Undercover officers having intimate and sexual relationships with members of public they are targeting is an abuse of human rights. It is degrading treatment, that interferes with private and family life, and rights to freedom of expression and association. Also, the human rights of the friends and families of targets were abused. The police describe this as ‘collateral intrusion’, and perversely authorisation of this type of intrusion appears to require an even less rigorous test.

“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.


Alongside common law claims of women affected, 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 because the European   Convention on Human Rights wasn’t incorporated into UK law until 2000 when the Human Rights Act was introduced. People whose  lives were disrupted after 2000 are in the position to bring claims under that law.

The law that oversees undercover officers is called The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).   Unfortunately, anything authorised under RIPA, can only be challenged in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal – a highly secretive court . When this court gives  its judgment, it does not have to give any explanation. 


In September 2021, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal handed down its ruling in Kate Wilson’s epic ten-year legal battle over the use of undercover police against protest movements. The detailed, ground-breaking, 156-page ruling identified a “formidable list” of breaches of fundamental human rights by the Metropolitan Police  without lawful justification in a democratic society.

Kate was one of eight women to have won a historic apology from the Metropolitan Police over their relationships with undercover police. She  was the only woman who was able to pursue her case  a in 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.

Sexist discrimination

The Tribunal looked at evidence relating to the sexual relationships UCO Mark Kennedy had with Ms Wilson and a number of other women, and at the widespread practice of undercover officers (UCOs) deceiving women into intimate relationships, concluding that the police violated her Article 3 right to live free from inhumane and degrading treatment, as well as her Article 8 right to private and family life, and that they were guilty of sexist discrimination in their handling of her human rights.

The findings stressed that the police failed to put in place systems, safeguards or protections: training of UCOs in relation to sexual relationships was grossly inadequate, and there was a widespread failure of supervision of Mark Kennedy in his undercover role. The Tribunal ruled that the failure to prevent undercover officers entering into sexual relationships primarily impacted women, to the extent that it amounted to sexist discrimination under Article 14.

Don’t ask, don’t tell

The Tribunal noted that the evidence showed a disturbing lack of concern on the part of the police about the impact on women of introducing undercover officers into their lives, and the likelihood that those officers would seek to have sex. The ruling stressed that the sexual relationship Ms Wilson was deceived into by Mark Kennedy was conducted with the knowledge of his principal cover officer, and that his deployment manager, and other senior officers of Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) level and above knew (or chose not to know) about the sexual relationship, concluding that the National Public Order Policing Unit’s approach to its officers having sex while undercover was one of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

Unlawful operations violated the right to protest

Kate was spied on by 6 undercover officers: Jim Boyling, Jason Bishop, Rod Richardson, Mark Kennedy, Lynne Watson & Marco Jacobs

The ruling did not stop at the sexual relationships, as the Tribunal found that police took steps to interfere with Ms Wilson’s political rights to hold opinions and with her Article 10 and 11 rights to freedom of expression and association; as well as violating her right to a private and family life.

The ruling stressed that the police had failed to give any proper consideration or put structures in place to limit collateral intrusion into the private lives of Ms Wilson or anyone else coming into contact with the operations. They described the breadth and open-ended quality of the authorisations for Mark Kennedy’s operation, which were virtually meaningless as any kind of protection, calling the operation a “fishing expedition” against legitimate groups who were exercising political rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Disturbing and lamentable failings at the most fundamental levels.

The judgment also criticised the Metropolitan Police conduct of the case, stating that many contemporaneous documents “crie[d] out for an explanation”, and that there was “no reason that we can see why we were not provided with a statement from a witness with direct knowledge of these matters”. The factual evidence provided by the police was  deemed “unsatisfactory”, and the ruling noted that, were it not for Ms Wilson’s tenacity and perseverance, “much of what this case has revealed would not have come to light”.

The ruling concludes:

“This is a formidable list of Convention violations, the severity of which is underscored in particular by the violations of Arts 3 and 14. This is not just a case about a renegade police officer who took advantage of his undercover deployment to indulge his sexual proclivities, serious though this aspect of the case unquestionably is. Our findings that the authorisations under RIPA were fatally flawed and the undercover operation could not be justified as “necessary in a democratic society”, as required by the ECHR, reveal disturbing and lamentable failings at the most fundamental levels.”

Kate Wilson commented

“This has been a long and emotional journey, and I am happy to receive this ruling today. The events in my case happened years ago, however the failure of the police to protect women from sexual predators within their own ranks, and police attempts to criminalise protestors are both still very live issues today. The Tribunal has gone some way towards recognising how deep the abuses run. We need to tackle the misogyny and institutional sexism of the police and there needs to be a fundamental rethink of the powers they are given for the policing of demonstrations and the surveillance of those who take part.”

Key dates:


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”

 “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’

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 embed 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.



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. Its 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.