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.