Greater Manchester Police has admitted that it spied on people attending the Inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, making it the fourth constabulary known to be involved.
When the MacPherson Inquiry took place in 1998, it held a number of hearings outside London. A GMP memo was issued on 8 October asking for ‘information or intelligence on groups or individuals who are likely to be attending’ to be given to a Detective Chief Inspector in Special Branch.
The spying appears to have been motivated by wholly political concerns. There was no anticipation of any threat to public order, there is no suggestion of anything criminal, and the memo makes no mention of anything untoward.
GMP’s Operation Kerry report into spying on Lawrence campaigners is due to be published shortly. However, not only is it another self-investigation, but it only covers the Manchester element. The spying on Lawrence activists was much larger and more systematic than that. Yet again, official inquiries are parcelling off a small question and giving it to police to mark their own homework. As such, it is an obstruction to the truth rather than its vehicle.
Last year it was revealed that spying also took place when the Inquiry went to Bradford in the same month as it visited Manchester. West Yorkshire’s Assistant Chief Constable, Norman Bettison, ordered his Special Branch to produce a full report on one of the witnesses at the Bradford hearing, Mohammed Amran. Bettison was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for this, and they began investigating last July. It was reported earlier this year that he has been interviewed under caution as part of the inquiry.
Bettison is already a thoroughly disgraced figure. Widely believed to be one of the chief architects of the Hillsborough cover up and the smear campaign against Liverpool fans, he was forced to resign as Chief Constable of West Yorkshire over his response to the Hillsborough Independent Panel, in which he tried to manipulate the West Yorkshire Police Authority and contradicted the established fact that the fans were not to blame. An IPCC report concluded that, had he not resigned, he would have been dismissed for gross misconduct.
He is one of several senior police officers, including Bernard Hogan-Howe, who are tainted by their involvement in both the Hillsborough and spycops scandals.
But for all his extensive personal failings and corrupt dealings, Bettison’s spying on the MacPherson Inquiry in West Yorkshire was not a rogue act. South Yorkshire police also admitted spying on ‘extreme leftwing groups’ attending events indirectly linked to the Inquiry.
When the Inquiry’s main hearings took place in London, Peter Francis – the undercover officer who has described how he was earlier tasked to ‘find dirt’ to discredit the Lawrence family – said that there was intensive surveillance from plain clothes officers.
I am 100% aware that the Metropolitan Police Special Branch had a Special Branch officer regularly, if not daily, in both parts of the Macpherson inquiry.
This means that at least four constabularies’ Special Branches spied on people attending the Inquiry as it toured the country (so we may safely surmise that people at the Birmingham and Bristol hearings were similarly spied on).
There can be no excuse for this. The usual fob-offs about shady volatile people trying to hijack a campaign, flimsy at the best of times, cannot apply at all. This wasn’t an angry crowd in the streets on the day of a killing, this was a formal judge-led inquiry five years later. The Met still had ‘a spy in the Lawrence family’s camp’ at that time.
Peter Francis says he advocated telling MacPherson about the earlier spying, but that he was overruled by his superiors.
The Met’s claim that they came clean at MacPherson is a cruel joke, another decoy to keep us from realising both the depths that spycops will sink to and the depths that they will involve themselves in the lives of citizens.
If this level of spying is revealed by police self-examination, how much more would be revealed by a proper Hillsborough style independent inquiry?