Yesterday saw another blow to the police’s obstruction tactics for legal cases brought by targets of undercover officers.
The police have been saying they can ‘neither confirm nor deny’ (NCND) that anyone was (or wasn’t) an undercover officer. They claim this is a long standing policy that cannot be deviated from. But, as is pointed out by the eight women in the Police Spies Out of Lives case who were deceived into relationships with officers, that is simply not true.
The Met have even tried to claim NCND about officers who have given numerous media appearances talking about their work. Even more farcically, in one hearing they admitted that Jim Boyling was a Metropolitan Police officer but not that he was undercover, as if he might have had his alter ego of committed activist as a some sort of off-duty hobby.
Yesterday, three people from Cardiff Anarchist Network who were spied on for four years by an officer known as Mark ‘Marco’ Jacobs came to the High Court in London to challenge the use of NCND in relation to their claim for damages. Two had sexual relationships with Jacobs, the third is a man who was the partner of one of one of them and was very close friends with Jacobs.
Mr Justice Mitting asked the police’s counsel what the point was of asking the claimants to prove that Jacobs was a police officer. There was a long, resounding, painful silence, ended only by Mitting asking another question.
Whilst the police did not say they were dropping the use of NCND, they said that they would not contest the assertion that Jacobs was an officer, and if damages are awarded then the police will be liable to pay.
THE REAL ABUSE
Mitting did question the position of the man in the case, Tom Fowler, saying it amounted to saying ‘you stole my girlfriend by deceit,’ a position that wouldn’t hold water in a marriage case, let alone with unmarried people. Leaving aside his anachronistic clear distinction between married and other couples, it shows a fundamental failure to understand what these spies have done.
As other women deceived into relationships with undercover officers have been at pains to point out, it’s not so much the sexual contact that’s the issue, it’s the intimacy, the trust, the intertwining of lives and plans for the future. To then find out that the person you were so close to was only ever there as a paid agent to betray you and the values you hold most dear, that their presence in your life was controlled by an unseen group of other state agents, is a profoundly traumatising shock.
Whilst we may hope our closest relationships don’t end, we’re always aware of the possibility. It happens to a lot of people at some time and it’s happened to most of us before. But the profound invasion of privacy, the sustained manipulation and the abuse of trust that were meted out to all three people in this case is not something anyone would ever expect of their partner, their best friend or their government.
Whilst the Metropolitan Police’s effective admission that Jacobs was their officer is good news, not bringing the evidence out in front of them means we lose hope of shining a light up the ladder in this case and see who sent Jacobs to spy, what they asked him to do, and how much they knew of his abuse of those he targeted.
Nonetheless, it is a victory and bodes well for NCND to crumble away from future cases and the forthcoming public inquiry.