Operation Herne’s concerted efforts to limit the Pitchford Inquiry

Herne restrictedEveline Lubbers, Undercover Research Group, 7 September 2016

To date, the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into undercover police abuses, Operation Herne, has made publicly available three Reports. Its fourth report, an Update, issued in February 2015, was classified as ‘Restricted’ and only internally circulated rather than being published on the official Herne website.ju

Following a Freedom of Information request, the Undercover Research Group received a redacted copy, which (as opposed to hidden in the Met’s disclosure log) we are making available for all to read.

Much to our surprise, the amount of redaction was minimal. As set out below, we believe the reason for being restricted is that it has a number of points which cause the Metropolitan Police embarrassment.

Our first analysis of the Update confirms the utter disarray in record keeping we wrote about in August, and exposes – once again – the rationale behind Operation Herne. We have found derogatory remarks about the little amount of official complaints and legal claims, and disturbing suggestions to limit the reach of the Pitchford Inquiry. Far from being independent, Operation Herne does not only serve as the Met’s self-investigation into the spycops scandal – it is actively seeking to scale down the scope of the Public Inquiry in every possible way.

A significant proportion of the Update is a long complaint about how under-staffed and under-resourced Operation Herne is. The 63 staff members are not enough to manage the workload, with principal author Mick Creedon arguing that team of 85 people is needed. The investigation, he claims – without providing further details – would cost more than £4.5 million per year.

But there are some interesting nuggets of information buried in the report. Take this one for instance:

The 37 different data stores – mentioned in the quote above – contain an estimated 50,000 SDS documents for the period 1998-2008. ‘Detailed examination, reading and indexing to the current CT HOLMES standard… will take in excess of 27 (Twenty seven) years.’ Creedon therefore suggests to keep the files in the Forensic Toolkit database where it is currently stored, and have the Inquiry ‘trawl through this data’, rather than Operation Herne would have to do that and transfer it to the central storing facility.

Plus some devil in the detail: ‘the storage devices were seized ‘from the offices of the SDS at [redacted]’: apparently the SDS still had offices three years after it – supposedly – closed down in 2008!

As to where the spycops operated, the Herne Update points out that ‘it is important to remember that the activities of the SDS and NPIOU were not just in London. The nature of the groups and their activities meant that in many cases their protest, violence and criminality was perpetrated and outside of the MPS’ (the Metropolitan police). Where else the spycops worked is blacked out…:


…but a Report by QC Mark Ellison into Miscarriages of Justice (published a few months later, in July 2015) has a very similar sentence that would just fit in:

For those campaigning to have Germany, Scotland and Northern Ireland and other countries included in the Pitchford Inquiry, this official acknowledgement that spycops indeed worked overseas might be very useful. Indeed, one can reasonably ask, why, if it is good enough for Ellison, has it been redacted here.

Miscarriages of Justice

After the Public Inquiry was first announced in March 2014, the Home Office started a big operation to scope possible miscarriages of justice. (Like for most other operations in the Update report its name is redacted – though it is not clear why such names should be considered sensitive information). For the operation the Home Secretary set up a Joint Working Group consisting of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Mark Ellison QC and police officers from Operation Herne.

The Herne Update summarises the progress of this exercise – or rather the lack thereof – and the numerous difficulties encountered. However, the Report reveals that up until February 2015, no less than 85 files have been submitted to the Joint Working Group. The report says of these cases of possible miscarriages of justice:.

‘The criminality committed by those targeted by undercover officers […] ranges from minor offences of ‘Fly Posting’, Obstructing Police, and minor offences of Criminal Damage through to the more serious offences of Burglary, Possession of Firearms and Arson with Intent to Endanger Life.’ (p.11)

This implies that SDS officers have been involved in acts that involved more serious offences, and that people probably have been convicted – without the Court being told about the spycops – in 85 cases. The Report also reveals that the more serious crimes, and thus the potential miscarriages of justice, relate to Animal Rights activism in the second half of the 1980s. What exactly was revealed in those 85 cases is unfortunately heavily redacted. However, no panic please, Operation Herne assures us, no evidence whatsoever has been found ‘to suggest that any officer has acted as an ‘Agent Provocateur’’. (p.12)

Creedon would also like us to believe that the newer generation of spycops did indeed behave themselves:

‘Unlike the SDS, any arrests of the NPOIU undercover officers were dealt with correctly by revelation to the CPS and strategies to avoid court appearances. In relation to participation, at this time, only incidences of a minor nature have been discovered. These were reported to the Authorising Officer as per guidance.’ (p.12-13)

However, Creedon immediately undermines his own statement by conceding that lack of records prevents further research. Apart from that, we have no way to check his statement as the subsequent paragraphs on the NPOIU role in animal rights activism are – again – blacked out.

Creedon conveniently forgets to mention the collapse of the Ratcliffe-on-Soar case, where the police failed to share the evidence collected by Mark Kennedy with the CPS. The Review by Sir Christopher Rose concluded that if the police and the CPS would have discussed this sensitive material, no charges would have been brought. The case collapsed and 20 convictions were overturned.

The report also repeats that the NPIOU was closed down after Mark Kennedy was exposed, and as a response to the unfolding scandal in early 2011. Here Creedon is cutting some corners. The Undercover Research Group has showed in great detail that the reorganisation and downsizing of the spycop units was part of a process that had started months before.

A concerted effort to limit the Public Inquiry

The Update report includes a variety of arguments, some of which appear to originate from a genuine concern that potentially far wider issues will not be addressed in the Inquiry However, the report is not just an overview of the state of affairs in preparation for Pitchford. In it, Creedon reveals the mind set of Operation Herne and shows that it is more than the whitewash we already knew it to be. The report reads as a concerted effort to get the spycops off the hook and to condone what they have done. On top of that, it shows that, as early as 2015, Creedon made a case for not going ahead with the Public Inquiry, doubting the need of it and suggesting alternatives.

The following examples speak for themselves.

  • Not fair to look at SDS and NOIU spycops only:

‘It would be a mistake to simply confine the longer term thinking of behaviours, non-disclosure, miscarriage and indeed the Public Inquiry to only the SDS and NPOIU as this would only examine the conduct of [blacked out, probably a number] officers and not address potentially far wider issues.’ (p.10)

  • Others did it too: football hooliganism and organised crime:

Creedon suggests extending the Inquiry to other kinds of undercover policing, stating that many forces had covert units to deal with extreme football hooliganism in the 1980s, ‘using essentially the same methodology of long term infiltration as the SDS and the NPOIU.’ Additionally, he says, police work against organised crime may not have been revealed to the Crown Prosecution Service in its entirety. (p.10)

  • Spycops are historic. No use talking about the past.

‘A radical solution would be to commence a Public inquiry on a ‘truth and reconciliation’ basis and the important factor of restoring public confidence in undercover policing cannot be underestimated. It is a fact that the SDS and NPOIU no longer exist and whatever their failings, they are historic.’ (p.14)

  • No more misconduct charges to be expected:

‘Op Herne believes that the vast majority of criminality, misconduct or behaviours associated with the units are likely to have already been identified.’ (p.14)

  • Amount of complaints is negligible:

‘It is worthy of note that despite the publicity and what some would say is intense public interest and outcry from interested parties, to date only three complaints have been made. These relate to the use of deceased children’s identities, the sharing of information with the ‘Blacklist’ and an inappropriate long term sexual relationship.’ (p.15)

  • Lack of cooperation of those targeted limits the investigation:

‘There are also a number of civil cases against the Commissioner concerning intimate sexual relationships, although the majority of individuals involved have declined to assist the Op Herne investigation and will not make a criminal complaint, thereby limiting the evidence collection possibilities for the investigation.’ (p.15)

  • The recent HMIC inspection and recommendations make the Pitchford Inquiry superfluous:

‘Any discussions about the timing of the Public inquiry of current undercover policing carried out by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of Constabulary [which] which was far reaching. […] There is a police and partner working group ensuring the recommendations are addressed, and this work is overseen by the College of Policing Oversight group on which Chief Constable Creedon sits as do a number of independent members. The up to date report should also be considered when deciding on the benefits of conducting further historic forensic investigation of the units.’ (p. 14-15)

  • Too much ado about nothing:

‘At present the amount of publicity received and the extent of the exposure of officers involved, appears disproportionate to the allegations that have been forthcoming, when compared to the extent of the undercover activity and the number of officers exposed publicly.’ (p. 16)

  • Spycops will testify in secret anyway and documents will not be released because of national security issues:

Creedon – in short – thinks the Met will get away with the mess made, precisely because of the mess they made of undercover policing. Read in the context of the other arguments made in this Report, what Creedon is saying here, is that it is no use to start the Inquiry anyway.

Accountability and transparancy

It’s difficult to see the Herne Update as anything else but an effort to minimize the reach of the Pitchford Inquiry, and to avoid responsibility for 40 years of undercover policing undermining political protest.

This is in line with the content of the previous Herne Reports, considered a white-wash by many of the people targeted, most notably the third one into the infiltration of black justice campaigns, which concluded no proof of such had been found. Mark Ellison QC, whose report into the same issue was published on the same day, concluded that the spying included the campaign of the parents of Stephen Lawrence. These findings made Theresa May – then Home Secretary – decide it was time for an Independent judge-led Inquiry back in March 2014.

The Update is yet another shocking example of how dysfunctional Operation Herne is, not just an uncritical self-investigation, but indeed more than that. It reveals the disturbing mentality of those tasked with reviewing police misconduct. If not testament to a concerted effort to undermine any step towards accountability and transparency, it shows that non-cooperation with Herne – including people spied upon refusing to submit formal complaints –  is the right thing to do.

Finally, most worrying of all, is the fact that the Pitchford Inquiry depends on Operation Herne to get access to files and evidence to start their investigation into undercover policing.

Reading reports like this only justifies our perseverance and our belief in the value of the work of the Undercover Research Group. There would be very little information on spycops without the work of researchers and activists.


If you want to support our work, please consider a small or regular donation. That would be very much appreciated.

Leave a Reply