Met police finally concede undercover relationships violated women’s human rights

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The Metropolitan police have finally apologised unreservedly to several women who were deceived into long-term relationships by undercover police officers. The apology and settlement is the result of a four-year legal battle by the women to bring to public attention these deceptive relationships and to prevent further abuses.

The women have released several personal statements. One of the women known as Lisa Jones, who had a six-year relationship with undercover officer Mark Kennedy, exposed him with her friends in 2010. This began the unravelling of facts about undercover relationships. Speaking to the media for the first time she has given an in-depth interview to the Guardian, in which she says that uncovering the truth about Kennedy felt like:

long, slow painful torture – real psychological torture.

In an apology issued by assistant commissioner Martin Hewitt, the Met has finally conceded that:

officers, acting undercover whilst seeking to infiltrate protest groups, entered into long-term intimate sexual relationships with women which were abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong

these relationships were a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma

AC Hewitt issued this public apology on behalf of the Met as part of the settlement of seven out of eight claims by the women. The claims arose from state-sponsored intimate relationships the women were deceived into by undercover police officers: Bob Lambert, John Dines, Mark Jenner, Jim Boyling (all Special Demonstration Squad officers) and Mark Kennedy (of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit), all of whom infiltrated environmental and social justice campaigns.

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At a press conference on 20 November the women called for the police to release all of the cover names of officers who had formed relationships whilst undercover.

The women said:

We have worked together on this painful and deeply personal legal case in order to expose the serious and systemic abuse of power by undercover police officers and their managers.  Although no amount of ‘sorry’, or financial compensation, can make up for what we and others have endured, we are pleased the police have been forced to acknowledge the abusive nature of these relationships and that they should never happen.

The women’s relationships spanned a period of nearly 25 years in total. Some lasted as long as nine years and some bore children. But these relationships remained hidden from the public for decades, until the women exposed them. By linking their cases together they were able to evidence a clear pattern of abusive, discriminatory behaviour towards women which amounts to institutional sexism by the Met. Other cases arising from intimate relationships are still ongoing and there are more relationships yet to be publicly exposed.

Never again

The women said that one of the key reasons they brought the case was to ensure that such relationships would not happen again. As part of the settlement, the Met acknowledged that:

Sexual relationships between undercover police officers and members of the public should not happen.

These relationships, the subsequent trauma, and the secrecy around them, left these women at risk of further abuse and deception by these officers after the deployment had ended.

These cases demonstrate that there have been failures of supervision and management.

This should never happen again and the necessary steps must be taken to ensure that it does not.

Long battle

The apology from the Met is a clear admission of responsibility for what happened to the women. But the women had to fight long and hard to wring this admission from the police. The case saw the Met attempt to force the use of the secret Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) court for the hearings in 2013. This was followed by an attempt to ‘strike-out‘ the case altogether in 2014. The final line of attack from the police was the repeated attempt to hide behind a strategy of ‘neither confirm nor deny‘ (NCND) regarding identities of the officers or managerial direction of the relationships.

The fight isn’t over

The publicity around these cases has snowballed, along with revelations about undercover police: complicity in blacklisting of workers, the use of dead children’s namessmearing of the Stephen Lawrence campaign and at least 17 other grieving families campaigning for justice from the police. This has pressured the home secretary, Theresa May, to launch a public inquiry led by Lord Pitchford to examine the undercover infiltration of political groups.

The women have launched a petition demanding the public inquiry into undercover policing is transparent, robust and comprehensive. It states:

Everyone has the right to participate in the struggle for social and environmental justice, without fear of persecution, objectification, or interference in their lives.

The government’s recent announcements to recruit 2,000 new spies and fast-track the Investigatory Powers Bill suggests a new era of surveillance – one in which these powers can be used against any groups seeking meaningful social change. Secret political policing undermines social progress for justice and equality and should have no place in our society.

Featured Image via Tom Fowler

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