From death of Blair Peach to spying on the Lawrence family – latest from the public inquiry

Dónal O’Driscoll, Undercover Research Group, 16 January 2018

Yesterday, the Undercover Policing Inquiry, examining Britain’s political police, released the third of its “Minded-To” notes from Chair Sir John Mitting, setting out his intentions on a few of the applications for anonymity by former spycops. If Mitting doesn’t change his mind, we can expect the release of the cover names of another five undercovers and the names of several managers / back office staff from the units that infiltrated political groups from 1968 onwards. Which in itself is relatively good news.

More secrecy around spying on the Lawrences

The list of officers, known by their HN-prefixed code numbers, include some who were involved in notorious cases. The stand-out point is HN109, a former undercover who, according to the 2014 Ellison Review into police corruption around the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation, was a Detective Inspector in the Special Demonstration Squad in 1995. He is quoted there as stating:

“There was never any reference made to ‘smearing’ in relation to the Lawrence family. Deployments into the support campaigns surrounding Stephen Lawrence were specifically to build a picture of the public order background… Any meeting I was involved in was never about any family member. It was done to protect the family.”

It is clear from this HN109 is able to give insight into the issue of spying on the Lawrence family – a central aspect of the Inquiry’s terms of reference. This is despite Mitting being emphatic at the recent hearing in November that he was determined to get to the truth of the matter regarding the spying on the Stephen Lawrence campaign. Yet, for ‘closed reasons’, Mitting does not wish to release either the cover or real names. This is not for the first time: Mitting has previously indicated that he wants to grant full anonymity to two other Special Demonstration Squad officers central to this issue.

The first, HN123, infiltrated left-wing groups at the time. The other, HN58, a former undercover himself, was the head of the SDS in the crucial period 1997 to 2001. It is hard to see how at this rate of anonymity granted, there will be any inquiry in public at all in relation to the spying on the Lawrences.

HN109 is of interest for other reasons. As a senior manager in the SDS he was around when spycop Matt Rayner (and possibly also Andy Coles) were active and others such as Jim Boyling were preparing to be deployed. And all of this before we consider the light he can shed on the then-head of the unit, the notorious Bob Lambert.

Other details released

Of the undercovers whose cover names will be released, we learn that:

  • HN13 infiltrated the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) from 1974 to 1978, though seemingly they are not entirely sure of the name of the group. HN13 was prosecuted twice for public order offenses in his false identify, and convicted on one of those occasions.

It is our understanding that the CPE-(ML) later became the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist). At the time HN13 began his (apparent) deployment into them, they were standing in local and parliamentary elections. Which begs the question why Special Branch was infiltrating a group engaging in the democratic process in the first place? If anyone is able to shed light on CPE-(ML) activities at the time, we would love to learn more.

  • HN354 was undercover in an as yet unnamed group from 1976 to 1979, and has ‘voluntarily admitted’ to ‘two fleeting encounters with different female activists before he was married’.

This naturally raises more questions and one has to wonder how much the sensibilities of HN354’s family are being protected here. HN354 is the second such undercover from the 1970s now known to have been engaging in sexual relationships with those he targeted, Rick Gibson being the first one (found out by the Undercover Research Group – not the Inquiry), adding further evidence the practice was common in that period.

  • HN356/124 (the officer was given two numbers by Operation Herne) was deployed into the Socialist Workers Party from 1977 and 1981. This coincides closely with the time the SWP was active in groups such as the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism. HN356 was also on the 1979 demonstration against the National Front where teacher Blair Peach was killed by members of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Patrol Group.

In the five cases where he is minded to withhold the real names, Mitting has once again given only minimal reasons, merely stating that to do so would interfere with their Article 8 human rights – the right to private and family life. In doing so he ignores the many concerns raised in previous submissions, such as the wider public interest, justice needing to be open to be trusted, or the rights of the media to report. The fact that those targeted by the spycops suffered much graver abuses is nowhere addressed.

Finally, the Inquiry now states that before publishing any (cover) names, it will endeavor to reach out to women deceived into relationships by these undercovers, and to families whose children’s identities were stolen as part of their cover. What that means in practice is not clear and we have our own concerns how thorough that might be. What we do know is that it may be a while yet before we actually get the names. But then, with this Inquiry, originally scheduled to report in summer 2018, we’ve already learned to not hold our breath…

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