Theresa May cannot ignore legitimate questions over police tactics


Katy Clark is the Labour Member of Parliament for North Ayrshire and Arran. This story will feature on tonight’s edition of BBC Newsnight.

G20 policingA few months ago many were utterly stunned to hear revelations that PC Mark Kennedy had been deployed for seven years, on a multi-million pound budget, to infiltrate the lives of environmental activists. It quickly became clear that Mark Kennedy was nothing more than a node of an extensive network of undercover operatives built up over the years by the secretive National Public Order Intelligence Unit.

Their very existence angered many, but the political spectrum was united in rage when it emerged that undercover officers had frequently engaging in multiple incidents of sexual misconduct, had been aiding and financing direct actions to close down roads and power stations, and had whittled away millions of pounds of public money on fast cars and plush restaurants without any democratic oversight. We also now know that critical evidence relating to undercover officers was withheld from defence counsels during the trials of environmental campaigners.

If this tower of allegations reminds us just how serious this mess is, then today reminds us just how woefully inadequate the response has been.

At a hotel in Covent Garden those conducting an HM Inspectorate of Constabulary’s review into undercover policing are hosting a two hour session, over free lunch and coffee, to give those personally affected by undercover police operations an opportunity to share their experiences and views.

It is no surprise that many protesters affected by undercover policing are choosing to stay away.

Protesters have been let down by HMIC before. Following the brutal policing at the G20 demonstrations in 2009, which led to the unlawful killing of Ian Tomlinson, HMIC undertook a review and concluded that the impact of kettling needed to be “moderated”. This was hardly the strongest condemnation of a tactic that we now know was deployed illegally at the G20 demonstrations. It did lead to the absence of kettling for a few months, but it only took a fresh faced anti-cuts movement for the tactic swung straight back into use with ever more regularity and extremity.

HMIC’s weak words and lack of influence did nothing to help the school children contained for several hours without access to food and water on one of the coldest days of the year. So there is little hope the inspectorate will do anything to help the huge number of political campaigners who have had their privacy grossly invaded for so many years.

Part of the problem is that while HMIC are self-described as independent, this is far from the truth. Any meaningful inquiry must probe the decisions and actions taken by senior officers, rather than just the antics of undercover operatives on the ground. This is vital as evidence already suggests that behaviour such as sexual misconduct was a tactic systematically deployed with the blessing of those in charge. Therefore, it is clear to see why senior officers investigating other senior officers is far from ideal.

HMIC’s inability to dig deeper than is comfortable for the police, is clear from the terms of reference they have set themselves. These were only made public weeks into the review, following pressure from my parliamentary colleagues. They focus on internal policing issues of police management and administration, but fail to ask the wider moral and ethical questions relating to a person’s right to privacy and freedom of expression.

Finally, what will be done with the review’s findings upon its conclusion? Who will read them and, crucially, who will take action? I have twice requested in the Commons that Theresa May make a statement upon the review’s conclusion, but so far not a word has passed her lips (in public) on undercover police and protesters.

The secretive nature of the undercover policing of protesters makes it all the more frightening. How are the public meant to know whether or not they will be spied upon if they take up their democratic right to protest? If the statutory body responsible for inspecting the police fails to ask the relevant questions then parliament must push for a thorough, public, and genuinely independent inquiry. It is the first duty of parliament to protect its citizens, and right now many of them certainly don’t feel protected by the police.

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  • John P Reid

    Katy I organised the GLA/Mayoral Election Campaign for labour in Havering in 2008 getting 1000 more votes than in 2004,I organsied a by election the week beofre Blair went and had a 11.5% swing agaisnt the Toires, I also stood for Councillor In Brooklands romford getting A 16% swing towards me, the Biggest in London last year,So my contribution to Labour is large. SO this is what is wrong with your blog.Yes Mark Kennedy when Undercover had to do things that were unethical to get the trust that he was actually a enviromental activist like blocking roads,the Sexualactivicty was legal and if he chose to use sex as away of appearing as an undercover enviromentalist, it was part of his job, “whittled” away money this implies that his job wasn’t valuable, that’s your opinion on not being worthy, but others will feel that it was worth him stopping the shutting down of stations, so it’s not actually whitling away money,The fact that Kennedy went native and his swithcing sides, was the reason why he didn’t testify in court, he felt guilty, It’s not the end of the World.If a protester who was going to commit public order distruptions stays away because they feel that their illegal action might be noticed by an under cover cop, well then good,the undercover op’s are monitored by the MPA which is democratic, you also say that the Polcing at the G20 was brutal, One incident of an unlawful killing of Ian Tomlisnon ,doens’t make teh polcing brutal ,let alone all teh polce who were assaulted by protesters in bavaclava’s who haven’t been brought to justice.
    The ‘kettling’ wasn’t proved illegal at teh G20 but at the green camp elesewhere and the Met are appealing it, all other times it’s legal,the reason that it has been used again was among other things the Storming of millbank tower and the police have had to use it to stop other protests where P.C.s had arms/legs broken and Snooker balls thrown at their heads ,resulting in one bieng knocked unconscious, the fact students were ‘kettled’ during a very cold day, isn’t a reason not to kettle them ,it’s the only crowd control open to the polcei, if they didn’t like the cold then they should’nt have come or wear warmer clothes,You say that you don’t feel teh HMIC is’nt independet without giving any proof and that the public don’t want to go to protests without bieng spied on, but protests have to have polce present ,some plain clothed and you don’t want them to use their eyes to see what’s going on? ,it’s also A duty of palriament to tell untruths about the police. I’ve been a Labour member for 24 years and if this is the sort of thing that passes for Labour I’ll find other things to do and I think I ahve encouraged 1000’s to vote laobur in the past.

  • John P Reid

    Katy I organised the GLA/Mayoral Election Campaign for labour in Havering in 2008 getting 1000 more votes than in 2004,I organsied a by election the week beofre Blair went and had a 11.5% swing agaisnt the Toires, I also stood for Councillor In Brooklands romford gettigna 16% swing towards me, the Biggest in London last year,So my contribution to Labour is large. SO this is what is wrong with your blog.Yes Mark Kennedy when Undercover had to do things that were unethical to get the trust that he was actually a enviromental activist like blocking roads,the Sexualactivicty was legal and if he chose to use sex as away of appearing as an undercover enviromentalist, it was part of his job, “whittled” away money this implies that his job wasn’t valuable, that’s your opinion on not being worthy, but others will feel that it was worth him stopping the shutting down of stations, so it’s not actually whitling away money,The fact that Kennedy went native and his swithcing sides, was the reason why he didn’t testify in court, he felt guilty, It’s not the end of the World.If a protester who was going to commit public order distruptions stays away because they feel that their illegal action might be noticed by an under cover cop, well then good,the undercover op’s are monitored by the MPA which is democratic, you also say that the Polcing at the G20 was brutal, One incident of an unlawful killing of Ian Tomlisnon ,doens’t make teh polcing brutal ,let alone all teh polce who were assaulted by protesters in bavaclava’s who haven’t been brought to justice.
    The ‘kettling’ wasn’t proved illegal at teh G20 but at the green camp elesewhere and the Met are appealing it, all other times it’s legal,the reason that it has been used again was among other things the Storming of millbank tower and the police have had to use it to stop other protests where P.C.s had arms/legs broken and Snooker balls thrown at their heads ,resulting in one bieng knocked unconscious, the fact students were ‘kettled’ during a very cold day, isn’t a reason not to kettle them ,it’s the only crowd control open to the polcei, if they didn’t like the cold then they should’nt have come or wear warmer clothes,You say that you don’t feel teh HMIC is’nt independet without giving any proof and that the public don’t want to go to protests without bieng spied on, but protests have to have polce present ,some plain clothed and you don’t want them to use their eyes to see what’s going on? ,it’s also A duty of palriament to tell untruths about the police. I’ve been a Labour member for 24 years and if this is the sort of thing that passes for Labour I’ll find other things to do and I think I ahve encouraged 1000’s to vote laobur in the past.

  • Sarah

    A few points to raise with the last person to comment:

    -There is a great deal of evidence to suggest the sexual activity Mark Kennedy and others engaged in was far from legal. Undercover police are bound to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. While this law is actually quite controversial in itself for the great deal of powers it grants the police and security services, it still does maintain that undercover operations must not breach the Human Rights Act. Specifically, in the case of sexual misconduct, the right to privacy. Lawyers have responded since the revelations that many of the women affected may have a case. See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/25/undercover-sex-police-climate-activists

    -In terms of the whittling away money, there have been allegations from undercover officers themselves that money was indeed spent very irresponsibly. This is linked to from the above article.

    -You suggest that such methods are proportionate given that some were planning to shut down a power station for a week. The judge ruled, in the trial of the twenty activists involved in this case, that their action would have been 100% safe and not affected the national grid at all. Surely a tactic as intrusive undercover officers can only be justified when there is great potential harm to the public. In the example you give (whatever your views on peaceful direct action), there was none.

    -The undercover operations have only switched to being overseen by the MPA (the Metropolitan Police Authority) following the crises involving Mark Kennedy. This still means there are many accountable years of operations while they were overseen by the Association of Chief Police Officers (a private company). We need answers for all those years when undercover operations were taking place without any democratic oversight.

    -The most prominent incident of kettling at the G20 was indeed proved illegal. It took place in the City of London right in the middle of the G20 demonstrations.

    -HMIC’s independence can be easily proved by taking a quick glance at their website. Their inspectors are largely senior police officers (with the head of this review, Bernard Hogan-Howe, being no exception), and the review’s “External” Reference Group appointed to ‘challenge’ the review is over half made up of former police officers, serving police officers, and Home Office officials.

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