Revelations about undercover spying operations by the Metropolitan police have hit a new low. It’s become clear that an officer posing as an anti-racist activist was instructed to find dirt on Stephen Lawrence’s family and the campaign for justice after his racist murder.
Former undercover officer Peter Francis has told the Guardian and Channel 4’s Dispatches how senior officers at the Met instructed him to find information that could smear and discredit the family and campaign. They particularly wanted to know if the family had links to any political groups, but also went so far as having Duwayne Brooks, Stephen’s friend and witness to his murder, charged with criminal damage (the case was later thrown out of court). Even information gathered by the family liaison officer was used (there’s no evidence that the liaison officers knew what was happening to the details they passed on).
This latest revelation about the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), which was disbanded in 2008, has caused widespread revulsion. Other SDS activities include how undercover officers formed sexual relationships and had children with activists, used the identities of dead children and even helped to write the infamous McLibel leaflet. Francis describes how police were afraid the outcry over their failure to properly investigate Lawrence’s death could spark Rodney King-style riots but, rather than deal with the investigation’s failings in a transparent and mature fashion, they appear to have opted to cover their own asses by hoping to destroy the grieving innocent.
At some point it will fall upon this generation of police leaders to account for the activities of our predecessors, but for the moment we must focus on getting to the truth.
This seems to be an attempt to draw a line under the whole affair and imply all such actions are in the past. However, the more we hear about GCHQ and the NSA trawling everyone’s information, the governmental ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear’ defence looks increasingly flimsy as we see again how easy it is for authorities for abuse their power.
Dispatches: The Police’s Dirty Secret is on tonight, 24 June, at 8pm on Channel 4. A book by Paul Lewis and Rob Evans, Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police, is released on 4 July.