act was introduced. So only the people whose lives were disrupted after 2000 are able to bring claims under that law.
The law that oversees undercover officers is The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). Unfortunately, anything authorised under RIPA, can only be challenged in the usually very secret court – the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. When this court gives its judgement, it does not have to give any reasoning. The fact the RIPA could authorise these relationships was challenged by the eight women case, but unfortunately the challenge was lost.
KATE WILSON’S HUMAN RIGHTS CASE
This is one of the most important current spycops court cases currently being fought. It is a Human Rights case that could result in the laws around relationships by undercover police being changed. Kate Wilson who is bringing the case was deceived into a long-term, intimate relationship with an undercover police officer, Mark Kennedy (MK). She is now taking a case to the Investigatory Power’s Tribunal (IPT), claiming that the police violated her Human Rights under Articles 3, 8, 10, 11 and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Further explanations of the IPT and the RIPA laws governing HRA claims is here.
The case has not yet come to trial. The police initially unsuccessfully applied for many parts of her claim to be struck out. In their subsequent written defence, the Metropolitan Police have already made significant admissions, including admitting abuse of Articles 3, 8, 10 & 11 of the European Court of Human Rights, and that Mark Kennedy’s managers knew about the relationship. However, there is still much still to fight for. They argue against many of her important contentions including the examining how far up the command chain knowledge of this abuse went.
To understand more about what the police have admitted, and what they are contesting go here.
Kate was one of eight women to have won a historic apology from the Metropolitan Police over their relationships with undercover police. If successful, this HRA case will finally give clarity that sexual relationships between undercover officers and members of the public under any circumstances are unlawful. Kate’s claim also questions the legitimacy of such political policing in a democratic society, and the legality of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) that is used to authorise such operations.
- January 2016, the police withdrew their defence against Kate Wilson asking for the judgment to be entered against them in respect of the claims for deceit, assault/battery, misfeasance in public office and negligence.
- June 2017: Police seek to avoid accountability in human rights case about abusive relationships by undercover officers
- September 2018: Police admit managers supported serious human rights abuses, but try to obstruct court from learning more
EUROPEAN CONVENTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
This is an international treaty to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe. It was incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998. It’s first 18 articles spell out people’s main rights and freedoms.
An important point to remember: while the European Convention hadn’t been incorporated into UK law until 2000, the UK has been a signatory to it since 1950. The people whose lives were abused before 2000 still had those legal rights, it’s just that UK courts won’t hear claims based on events before that date. Claims can be taken to the European Court, but not until all other UK remedies – right up to the supreme court – have been exhausted.
Article 3 prohibits “inhuman or degrading treatment”
“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.” Helen Steel
“I have experienced the psychological damage that these operations can cause. It is deep and it is long lasting, and I think that the intrusiveness and the psychological violence that is inherent in these tactics, and not just the sexual relationships, but the intimacy, the abuse of trust, which is completely inherent to any undercover policing operation could be seriously underestimated by anyone who has not been subjected to that tactic.” Kate Wilson
Article 3 is an absolute human right – it is not possible to authorise someone to violate Article 3 under any circumstances.
In their apology, the Police admitted the relationships were a “gross violation of personal dignity and integrity,” and said officers “preyed on the women’s good nature and had manipulated their emotions to a gratuitous extent.”
These relationships caused serious long-term harm and psychological trauma to the victims and others close to them. This, and the nature of the deception involved, mean they were a violations of Article 3. If this is upheld in court, a change in the law around the authorisation of intimate relationships by undercover officers might be forced.
“What happened to us has been akin to psychological torture” ‘Lisa’
Article 8 provides a right to respect for one’s “private and family life.
“I have been abused in by an undercover police officer who was sent into my life, into my home, into my parents’ home, and into my bed by the Metropolitan Police.” Kate Wilson
“I met him when I was 29, and he disappeared about three months before I was 35. It was the time when I wanted to have children” ‘Alison’
Intimate and sexual relationships by undercover officers concealing their real identity from the other person/s in the relationship/s represent a clear violation of the right to respect for private and family life. These relationships involved intrusion into people’s families, with some officers attending family funerals, and helping women through the grieving process. In their Apology, the Met Police admitted it was a “gross violation” of the women’s privacy.
Article 10 provides the right to freedom of expression, & Article 11 protects the right to freedom of assembly and association.
“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.” Helen Steel
“It has had a massive impact on my political activity…I suspected within about a month of his disappearance, and after about 18 months of different searches I came to believe it… I withdrew from political activity.” Alison
“I have been the subject of systematic surveillance and violations of my intimacy, my right to privacy, and my bodily integrity, for at least the last 18 years by police forces that are cooperating across European borders. Put simply it is a story of human rights abuse and persecution by secret political police because of my beliefs and political activities…..” Kate Wilson
Women have been targeted because of their participation in social justice campaigns. Intimate and sexual relationships have been used as a tactic to infiltrate campaigning and political organisatons. These relationships resulted in real psychological harm, violating the right to freedom of expression, and the right to freedom of assembly and association.
Any “like-minded activist” was considered a valid target for infiltration, and further authorisation was not sought for their inclusion into the operation, regardless of their relevance to any investigation. This approach is clearly interferes with the right to freedom of expression, and the right to freedom of assembly and association.
Article 14 contains a prohibition of discrimination including that based on sex, with respect to rights under the convention.
Undercover officers having sexual relationships with female activists plainly has a discriminatory effect on women being able to exercise their human rights under Articles 3, 8, 10 and 11.
“This highlights the sexist mind-set that thought that it was acceptable for the police to abuse women, and derail our lives in order to shore up the fake identities of these undercover policemen so they could undermine political movements and campaign groups.” Helen Steel
Qualified Human rights
Article 8, 10, 11, &14 rights are qualified rights, but interference is permissible only if there is a legal basis; the interference is necessary in a democratic society; or the interference is proportionate to what is sought to be achieved by carrying it out.
There is nothing in law which states that if a police officer suspects an individual of involvement with a political movement, that officer is entitled to have a sexual relationship with the person to try to find out. Sexual and intimate relationships cannot be said to be necessary – there are a multitude of reasons why any individual might decline to become intimate with another person. Given the level of invasion of privacy and the serious psychological harm caused by such relationships they cannot be thought of as proportionate for getting information on political campaign groups.
COLLATERAL INTRUSION & HUMAN RIGHTS
“He is in my mother’s wedding photograph, and I and my current partner have to see him in that.” Alison
“There is no justification for somebody coming to my father’s funeral with me. There was no justification for putting an undercover cop into my family’s life.” ‘Lisa’
Intrusion into the lives of people associated with the targets of the undercover officers is termed by the police ‘Collateral Intrusion.’ Perversely, its authorisation appears to require less rigorous tests than intrusion into the lives of “suspects”
The depth of the intrusion into the claimants’ lives also meant a deep intrusion into the lives of family members and close friends. For example, undercover police officers “infiltrated” deeply emotional family gatherings such as funerals, weddings and birthday celebrations. The psychological harm inflicted, not only on the claimants, but on close members of our family (including infirm, elderly relatives) cannot be justified.
Collateral Intrusion is, it seems, a euphemism for violating the fundamental human rights of people who are not even the specific subjects of surveillance, without any real consideration of the psychological damage that such deep deceptions might cause. In the same way that it is not considered necessary and proportionate for undercover officers to form intimate sexual relationships, it is always wholly inappropriate for a police officer to insert themselves into extended families, in the way that being part of long-term relationships would necessitate.
Instead of being seen as ‘Collateral Intrusion’ that can be easily authorised, every individual whose Article 8 Human Rights may be breached by an operation should be afforded the respect of having the merits of that intrusion specifically considered and recorded, including the specific reasons why it is considered necessary and proportionate.