All content from July 2014

Family Justice Campaigns Petition

Lakhvinder ‘Ricky’ Reel, whose bereaved family were spied on by the secret police

Though it confirmed what we long suspected and had some evidence of, last week’s admission that the Special Demonstration Squad spied on at least 18 family justice campaigns over a period of decades is still profoundly shocking. For families to know they were the specific targets has been deeply upsetting; they were told to trust police who said they were there to help but actually undermined them.

Being merely informed is not enough. Whistleblower Peter Francis has called for all families affected to be given full access to the complete files so that they may judge for themselves why the data was amassed. The revelations reinforce the need for such families to be fully included in the forthcoming public inquiry from its earliest stages.

Sukhdev Reel, whose son Ricky died in 1997 in what police say was an accident but the family have consistently believed was a racist murder, has launched a petition calling on Home Secretary Theresa May to:

1. Seek a public apology from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to all the families affected by police spying and take action against police officers for any wrong doing

2. Assure us that the family justice campaigns would be consulted when drawing the terms of reference for the Public Inquiry into undercover policing

3. Assure us that affected families will be provided with legal aid so that they can be properly legally represented at the Public Inquiry

4. Assure us that the practice of police “spying” of family justice campaigns has stopped.

 

Please help to amplify the Reel family’s call for justice by signing the petition and sharing it.

Operation Herne’s Third Decoy

Cherry Groce in hospital after she was shot by police

Cherry Groce in hospital after being shot by police

Once again Operation Herne – the police’s self-investigation into the political secret police units – proves its irrelevance.

After the admission earlier this year that police spied on the Stephen Lawrence family campaign, the new report, the third from the Herne team, concedes that for at least 20 years police gathered intelligence on 18 more families who had justice campaigns for their loved ones, including Jean Charles de Menezes and Cherry Groce.

The report (PDF here) plainly says this had no operational purpose in preventing crime. Clearly, then, it is about undermining people who might embarrass the police by exposing what they have done.

The report’s author, Chief Constable Mick Creedon, claims that the intelligence was not searched for, it was incidentally gathered by officers infiltrating other campaigns and then kept for no particular reason. This accident happened to one campaign after another over a span of decades. He acknowledges that even he knows this is an unlikely explanation, admitting it ‘must seem inexplicable’.

Equally implausibly, he says that it appears the Special Demonstration Squad were just amassing information and there is no solid documented evidence of sending infiltrators into the families.

Firstly, much of the secret police’s information was never written down. Secondly, a great deal of the material that did make it onto paper has been shredded. Indeed Creedon concedes that, had proper procedures been followed, the evidence of spying on the families would have been shredded.

It leaves a simple question – why would the infiltrator unit be gathering information on people who weren’t targets for infiltration?

The whistleblower Special Demonstration Squad officer Peter Francis has described his infiltration of justice campaigns. After his revelations, police threatened him with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. Most of the information is not on paper, only in the minds of the people who did it. The truth can only come out if former officers are compelled to give evidence under oath without fear of self-incrimination.

We know that these 18 families are not the only ones. It also raises the question of how many other bereaved families seeking justice have been spied on. Police have already released details of their surveillance of on Janet Alder whose brother was unlawfully killed by police officers. Several Hillsborough families are certain they were spied on. When it’s happening on this scale over such a prolonged period it’s hard to see it as anything other than an active policy.

For Operation Herne to once again rely solely on what surviving papers it can find proves that it is little more than a police damage control exercise, admitting a few of the smaller outrages in order to shore up the denial of the larger ones. The forthcoming public inquiry is clearly a more serious and rigorous proposition. The public inquiry supercedes Herne, leaving it without any purpose apart from perpetuating the extra injustice of focusing on reputation protection instead of facing the facts.

All In It Together

Blacklist Support Group and PCS picket stand together outside the Royal Courts of Justice, 10 July 2014

Blacklist Support Group and PCS picket stand together outside the Royal Courts of Justice, 10 July 2014

A week after the landmark court ruling that ended the police’s blanket use of the ‘Neither Confirm Nor Deny’ policy, another significant step towards justice for victims of Britain’s secret police was taken at the High Court yesterday.

Since the construction industry blacklist was revealed five years ago, hundreds of workers who were on it have been pushing for answers, compensation and assurance that the practice has ended. Under the banner of ‘Own up! Pay up! Clean up!’, they’ve been demanding a credible inquiry and putting pressure on the firms who not only used the illegal database but whose information – ably assisted by Britain’s secret police – formed the content of the blacklist files.

Individual workers have been taking cases against specific companies, but it hasn’t brought results. It has parallels with the cases being brought by women who were deceived into long-term intimate relationships with undercover police officers – as horrific and outrageous as the instances are for the individuals involved, they are part of a wider strategic pattern. To get justice, we have to tackle the concerted effort rather than any one manifestation.

Rather than sue the officers who abused them, the women are taking action against the organisations who authorised it. By the same token, the blacklisted construction workers came to court yesterday seeking a Group Litigation Order putting the hundreds of workers together in one case against the firms involved.

Before they could go in there was something of a dilemma. It was July 10th, day of the huge strike by public sector workers, suggested as the largest since the General Strike of 1926. The Blacklist Support Group met the PCS picket line at the High Court and mutual support was expressed. Given the huge significance of the court case, the union’s branch secretary gave special dispensation to enter the building, and one picket said, ‘I only expect to say this once in my life – you’re welcome to cross the picket line!’

The hearing brought good news – the Group Litigation Order was granted. The victims of the list and the unions backing the case – UCATT, Unite and the GMB –  can formally combine their efforts and, more than five years since the illegal list was exposed, the stalling tactics of the culpable can finally begin to be brushed aside.

The case returns to court for a case management hearing in October with a further hearing provisionally set for December.

 

Blacklist Support Group: Protest, 10 July

Blacklist Support Group

Last week eight major construction firms involved in the industry’s blacklist made a fresh attempt at giving compensation for their illegal activity and the hardship it caused. It has been roundly dismissed by the workers and unions.

THE BLACKLIST AND STATE SPYING

The construction blacklist was run by a company called the Consulting Association. When the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) raided in 2009 they found 44 firms had used it including most of the big names in the industry. More than 3,000 people were on the list, many with files dozens of pages long including information about their family.

Most were on the list for workplace organising.  Dave Smith told parliament

Virtually everything in my file relates to where I have raised concerns about health and safety, asbestos, toilets overflowing on building sites and a young lad falling off the third floor of scaffolding… Throughout my file, there is nothing that mentions my doing anything other than raising concerns about health and safety, conducting normal trade union activities, giving interviews to various organisations and raising concerns about unpaid wages. Nowhere am I accused of doing unofficial strikes or anything like that; that just isn’t the case.

Whilst most information came from employers, the files also included material that could only have come from the police or MI5. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has conceded that it was likely to have been a routine part of Special Branch work across the country to supply this illegal list. Undercover police whistleblower Peter Francis says he not only infiltrated anti-racist organisations and was sent to find material to smear Stephen Lawrence’s family – he also believes his intelligence was used for the construction blacklist.

The undercover National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) that deployed the likes of Mark Kennedy was only one of three units run by the Association of Chief Police Officers. They also ran the National Domestic Extremism Unit that collated the intelligence from NPOIU officers, and the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU) which advised companies who were the target of protesters. It is known that NETCU met with the Consulting Association but the ICO is refusing to release the details of what went on.

The Metropolitan Police initially dismissed a complaint from the Blacklist Support Group alleging police collusion but, following publication of a posthumous interview with the Consulting Association’s Ian Kerr detailing a meeting with a ‘key officer’ from NETCU, they’ve launched an investigation. There can be no credibility in yet another self-investigation from police who’ve already demonstrated their reluctance on this issue.

The scale of the blacklist is staggering.

In the period between 1996/7 and 2003/04,  the Carillion group, (trading as Tarmac/ Carillion/ John Mowlem)  paid £83,161.00, and was then the third largest supporter and user of the blacklist. This spending broke down as an annual fee of £3,500, plus a fee of up to £2.20 per name to check information on the unlawful database.

At £2.20 a time, it means they made nearly 30,000 name checks – and there were two even larger users. As the list was secret, there was no way to check the veracity of the information, nor to get off it. Workers were cast out of their trade for life. Some people were never in the trade – one was a teacher who had a file due to being on an anti-racist demonstration. Around 200 environmental activists also had files.

THE INSULT OF THE OFFER

Ian Kerr, the man who was paid £46,000 a year to ruin thousands of lives with the Consulting Association, was fined £5,000. The companies who paid for it were let off with a warning. The eight of those firms in the compensation offer make pre-tax profits of over a billion pounds a year.

This week’s basic compentsation offer is for a fast-tracked £4000, rising to £20,000 for those who can prove discrimination. With blacklisters by definition having suffered hardship and waited years for compensation, many will be tempted to take the offer. For those prepared to spend up to six months arguing and have irrefutable proof of the worst damage done, there is a cap of £100,000 compensation. Some of these people went without work for many years. For a lot of people on the blacklist the loss of earnings exceeds £100,000, and that’s before interest, let alone any consideration of the impacts on their privacy,  psychological welfare, their home life and the upbringing of their children. As Dave Smith said,

I was a qualified engineer and during one of the longest building booms this country has ever known, my children were on milk tokens

People had breakdowns, some attempted suicide. Some changed their identities to try to get work. Whilst the companies have issued a statement saying they believe were wrong to use the list, the insultingly paltry figures in this attempt at a settlement suggest otherwise. It appears that their only real regret is that they have been caught.

THE DEMAND FOR JUSTICE

The construction blacklist is yet another example of different pillars of the establishment unethically and illegally working in concert to protect their position. It is further proof of the anti-democratic remit of the undercover police who sought to stifle active politics on the spectrum outside the sliver that is represented in the House of Commons. The construction workers’ fight for truth and justice is another facet of the same struggle of the black justice campaigns, environmentalists, social justice activists, anti-fascists and others who were spied on and abused by Britain’s political secret police.

The case is back in court next week (hence the timing of the new offer of compensation). The blacklist Support Group has organised a protest outside the hearing which has already had pledges of support from union members from UNITE, UCATT, GMB and the RMT as well as environmental activists.

Where: Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London WC2N 5HX
When: 9-10am on Thursday 10th July.

Blacklist Support Group blog
Blacklist Support Group on Facebook
Dave Smith on Twitter

The End of the Neither Confirm Nor Deny ‘Policy’

A significant step was taken towards justice yesterday for five women who were deceived into sexual relationships with undercover police officers.

The police have been using an obstruction tactic of ‘Neither Confirm Nor Deny’, claiming they have a long-standing, unwavering policy of not confirming whether anyone was ever an undercover officer. It is nonsense, as the women and their legal teams demonstrated, listing the many exceptions police and other officials have made.

Pointing out that the police have conceded sexual relationships were an abuse of position, Mr Justice Bean’s ruling said

there can be no public policy reason to permit the police neither to confirm nor deny whether an illegitimate or arguably illegitimate operational method has been used as a tactic in the past.

The court gave the Metropolitan Police 28 days to formally admit or deny that:

(a) officers of the Metropolitan Police Service, as part of their work as undercover officers and using false identities, engaged in long term intimate sexual relationships with those whose activities the MPS wished to observe;

(b) this was authorised or acquiesced to by senior management;

(c) ‘Jim Sutton‘ was such an officer; and

(d) ‘Bob Robinson‘ was such an officer.

If they fail to respond within that time, the court will take it as an admission that all these things are true.

The second point is particularly noteworthy. Despite police attempts to shift all blame on to the individual officers, the court overtly points to the fact that senior management must have known the relationships went on.

All but one of the officers so far exposed had sexual relations with activists they spied on, and most of them had long-term committed relationships. One of the worst, Bob Lambert, had a planned child with an activist he spied on, so he cannot have been ignorant of the possibility of such relationships when he was promoted to running operations.

The fact that his protegés embarked so enthusiastically on their relationships makes it clear that such practices were accepted and quite possibly encouraged, even planned and monitored. Of course, even if managers had been unaware of such relationships, that would have made them negligent and therefore still culpable. But, even with the facts we have so far, it is already a nonsense to pretend that senior management were unaware and disapproved.

That said, the police are not above nonsense to stall attempt at dragging the truth from them. Earlier this year they confirmed in court that Jim Boyling was a police officer but would not confirm he was an undercover officer – as if he might have come up with the Jim Sutton alias and spent years being an anti-capitalist activist as a personal hobby in his spare time.

Returning to yesterday’s ruling, the judge stopped short of compelling police to admit that all four officers named in this case were, in fact, police officers. Jim Boyling and Bob Lambert have both been previously named by officials and have confirmed themselves. Yet the other two are scarcely less public.

Everyone knows that Mark Cassidy was the undercover officer Mark Jenner. Everyone knows that John Barker was the undercover officer John Dines. The real John Barker was not an undercover police officer – he was a boy who died of leukaemia aged eight. Thier stories and pictures have been published in many places for years now. To leave any veil over them is absurd.

It was disappointing to see BBC Home Affairs correspondent Danny Shaw refer to the case as a mere ‘bid for compensation’. The integrity that drips from every word of the womens’ testimony and campaigning makes it plain that this is all about disclosure, truth and accountability.  They don’t want money, they want justice.

Despite shortcomings in the judgement and its coverage, it is nonetheless a major victory as it shreds the blanket use of ‘Neither Confirm Nor Deny’ which – as the women so comprehensively showed – was never a real policy, merely a convenient shroud for the police to obscure their history as they heap gruelling punishment on their victims for daring to ask for answers.

After three years the first real hurdle has just fallen, a tribute to the tenacity of these women and their lawyers. The outrageous denials from the police are becoming ever more starkly exposed for what they are. More will fall.