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Who will police the police?

It’s not just the well-reported antics of Mark Kennedy that call in question the activities of undercover policing against political and protest groups. It’s the almost total lack of accountability about the clandestine operations of police spies over the last 40 years. The HMIC report on this episode draws attention to Kennedy’s failure to “follow codes of practice for undercover officers” or to report his sexual activities with those he was targeting, but fails to call attention to the much more serious charge that his handlers or the CPS, or both, deliberately ignored evidence that Kennedy had provided, in order to secure the false conviction of 100 protestors at a power station in Nottinghamshire.

Despite the revelation that 7 of the known 9 undercover officers had sex with those they were spying on (we don’t yet know how many more there were in this category), HMIC still thinks that spying on protestors should remain under the police’s counter-terrorism supervision. Again the HMIC report doesn’t even raise the much more serious question of whether police action of this kind is justified at all, and should now be stopped, unless there is unmistakeable evidence of violence or violent intention.

Another disturbing aspect of this business is the mysterious role of the previously unknown Office of the Surveillance Commissioners (OSC). Who are these persons? Who chose them? From what occupations are they drawn? Who do they report to? Which parliamentary select committee monitors their performance? What are their terms of reference? What is their response to these serious irregularities that have occurred on their watch over years, if not decades? Who is calling them to account for their abject failures of supervisory responsibilities? What other undercover or spying activities do they look after? We need to know a great deal more about this parastatal organ, and I have put down PQs on all these points.

The HMIC report is typical Establishment whitewash – blaming a particular individual (who is certainly guilty of gross misconduct), but brushing over the much deeper and more worrying structural aspects of accountability. How can it be justified that officers no higher than superintendent rank were given the power to authorise undercover police to fabricate false passports, rent new properties and live for years as spies? How can this possibly be justified against peaceful campaigners? And at what level in the police hierarchy was it decided that undercover officers should lie in court about their identity and the nature of their activities? Who authorised this perjury and deliberate contempt of court? They should be named and held to account for what is obviously a gross breach of their public responsibilities.

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