To recap: in early February the Home Affairs Select Committee - a cross party group of MPs - held a hearing on the undercover policing scandal (subsequent interim report as a PDF is here). They heard from women activists who had long term relationships with officers; their lawyers; Guardian journalist Paul Lewis who's been covering the issue; and ex-undercover officer Mark Kennedy whose exposure unleashed the scandal. The police were not going to send anyone.
However, two days beforehand came the revelation that officers had stolen the identities of dead children to create their fake activist personae. In the outrage that followed Patricia Gallan, the Met's Deputy Assistant Commissioner, was obliged to turn up to the Select Committee and give evidence. She was overseeing Operation Herne, established in October 2011 for the Metropolitan Police to self-investigate the Special Demonstration Squad, an undercover unit set up in 1968 to infiltrate political activists. (It should be noted this does not include the Met's similar National Public Order Intelligence Unit, set up in 1999 and who deployed Mark Kennedy among others.)
Between times, the police had spun the line that it was a practice mainly in the 1970s and 80s. But one of the officers uncovered, who used the identity Rod Richardson, was active in the 2000s.
The Guardian had estimated that around 80 officers had done it. Gallan disparaged this, saying she had learned of only one incidence, eleven months into the investigation, back in September 2012. In the five months following she claimed that neither she nor the 31 staff on Operation Herne had uncovered any more until the Rod Richardson case was published by activists and media.
I do not know if the figure that has been quoted about the number of identities of dead children used is accurate. I have seen the evidence of one case, and we very recently received a complaint of a second case and that is now being investigated.
She explained that the practice was limited to the two already discredited and conveniently disbanded units responsible for infiltration of political activists.
I think it has been, from the evidence I have seen, confined to two units, and that is the SDS and the NPOIU.
Asked if it was still going on, she - tellingly - sidestepped by saying it was
not sanctioned within the Metropolitan Police or any other police force
This is very reminiscent of the early days of the sexual relationships being exposed. A spokesperson for the Association of Chief Police Officers was similarly unequivocal then, saying
It is absolutely not authorised. It is never acceptable for an undercover officer to behave in that way.
We now know he was lying through his teeth, trying to hang out the frontline officers in order to protect their superiors. Pushed on when using dead children had stopped, Gallan would not be specific.
If I were to give a date, I could be wrong and I think I would then be guilty of misleading you, and I do not want to do that.
So, by implication, the statement that it was probably just the two units is something she is confident of. She continued
It has never been practice within most areas of undercover policing to do that. I think that is the first thing we need to state. The practice has been confined, we believe, to two units.
Trying to avoid any liability for what her force has done to people, she stoutly refused to apologise for any of it.
The shock of the dead children scandal meant that, a week after Gallan's testimony, an officer from outside the Met called Mick Creedon was appointed to take over Operation Herne. Six weeks ago he admitted to the Select Committee that the identity theft was actually 'common practice'.
Today's Times exposes it still further.
Undercover officers say that they were trained to use the identities of the dead as cover names and it became "standard practice" in Special Branch units in the Metropolitan Police and across the country.
The method was employed by officers infiltrating targets as diverse as big criminal networks, gangs of football hooligans and violent animal rights groups. Other agencies, ranging from Revenue and Customs to regional crime squads, are also believed to have used the technique.
Gallan's confirmation of a mere two cases was risible, and even the Guardian's estimate of 80 done by the Special Demonstration Squad is a small fraction of it.
So either Gallan is so grossly incompetent that she'd spent 16 months not finding out the basics of what she was investigating and hadn't uncovered what was a foundational part of the officers' training, or else she repeatedly lied to the Select Committee. I leave you to decide for yourself which one is the most likely.
The Committee's chair, Keith Vaz MP, has repeatedly said that it is unacceptable to leave the families whose childrens' identities were used uninformed. The police are steadfastly refusing to do it. However they are, the Times reports, on the brink of apologising. To nobody in particular.