Yesterday The Guardian published a letter from the Undercover Research Group critical of a recent article by Paul Mason stating that spycops were a thing of past.
Among the various things in the article we disagreed with what he wrote, he stated:
Amid the social warfare of the 80s, there are people from both sides who could say, as Rutger Hauer does in Blade Runner: “I’ve done questionable things.” Unless we’re going to have a South African-style truth and reconciliation process, the challenge is to bury the paranoia and move on.
We argue that what is actually needed is the opposite of his suggestion, a full and frank discussion based on facts that bypass the paranoia, because as we now know all too well, not all that paranoia was unjustified, and in some cases the truth was worse than many could imagine.
We must disagree with Paul Mason’s assessment that we should simply “bury the paranoia and move on” (Stella Rimington should stop fuelling paranoid fantasies about Jeremy Corbyn, G2, 17 October). It is highly unlikely that spying on protest groups and politicians has ceased. Though the two main undercover policing units have been disbanded, across the country police maintain “domestic extremism” (what in past times was known as counter-subversion) monitoring units, and these units work hand in hand with the secret services.
One only has to look at the recent Guardian stories on Prevent and fracking, or the account of the questioning of the sister of your columnist Owen Jones to see the same patterns are alive and well in the present.
In arguing that the era of political police spying is over, Paul Mason does a disservice to the desperately needed public debate around spying on political and protest groups. There is still no effective legislative oversight and no firm guarantee that it is definitely something of the past. Pushing the discussion away does not help those who have suffered grievously at the hands of “spycops” to find resolution, or to understand better what is happening in the here and now.
What is needed, rather, is a more open and informed discussion based on facts as opposed to supposition. Indeed, if we have learned anything at all from the undercover policing scandal, it is that much of the paranoia was not as unjustified as it was dismissed for at the time.
For this reason, it is more important now than ever that the undercover policing inquiry does its work properly in an open and transparent fashion, providing those much-needed answers.
Dr Donal O’Driscoll (core participant in the Undercover Policing inquiry)
Dr Eveline Lubbers
Undercover Research Group