Campaigners walk out of spycops inquiry over fears of being used as ‘window-dressing’
Campaigners and their lawyers walked out of the undercover policing inquiry this week in protest of anonymity being granted to the spycops as well the competency of the inquiry chair. ‘It is now abundantly clear that we simply cannot participate in this hearing in a meaningful way,’ Phillippa Kaufmann QC, acting on behalf of about 200 people, told Sir John Mitting.
The inquiry was launched in March 2015 and has long become bogged down as the police have called for proceedings to be held in secret to protect the identities of the undercover officers – as reported on the Justice Gap (Whatever happened to the undercover policing inquiry?). In May 2017, Sir John Mitting took over the chairmanship from Lord Justice Pitchford, who had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
‘Over the past few months, we have expressed to you increasing concerns over the manner in which the anonymity process is being conducted,’ Phillippa Kaufmann said. ‘We have now reached a point where our concerns can no longer be ignored and have come to a head.’ The focus of her clients’ ‘now very grave concerns’ were ‘disclosure and, to be frank, yourself’. The lawyer called the chairman’s reasoning for not releasing the names of certain police officers ‘scant and largely uninformative’. ‘You have never indicated once that you have taken into the compelling public interest factors favoring openness as against anonymity.’
‘We are not prepared to participate in a process where the presence of our clients is pure window-dressing, lacking all substance, lacking all meaning and would achieve absolutely nothing other than lending this process the legitimacy it does not have and deserve.’
Phillipa Kaufmann QC
The QC attacked judge’s competency– ‘the usual white upper-middle-class elderly gentleman whose life experiences are a million miles away from those who were spied upon’. She pointed to Mitting’s observation about one such officer (HN58):
‘We have had examples of undercover male officers who have gone through more than one long-term permanent relationship, sometimes simultaneously. There are also officers who have reached a ripe old age who are still married to the same woman that they were married to as a very young man. The experience of life tells one that the latter person is less likely to have engaged in extra-marital affairs than the former.’
Sir John Mitting
That observation led to, an ‘extreme reaction’ in court, Kauffman noted. ‘Your response was, and we would agree with it, that you are somewhat naïve and a little old-fashioned,’ she added. Her clients asked the judge to recuse himself from the inquiry.
According to a Press Association report, the lawyer’s words were ‘greeted by cheers and applause inside the courtroom, followed by the vast majority of the public gallery streaming out’.
Doreen Lawrence, the mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, was one of those who walked out of the inquiry. ‘This was a step I never expected to take,’ she said. ‘Theresa May, then Home Secretary and now Prime Minister promised me a truly thorough, transparent and accountable inquiry. This has turned into anything but that and before any more public money is spent on an inquiry which does not achieve this, the chair should resign or continue with a panel which is not naive or old fashioned and which understands my concerns about policing and what I went through.’
Earlier this month, the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS), an alliance of people spied on by Britain’s political secret police, said that the inquiry chair seemed ‘unable to grasp that the inquiry exists to expose police wrongdoing’. ‘Mitting should be uncovering a path to the truth. Instead, he is an obstacle,’ the group said.
This article was first published on March 23, 2018