Monday, May 20, 2013

police using dead children : common practice

Phone hacking warranted a major full public inquiry yet the undercover policing scandal, which involves a far larger invasion of lives over a longer period, has triggered a ragbag of piecemeal reports and inquiries. Most of them are the police investigating themselves. Each of them has a limited remit, preventing any overview of it as a system. Some of them are not even going to publish their findings.

Operation Herne was 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.

In early February the Home Affairs Select Committee - a cross party group of MPs - held a hearing on the undercover issue (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.

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.

Trying to avoid any liability for what her force has done to people, Gallan stoutly refused to apologise for any of it. On the matter of dead children's identity being used, she said unequivocally that it was

not sanctioned within the Metropolitan Police or any other police force

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.

A week after Gallan's testimony an officer from outside the Met, Mick Creedon, was appointed to take over Operation Herne. This week he admitted to the Select Committee that identity theft of dead children was actually 'common practice'.

Once again the facts have to be arduously dragged out of the authorities. Like many others before them, those affected by the undercover scandal find themselves victims of a double injustice. There is what the authorities did to them, then there is the obstruction and lying to try to prevent the truth coming to light.

In behaving this way the police add a cruel new layer upon the suffering of those they abused. It discourages some of their victims from coming forward if they haven't got the stomach for a gruelling fight. It makes a glaringly indisputable and vicious mockery of any claim to be interested in justice.