Spy Cops: Police drag out inquiry

IssueAugust - September 2017
News by Peter Salmon

The Pitchford public inquiry into undercover policing continues its frustrating, meandering path, bogged down in procedural issues.

The honest picture is that very little is coming out of the inquiry at the moment. To the alarm of many involved, we are being told that evidence is unlikely to be heard until mid-2019. That is five years after the inquiry was first announced, nine since undercover police officer Mark Kennedy was first exposed.

Much of the work done to date has been focused on legal procedures and dealing with deliberate delays from the Metropolitan police – who have surprised nobody by dragging their feet as much as possible.

It appears that the chair, Christopher Pitchford, is the only person who still believes the Metropolitan police are merely incompetent, though at a recent hearing he did have very harsh words for them.

In rare criticism for the police from the judiciary, he rebuked them for their inability to produce risk assessments. Current battles focus on these risk assessments as they are the documents upon which ‘restriction orders’ will be made.

Pitchford has stated that he wants as much to be in public as possible, and, for the inquiry to have substance, he needs to hear from all the officers involved. Cover names and even real identities will be released unless the police can show good cause as to why not. Unsurprisingly, most involved have said they want to apply for these restriction orders, then dragged their heels on providing the material.

After 18 months of delays, Pitchford finally lost patience. A timetable has been drawn up for risk assessments and restriction orders to be submitted. It seems that the police are actually meeting the deadlines, though the rest of us will not find out anything until late autumn. As usual in public inquiries, those most affected by state abuse are the ones kept most at arm’s length.

Pitchford himself is looking to retire due to ill health and a deputy chair has been appointed with a view to taking over. This is one John Mitting, who apparently believes himself a bit of a maverick, but is causing concern over his membership of an all-male bastion of the establishment, the Garrick Club, and who has a background in presiding over secret courts. In an inquiry where institutional sexism by the police is at the heart of issues, his appointment has not given core participants confidence.

In the meantime, activists are pursuing other routes, keeping the pressure on. As you are likely to have seen elsewhere in Peace News (PN 2506–2507), former animal rights and peace movement activist ‘Andy “Van” Davey’ was exposed as undercover police officer Andy Coles, who had a very inappropriate attitude towards the women he was targeting. He immediately resigned as deputy commissioner of police for Cambridgeshire, though he is clinging on as a Tory councillor.

On 19 July, there was a demonstration in Peterborough in support of the women who were affected by him.

Court cases have also being proceeding. Though experiencing the usual police delay tactics, they’ve had their successes. One case taken by Cardiff activists made the small but significant step of having some disclosure ordered. If it materialises this will be the first time this has happened.

Not even the women who spent six years in court looking for answers on being targeted for relationships got that. The Metropolitian police gave an out-and-out apology rather than provide any actual information.

One of those women, Kate Wilson, is currently pursuing a human rights case through the investigatory powers tribunal.

Topics: Repression, Police