By Sam Fentress, CC BY-SA 2.0
One of Theresa May’s final acts as Home Secretary was, after seven months of stalling, to formally exclude Scotland from the public inquiry into political undercover policing.
The slew of scandalous spycops revelations since Mark Kennedy was unmasked in 2010 has forced the government to announce this public inquiry, to be led by Lord Justice Pitchford. Despite the Scottish government demanding otherwise, it will be limited to events in England and Wales.
Scotland was not merely incidental to Britain’s political secret police. The majority of the 17 known officers worked there. Officials admit Mark Kennedy made 14 authorised visits to the country. During these, he had numerous sexual relationships that the Met themselves have described as ‘abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong’ and ‘a breach of the women’s human rights’. He was far from the only one – Mark Jenner, Carlo Neri and John Dines all did the same.
The Home Office says looking at England and Wales will be enough to ‘gain an understanding of historical failings’. This betrays not only the people who have been spied upon but the very purpose of the inquiry.
No other organisation would be allowed to commit abuses of citizens over decades and, when caught, get away with examination of just a handful of instances that the victims themselves have exposed. The inquiry should uncover the truth, not get a partial gist.
The scope of the spying is staggering. From trade unions to animal rights, peace activists and environmentalists and a few far right organisations, nobody is safe. Even elected politicians have been monitored. Jeremy Corbyn is one of ten Labour MPs known to have been targeted.
The spycops committed crimes in England and Wales. They were agents provocateur, lied in court and set people up for wrongful convictions. They are known to have engineered dozens of miscarriages of justice, and the true figure may be in the thousands. They systematically sexually and psychologically abused women, in some cases fathering children with those they spied on. They stole the identities of dead children from unwitting bereaved families.
Every instance of these things should be exposed wherever it happened. Every person affected deserves to know what was done to them and be given all the support and opportunity for redress that they need. Every organisation stymied by the state should be told who, when, how, what and why. The inquiry should give the public and victims the truth and, from there, the chance of justice.
Scotland to go it alone?
In January, Neil Findlay MSP told the Scottish Parliament of the ‘nauseating and utterly corrupt’ practice of police officers ‘operating in our country under the identity of a dead child to victimise people whose only crime is to want a fairer, cleaner and more just society’.
The Scottish government formally requested inclusion in the Pitchford inquiry late last year. The four opposition parties in Holyrood – even the Tories – said that, in the event of exclusion, Scotland should have its own inquiry.
Now their country has been refused, the SNP has to decide what to do. Politically speaking, it looks like an open goal for them. English officers committed acknowledged human rights abuses all over Britain. The Westminster government says this is so serious it warrants public inquiry in England but on Scottish soil it should be ignored.
It doesn’t stop there – earlier this month Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister Claire Sugden said it was ‘imperative’ that activity there is also included. The demand came shortly after she learned that spycops had visited on numerous occasions, including involvement in sectarian violence and the family justice campaign of a murder victim. Jason Kirkpatrick, a social justice activist spied on in Northern Ireland by Mark Kennedy, has begun legal action to force the Pitchford Inquiry to cover Northern Ireland.
More questions than answers
The 17 exposed officers – barely 10% of the true total – were in 19 countries. How big is this? Who was targeted by the spycops? Why? Where did the as-yet unknown officers go? How much did the host nations know?
The German government has admitted their police effectively hired Mark Kennedy, even paying his salary during his visits there. Yet the Police Service of Northern Ireland say they were unaware of the spycops’ presence, incredulously describing the Met’s deployment of untrained officers as ‘an act of madness’.
We know these officers behaved abroad in the same way they did at home, undermining campaigns, abusing women and committing crimes with impunity. Did they also fit people up for wrongful convictions as they did in England? With dozens of wrongful convictions overturned from Mark Kennedy’s cases alone, how many more are being left to stand in England and elsewhere?
The Pitchford Inquiry, which has yet to formally begin, seems to be set up to fail. The Home Office has instructed it to ignore the hundreds of occasions when officers were outside England and Wales. If this remains the case, the best hope for the truth is if Scotland and other affected countries hold parallel inquiries, each spurring the other on, either by co-ordination or by competitive fear of shortcomings being exposed.
Lord Pitchford has designated 200 people who were significantly involved in undercover policing – mostly activists who were spied on – as ‘core participants’ in his inquiry. A group of 24 who were also personally targeted in Scotland issued a statement condemning the exclusion of events there and saying they will be happy to commit to a separate Scottish inquiry ‘and help reveal the truth that the Pitchford inquiry keeps hidden’.
As has been the case throughout this scandal, it is the victims who are having to create momentum, do the work and drag the truth into the light. By excluding Scotland and other countries, the UK government sides with the obstructive abusers. The Scottish government should take a stand against this, for its national equality and for justice itself.