Scotland Excluded from Pitchford Inquiry
After months of stalling, the Home Office has finally decided to exclude spycops activities in Scotland from the Pitchford inquiry into undercover policing.
In a letter to Neil Findlay MSP on 25 July 2016, Policing Minister Brandon Lewis said that Theresa May had taken the decision as one of her final acts as Home Secretary.
Rather like an American president’s cluster of controversial pardons or David Cameron’s showering of honours on undeserving acolytes, it appears to be the act of pulling the pin out and running, knowing they will be out of the blast radius when it goes boom.
Scotland was not merely incidental to the Special Demonstration Squad and National Public Order Intelligence Unit. The majority of known officers worked there. Officials admit Mark Kennedy made 14 authorised visits to the country. During these, he had numerous sexual relationships that the Met themselves have described as ‘abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong’ and a breach of human rights. He was far from the only one – Mark Jenner, Carlo Neri and John Dines all did the same.
The letter confirming Scotland’s exclusion goes on at length about how the Inquiry is unable to change the terms of reference. We know, that’s why we didn’t go to the Inquiry but instead addressed the Home Secretary who made up the terms of reference and can change them at will. This isn’t the law of gravity we want altering.
The Home Office say the Inquiry will get the general idea of undercover policing from only looking at events in England and Wales. This is an outright betrayal of the people and campaigns abused by spycops in Scotland and elsewhere.
The Pitchford inquiry should not be about getting a rough idea of what happened in order to ‘learn lessons’. It should give the public and victims the truth and, from there, the chance of justice.
The spycops committed crimes in England and Wales, some of them serious. They were agents provocateur, lied in court and set people up for wrongful convictions. They are known to have engineered dozens of miscarriages of justice, and the true figure may be in the thousands. They systematically sexually and psychologically abused women, in some cases fathering children with those they spied on. They stole the identities of dead children from unwitting bereaved families.
Every instance of these things should be exposed wherever it happened, every officer should be held accountable. Every person affected deserves to know what was done to them and the state should give them all the support and opportunity for redress that they need.
It was the same officers doing the same things in Scotland. No other organisation would be allowed to say ‘we have apologised to a few of the people we harmed, so let’s keep all the rest secret’.
The Home Office letter says the inquiry may choose to take information about miscarriages of justice seriously and pass them on to other agencies. It says nothing about the inquiry seeking out such information as part of its inquisitorial role. Given that events in Scotland are outside its remit, Pitchford may even feel bound to deny the chance for such evidence to be given.
The Home Office refer to the lack of time to fit any change in, even though the Scottish government formally requested inclusion seven months ago and the inquiry hasn’t started yet.
This is also a constitutional issue. The snub will appear to many in Scotland as further proof of Westminster treating the nation as a second class part of the United Kingdom.
In the Scottish Parliament debate a month ago, all parties were united in their desire for inclusion in the Pitchford inquiry. The SNP were repeatedly asked if, as the four opposition parties desired, there would be a separate Scottish inquiry in the event of exclusion. The spokesperson for the government dodged the question on the grounds that there was no exclusion yet. That time is over.
Seen in tandem with the recent denial of ‘core participant’ status to people who have been intensively targeted by spycops, the refusal to include Scotland suggests a worrying trend in the inquiry’s organisation, shutting out essential elements before it has even begun.
Those who know they were spied upon will surely be willing to tell their stories in an arena that takes them seriously. Perhaps a Scottish inquiry would take a more open approach than Pitchford and may even become the more credible of the two.
The full text of the letter to Neil Findlay MSP:
Brandon Lewis MP
Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service
25 July 2016
Thank you for your correspondence of 1 June addressed to the former Home Secretary on behalf of your fellow MSPs regarding your position that the scope of the undercover policing inquiry should be extended to include Scotland. I am replying as the Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service.
The current terms of reference for the undercover policing inquiry specify that it should ‘…inquire into and report on undercover police operations conducted by English and Welsh police forces in England and Wales’. This geographical limitation reflects both the police forces involved and the scope of the Home Office’s responsibility for policing.
For a number of reasons, it is not possible to expand the geographical scope of the inquiry without formally amending the terms of reference. The Inquiry chairman has a wide discretion as to which documents he reviews as being appropriate within the terms of reference. However, given the parameters of the inquiry established by the terms of reference, he will not be able to make any determinations or recommendations with regard to activities within any other jurisdiction, even if such evidence is submitted. If the inquiry were to look at evidence relating to another jurisdiction, for example because it was implied that they should do so, a risk arises that it would be acting outside of its powers, as defined in the terms of reference.
The former Home Secretary carefully considered the representations made regarding the extension of the undercover policing inquiry beyond England and Wales. The inquiry as it stands is extensive and complex, with around 200 core participants. Amending the terms of reference at this stage would require further consultation and delay the progress of the inquiry. In the interests of learning lessons from past failures and improving public confidence, it is important that the inquiry can proceed quickly and make recommendations as soon as possible. The Home Office is confident the inquiry can both gain an understanding of historical failings and make recommendations to ensure unacceptable practices are not repeated without the need to consider every instance of undercover policing, wherever it was under taken. On balance, therefore, the former Home Secretary has confirmed she does not intend to amend the terms of reference.
You may be aware that there have been suggestions that, as an alternative to changing the terms of reference, the inquiry could pass any relevant evidence it receives to another organisation to consider. As the inquiry is independent, it can not be directed to do so – although the Inquiry may, of its own volition, do this if it considers this appropriate (for example, because evidence received reveals a potential miscarriage of justice or criminal conduct). During the lifetime of the Inquiry any material which it receives will only be passed to a third party with the express permission of the supplier of that information.
Once the Inquiry is concluded, all material will be lodged with the National Archives and the usual rules of access to archived material will then apply.
Brandon Lewis MP