New revelations show just how nervous the police are about the undercover policing inquiry

Tom Coburg

If you think Britain doesn’t have political police, think again. For decades, campaigners and protest groups have been spied upon, infiltrated, and have even been subjected to “abusive and manipulative” relationships. Like it not, the so-called ‘spycops‘ scandal affects everyone. And if it had not been for some very brave individuals, as well as a small number of dedicated journalists and researchers, the inquiry that was set up to examine the extent of this abuse – the (Pitchford) Undercover Policing Inquiry – may never have happened.

The Pitchford Inquiry, which has yet to commence, has just seen a new development. Applications by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) have sought to ensure that details about two police officers are not made public.

The problem here is that the applications include biographical details about the two officers in question – enough for any decent researcher to work out their identities. Even if this was not the case, it’s possible for journalists to publish information about the pair without realising they have done so. In other words, the applications are nonsensical.

And the two officers are not even undercover officers (UCOs). This does not bode well for those who want the truth to come out of the Pitchford Inquiry. If the police are intent on the protection of police ‘counsellors’ then it’s likely that similar anonymity measures will be sought for all those involved, such as the supervisors who manage the work of undercover officers.

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Public interest or a ploy?

It is stated that the applications (see links below) were made ‘in the public interest’, though victims of undercover policing, let alone MI5 surveillance, would no doubt argue that exposing the excesses of undercover policing when applied to political protests – Drax or Ratcliffe coal-fired power stations actions, Grunwicks dispute, Poll Tax protests, the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike, etc – is the real public interest.

In support of the two applications, reference is made to psychological stress suffered by undercover officers, given the lack of support that some allege. This is a classic ploy: to portray perpetrators of abuse as victims and their ‘distress’ must be nothing compared to the life-long distress suffered by the real victims, in particular, the women with whom the officers had formed long-term relationships.

What is, surely, in the public interest is that the police inform all those victims of relationship abuse who, to date, have not even been aware they were targeted. They also need to know how, where and why they were spied upon and they can only do this if the cover names of undercover officers are released, which is one of the core demands of many of the participants.

Operation Motion

The two applications include a covering statement to the Pitchford Inquiry by Det. Sup. Neil Hutchison, who makes it clear that the statement contains sensitive information and so is not for disclosure beyond the remit of the Inquiry.

In section 3 of the statement, Hutchison explains that Operation Motion was first set up in 2013 to monitor ‘risks’ – i.e. to monitor journalists who are covering the spycops scandal. However, on a day-to-day basis, the operation appears to merely comprise the two officers who are the subject of the applications. Both, we are told, are deployed from SO15 (Counter Terrorism Unit).

The main responsibility of the two officers is to assess risks to officers who were part of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), or are with the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) or were with the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU).

Hutchison adds that in 2014, Operation Motion was transferred to Assistant Commissioner – Public Inquiry Team (AC-PIT), which he heads and which on a day-to-day basis was managed by DCS Jeremy Burton. Section 4 of the statement explains, further, that Operation Motion exists ‘primarily for all officers who have served in undercover roles in SDS or NPOIU”.

Later in the statement, in section 12, Hutchison asserts that several UCOs suffered ‘psychiatric damage’ and consequently have expressed ‘considerable hostility to the MPS’. What is curious here is that the two Operation Motion officers, who are not trained psychiatrists or counsellors, appear to be providing both risk assessments and mental health advice – two very different disciplines. Moreover, it is admitted that the pair are friends with many of the UCOs and so can hardly support them with any degree of objectivity.

Omission and admission

Surprisingly, Hutchison makes no reference in his statement to the officers who work for the National Counter Terrorism Police Operations Centre (NCTPOC), which is a covert intelligence-gathering unit that compiles records on thousands of political protesters, including Green Party members. In a reply to a freedom of information request about the unit, it was stated that the Metropolitan Police Service is the lead force for the NCTPOC and that the unit’s Senior National Coordinator is Helen Ball with Alan Barr as her deputy. Perhaps Ball and Barr will require ‘counselling’ too?

Also in the statement Hutchison makes an astonishing admission – namely, that there is “…no comprehensive list in existence of all officers who served” [as UCOs]. If what Hutchison says is true, that would partly explain why much of undercover policing over decades has been allowed to get out of control.

Targeting journalists

In sections 38 to 52 of the statement, it gets interesting. Here, Hutchison describes some of the ways in which journalists and bloggers are using social media to make connections in their research of undercover policing. Examples of sources include Undercover Research Group (website), Undercoverinfo (blog) and the work of Guardian journalists Rob Evans and Paul Lewis.

Much of the work of these researchers/journalists has helped to expose the activities of undercover political policing. That Hutchison quotes these sources is a compliment to their work, though it is more likely intended to act as a ‘chilling effect’.

The two applications and risk assessments

The application for the officer codenamed Jaipur is here and for the officer codenamed Karachi is here. In both applications, it is made clear that the officer “does not claim a risk of harm in the event of his/her identity becoming known”, which rather negates the applications made by Hutchison.

The risk assessment for UCO Jaipur is detailed here. Page 3 (partly redacted) provides some very pertinent information about ‘Jaipur’, including how he was posted abroad on at least eight occasions. Here is an extract:

screenshot-from-2016-09-12-23-02-31

Other points covered include:

  • Section 4.10: confirmation that there are 150 UCOs (not all in operational roles).
  • Section 6.6: further clarification given regarding the remit of Operation Motion – namely, that it is the ‘de facto management’ of the SDS.
  • Section 6.8: refers to an article appearing on the Undercover Research Group and Undercoverinfo websites in which UCOs and their supervisors are identified.
  • Section 6.25: claims that a number of UCOs have suffered nervous breakdowns because of the stress of either having been identified or of the potential of being identified.

The risk assessment for UCO Karachi is here. Page 3 outlines some of Karachi’s career high points. Much of the remainder of the assessment is a repetition of that given for ‘Jaipur’.

In both assessments, it is again stated (in section 5.5) that neither Jaipur nor Karachi are UCOs but that they work for SO15 (Counter-Terrorism).

And what about the missing files?

Managing the non-disclosure of UCO ‘counsellors” identities is not D.S. Hutchison’s only worry. There has also been significant controversy over alleged missing or disappeared files relating to undercover policing.

An early indication of this problem was given in the 2015 Taylor Review regarding the links between the Home Office and the Special Demonstration Squad. Taylor stated:

My conclusion is that the key file which contains the evidence of Home Office interaction in relation to the SDS from 1968 to 2008 probably no longer exists and there is no record of what happened to it. It is known that this file would have included documents classified as Secret and Top Secret. The absence of any record of the file or the known reference number in Departmental systems is a concern and it is not possible to conclude whether this is human error or deliberate concealment.

The I.D. of the ‘key file’ Taylor referred to, it can be revealed, is reference QPE 66 1/8/5 (see image below). Clearly, there are still many questions about mismanagement of police files to answer.

screenshot-from-2016-06-03-220757

Note: this article was co-resourced by Canary writer Emily Apple, a core participant of the Inquiry into Undercover Policing.

Get Involved!

– Read the list of alleged known UCOs and their alleged known supervisors on the author’s blog.

– Find out more about the Undercover Policing scandal from Police Out of Our Lives.

Featured image via Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance

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