The Inquiry into Undercover Policing has opened with applications from individuals and organisations who want to be core participants in the process. Hundreds have been affected by the undercover policing scandal, which employed officers to spy on protest and social justice campaigners. However, with former officer and whistleblower, Peter Francis, claiming to know of at least 100 other such officers, and with undercover operations starting in 1968, the number could reach the thousands.
The spread of groups targeted is staggering, and ranges from the Stephen Lawrence Campaign, campaigning for justice following the death of loved one, to environmental protesters, trade unionists, and peace activists. Given it is known the police kept secret files on Jeremy Corbyn, there is a strong likelihood he has had contact with, and been reported on by these officers.
According to the Terms of Reference given by Lord Justice Pitchford, people were invited to apply to be core participants and show ‘what role [they] played in the matter’. Of the 350 people who applied, 156 had their applications granted prior to today’s hearing, including seventeen police officers and one family who had their dead child’s identity stolen by a police officer.
The approved core participants span many different protest and social justice campaigns. They include blacklisted workers and the women who were deceived into relationships by undercover police. The common thread is that they were all able to name the undercover police officer who infiltrated their campaigns and targeted them.
However, here is the problem: All the information we have about these operatives so far, has been collated through painstaking research by those affected. It can be very difficult to prove allegations and many individuals and groups either don’t know, or can’t substantiate, the extent to which undercover police spied on them.
Several such groups, including Campaign Against Arms Trade, Peace News and the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group, were represented at the hearing today. There are many more who will remain voiceless, unless the inquiry demands disclosure of all the targeted organisations and individuals.
One of the core participants, who was involved in a variety of campaigns and has been granted anonymity, said they found the hearing ‘disturbing’. Groups campaigning against police violence are also known to have been targeted, but are finding it ‘difficult to get core participant status’ because they ‘cannot prove they were infiltrated’.
The anonymous participant said:
“If the inquiry will only accept as core participants individuals who already have evidence about the extent to which they were spied upon, it restricts its scope to what is already in the public domain, and hugely limits its ability to provide the sorts of answers people are looking for.”
Getting to the stage where a public inquiry is actually taking place has been a hard fight. It is now important to ensure that everyone is heard. Full disclosure is needed on all infiltrated groups, otherwise the inquiry risks accusations of whitewashing – before it has even properly begun.
Featured Image via Tom Fowler