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.