Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Neither Truth Nor Justice

The public inquiry into policing must cover all the interlaced police spy units that did identical work, rather than being limited to one of them. But beyond the framing of the inquiry's remit, we face a bigger obstacle to the truth. The police themselves.

The current self-investigation, Operation Herne, managed to grind down some of the rubble of whatever credibility it had by publishing its Operation Trinity report last week. It looked at the allegations of the whistleblower officer Peter Francis, who was tasked to find 'dirt' with which to discredit Stephen Lawrence's family.

The Ellison report came out on the same day and said that the available evidence shows there was spying on the Lawrences and it is not reassured by the assortment of excuses, fob-offs and 'lost' files it encountered. Operation Herne - whose staff are 75% Metropolitan Police employees including serving officers - said everything's fine.

It went one better. This is an 84 page report that says nothing, to the extent that it

will not confirm or deny if Peter Francis was ever an undercover police officer.

To take the only whistleblower and, when he doesn't get intimidated by the threat of prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, rubbish him with such clammed-up absurdity is the final proof that Operation Herne is not fit for purpose, that it should be abandoned and the public inquiry brought forward.

More than that, it is another example of the 'Neither Confirm Nor Deny' (NCND) policy being used as farcical stonewalling. Last month activist John Jordan was in court to hear that his conviction would be quashed from a court case in which his co-defendant Jim Sutton was actually undercover officer Jim Boyling. However, the court could not tell him why it was quashed; the page of reasons was literally a blank sheet of paper.

Dafter still, they would not confirm Boyling's status as an officer. Jordan's barrister told the court

Everybody knows that Jim Boyling was Jim Sutton. Everybody knows that Jim Boyling was a police officer...  It is ludicrous to suggest that it's a mystery.

It's even more absurd considering the police confirmed it years ago. The Met chief Bernard Hogan-Howe openly admitted that the person known as Jim Sutton was a police officer to the Metropolitan Police Authority meeting on 27 October 2011 [PDF p22].


Hogan-Howe responded to the Ellison report by saying

The Metropolitan Police will not regain lost trust without honesty, openness and transparency.

But within a week of that, on Tuesday we will see NCND rolled out to obscure the truth once again. Eight women who had long-term life-partner relationships with undercover officers are back in court. The Met are trying to have the whole claim struck out. Their reasoning - brace yourself - is that because the police choose not to give details of their actions, they are denied a fair trial.

If I burgled Jim Boyling's house and refused to speak at my trial, could I too walk free on the grounds that the hearing was unfair to me?

In case you were wondering whether NCND is just a ploy to avoid accountability, the womens' campaign site notes

The women launched their legal action in December 2011, but it was not until June 2012 that the police first mentioned NCND in relation to the claim. You might think if there had been such a long standing policy this would have been highlighted in the first police response. 

The women had relationships with five officers. One of these is Mark Kennedy, admitted to be a police officer in several official reports, and of course a man who hired Max Clifford to sell his story to a Sunday tabloid. Another is Jim Boyling, also confirmed by police. A third one is Bob Lambert who has given interviews to the media about his undercover work and who was named in the Ellison report last week. The idea that they cannot be identified or confirmed is ridiculous when they've splashed themselves across the telly and police have already told tell us that they were officers.

In other words, NCND is a brazen ruse as transparent as it is galling. It is the sickening, familiar pattern of double injustice wrought by police. First there is what the police did to these people, then there are the devious tactics to avoid accountability, discredit their victims and deny justice.

An institution interested in justice would want to get corruption out into the open, distance themselves from it, examine it, learn from it. A police force that served the public would see abuses of power as a cancer to be removed. To instead close ranks around the foetid mess, absorbing it back into themselves, is the starkest evidence that the corruption is not a problem of anomalous individuals but something institutional.


The two day hearing starts on Tuesday 18th March at the Royal Courts of Justice. The women have called for a picket 9-10am on the Tuesday (Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London, WC2 - Holborn or Temple tube - please bring placards and banners).

There's a PDF of the leaflet/poster for it here.

UPDATE 13 MARCH: Police have dropped their attempt to have the claim struck out, but it's unclear if the case is still going ahead on the same day with the police using NCND. Either way the picket is still going to happen. The police statement said:

"In light of the upcoming Public Inquiry into undercover policing, the most recent Operation Herne investigation report and the huge public interest in these issues, the Met has decided it would not be appropriate or proportionate to go ahead with the application to strike out the claims.

"The legal arguments involved in this case are novel, complicated and important and the ramifications of departing from NCND, during litigation, was likely to have far reaching implications. We are not prepared to discuss, at this stage, how we will proceed with defending these claims.

"We still maintain the principle of neither confirm nor deny, as we have a duty, as recognised by Mark Ellison QC in his report, to do all we can to protect those officers who served or currently work undercover.

"Today we have written to the Royal Courts of Justice and the claimants' solicitors to inform them of our decision."

As if the police didn't know the facts dug up by Ellison and Herne all along.

You can follow the womens' case on this page of their site, and follow their campaign on Twitter and Facebook.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Curiously, whilst the Herne 2 report is at pains to persist in the convenient faux naïvete of NCND - to the point that in places one wonders whether the effect being sought is to imply that Peter Francis is a fantasist who has no connection to SDS - its predecessor Herne 1 clearly identifies him (through context if not by name) as exactly the undercover officer he has said he was.

Herne 1 assigns him the alphanumeric codename N43, and refers to the specific claims he made in the video interview with him published by The Guardian in February 2013.

The material and claims in this interview were also repeated in subsequent written articles, in the Paul Lewis/Rob Evans book Undercover, and in Channel 4's film Dispatches: The Police's Dirty Secret.