The shocking story of deliberate destruction of police surveillance on Baroness Jenny Jones throws into stark relief what we all feared – the Metropolitan Police are going to obstruct the public inquiry into undercover policing.
Today, the redoubtable Rob Evans of the Guardian broke the story that a whistleblower in the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit (the former National Domestic Extremism Unit which employed notorious spycops such as Mark Kennedy) had written to Baroness Jones to reveal the systemic destruction of records relating to her among other allegation of impropriety in the unit.
This is of fundamental importance as Jenny Jones has been deputy chair of the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee which oversees the work of the Metropolitan Police. She had already revealed that the domestic extremism police had been spying on her, compiling a file which chronicled her entirely legal campaigning activities. (Our profile of the National Domestic Extremism Database has some of Jones’ files.)
There are wider implications to this as well. The John Catt case, which has been steadily working its way through the various courts and is now about to go the European Court of Human Rights is challenging the police’s right to keep extensive records on protestors for simply protesting. A key issue there is how much the police can be trusted to do the right thing.
Criticism of the undercover units, both the Special Demonstration Squad and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit has been wide spread. Not just from those devastated by the impact of relationships of undercovers, or who had the identities of dead children stolen, but from within the police itself. A 2009 internal report considered the SDS as effectively a rogue unit. The NPOIU had its powers to run undercovers publicly stripped in 2011 by the Minister for Policing just when the Mark Kennedy scandal broke. Equally trenchant has been a series of reports from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary which at one point had to stand over the domestic extremism police and ensure that it cleaned up its database. The Ellison report into the spying on the Lawrence family made a mockery of the Met’s own efforts, Operation Herne under Mick Creedon – a self-investigation if ever there was one, with the majority of the staff Met personnel, including serving officers.
With Theresa May having ordered a public inquiry into undercover policing, you would think that the units had learned something. However, what we discover today is that nothing has changed; the stench of corruption is all over this unit still. There has been no proper oversight and it still acts as if it is a law onto itself.
There has always been a deliberate blind eye turned to the actions of the undercover units, but it is clear it is not so blind as it makes out. With so much political pressure on, with Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt being specifically charged with dealing with the issue, are we really to be believe this is not sanctioned? Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, implicated from the miners’ strike to Hillsborough to covering up undercover police abuses while at the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary is equally culpable in all this.
This is history repeating itself. We had it with the destruction of ‘a lorry load’ of records in 2003 (Operation Othona) to protect the Met from the full extent of police corruption coming out. We had it in the deliberate non-disclosure to the Macpherson Inquiry investigating corruption in the Stephen Lawrence murder case. We had it in the police seeing no harm in bugging a police meeting with the main witness to the murder and his lawyer, Duwayne Brooks while also spying on 18 black family justice campaigns. We had it at the Blair Peach inquiries and numerous others.
There really is no surprise here. The Metropolitan Police cannot be trusted to do the right thing. Racists are protected and incriminating records destroyed. This is a pervasive culture of operating above the law and such a culture is both lead from the top and endemic.
Among other things, this is a direct attack on the ability of the Pitchford Inquiry to do its work. This is why we are calling on the Inquiry to themselves take action to stop further destruction of records. We have also written to Martin Hewitt to take action to deal with this outrageous matter. The NDEDIU needs to be shut down immediately and all the officers involved stripped off all access.