Undercover Met Police 'spy ops' on left-wing groups was 'unjustified'
A recent report reveals that undercover officers in the 1970s and early 1980s collected data on activists’ sexuality and bank accounts and operations.
Undercover police efforts to infiltrate leftwing organizations in the 1970s and early 1980s were unjustified and should have been discontinued immediately, according to a retired judge leading a public inquiry.
In a report published on Thursday, Sir John Mitting found that undercover police officers collected a "striking extensive" amount of information regarding the personal lives of political activists, such as their holiday plans, bank accounts, and sexuality.
Mitting concluded that it was "remarkable" that the majority of activists who were spied on posed no threat to public order.
The study includes the initial findings of the long-running investigation, as well as an examination of the actions of police spies during a four-decade span. It covers the first 14 years of covert activities, from 1968 to 1982.
The long-delayed investigation was launched in 2014 in response to a series of revelations regarding the undercover agents' wrongdoing. Spying on the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence and duping women into long-term sexual relationships were among them.
During that period, at least six undercover agents had sexual encounters with women, according to Mitting. He trusted one of the women who accused an officer of lying about the depth of their relationship, according to the former high court judge.
During that period, 139 undercover officers were sent on deployments, which typically lasted four years, and spied on over 1,000 people, mostly from left-wing and progressive organizations.
While infiltrating political movements like those against racism, apartheid, and the Vietnam War, the officers established fictitious personalities and appeared to be activists.
Methods used by undercover officers
Mitting concluded in his investigation that the Scotland Yard undercover unit, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), operated with the approval and funding of the highest levels of government. Its reports were routinely forwarded to the Security Service, MI5.
He said that he had “come to the firm conclusion” that the intrusive methods of the undercover officers were not justified, adding that if their operations had “been publicly known at the time, the SDS would have been brought to a rapid end."
Mitting said there were four questions about the methods used by the undercover officers that senior officers at Scotland Yard and the Home Office ignored, adding that “if these issues had been addressed, it is hard to see how any conclusion could legitimately have been reached which would not have resulted in the closure of the SDS.”
Among the methods used was the controversial approach of stealing the names of dead children to boost the alter egos of the undercover officers, as well as the practice of the undercover agents occupying prominent positions in the groups they were infiltrating.
He claimed that the unit's infiltration of only three groups - (Provisional) Sinn Fein and two unidentifiable organizations - was acceptable since they constituted a threat to state security. "The vast majority of SDS deployments during this period" were not warranted, he claimed.
'One-night stand' with the Socialist Workers Party
Between 1976 and 1979, one undercover officer, Vincent Harvey, told the committee that he had four "one-night stands" with women while infiltrating the Socialist Workers Party.
During the sessions, a woman only known as Madeleine questioned his account. She testified that she was in a relationship with him for two months. Mitting concluded in his report that he believed her evidence was "true and, where it conflicts with his, is to be preferred."
"Harvey lied, hoping it would never come out 40 years later," Madeline said when the report was published. Unfortunately for him, I spoke up, and the chair trusted me over this very senior police officer. How many falsehoods have other police told whose victims were unnamed and unknown?"
Mitting said the sexual relationships the spies formed with women “was to become a perennial feature of the SDS throughout the remainder of its history." It was closed down in 2008. He stated that in a subsequent report, he will make public his conclusions on the topic of sexual interactions that occurred between the mid-1970s and 2010.
The officers assisted in the compilation of secret files on campaigners, recording weddings, and childcare arrangements, as well as spying on youngsters. They once recorded a 17-year-old spending "a lot of his spare time" at his girlfriend's house.
According to the report, Mitting will now hold hearings that examine the undercover operations from 1982 until the present day.