Spycops accused of unlawful and sexist conduct in landmark judgement

Kate Wilson
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On 30 September, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ruled in favour of one of the women deceived into a relationship by a spycop. The undercover policing inquiry found that police abused Kate Wilson’s human rights, drawing her ten-year legal battle to a close. The landmark judgement sets out a “‘formidable list” of human rights breaches from the Metropolitan Police. It concludes that the undercover policing operations against protestors were unlawful and sexist.

Institutional sexism

In 2003, environmental activist Wilson began a relationship with Mark Kennedy. She later found out that Kennedy was an undercover Metropolitan Police officer who had infiltrated a number of environmental groups. The tribunal considered evidence about Kennedy’s relationships with Wilson and a number of other women. The ruling found that the police violated Wilson’s fundamental human right to live free from inhumane and degrading treatment and her right to private and family life. It concluded that such deceptive relationships – which primarily impacted women – count as sexist discrimination. 

The ruling highlighted that the force failed to put any structures in place to safeguard or protect the targets of undercover policing operations from officers seeking sexual relationships.

The tribunal also considered evidence about the knowledge a number of senior Met Police officers had of Kennedy’s relationships with Wilson and other women. It concluded that the National Public Order Policing Unit (NPOPU) adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding officers initiating sexual relationships while undercover, with little regard for the impact on women’s lives.

Other human rights violations

The tribunal also considered whether the use of secret policing against protestors was “necessary in a democratic society” as set out by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Five other officers spied on Wilson: Jim Boyling, Jason Bishop, Rod Richardson, Lynne Watson, and Marco Jacobs. The tribunal also found that police violated Wilson’s right to hold opinions and her rights to freedom of expression and association. It added that the force failed to put structures in place that would protect the private lives of Wilson and other targets of undercover policing operations, calling Kennedy’s poorly defined operation a “fishing expedition”.

Regarding the right to hold opinions and exchange information and ideas, the tribunal found that this “must, in our view, include the right to do so without attracting the attention of the police and being monitored and placed under surveillance”. Contrary to this right, the ruling concluded that undercover police targeted Wilson because of her political views.

A long list of failings

The ruling also indicted the Metropolitan Police’s conduct during the case. It stated that the force provided “unsatisfactory” and at times incomprehensible evidence. And it added that without Wilson’s “tenacity and perseverance” over the course of her ten-year legal battle against the police, “much of what this case has revealed would not have come to light”.

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The judgement concludes:

This is a formidable list of Convention violations, the severity of which is underscored in particular by the violations of Arts 3 and 14. This is not just a case about a renegade police officer who took advantage of his undercover deployment to indulge his sexual proclivities, serious though this aspect of the case unquestionably is.

It added:

Our findings that the authorisations under RIPA were fatally flawed and the undercover operation could not be justified as “necessary in a democratic society”, as required by the ECHR, reveal disturbing and lamentable failings at the most fundamental levels.

Time for institutional change

Welcoming the ruling after her decade long legal battle, Wilson said:

The events in my case happened years ago, however the failure of the police to protect women from sexual predators within their own ranks, and police attempts to criminalise protestors are both still very live issues today.

She concluded:

We need to tackle the misogyny and institutional sexism of the police and there needs to be a fundamental rethink of the powers they are given for the policing of demonstrations and the surveillance of those who take part.

Director of the Centre for Women’s Justice Harriet Wistrich, who was a witness and Wilson’s lawyer in the early stages of the case, said:

This excoriating judgement could not have come at a more significant moment when we hear the details of the horrendous murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met police officer who used deceit with the opportunities of his job to entrap her. What is it going to take to transform the culture of policing so that resources are used to protect women from abuse from violence, not to abuse them?

Wilson’s case and the tribunal’s landmark ruling have provided unprecedented insight into undercover policing operations. The spycops inquiry is ongoing.

Featured image via Cops Campaign/YouTube

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