Have you had an encounter with an undercover copper as part of your political activism? The Pitchford Inquiry is an opportunity for that story to be heard as part of a wider investigation into the targeting of protest by undercover police. We explain the practicalities of what this means and of how you can get involved.
Whatever you think of the likelihood of a state-organised Inquiry exposing whole truth about undercover police operations targeted against campaigners, the Pitchford Inquiry is the best opportunity so far to find out more about the undercover spying operations and political policing over the past 40 years in the UK. If nothing else, it is a way to keep the pressure on and to increase public awareness of the unaccountable, unregulated and unscrupulous activities of Britain’s undercover police spies.
Remember that the only reason undercovers have been exposed was because of activist research, and that the only reason there is an inquiry now is because of the pressure that we have managed to build up.
There are two ways of being involved in the Inquiry. The simpler, smaller one is as being a witness. In this, you merely present an account of your experience with undercover police and the Inquiry may ask you further questions or actually to appear in person. The second, bigger one is as a ‘core participant’ as an interested person. This will be more suited to those who have multiple or very significant interactions with an undercover – relationships, actions and activities, or a key part of your group, etc. It can be done as an individual or a group.
Alternatively, the Undercover Research Group is applying for core participancy to be able to represent those who do not want to be involved personally.
So, what do you need to know, and what do you need to think about.
What is the roadmap of the Inquiry?
Not much is known yet, other than that the remits have been published and that Pitchford started to collect information (several lawyers have received calls from the Inquiry).
18 September 2015 by 4pm is the deadline for applications for ‘core participancy’ in the Inquiry. With this big round of application, Pitchford is going to set out the trajectory of the Inquiry. Your application could help to make sure you specific part of the story does not get lost, and would help piecing together the Jigsaw of what has happened.
7 October 2015 The first batch of core participants will be named at the first preliminary hearing, held in the Royal Courts of Justice.
November 2015 (tbc) Announcement of those granted core participancy and grouping together those with ‘similar interests’ under the same lawyer (to keep costs down).
Why would I want to apply to be a ‘core participant’ in the Pitchford Inquiry?
To secure legal representation. The Inquiry chair Lord Pitchford will almost certainly accept a number of those spied on as core participants, including Stephen Lawrence’s family, other justice campaigns and the women who were in intimate relationships with undercover officers. However, we want a full spectrum of undercover operations covered by the Inquiry, which means we need as many activists – individually or as a group – to apply for as core participants to ensure the Inquiry covers the broadest range of political policing operations.
To ensure access. As a core participant you have a central status in the Inquiry. It will inform you of all decisions and invite you to the hearings. You also have a great opportunity to apply pressure for the release of files about you.
To have a say in the direction of the Inquiry. At this stage, nobody can say whether this Inquiry is likely to become a whitewash or genuinely groundbreaking. Legally-representated core participants will have a greater impact, however, in applying pressure on the way the Inquiry is conducted.
To hold the authorities to account. At this point, Lord Pitchford has little idea of the extent of undercover police surveillance and the impact this has had on activist groups and personal lives. He needs to be told. We can use the Inquiry to counter almost half a century of ongoing secret operations and address to total lack of accountability and transparency.
To ensure the story of political policing is told. If nothing else, the Inquiry is a way to generate more public awareness of the history and the present of political policing and the undermining of dissent in the UK and elsewhere.
What are the implications of applying?
You might feel understandably reluctant to give your full activist history to the same authorities that spied upon you, in exchange for an unclear promise of an independent investigation into the undercover scandal. However, it is worth considering the following:
- It’s not all or nothing. You can apply now by only giving a very short summary of your involvement with undercover officers and see how the Inquiry develops, whether it generates enough trust to make a next step.
- It’s not now or never. It would be good to apply before the 18 September deadline, but you can also do it at a later stage. It might be more difficult though to get accepted, you might need to show a good reason for the delay.
- It’s not an just an individual choice. You can also apply as a group or set of groups that were spied upon by known undercovers, or possibly infiltrated by police officers that have not been named yet.
- You could opt for anonymity. Confidentiality can be requested and will be respected, the Inquiry states. What this is worth we cannot know though at this point in time.
- You don’t need to be a core participant to give evidence. You could also be a witness who gives evidence or assists the Inquiry otherwise. The Inquiry encourages people who have a contribution to make, to contact them and discuss it.
- You can allow the Undercover Research Group to represent you. We are applying for core participancy status to represent the stories of people who do not want to be involved in name and in person. We cannot guarantee that we will be accepted, but please approach us if you think this would be an option for you, and we can add a description of your involvement to our application. The more people we know we could represent in any kind of way, the larger our chances of being accepted.
- Write to the Inquiry to explain the difficulty of taking part. As mentioned above, you might feel reluctant to proffer your full activist CV to the same authorities that spied upon you. You might be at a different stage in life, or in a profession like teaching where your activist past may be held against you. You can write to the Inquiry and explain this.
- Write to the Inquiry calling for the release of all the names of all undercover officers in order to be able to testify about the full extend you have been spied upon.
What do I need to do to file an application?
Write to the Inquiry, or send an email to the addresses mentioned below.
At this stage, your statement does not have too long or too detailed. Make sure you state how anonymous you wish to be.
Just explain shortly who you are, and which of the undercover officers have been a part of your activist work and life, in what region of the country, or part of London, and in which period.
See the official list of requirements as given by the Inquiry and a pro forma letter below. (Also see the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance, COPS page).
What can I add to the letter?
Groups that have been working on this issue for a while are asking to add one or more of the following issues to your application:
- You would like to see the activities outside England and Wales added to the remits of the Inquiry, to include work in Scotland, Ireland, Germany, France and all the other countries undercovers went on events and protests.
- That where there is an overlap with corporate spying or blacklisting of individuals, then this needs to also be addressed by the Inquiry.
- You would need to know the names of other undercovers used in your circles around the time you were active in order to be able to testify about the full extend you have been spied upon.
Do I need a lawyer now?
No, you can write the application yourself.
Do I need a lawyer later?
Core participants may have their own lawyers, but where Lord Pichford regards two or more core participants as having similar interests then they require to have a single lawyer (for funding reasons). Additionally, the Inquiry may cover the costs of legal representation and attendances of witnesses but is unlikely to be doing this for lawyers that duplicate one another’s work.
Can I apply later?
If you are not ready to make an application now, it is is not necessarily the end of the process. There is scope to contact the Inquiry at a later date to say you want either core participancy or to be a witness.
If you cannot make an application by that date, then you may need to give a reason for your delay in applying – e.g. maybe you only just discovered that you had an interest to be heard, difficulty in getting your group back together to decide on making such an application, you have only just learned you had an undercover cop next to you, etcetera.
(The period between the announcement of the remits and this first deadline was quite short and during the summer, which in itself should make a case to extend it for a month or so.)
Issue of lawyer costs and grouping together
A strategy on how to group together the various applicants is something to think about now, because if we don’t do it, the Inquiry will. Those affected have the best understanding of their interests and how they relate to others involved. It might make sense to think along the line of existing groups (anarchists, climate groups, animal rights etc), and along the lines of SDS and NPIOU, London and the rest of the UK. How can we and our lawyers best cooperate and cover fields that are achievable?
Official list of requirements as given by the Inquiry
Lord Pitchford has asked that people who want to be core participants make an application in writing to the Inquiry by 4pm on 18 September 2015.
The application should state:
(i) what are the matters likely to be raised by the Inquiry in which the applicant [that’s you] is interested,
(ii) what is the nature and degree of the applicant’s interest in those matters,
(iii) what role the applicant played in those matters,
(iv) whether and if so for what reason the applicant may be the subject of criticism in the Inquiry proceedings or in its report, and
(v) such other facts and matters on which applicant relies in support of the application
Ways to contact the Pitchford Inquiry:
By email at firstname.lastname@example.org
By post: PO BOX 71230, London, NW1W 7QH
By phone: 0203 741 0411
If you have any questions we are happy to help as much as we can. Get in touch at email@example.com
Undercover Policing Public Inquiry Pro-forma
– to assist with making applications for Core Participant status
Please adapt / add / delete as appropriate for your application, and include contact details so the inquiry can communicate with you.
If you know an undercover officer attended any of your meetings or events:
I / we are applying for core participant status in the Public Inquiry into Undercover Policing.
I was / we were part of / involved with [name of organisation] from [year] to [year] and
we know that [name of undercover officer] attended our meetings and / or protest events during that time. We are concerned that the actions of undercover police officers may have undermined our group and interfered with ECHR rights in particular Article 8 (right to privacy), Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 11 (freedom of association / assembly). We anticipate that the police may seek to justify their actions by criticising or making assertions about [name of organisation] and we want to be represented at the Inquiry so we are able to respond to any assertions made.
If you don’t know whether an undercover officer attended any of your meetings or events:
I / we are applying for core participant status in the Public Inquiry into Undercover Policing.
I was part of / involved with [name of organisation / movement] from [year] to [year] and
we are concerned that undercover officers may have attended meetings and protest events during that time. On that basis we are concerned that the actions of Undercover Police Officers may have undermined our group / movement and interfered with ECHR rights in particular Article 8 (right to privacy), Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 11 (freedom of association / assembly). We also anticipate that the police may seek to justify their actions by criticising or making assertions about [name of movement] and we want to be represented at the Inquiry so we are able to respond to any assertions made.