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Walk-out threatens future of spycops inquiry

Doreen Lawrence says chair turning hearing into 'inquiry cloaked in secrecy and anonymity'

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People targeted by undercover police walk out of the Undercover Policing Inquiry at the high court in London on 21 March. Photo: Razbigor

Dramatic developments in the #spycops scandal unfolded on 21 March, when people targeted by undercover police, their lawyer and their supporters walked out of the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI) being held at the high court in London.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence backed the walk-out, saying that the chair of the inquiry, sir John Mitting, was ‘turning what should be a transparent, accountable and public hearing into an inquiry cloaked in secrecy and anonymity’. The inquiry has not released the names of the police officers who infiltrated the campaign for justice for her son, Stephen Lawrence, killed by white racists in 1993.

Peace News was sent this explanation by someone who took part in the walk-out:

Change is needed

We walked out in disgust at the lack of disclosure, and the direction being taken by the current chair, sir John Mitting. Enough is enough. We have been waiting for years to get any information. Our action today sends a strong message to those responsible: change is desperately needed if this inquiry is to come close to fulfilling its remit.

We’re not going away. We have made it very clear that we are keen to participate, and help uncover the truth around political policing, and these human rights abuses.

Our demands, since 2015, include:

  • a list of the cover names used by these officers
  • a list of the 1000-plus groups spied upon
  • our own personal files: what information do the police hold on record about us?

There are hundreds of ‘non-state, non-police, core participants’ – individuals, groups, organisations and trade unions – reflecting the range of movements who were considered enough of a threat to be spied upon.

Although there is funding for our legal representation, we are only allocated one barrister to represent all of us. The state has at least five separate legal teams.

Despite our different politics and life experiences, we have come together to try and expose the truth about undercover policing. PN readers may be able to imagine the difficulty of reaching consensus about complicated legal issues with such a large, diverse group. One thing we do all agree on is our growing frustration with the process.

When Mitting took over from Christopher Pitchford as chair last summer, many of us expressed concerns about his suitability. Mitting spent many years at the super-secret investigatory powers tribunal [the only judicial body that can investigate surveillance by the intelligence services – ed]. He is also a member of the establishment’s all-male Garrick Club.

Another of our demands is for Mitting to be replaced by a panel with the expertise, sensitivity and understanding required to properly investigate the key issues of institutional sexism and racism.

Mitting has kept evidence secret from us; he has held ‘closed’ hearings; he has repeatedly said he is ‘minded’ to grant complete anonymity to many officers, refusing to reveal their real or cover names, or even his reasons for these refusals.

It is impossible for us to ‘participate’, in any meaningful sense, under these conditions. Without the cover names, it is simply not possible for people to realise that their lives were infiltrated in this way, and come forward with evidence of ‘wrong-doing’ committed by the spycops.

The pressure is now on home secretary Amber Rudd to appoint some panel members, so that this inquiry can get back to its business.


Topics: Repression | Police