The Metropolitan Police have admitted that undercover officers deceiving women into relationships breaches human rights.
Specifically, it breaches the right to freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, and also the right to a family and private life.
The shock revelation came this week in the latest legal hearing for social justice activist Kate Wilson, who was deceived into a two year relationship by undercover officer Mark Kennedy from 2003 to 2005.
THE LEGAL CASE
Kate is one of eight women, all deceived into intimate relationships by undercover officers, who sued the police in 2011. They alleged deceit, assault, misfeasance in public office and negligence.
They also claimed the relationships breached their human rights, including Article 3 (no one shall be subject to inhuman and degrading treatment) and Article 8 (respect for private and family life, including the right to form relationships without unjustified interference by the state).
Although the relationships were very similar, legal action on human rights could only be taken by the women affected after the Human Rights Act 1998 made the European Convention enforceable in English courts. This ruled out all the women except those who had relationships with Mark Kennedy.
As soon as the women brought their case, the Met began spending vast sums of public money on lawyers who tried every trick to avoid accountability. It’s a pattern familiar to victims of state wrongdoing – the double injustice of what is done, and then the gruelling years of denial, smears and chicanery that compound the damage.
The Met dragged the eight women’s case out for four years before issuing an abject apology in November 2015 (other identical cases still inch onward).
In the apology, the Met admitted
‘these relationships were a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma’
However, they did not specify which rights they had violated.
Kate fought on with her human rights claim. It has been sent to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, a secret court that deal with state surveillance issues and almost invariably supports the state spies’ side. Of the thousands of cases the IPT has heard – it doesn’t tell us precisely how many that is – only one is known to have found in favour of the citizen.
This week, six years since her case began and more than two years since the Met admitted breaching human rights, Kate was back at a preliminary hearing for her case.
The Met admitted that Kennedy’s actions as a police officer were indeed a breach of articles 3 and 8. Though they denied or declined to admit some of the specific instances Kate cites, this is nonetheless hugely significant.
‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’
– Article 3
There are no excuses or exceptions to article 3. Nothing can ever make it justified under any circumstances.
‘Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
‘There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety, or the economic wellbeing of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others’.
– Article 8
Article 8 is conditional and that, if anything, makes the Met admission all the more important. They have just admitted that it wasn’t necessary for officers to do this in order to protect us from political activists.
This finally flattens the line peddled by senior police who told us in 2012 that Kennedy’s targets
‘were not individuals engaging in peaceful protest, or even people who were found to be guilty of lesser public order offences. They were individuals intent on perpetrating acts of a serious and violent nature against citizens going about their everyday lives’.
Chief Constable Jon Murphy flapped his arms and shrieked that Kennedy was keeping us safe from people who
‘are intent on causing harm, committing crime and on occasions disabling parts of the national critical infrastructure. That has the potential to deny utilities to hospitals, schools, businesses and your granny’.
It is now agreed that neither your health and morals, the wellbeing of the country nor your granny were under threat from Kate Wilson.
Moreover, if it is true that Kennedy’s relationships breached these rights, it is surely true of the officers who identically deceived other women. This can only increase pressure for the public inquiry to release the cover names of officers from the political secret police.
IT’S NOT JUST KATE WILSON
At last month’s hearing the Chair, Sir John Mitting, gave a clear statement on the women’s right to know the names and the truth.
‘I have listened to some of the accounts, posted on the Internet, of women who entered into intimate relationships with male undercover officers. They are eloquent and moving. Each of them is entitled to a true account of how and why they came to be induced to conduct an intimate relationship with a man deployed for police purposes with an identity and background which was not his own…
‘When there is material which gives rise to a suspicion that such an intimate relationship may have been formed by an undercover officer in a cover name, there is a compelling practical reason to require the cover name to be published: to reveal to the woman or women concerned that they may have had an intimate relationship with a man in an identity not his own’.
Shortly afterwards, the lawyer for the victims of spying, Phillippa Kaufmann QC, dropped a bombshell. Mitting was dealing with one of the earliest officers – a man known as Rick Gibson who infiltrated left wing and anti-war campaigns – and was dismissing the idea that anything from so long ago could be relevant. Kaufmann stunned the court by revealing that Gibson had at least two relationships with women he spied on.
The information came to light the way it did for the others, indeed the only way it can happen at all. The officer’s cover name was published, people who were spied on were found, they realised the truth and came forward to tell us what happened.
Most known spycops deceived women into relationships. Most of them did it with multiple women. For decades, it was done strategically. This is institutional sexism.
There must be dozens, probably hundreds, more women out there just as abused and just as deserving of the truth as Kate Wilson.
RELEASE THE NAMES
The officers cannot be trusted to account for themselves. They are trained liars. It is their wrongdoing that is under investigation. To this day, Mark Kennedy only admits to two relationships with women he spied on even though the Met have already reached settlements with four.
Mitting’s remit is to discover the truth. He says he holds the abuse of women as a cherished element of this issue, deserving of the full facts. The only way he can deliver on that is to publish the cover names.
As the Undercover Research Group showed with their bombshell at the Inquiry hearing, there is often more to it than the police admit, and it is we activists who are better, faster, more methodical, more ethical and more trustworthy than the police.
The best way to get the truth is to release the cover names, let us have time to do the research and find the victims, then present our findings. The Inquiry cannot begin to do its job until it knows what happened. It cannot know what happened until the victims come forward. Releasing the cover names is a minimum prerequisite for the Inquiry to have a hope of fulfilling its purpose.
This week’s admission that a large proportion of officers breached fundamental human rights emphasises the grave seriousness of the issue. Mitting’s desire to grant officers anonymity out of consideration for their possible hurt feelings is indefensible. Those who did nothing wrong need fear no acrimony, whilst those who subjected citizens to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment must not be allowed to hide for fear of being held accountable.
We have waited long enough. It is time to release the names and let the truth be told.
Kate Wilson’s full hearing is expected to take place in spring 2018.