It's time that all police forces were reminded that their priorities must be to catch criminals and reduce crime, not spy on innocent campaigners and commit undercover crimes themselves, writes Jenny Jones.
I’ve never been prosecuted for any crime. Plus, I was a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority for 12 years - even though for much of that time, I was on the police database of domestic extremists.
I oversaw the police budget, worked closely and positively with officers to deliver new initiatives on road safety, and managed to prevent the dismantling of the Met's Wildlife Crime Unit. Yet I was under surveillance for a decade for being an environmentalist and a campaigner for social justice.
Undercover police officers connected with secretive units like the Special Demonstration Squad, have been targeting political activists since 1968. They have befriended and betrayed campaigners in a thousand organisations, ranging from the Young Liberals to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Greenpeace.
One method of gaining access and acceptance within spied on groups was for undercover officers to build relationships with women already in the groups. Between 1985 and 2010 there are only three or four years when an undercover officer was not in a taxpayer- funded relationship with a woman campaigner. These women have never been convicted of any crime. Some of these officers had wives and children, while also developing sexual relationships with campaigners. One undercover police officer even had a child with one of the campaigners.
It’s a national scandal, but the police are still doing everything they can to cover up the true scale of the abuse. So far we have only learned a fraction of the truth, but there are now more than a dozen documented cases of women being abused in this way; 50 miscarriages of justice and dozens of families whose child’s identity was stolen to give police officers a credible back story.
The sexual relationships were not individual mistakes made by undercover officers; they were a pattern of systematic abuse that was funded by the taxpayer.
Senior police officers must surely have known about what was going on and those officers reported to senior civil servants, working for Home Office Ministers.The police were effectively given ‘the nod’ by a succession of Labour and Conservative Ministers to use underhand methods to target trade unionists, environmentalists and social justice campaigners. Acting in a way that is immoral and barely legal might be justified if they were saving lives, yet the evidence is that they worked primarily to protect big corporations and the police themselves.
We are still hoping that the Public Inquiry into undercover policing, launched in 2015 after controversy surrounding the conduct of undercover officers, will expose the truth of what happened in the past in order to improve accountability and to stop the police intruding into the lives of a new generation of non-violent campaigners.
However, the culture of secrecy is defeating this aim. For example, despite questioning the Minister and the Commissioner of the Met Police, none of them can give me a guarantee that undercover police officers are not currently monitoring the core participants attending the public inquiry into Undercover Policing and the legal discussions they are having.
Why can’t the police see the irony of this?
Other groups, like Trade Unionists, were also spied upon by undercover officers, with many of the workers ending up on blacklists which stopped them from earning, devastated their lives and led some to emigrate.
The police should not act as the agents of big corporations, on the wrong side of disputes with workers over health and safety rules.
Many of the campaigners targeted by undercover police were people like the parents of Stephen Lawrence, who were seeking justice for their dead son and attempting to hold the police to account. The police have used taxpayers’ money to secretly monitor people who are trying to expose police failings.
We all know that the police are over-stretched and they would welcome the extra resources to deal with everything from the rise in knife crime to burglary. The prosecution rate for mainstream crimes is falling rapidly and the police are clearly too overworked to be able to investigate properly. So how can they justify the use of undercover officers to gather intelligence that isn’t linked to any specific criminal investigation? And how do they justify putting names on databases of people who are not linked to serious crimes, or terrorism?
The Spycops scandal is the tip of a much larger problem about the way the police are used as agents of the establishment to deal with dissent.
I have no doubt that the hundreds of local people campaigning against fracking wells on their doorstep, are under surveillance. And there is no guarantee that undercover police are not amongst the campaigners. That said, it was a uniformed officer who arrested a pensioner for serving tea at a protest against fracking.
This arrest of the pensioner serving light refreshments was part of a multi-million-pound police operation to impose fracking on a small community in Lancashire. This took large numbers of officers away from dealing with mainstream crimes and from addressing the problems that local people want them to sort out.
This policing of the fracking protests was not a priority for local people, it was a priority for the Government and its friends in business.
It's time that all police forces reviewed their procedures and were reminded that their priorities must be to catch criminals and reduce crime, not spy on innocent campaigners and commit crimes themselves.
About the author
Jenny Jones, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, is the Green Party’s sole representative in the House of Lords.
Jenny has held several prominent political roles: Deputy Mayor of London, Deputy Chair of the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee, Green Councillor for Southwark Council and Chair of the Green Party of England and Wales.
She sat on the Metropolitan Police Authority from 2000 to 2012 (when it was abolished) where she held the Met and the Mayor to account, particularly on civil liberties. She has consistently called for greater police resources for the enforcement of road traffic laws, and for better support for victims of crime.