The Undercover Policing Scrutiny Panel – a whitewash operation exposed…

Capture of tweet

Eveline Lubbers / Undercover Research Group
3 June 2015

Sophie Khan announced to stand down from the Undercover Policing Scrutiny Panel. Via a tweet and a blogpost at the Telegraph site earlier this week; it almost passed unnoticed. Until recently, the existence of this Panel was unknown, even to the Undercover Research Group. But that has changed now. What we found out made us wonder why the likes of Sophie Khan and Ben Bowling – people with a long history of criticising the police and campaigning for justice – decided to join this whitewash operation in the first place.

The National Undercover Scrutiny Panel (or Undercover Policing Oversight Board) is a working group established in 2014 by the College of Policing as ‘part of a set of changes to providing greater transparency and review of undercover policing’. Little is known of it other than what has been released in a set of press releases from March 2015, which contained the terms of reference for the group, a list of members, and the minutes of a meeting on 22 October 2014. Membership is voluntary and unpaid; though brought together by the College of Policing, it is – or aims to be – nominally independent of it.

Those chosen to sit on the Panel include a few academics and civil society activists; however, it is dominated by police with undercover connections. This has lead to criticism that it the panel is merely an attempt to prepare the way for the police to respond in advance of the public inquiry into undercover policing announced by Theresa May, and as such is little more than a damage limitation and whitewashing exercise. Concern has also been raised over the background of a number of individuals associated with it, including Mick Creedon who heads the Operation Herne investigation into undercover policing.

Just a fortnight ago, Sophie Khan made an unconvinced effort to try and broaden the base of the panel, but her tweets did not get a wide reach.

Sophie Khan tweet 1

Sophie Khan tweet 2

Around the same time, in her Telegraph blog, she said she would push for the panel to be “extended to include more non-police voices, campaigners and activists who challenge undercover policing”. In the same blog, Khan expressed her doubts, quoting the police attempt to ‘water down’ the terms of reference originally agreed and to reclassify the panel as an overseer and critical friend:

Vested interests are being protected by the police-led Panel but what about the rights of those who will be subjected to undercover policing?’

It must have been around that time, that Khan – via Twitter – asked the Undercover Research Group to join the Scrutiny Panel. We did not know what to think of this invitation, how official it was or rather on her behalf, and briefly considered how much fun it would be to turn up at those meetings. We never got back, Sophie, sorry about that, we first wanted to finish our profile on the National Undercover Scrutiny Panel, and now you stood down.

Still we think it would be good to have an open discussion on taking part in police cover-ups like this, in a highly politicised context, with the Independent Inquiry coming up and the fight over its remits about to start, and with the police in desperate need for anything to bolster – or should we say save – their reputation.

Sophie Khan is Solicitor Director at Sophie Khan & Co, Solicitors and Higher Court Advocates. (‘One stop service’ for all Actions Against the Police, Tasers, Inquests & more according to the  Twitter account). Earlier this year, she was challenged for being anti-police and describing the police service as a ‘racist organisation; and the counter-terrorism Prevent strategy as ‘state-sanctioned anti-Muslim hatred.’ Sophie, please tell us about your motivation to join the panel and what your thoughts are now. I’m sure there is more to say about the Scrutiny Panel than you did in Monday’s posting:

I am disappointed that the College of Policing has asked me and others to volunteer for a Panel that was never designed to progress the work on undercover policing.
The lack of transparency and the imposition of public official duties on private individuals has also contributed to my decision.
The Panel was a good idea but without trust it is very difficult.

Ben Bowling, you are a professor at King’s College, you have been monitoring the police for years, supporting campaigns for justice for black families, you spoke at the Monitoring Group conference last February on Corruption, Spying, Racism and Accountability – how come you did not mention the Scrutiny Panel and the fact that you took a seat on it?


N.B. This blog post has been amended on 20 October 2015 to correct Ben Bowling’s background.