Officer anonymity threatens the integrity of the Pitchford Inquiry

Representatives of the Undercover Research Project examine the Metropolitan Police's applications for officer anonymity in the Pitchford Inquiry into 'spycop' activities.

Eveline Lubbers
31 October 2016
 Jonathan Brady PA Wire/PA Images

A policeman wears the new Body Worn Video camera. Photo: Jonathan Brady PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved.In 2010, Mark Kennedy was exposed as an undercover police office by fellow activists who no longer trusted him. A lot has happened since then. We now know that the Special Demonstration Squad has been infiltrating political campaigns since, in 1968, a demonstration against the Vietnam War got out of hand. Fifteen more so-called spycops have since been uncovered. Using the birth certificates of children who died young, they each adopted a fake identity to live the life of an activist each for about five years. 

After a dozen internal police inquiries, and the Metropolitan Police refusing to acknowledge what had happened, then home secretary Theresa May was forced to announce a judge-led independent inquiry into undercover policing in March 2014. The tipping point was the confirmation that Doreen and Neville Lawrence had been spied upon when campaigning for justice for their son killed in a racist attack, as had a lot of other bereaved black family campaigners. So far, the Metropolitan police has done nothing but frustrate efforts to hold spycops to account. A case filed by eight women who were deceived into intimate relationships by these officers ended in an unreserved apology and an undisclosed financial settlement a year ago now. Nonetheless, the end to the court case also meant the police managed to evade disclosure on these secret operations. To this day, the Met still refuse either to confirm or deny whether the men actually were police officers.

While there would not have been an Inquiry without the tireless efforts of those spied upon, whether it is going to bring some truth and justice remains to be seen. The Undercover Research Group supports people in investigating their suspicions about possible undercover officers. Our aim is to know what has happened, to find truth and get justice. The people spied upon found out their groups and their lives had been infiltrated because they no longer trusted someone in their midst. What started with the exposure of Mark Kennedy in late 2010 began an outpouring of revelations of the undercover policing, a scandal which eventually led to the launching of the Pitchford Inquiry, intended to investigate any wrongdoing. It is important not to forget that without these investigations, we would not have an independent inquiry in the first place.

The public inquiry into political undercover policing is already a year in and little progress has been made. The Metropolitan police are engaging in major delay tactics. They are making applications they must know that the inquiry’s Chair, Lord Justice Pitchford, will reject. The latest and most astonishing so far is the following: the police producing risk-assessments arguing for their own anonymity.

The main issues the Pitchford Inquiry is dealing with so far are anonymity and disclosure. To summarise: the people who have been spied upon want transparency, accountability, and above all an end to secrecy around the undercover operations. The police are aiming for the opposite, pushing for the inquiry to be held behind closed doors, before publishing its findings only at the end of a drawn-out, secretive process. Needless to say, there is a large gap between the two. Before deciding on applications to preserve the anonymity of all former undercover officers (UCOs) as a matter of principle, Justice Pitchford is looking into the very special case of two officers engaged in Operation Motion.

Code-named Jaipur and Karachi, they are employed by the Met to liaise with former members of the political undercover units, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPIOU). Their first task was to locate all of the spycops who had served since the SDS was founded in 1968. This was far from easy, because the Met had no idea where to find them.  On top of that, various former officers hold a serious grudge against the Met, accusing their employer of lack of proper support and health care after they were pulled from their undercover mission. Operation Motion, as explained by the police, is to build trust with former undercovers, to deal with their welfare and to undertake assessments of the risks for exposure. With characteristic cynicism, the Met seem only to have started caring about the risks incurred by spycops under the threat of them spilling the beans in the Pitchford Inquiry.  

If we want to move towards genuine public accountability for the police we need to examine the history of these two officers, why it's a bad idea to keep their identities secret. In their applications for anonymity, Jaipur and Karachi emphasise the risk of their pictures being circulated on the internet, claiming that this would allow people to follow them to their meetings with former undercovers. This argument is thoroughly ridiculous; the spied-on activists seeking justice would never have the resources and power to set up such sophisticated surveillance operations, let alone identify these aging pensioners and trace them back to the groups they infiltrated years ago. That’s not the way those groups work. 

Holding the keys to access to former spycops

The anonymity of Karachi and Jaipur is a problem because of their role and position. Operation Motion is part of the unit set up to prepare the Met’s response to the Pitchford Inquiry, the Assistant Commissioner - Public Inquiry Team (AC-PIT), headed by DS Hutchison. However, the work is considered is so secret that Operation Motion operates from a separate location. In their applications for anonymity - which the one officer did for the other, and vice versa - Jaipur and Karachi claim that they are the only two people trusted by the former spycops, and thus that they are the only ones talking to them. This incestuous arrangement means that Karachi and Jaipur are de facto the point of contact for key witnesses for the Met and even for Pitchford Inquiry. No doubt Operation Motion will lend a hand in preparing their statements as well. We know that some of the former undercover officers who were engaging with the Inquiry independently have since been roped back into Operation Motion. To agree to their anonymity is to agree to expanding the secrecy around the undercover operations instead of minimising it, working towards transparency and accountability. 

Far too close to former undercovers.

A second set of reasons to be cautious about the applications from Jaipur and Karachi follows from who they are. This is not about their names or faces, but about their careers and their personal friendships with former members of the SDS. In his supporting statement, the head of their unit DS Hutchison makes a case for granting anonymity to Jaipur and Karachi stating they "possess an almost unique range of skills and experiences which makes them best placed to carry out the Operation Motion role". He states it would be really hard to find two officers so senior who would also have:

  • - Served in Special Branch as long ago as the mid 1990s
  • - A background in covert, intelligence led policing
  • - A broad knowledge of the Domestic Extremist threat picture over the previous two decades
  • - A good understanding of the operation of the SDS
  • - An excellent working knowledge of many of the groups the SDS infiltrated.
  • - A knowledge of a wide range of officers who had previously served in the SDS and are known by them

Although the pair claim not to have been involved the SDS in any capacity, the summary of their careers in their applications - including joining squads dealing with Irish terrorism, counter terrorism and personal protection - show that they must have been rubbing shoulders with undercover officers time and again. At certain periods, their work was indeed very close to that of the SDS. Jaipur served on the Animal Rights and Environmental Desk. Karachi investigated offences resulting from the Poll Tax riot in 1990.

 More specifically, Jaipur’s career seems to have overlapped with that of SDS officer turned unit boss Bob Lambert. Jaipur was posted to C’ Squad (Domestic) in the mid-nineties. According to the Met’s self-investigation Operation Herne: ‘C’ Squad dealt with Domestic Extremism, and had strong links to the SDS as they were responsible for disseminating the majority of their intelligence. In the same period, from 1994 to 1998, Lambert was head of the SDS, and material provided by SDS officers was first disseminated to C-desk to be 'sanitized' before it was passed on through the intelligence chain to other police units. Furthermore, SDS undercover 'Matt Rayner' was active in the London animal rights scene from 1991 to 1996.

Apart from that, the post held by Lambert immediately prior to heading the SDS was at 'E' squad, which investigated terrorist threats from around the world, a unit to which Jaipur was also posted – though probably a few years later. We think it’s safe to assume that Jaipur knew both Lambert and 'Matt Rayner' (though the redactions in the applications make it hard to establish). This totally undermines his credibility within Operation Motion and his ability to provide risk assessments that can be relied upon. The leading role played by Lambert as an undercover, as their supervisor and head of SDS, having various and partly overlapping long-term relationships, fathering a child and abandoning it, lying to court, co-authoring a pamphlet that led to the longest court case in British history, acting as an agent provocateur, the engineering miscarriages of justice that he and Matt Rayner are involved in, are just some of the issues that make Jaipur quite unsuitable for his job. Karachi in his application brings up his friendship with ‘a former SDS officer’ whom he has known for over twenty years. He claims that "activists and the Undercover Research Group are actively trying to identify this UCO and details of his cover name and his photograph have been published online." Further, that should his picture be published "this would severely restrict where he and his friend could socialise away from work".

It is pitiful that these applications are now bringing up the private lives of former undercover officers and those brought in to guard them now, begging for a little understanding. And quite cynical, once you consider how hard the Met has resisted the fight for justice for those who were spied on, compounding the personal damage they inflicted. We will keep repeating this. While we are asked to understand the permanent stress former spycops have to live with, nowhere in the submissions is there any recognition of the harm done by the undercovers to campaigning groups and the  serious psychological impact of their abuse of personal trust with unwitting activists. A reference to the detailed, unreserved apology in November 2015 issued by Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt in the legal case of the women over relationships with spycops would have been appropriate to start with. 

Further delays 

In a response to the applications for anonymity, we made the point that it might not be such a good idea to have two anonymous officers, working in secret and isolated from the rest of their team, to approach undercover officers from two of the most secret teams in the past decades, and to have these two responsible for such a wide-ranging and strategically crucial range of activities. Their duties include:

  • - Gaining their trust, building rapport, 
  • - Counselling them and for their mental support, 
  • - Risk assessments 
  • - Decisions on the need for further security measures.

And if this is were enough, the pair are also supposed to facilitate the contact between the retired officers and the Pitchford Inquiry, and help them prepare witness statements. The Met filed the first set of applications for anonymity in February this year. In mid-August they submitted a revised set, expounding the argument that only Jaipur and Karachi are uniquely suitable to take on this wide array of tasks. 

On 16 September,  Ruth Brander, counsel for the so called 'non-police, non-state core participants' submitted a response on behalf of those spied upon criticizing the applications for anonymity. Part of that was a witness statement by one of us, a core participant in his own right, addressing the misinterpretation of the work of the Undercover Research Group. Less than a fortnight later, the Met announced it was withdrawing the risk assessments Jaipur and Karachi drew up for themselves, and reversed their position. As Lord Pitchford put it

"In short, the Metropolitan Police Service has accepted that it is both possible and desirable to identify risk assessors who are more independent of the applicants and their work. The Metropolitan Police Service is now urgently seeking to identify new risk assessors who will produce fresh risk assessments to replace those previously relied upon." 

Although this could be seen as a victory for those spied upon, it is unclear what is won in the long term. To start with, the Pitchford direction is slightly confusing. The risk-assessments of Jaipur and Karachi themselves are withdrawn, and the Met now says they no longer want to use the pair to assess the risk of all other former undercover officers and plea for their anonymity in the Pitchford Inquiry However, the Met say they want to continue to use Jaipur and Karachi ‘as a conduit for information between former undercover police officers seeking anonymity and the new risk assessors.’ For that reason, Pitchford will still rule on their applications for anonymity. 

When asked to clarify, the Pitchford Legal Team do not make things clearer. In an email to the lawyers, they state that Jaipur and Karachi will not play any role in risk assessments, though add that the pair "will continue to gather evidence relevant to risk for former SDS and MPS [Metropolitan Police service] NPOIU officers". Furthermore, since the new officers yet-to-be-appointed have no power to require former officers to talk to them, they will need Jaipur and Karachi and the trust built to get access. Additionally, as the Legal Team of the Inquiry states, it’s up to the new risk assessors whether or not they will use the evidence gathered by their predecessors. It seems fair to conclude that Jaipur and Karachi are not out of the picture yet.

One thing is sure: this development means further delay. To find new risk assessors will not be easy, and the same goes for re-doing the risk assessments of the former undercovers. Clearly irritated by ‘the time which it is taking police applicants for anonymity to prepare their applications’, Pitchford has now given the Met a deadline for the SDS officers: no later than 1 March 2017. Taking into account the time needed for responding to the applications, it’s fair to say that chances are small that the actual hearings of the Pitchford Inquiry will start before the summer next year.

 It is difficult to believe that the Met ever thought they would get away with this set up. They started writing the applications for Jaipur and Karachi a year ago, worked on them for months and months, and then withdrew them after the first bit of pushback. Years ago, the PR industry developed a strategy for large corporations to deal with campaigners who criticised them for their wrongdoings, labour conditions, pollution, you name it. In the early days, it was called the 4D strategy, stands for Deny, Delay and - depending on who you ask - Disrupt, Discredit or Deflect, Defend, Dominate; now there are the ten D’s of opposition tactics: deflect, delay, deny, discount, deceive, divide, dulcify, discredit, destroy and deal. The Met is clearly passing through the stages of Denying and Delaying; it would be an interesting exercise to work out what will be their next steps. 

The Undercover Research Project aims to create an one-stop resource on political policing and undercover surveillance. Our blog discusses the undermining of protest and dissent, to support the campaigns holding those responsible to account. Profiles can be found at the Undercover Research Portal.

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