Thursday, October 31, 2013

Undercover Police: No Sex After All

A new police code of ethics will ban undercover officers from having sex with members of the public they are spying on. This completely contradicts a long series of pronouncements from a horde of the most senior police officers and politicians who said it was not only allowed but necessary.

On 13 June 2012 policing minister Nick Herbert told Parliament

What matters is that there is a general structure and system of proper oversight and control, rather than specific directions on behaviour that may or may not be permitted.

Moreover, to ban such actions would provide a ready-made test for the targeted criminal group to find out whether an undercover officer was deployed among them. Specifically forbidding the action would put the issue in the public domain and such groups would know that it could be tested.

On 27 September 2012 Jenny Jones, member of the Greater London Assembly, was at a Police and Crime Committee meeting questioning the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Craig Mackay.

JJ: Would a serving police officer be given authorisation to start a sexual relationship with an activist while using a false identity?
DC: Not ordinarily, no.
JJ: What do you mean “not ordinarily”?
DC: Well you can’t write a rule for every particular scenario.

Radio 4's File On Four programme of 2 October 2012 featured the first interviews by several of the women affected. It also had the Met's Deputy Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan saying

I think it is one of those things that we cannot legislate for every single circumstance. If a circumstance happens where that happens with an officer, I would expect them to immediately report that to a supervisor. Each case needs to be looked at on its merits

The following month the big chief himself, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bernard Hogan-Howe, told the Home Affairs Select Committee

The fact that it may sometimes happen, I think, could almost be inevitable. Not that I would encourage it, obviously, but when you are deploying an officer to live a lifestyle and they are going to get close to a target or a group of targets, it is not impossible to imagine that human relationships develop in that way.

Last week ago Hogan-Howe clarified his stance when questioned by the tenacious Jenny Jones AM.

what we need is transparency when it happens. The individual involved lets us know and we deal with it as a problem, but do not condemn.

When drugs officers are caught stealing and selling what they confiscate, or officers are proven to be violent or sexually abuse citizens, is it also dealt with it as a problem but not with condemnation? If you want it stopped, make it a sacking offence. Otherwise, it continues.

Just two weeks ago women who had long-term relationships were in court, appealing against the decision to send their human rights case to a Bullshit Stalinist Tribunal. Lawyers for the police said

It might in some circumstances be necessary and proportionate to authorise an undercover operative to engage in sexual contact in order, for example, to maintain cover

But this week Alex Marshall from the College of Policing told MP David Winnick

'the authorising officer should make it clear that sexual activity is not allowed while working undercover'.
Winnick: ‘Totally banned?’
Marshall ‘Yes.’ 

After years of flip-flopping, it now seems that it is OK to have a ready-made test, you can write a rule for every particular scenario, you can legislate for every circumstance, you don't look at each case on its merits, it's not almost inevitable and it is not necessary or proportionate to authorise an undercover operative to engage in sexual contact.


It would be nice to think this was some sort of moral advance. In reality, it appears that senior police have decided to say that sexual activity is legal but not authorised. That is to say, if it were illegal the police as a body would be liable; if it is merely not authorised then it is the fault of the individual officer. Thus, the bigwigs who've permitted and encouraged it get away and the lowlings get all the blame.

More, it seems that they'll be arguing this was always the case, thus evading responsibility for what they oversaw. Liam Thomas was an undercover officer until 2004 and says

The official Met line was 'don't do it', but unofficially it was condoned. I remember one senior detective saying to me, 'Have you embedded yourself in the community yet?' It was tongue in cheek, but I left with the impression that had I shagged around for intelligence, it would have been OK.

Jim Boyling infiltrated environmental activists, marrying one woman he targeted and having children with her. She recalls that

Jim complained one day that his superiors said there was to be no more sexual relations with activists anymore – the implicit suggestion was that they were fully aware of this before and that it hadn't been restricted in the past. He was scoffing at it saying that it was impossible not to expect people to have sexual relations. He said people going in had 'needs' and I felt really insulted.

Two later officers - Rod Richardson and Lynn Watson - did not have long term relationships but instead told activists about their partners who lived elsewhere. On occasions these 'partners'- clearly other officers - would come to social events. This all means that the top brass knew full well about officers having relationships and had effective ways to avoid it.

And yet - most damningly after Watson and Richardson - they sent in Mark Kennedy without a pretend far-off partner. Like Bob Lambert thirty years before him, Kennedy targeted his first long-term girlfriend within weeks of starting his spying. At the very least his superiors chose to put him in a position where this was more likely, and it is plausible that they encouraged and even directed his relationships.

The fact that in the 30 years of known cases only one uncovered officer had no sexual contact with the public, and the overwhelming majority had long-term relationships, shows this was endemic and seemingly strategic.

Undercover officers openly had relationships; this meant they sometimes did so in front of other officers. The fact that John Dines' infiltration of London Greenpeace overlapped with Bob Lambert's in the late 1980s means Lambert's relationships will have been known about. Lynn Watson and Marco Jacobs were, at different times, deployed alongside Mark Kennedy. Watson in particular was at social events where Kennedy was very much in a couple.

Either these officers (and the others like them who haven't been unmasked) failed to report their colleagues' misconduct; or else their superiors failed to act on it; or else it simply wasn't regarded as wrong until the public found out.

Police Spies Out of Lives, which speaks for eight women who had long term relationships with officers and are suing the police, saidof this week's announcement

It’s a welcome step but we must be cautious. We’re still not getting the consistency and action that the public is owed. We are talking about deep abuse of people’s lives, the violation of their human rights, that we know has taken place over the last 25 years. The abuses indicate a profound level of institutional sexism, and also institutional prejudice against members of the public who engage campaigning for social and environmental justice.

There are still many questions which need answers: When does the new training start? What’s happening in the meantime? What about past transgressions? Are any officers facing disciplinary action – or are their superiors taking Hogan-Howe’s stance? Is there any protection for whistle-blowers? Will the police change their legal tactics – or are they going to continue to make their victims have to fight for justice?


Anonymous said...

Don’t you think it's just a big a insult to rape victims as those falsely accused of rape to say that if someone's failed by the police in a investigation it's rape ,or if a undercover P.C sleeps with someone who's in a activist group that this is the same as rape too, what about Lizzie Davis undercover P.C who let Colin Stagg touch her breast and fondle her, if he admitted to killing Rachel Nickel. was she guilty of attempted rape of him?

merrick said...

John, nowhere have I said any of the things you seem to be saying I've said.

But for what it's worth, here's what I think. We live in a culture that fails people who are raped. Most people know someone who's been raped and the perpetrator got away with it.

A minority of genuine rapes that are reported get to court, and of those a small minority secure a conviction. That being so, it means that there is a tendancy for people to believe that acquitted people are still guilty; that is often the case.

However, as you say, it does also mean that there is no way for falsely accused people to have their name cleared. This is why, just because most times accusations are real and most guilty people walk free, we cannot presume all accusations are true.

Regarding sexual relations with activists, what happened to those people is rare, and its exposure rarer still. There is a well defined concept of rape because it is commonplace. This rare thing fits that definition in many ways but not in others. It is something untested in law.

It is far, far beyond a man merely lying about his background or the fact that he is married. There is certainly a strong case for saying that these women were not giving informed consent. One of them has said she regards it as 'like being raped by the state'. If it is not rape, it is definitely something as serious as it.

Regarding Colin Stagg, I don't know how coercive that officer was; it may amount to sexual assault. It cannot constitute rape.