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Spy cops inquiry will not give their victims justice

This article is over 3 years, 7 months old
As the Undercover Policing Inquiry hearings begin, Simon Basketter says this latest chapter will not tell us the whole truth
Issue 2729
A protest outside The Royal Court of Justice
A protest outside The Royal Court of Justice (Pic: Guy Smallman)

We know that well over 1,000 organisations were spied on by undercover cops.

We know that they deliberately formed sexual relationships and had children with women in some of the groups.

We know they spied on the family of Stephen Lawrence and on families of people killed by the cops. They shared information with those who blacklisted trade unionists.

But we are not allowed to know the spies’ names. In many cases we aren’t even allowed to know their fake names. 

Hearings in the Undercover Policing Inquiry finally began on Monday, with opening statements.

In 2015 then home secretary Theresa May announced that Judge Pitchford would head an inquiry into undercover policing of campaigners, activists and trade unionists.


Labour doesn’t want to spook the establishment
Labour doesn’t want to spook the establishment
  Read More

He died before he had a chance to cover anything up and was replaced by Sir John Mitting.

Mitting has brought new vigour to the task, repeatedly ruling that the names of various cops mustn’t be revealed in order to protect their privacy.

He has ruled that the cover names of 51 officers must remain secret, along with 119 of the real names of officers and staff.

The investigation, looking at undercover policing since 1968, has been split into tranches by date. The first block of hearings is due to cover the activities of the Metropolitan Police Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) between 1968 and 1972.

In January, it will begin looking at SDS deployments from 1973 to 1982, and undercover policing in later decades on dates to be fixed.

Lisa for Police Spies Out of Lives said, “It’s real mixed emotions. We’re glad it’s finally happening but we’ve been shut out, we feel, to such an extent that it’s actually not going to get to the truth.

“Our views are being sidelined to a really worrying degree. I think we are almost despairing at this point that it might actually not be a worthwhile exercise.”

The Special Demonstration Squad was set up after anti Vietnam war demonstrations in 1968. Its motto was, “By any means necessary.” Each of the approximately 170 officers had a code number and a false name. 

There were at least 26 spies sent to operate inside the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and its forerunner the International Socialists.

The spy cops worked for the Association of Chief Police Officers—conveniently a private company—though it was funded by the Home Office.

Corporations used information from state spies and there is a revolving door between ex-cop spies and private security industry blacklists.


The police argue that undercover cops are needed to fight extremism. The job of the police is to protect the interests of the system. In truth, the job of a public inquiry is the same. 

It is usually a method to disarm those fighting for justice.

It is unsurprising that all the signs are that the police version is the preferred one. The slow pace is deliberate—five years to get to the opening statements and at least another three years to go.

Many of those spied on have chosen to participate in the inquiry. Others have not because they believe it will be a cover-up or for other reasons.

Some more details of the rotten exercise may emerge. But the inquiry will not bring the justice that the cops’ victims deserve.

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