Tuesday, June 19, 2012

the puppet apologist for abusers

Let's just remind ourselves of the official position of the police regarding undercover officers having sexual relationships with the people they are spying on.

Jon Murphy of the Association of Chief Police Officers - the body in charge of the deployment of Mark Kennedy and others who infiltrated the environmental and anti-capitalist movements - is clear and unequivocal.

It is absolutely not authorised. It is never acceptable for an undercover officer to behave in that way...

It is grossly unprofessional. It is a diversion from what they are there to do. It is morally wrong because people have been put there to do a particular task and people have got trust in them. It is never acceptable under any circumstances... for them to engage in sex with any subject they come into contact with.

Peculiar, then, that last week Home Office policing minister Nick Herbert contradicted this, saying that it can be authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

It's notable that Herbert, unlike Murphy, extensively hedged his position saying that it was only the case

in very limited circumstances... and consideration should always be given to seeking legal advice.

He then supplemented his speech with an odd notion.

Of course, there is another point that banning such actions would provide the group targeted the opportunity to find out whether there was an undercover officer specifically within their group.

The assumptions here are baffling. Do they imagine that all activists, no matter what their personal feelings, would allow themselves to be forced into sexual activity with people just to prove that they are not police?

The fact is that more than one of the undercover officers lived and worked among activists without having any sexual relationships, and without being suspected. At at least two of them would refer to a partner who lived far away and actually brought their supposed partner to meet the activists.

This successful tactic of supplying pretend partners means that not only did officers not need to enter into the relationships with activists, it points to something more. It strongly implies that superior officers chose on some occasions not to give pretend partners, that the officers who had relationships were, in effect, sanctioned and even encouraged from on high.

This would certainly tally with the testimony of another undercover officer, Liam Thomas, who says

The official Met line was 'don't do it', but unofficially it was condoned.

The real outrage of the undercover operations is not the sexual activity, it is the prolonged intimacy, profound emotional bonds and personal trust they fraudulently cultivated. One of the women currently suing the police had a nine year relationship, another lasted for six years. More than one had children with their police partners, men sent into their lives to ruin the womens' most important moral values, who became as close as anyone could get and then, with little or no warning and on someone else's orders, upped and left.

Whatever Nick Herbert and his novel interpretations of UK law say, that's a clear breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees that no-one shall be subject to inhumane and degrading treatment and that we all have the right to private and family life, including the right to form relationships without unjustified interference by the state.

It sounds like hyperbole to call what was done to these women the most complete invasion of someone's life that is possible but really, I defy anyone to say how it could have been more so.

Given that such relationships are known to have occurred since at least the early 1980s, and involving officers like Bob Lambert who had two significant intimate relationships and fathered a child with activists and then went on to run operations, it is ludicrous to suggest that senior officers were unaware of the possibility, and that the daily-contact cover officers were blind to how their charges lived.

As the womens' lawsuit progresses, the police must be terrified of the facts of this most invasive and indefensible of strategies coming out. They must be desperate to try to fob them off or invent a trapdoor to jump through and escape. And indeed, it's not just Nick Herbert who's been suddenly saying that sexual relations are, after all, professional and acceptable.

the Met had told the women's lawyers that "forming of personal and other relationships" is permitted under Ripa, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

Britain's only Green MP, Caroline Lucas, highlighted the contradiction and points out that whatever the truth there are officers guilty of very serious acts.

either rogue undercover officers have been breaking the rules set by senior officers, or senior officers have misled the public by saying that such relationships are forbidden.

Perhaps it's not so simple as that. Perhaps it was, indeed, officially forbidden clearly last year (and therefore at the time that all those officers were deployed), yet was still used by this unsupervised runaway train spy department as a deliberate tactic.

Under the new threat of accountability the police will have been furiously thumbing their rulebooks and legislation to make something, anything, slant enough to sound like it might make their actions somehow permissable. To back up their case, the words would need to come not just from them but the more objective and authoritative mouth of, say, a sock-puppetted government minister.

Step forward, Nick Herbert, apologist for the sustained psychological, physical and sexual abuse of the citizens he represents.

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