Friday, July 19, 2013

smearing the messenger

Oh here we go. The police have put a piece in the Daily Mail smearing undercover police whistleblower Peter Francis. Full of quotes from three or four loyal cops, it alleges he's doing it for the money he gets from the Guardian book. Which is a book he gets no money from. It's a bit rich from the paper that paid a fortune to Mark Kennedy and credulously printed his extravagantly embellished story in 2011.

Francis is unique in that he spoke out before the Kennedy affair. In March 2010 he did an interview for the Observer.

As former Special Branch officer Chris Hobbs remarks: ‘I find it puzzling that the issue of smearing the Lawrence family was not mentioned (in the Observer) in company with the other revelations.’

At the time, Francis was cagey about a lot of things. It took him months to start being named as Pete Black, even though that too is only an alter-ego. As the scandal has unfolded and the threat to him as sole source has receded, just like the activists who were infiltrated, he has come forward with increased details of what went on.

Similarly the women who had relationships with undercover officers did not speak to the press initially. Then they were pseudonymous. Now several are out speaking publicly under their real names. It's not a because they've spent two years cooking up ever more elaborate lies, it's because it's taken a while to get the confidence. They and Francis knew before they began that they'd be shot down by behemoth institutions who are very protective of their reputation, irrespective of justice.


At the time, he wanted to write a book about his undercover life. But the response from publishers was ‘lukewarm’. Apparently, the Observer article was an attempt — ultimately unsuccessful — to attract a book deal... Move forward to 2013, and the new ‘smear’ allegation is the main selling point of both the Dispatches programme and the book by the Guardian journalists. In the much-edited documentary, Francis was steered carefully through his sensational new claim.

So Francis was hoping to get a book deal but failed and has invented with the Lawrence thing to spice up the Guardian journalists' book. Or else the Guardian journalists 'much edited' his interview to make him say something he didn't mean.

Francis has spoken out since the Dispatches programme, standing by its claims, and offered to repeat them under oath.

Which leaves us with the book-hawking thing. The book by the Guardian journalists is just that. By them. It's not by Francis. As they make clear, neither he, nor any other sources, were paid for their contributions. He didn't get paid to be in the Dispatches film either. So as exaggeration for money goes, it's a pretty bad business plan.

Such scepticism should apply to claims by Mark Kennedy who, via his publicity agent Max Clifford, was paid handsomely for his Mail on Sunday exclusive and his Channel 4 documentary, but that's not how it works with Francis.

So why would he do it? Ex-colleague Hobbs says

Time can play tricks with memory

Oh, so even if he isn't in it for the money he's just unhinged. He didn't actually infiltrate the Lawrences, he just thinks he did. He's utterly fabricated the myriad details of a deployment that didn't actually happen. I'm sure that sort of thing happens to us all.


How credible are Francis' claims? He says he was tasked to find dirt on the Lawrences and succeeded in doing so for Stephen's friend and prime witness Duwayne Brooks. This is pretty convincing given the Brooks was then prosecuted with preposterous charges and later on the MacPherson Inquiry found he had been the victim of a racist vendetta by police. At the same time other officers were infiltrating similar campaigns. This week police admitted that the undercover police did have files on the Lawrences.

So they do undermine campaigns like this, they did focus on the biggest of them, gathering information and smearing a key person, but yet somehow they opted to leave the people at the centre alone? Hmmmm.

Former Special Branch commander Roger Pearce says

I would be astounded if it is proved that someone said: "Go out and get information to rubbish and smear the Lawrence campaign".

Read that again, stressing the word 'proved'.

An unnamed former colleague - and note the later part of this next quote - says,

I would be absolutely amazed if someone told Peter to get dirt on the Lawrences; even more amazed if there is a written record of it. 

How much paperwork was kept by a top secret unit whose training was mostly given in practice not theory? And how much has been shredded since Francis went public in spring 2010 and Kennedy splashed his arse across the media a year later?

John Carnt, a retired Scotland Yard superintendent, trawled through hundreds of documents relating to Scotland Yard’s investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence ahead of his family’s ill-fated private prosecution in 1996.

He told us: 'I saw the contents of information gathered on the first murder inquiry, and at no time did I see anything which suggested there was a surveillance operation on the Lawrences to discredit them in any way.'

So a Scotland Yard detective found Scotland Yard did nothing wrong. Imagine that.


But beyond that, the whole point of the SDS was to be secret. Most people in the Met didn't know it even existed. The incident that brought them crashing into the limelight was the Ratcliffe power station prosecution when the police had failed in their duty to give the defence all the evidence.

Mark Kennedy's previously hidden evidence exonerated the defendants, leading to the collapse of the trial, 20 previous convictions quashed and at least another 29 to follow. The police knew they were orchestrating miscarriages of justice.

In these three cases alone there would be 55 wrongful convictions if activists hadn't caught Kennedy. So what chance do you think there was of them fessing up their crooked deeds to officers giving evidence to the Lawrence Inquiry?

Mick Creedon, Chief Constable of Derbyshire, is leading Operation Herne which is investigating the undercover police scandal. He took over to stop it appearing like the Met are self-investigating. In reality, three quarters of its staff are Met employees, including serving officers who have their future careers to think of before revealing anything unhelpful about their superiors. It is police investigating themselves, with no outside scrutiny and not even a promise to publish their findings.


A year into Herne, they say they found evidence of an officer using a dead child's identity. In the five months that followed the 30-odd staff didn't find any more cases, even though it was standard practice, sanctioned from the top and there were dozens of cases. It's that sort of inquiry.

This week Creedon said

There is nothing in Operation Herne which suggests any attempt whatsoever to do two things. Firstly, to be tasked against the Stephen Lawrence family; and secondly, to besmirch the Lawrence family. 

This is damage limitation. They do it well. Remember when police were criticised after the 2009 G20 protests where they killed Ian Tomlinson? During the protests a Lib Dem MP was called over to a group that had two suspicious people encouraging violence against the police. As they were confronted, the group - including the MP - watched the men walk to police lines, flash their warrant cards and be taken through. The officer in charge, Commander Bob Broadhurst, told parliament

We had no plain-clothes officers deployed within the crowd. It would have been dangerous for them to put plain clothes officers in a crowd like that.

This was flattened by footage of a line of City of London police with batons - check out the one in jeans and baseball cap. Yet it was still more than a year after the footage went public that the police finally admitted they had undercovers on the streets that day. All this without mentioning Mark Kennedy's presence that day, too.

At the G20 the officer in charge of the streets and the one doing media were of the same rank. That's how seriously they take this stuff.

On to the early days of the undercover scandal, when they thought they could portray Kennedy as a rogue officer, Chief Constable Jon Murphy said sex with activists was

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.

Yet all the ones exposed so far have done it to varying degrees, with one officer after another saying it was standard practice. The senior police seem to have given up on denying that now.

With each new revelation we can expect that pattern of denial and of smearing the person at the centre. But if the likes of Francis persist then - as the women who had relationships or those who saw the agents provocateur at the G20 proved - perseverance coupled with the weight of evidence will establish the truth whether police admit it or not.

Monday, July 15, 2013

from one zimmerman to another

More than quarter of a million people were massed in front of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28 1963 when Martin Luther King made his I Have A Dream speech. On the same day, less than a hundred miles away, Billy Zantzinger was in court to be sentenced.

Zantzinger was, at 24, the owner of a large tobacco farm inherited from his parents. In February he had put on his top hat, white tie and tails to attend a charity ball. Excessively drunk by 1.30am - he plausibly claimed he has no memory of it - he chided a member of the serving staff, Hattie Carroll, for not bringing his drink quickly. "I'm hurrying as fast as I can," replied Carroll. Zantzinger declared, "I don't have to take that kind of shit off a n*****," and struck Carroll with his cane on the shoulder and again on the head. She collapsed soon after and died of a brain haemorrhage.

The next morning Zantzinger, already under arrest for other assaults on staff that night, was charged with homicide. This was later reduced to manslaughter, of which he was convicted. Aware that a long sentence would send him to state prison with its large population of long-term black convicts, judges gave him just six months, to be served in the relative security of Washington County Jail.

Imagine if Carroll had killed Zantzinger on a racist whim instead. Fifty years on, give or take a month, and we have the same knowledge of how things would have been different if Trayvon Martin had chased and killed George Zimmerman.

Even in cosmopolitan 2013, it is simple to show that black men get aggressively challenged and have the police called for things that white men are permitted to do, and white women get actively helped with.

Less than two months after Zantzinger's sentence, Bob Dylan - real name Robert Zimmerman - was in the studio recording his third album The Times They Are A Changin. With just his guitar and harmonica, he simply told the story of the two individuals' lives, knowing it was a a microcosm of racial differences across America. He sang of how Carroll spent her working life cleaning up after the white folks and was never their equal, and of Zantzinger's casual violence on the night and fierce sense of entitlement even after arrest.

Each verse ends with Dylan imploring us, saying that despite the injustice he's already reported the worst part is to come.

But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain't the time for your tears

There will always be volatile bigots. The deeper problem is in the attitudes among the mass of people. It is in the way white society creates and reacts to the otherness of people from different backgrounds and even manages to instil those same attitudes in the people it abuses. And reflecting that, the problem extends into the way mainstream officialdom deters and punishes - or fails to - those violent bigots. That really is something that can change and yet we haven't done it.

In the final verse Dylan haltingly tells of that six month sentence.

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all's equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain't pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught 'em
And that ladder of law has no top and no bottom
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin' that way without warnin'
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence

But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now's the time for your tears

Gary Younge's anger well expresses the outrage at George Zimmerman's acquittal, but his headline says Open season on black boys after a verdict like this, implying a change. That open season was declared long before we were born.

Friday, July 12, 2013

stopping the wind

The 2010 Coalition agreement spelt it out in clear terms.

Liberal Democrats have long opposed any new nuclear construction. Conservatives, by contrast, are committed to allowing the replacement of existing nuclear power stations... provided that they receive no public subsidy. 

So, the most ardently pro-nuclear stance was one in which they were entirely privately funded. Liberal Democrats will oppose it nonetheless.

Two weeks ago Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander announced £10bn of public guarantees to investors in just one new nuclear power station, Hinkley Point.

This week the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) published a report on the smothering at birth of Britain's offshore wind industry. With so much coastline and much of it relatively shallow, this country has an enviable position to establish  massive offshore wind infrastructure. It is much more expensive than building on land, but then it also avoids many of the problems such as spoilt landscapes. Additionally, out at sea you get greater production and efficiency as there aren't the obstacles that create turbulence around turbines.

However the government's lack of enthusiasm means we are building much less than anticipated. It had been expected that a hefty kickstart would see turbine manufacturers set up factories in the UK, but because of the reduced potential this hasn't happened. Increased capacity would, in turn, reduce the cost of offshore wind, leading to increased uptake. More renewable energy, more jobs, everyone wins. Except the fossil and nuke corporations such as EDF, currently lining up to build Hinkley Point as well as the new 'dash for gas' stations such as West Burton.

Will Straw, associate director at the IPPR, said: "The current policy trajectory could achieve a worst of all worlds outcome – low volume [of energy generated], low jobs and high costs.

It's a straight choice - runaway climate change or stopping the fossils to switch to renewables. A large proportion of our old coal stations are closing in the next few years. What we choose to build now decides the source of our electricity for the next forty years. With the new gas stations, the government is setting us up to fail our already paltry carbon emissions targets. Unlike Labour they are refusing to commit to decarbonisation by 2030 and are striving to scupper EU targets for the same date. The greenest government ever. Vote blue, go green.

The lack of investment in renewables and the duplicitous state funding of new nuclear are not two stories. They are one. Money is being steered away from what is sustainable to what is in the interests of the energy giants. They have ceased to offer inadequate solutions to the climate crisis and are now blatantly disregarding the entire issue.

Meanwhile, despite it being banned in many parts of Europe, the UK is pressing ahead with fracking for shale gas even though its climate impact is comparable to coal. The same right wingers who decry the eyesore of wind turbines are happy for fracking drills to cover the countryside (it's been seriously sugggested we could be looking at 50,000-100,000 in Lancashire alone). So again, this looks feels like one story, not two, and that there are other motives at work. And again, follow the money to the shareholder dividends.

This isn't just about climate, it's also about fuel poverty. The government's own Committee on Climate Change said whilst gas is cheaper in the short term, by 2050 a gas-based electricity system would cost households £650 per year more than renewables. This makes the tax breaks for fracking look like an attack on social justice as much as climate justice.


The climate imperative means we have to act now, against the corporate distraction and deceit. It was like this five years ago. But with such a huge swathe of the population aware of the scale of the climate threat, it was relatively easy for small campaign groups acting in unison to have a big impact. Being the only folks with solutions that matched the scale of the problem, being so clearly right that they could prove it in two minutes to a 5 year old with a crayon, it swiftly changed the course of events. The NGOs did what they do best with lobbying, local organising and commissioning reports. The direct activists added the ramshackle pizzazz that tipped the scales.

When Climate Camp went to Heathrow to occupy land earmarked for a new runway in 2007 they expected to be vilified and dismissed. By the end of the year aviation emissions had been forced into the Climate Change Act and plans for the runway were eventually shelved. The following year they didn't know if they'd be facing the bulldozers at the site for the new coal power station at Kingsnorth. Not only did that plan get dropped, so did the raft of others that were due to follow.

The first of the projected 40 new gas fired power stations are being built. Next month Climate Camp style action returns with Reclaim The Power, a camp at the nearly-finished West Burton power station in Nottinghamshire running from 16th to 21st August. The pressure has worked before and it can work again, but only if those who know it's right come together to make it happen.


Tuesday, July 09, 2013

if i were special branch

Cast your mind back a year or two ago to the rattling clunk of a million dropped jaws when Mark Kennedy was unmasked. Remember the slew of front page reports, the amazement that someone had been trained and deployed to act as he did.

Now he is reduced to a bit player. Not that anything Kennedy did has been found to be untrue or diminished in any way, it has only shifted relatively. It turned out that he was actually a latecomer among hundreds of officers who behaved identically, and there are even darker deeds done beyond the like of his. The known wrongdoing has expanded a hundredfold, so our outrage should be multiplied by the same amount.

This police scandal is larger than any that came before it. It is larger than the Stephen Lawrence case and the institutional racism it exposed, because it includes that. What's more, it includes more institutional racism than we previously knew of and, worse still, secret measures to protect and perpetuate it.

It is far, far beyond the phone hacking scandal that involved corrupt police being covered up by their superiors. Huge numbers of people had their privacy breached by hacking but none had state agents sent to live with them, integrate into their families and father their children. Also, beyond the private lives of citizens, the undercovers had a far more damaging mission. They were, as solicitor Harriet Wistrich termed it, given a counter-democratic remit.

And yet all this comes from the stories of a mere ten officers, leaving well over 90% still in the shadows. What more is there still to be revealed?

From what is known, nobody is more implicated than Bob Lambert. He infiltrated London Greenpeace and co-wrote the notorious What's Wrong With McDonald's leaflet, then left just as it saw the group sued for libel in the longest case in English history. During his time, unbeknownst to his wife and children, he had sexual relationships with four women and fathered a child with one. "Raped by the state" is how one of them describes it.

Afterwards he moved up a notch and supervised deployments. He oversaw Peter Francis' infiltration of black justice campaigns including that of Stephen Lawrence, he put Jim Boyling into Reclaim The Streets. Peculiarly, he and Boyling then formed the Muslim Contact Unit ostensibly as an outreach project but, as I've said before, the most credible explanation for using your most experienced infiltrators and spies is, well, infiltration and spying.

The new book Undercover has by far the most complete picture yet of Britain's secret police. In it, Lambert is interwoven with most of the spies and is personally responsible for some of the worst excesses of the undercover squad.


As the tide of shit rapidly swells around him, last week Bob Lambert broke his silence to talk to Channel 4 news (in two parts, here and here). The man who is so skilled a deceiver that colleagues said his work was "hands down regarded as the best tour of duty ever" is now doing damage limitation. You do that by appearing to be meek, confessing some unpleasant but established truths, then casting doubt on the most unsavoury parts.

He admitted much of what we already know - taking the identity of a dead child to form the basis of his activist persona, misleading courts by being prosecuted under that false identity, having two serious relationships with women and fathering a child. He missed out his third relationship and a fourth brief liaison, but still.

He claims that the women he abused were not targeted, that it was love and 'just happened'. Yet the pattern of approaching the women, then preparing to leave by feigning mental distress and cheating on his partner, is identical to that of other officers. But more than that, like the others, he was trained in sophisticated tricks of making people identify with him and trust him. When in his role he cannot have been anything other than targetting anyone he befriended, let alone became lovers with. Those women thought they were meeting The One when they weren't even meeting a person, they were meeting a set of techniques. It had no informed consent, it was deceit and abuse. It most certainly was not love.

He flatly denied planting the Animal Liberation Front firebomb at fur-selling Debenhams in Harrow. So the question remains; who did? He was trying to get the bombers jailed. One of them says there were only three people involved. On Lambert's intelligence, two of them were caught red-handed and sent down. Either there was a fourth person that nobody has mentioned before and whom Lambert failed to have arrested, or else Lambert was the third bomber.

But, most boldly and implausibly of all, Lambert flatly denied that the Lawrence campaign was infiltrated. Yet we know that other officers under his command were infiltrating black justice campaigns in London at that time. We know that Peter Francis is telling the truth about the police's racist victimisation of the main witness to Lawrence's murder, Duwayne Brooks, a fact established by the MacPherson Inquiry. The idea that the squad was doing this to campaigns that posed less of a threat to police credibility, that they were doing it to those around Lawrence and yet somehow thought it wouldn't serve their purpose to do it to the Lawrence family themselves flies in the face of all we know about how the police work and the way that, above public order or any other consideration, they prize their reputation.

Former Met officer Chris Hobbs describes a regime so single-minded in the protection of its reputation that anyone rocking the boat is given rough treatment. Hobbs, who spent 23 years in the Met, including Special Branch, before leaving in 2011, said: "It's run like a dictatorship and if you dare challenge the system then you've had it. If you take on the Met as a whistleblower you'll never win. I was forcibly retired after making my concerns known."

It is precisely because of this brand awareness that the Lawrence case is the real Achilles heel for the Metropolitan Police. They were deeply humiliated, had their innner workings dragged into the limelight, and then were forced to declare that they had come clean, reformed and it would never happen again.

In fact, since the Lawrence case numerous innocent people who entirely reasonably presented a threat to the Met's credibility - Delroy Lindo, Roger Sylvester, Jean Charles de Menezes, and beyond the Met in the case of Christopher Alder - have suffered similar smears and dirty tricks campaigns, whilst corrupt police have been painted as put-upon heroes. Let's remember the Evening Standard's headline the day after police killed Ian Tomlinson in 2009.

But Lawrence remains iconic; to have their record on this dragged down again, to be proven to be even worse than anybody hitherto thought, would be the most damning blow to the Met.


So by giving a bumbly presentation, repeatedly using the interviewer's forename and fessing up to what is already known, Lambert gives the impression of someone coming clean. By bizarrely saying of the men he jailed as the ultimate aim of his deployment that "in my heart" he was their friend and he had "a genuine respect for their cause and still do," topped with an apology to two of the women he had relationships with - but honestly didn't target - he hopes to look contrite and at least conjure a cloaking question mark over the current firework display of explosive revelations.

It's the best shot they've got and, if I were Special Branch trying to save face and utterly uninterested in justice, it's what I'd do too. But because it defends so much of what is already established and indefensible, Lambert fatally undermines himself with ludicrous implausibility.

He can't even concede the fact of Duwayne Brooks' persecution, a campaign so trumped-up that Brooks walked free from court without opening his mouth, later received £100,000 in compensation and - a true rarity - a written apology from the police. Lambert's interview comes in the same week that the senior officer in charge of the inquiry into Lawrence's murder, John Grieve, admitted secretly recording a meeting with Brooks and his lawyer. As Brooks said last week,

Does anyone actually believe the covert recording only happened once? There will be more to come out. It seems a bit odd that he’s just come out and admitted to it once.

Lambert's claims would be risible if they weren't subjecting the Lawrences to yet more insult and lies from the police who spent years treating them, in Doreen Lawrence's words, "like white masters during slavery".

His admission to taking the identity of a dead child was mitigated with the claim that it was standard practice and, more, was "well known at the highest levels in the Home Office". It is always tempting to believe that a cover-up goes to the very top, and in this case it may well be true. However we have to be cautious and recognise this for what it is.

Lambert spent a long time undercover before becoming second in command of the Special Demonstration Squad. Whatever judgement is made on the undercovers falls most heavily on him. He has an academic career built on his, ahem, 'counter-terrorism' experience that hangs by a rapidly thinning thread. He is desperately covering his arse and trying to deflect blame away from himself and his squad. Some of that can be done by blaming individual officers below him (tellingly, they're starting with one who divulged squad secrets). The other option is to push shit uphill and accuse those above him in the Home Office.

Just as the police responded to the exposure of their orchestration of a miscarriage of justice in the Kennedy-Ratcliffe trial by leaking documents implicating the Crown Prosecution Service, so now we should be unsurprised to see them to blame government and rogue officers. Anything to protect the institution, its methods and culture.

Their refusal to implement even the mild recommendations of the HMIC report into Kennedy's unit, coupled with the way their new, supposedly tougher oversight for undercovers actually preserves all the previous tactics, shows a force that does not want to stop such violations in the future, let alone examine them in the past.

As the key figure so far exposed, we can expect the decoys, deflections and bullshit to centre around Bob Lambert. His performance so far shows he retains his lifelong commitment to injustice, and everything he says must be viewed through that filter.

Monday, July 08, 2013

self-investigation: when is the met not the met?

Operation Herne is the police's massive self-investigation into the undercover policing scandal. It was the Metropolitan Police investigating itself until the use of dead children's identities was revealed, coupled with Herne's boss Patricia Gallan lying to parliament about it all.

In what was claimed to be an attempt at independence, oversight was transferred in February to a different senior police officer, Chief Constable Mick Creedon of Derbyshire. A fortnight ago I blogged his bold claims that he would do a better job than any independent inquiry and it is 'almost insulting' of anyone to suggest police mightn't properly investigate themselves.

But still, getting control to him at least moves it away from the Met, right? Buried in a Channel 4 blogpost last week comes the news that Herne's staff level is increasing.

another 11 officers are to be seconded to that inquiry team, bringing the total to 44, of whom 75 per cent will be made up of Metropolitan police officers and staff.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

many more dead children abused by police

So, senior police are either incalculably incompetent or they've being lying to parliament again.

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.