A public inquiry into undercover policing has been announced by the Home Secretary, following the publication of two reports into the use of undercover officers in the Stephen Lawrence case and allegations of misconduct.
Mark Ellison QC’s independent review (PDF) into possible corruption and undercover policing during the investigation of Stephen Lawrence’s murder, and the subsequent public inquiry into the failings of that investigation, showed that the Metropolitan Police planted “a spy in the Lawrence family camp”. This officer passed information about the Lawrences’ Macpherson report response to Richard Walton, now head of Counter Terrorism Command, at the time when the Met was preparing its own response. The Ellison report describes this as “‘wrong-headed’ and inappropriate”.
The findings from Operation Herne, tasked with investigating the allegations made by Peter Francis about undercover officers engaging in sexual relationships, using the identities of dead children and other activities, was also published on Thursday. The CPS is currently considering whether evidence related to sexual relationships by three officers amounts to Misconduct in Public Office. Operation Herne is also investigating cases where undercover officers have been in court under their assumed identities; the report says officers were given legal advice that so long as they weren’t charged under their real name and didn’t lie under oath, they’d committed no offence.
What also comes across is a culture of secrecy surrounding the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), the unit conducting undercover work until it was disbanded in 2006, and an awful lot of destroyed or missing documents. There seems to have been an assumption that the SDS wasn’t to be talked about, so no information was given to the Macpherson inquiry. Both reports assume that, had the existence of undercover officers been made public at the inquiry, there would have been rioting in the street. The Herne report, however, says that the decision on how to handle the situation should have been left to Sir William Macpherson himself.
Missing and destroyed documents are also pertinent to the Ellison report’s attempts to establish whether there was corruption involved during the original Lawrence murder investigation. It found reasonable grounds to suspect corruption by former DS John Davidson, allegations of which were around at the time of the Macpherson inquiry but were not passed on.
Although the Ellison report was only tasked to look at the Lawrence case, in a postscript it recommends reviewing prosecutions where undercover policing has been involved, to try and identify any cases of non-disclosure. Though, as we say above, with the lack of documentation and culture of secrecy that appears to exist around the SDS, that may be tricky to do. However, the Home Secretary has asked the National Crime Agency to consider how to take an investigation forward.
Announcing the public inquiry, Home Secretary Theresa May said:
“The picture which emerges about the SDS from this report, and from other material in the public domain, is of significant failings of judgement, intrusive supervision and leadership over a sustained period… Policing stands damaged today. Trust and confidence in the Metropolitan Police, and policing more generally, is vital. A public inquiry, and the other work I have set out, are part of the process of repairing the damage.”
Responding to the announcement and reports, Met Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey said:
“There can be no serving police officer today who will not be saddened, shocked, and very troubled by what the Home Secretary has said, and the conclusions that Mr Ellison has reached. We’ve worked with both Doreen and Neville [Lawrence] over the years, and the Met has worked hard to build a trusting relationship with them to help us achieve our aim of convicting ALL those responsible for Stephen’s death – an aim we still hold.
I understand that today they must feel that all the trust we have worked to build is shattered by what they’ve heard and read. As a police officer, and a human being, that’s a terrible situation to be in. The Met Police will fully support the Public Inquiry, and all the work announced today, as we move forward.”
Neville Lawrence, father of Stephen Lawrence, said:
“What the home secretary has announced today is 21 years overdue. Mark Ellison’s report has simply corroborated what I have known for the past 21 years and our long fight for truth and justice continues.”
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