Undercover policing in the UK will come under the spotlight, the Home Secretary has announced, as it is revealed that a file detailing investigations by the SDS police unit has gone missing.
Theresa May today announced that there would be an inquiry into undercover policing and the operation of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), the BBC reports.
The news comes after controversy surrounding the behaviour of undercover police in England and Wales including officers fathering children with members of groups they have infiltrated.
The inquiry will make recommendations about how undercover policing is conducted and will scrutinise the use of undercover officers by the now defunct SDS and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit. Their remit will include looking at accusations that undercover officers took fake identities from dead children as well as having relationships with campaigners.
Mr Taylor said it was not possible to say if a missing file regarding SDS, which would have included documents classified as “secret” and “top secret”, was due to “human error or deliberate concealment”.
Meanwhile, a separate review into the relationship between the Home Office and the SDS says a key file is missing which it cannot rule out being done deliberately to hide proof that the Home Officer were aware of the behaviour of officers.
Mrs May said the work of Operation Herne and barrister Mark Ellison highlighted a number of “serious historical failings” in undercover police practices.
Mr Ellison, the barrister who successfully prosecuted two men for the murder of Stephen Lawrence, has been looking into police corruption during the original 1993 investigation.
The Home Secretary said she was “profoundly shocked” by the findings and “committed to establishing a public inquiry to thoroughly investigate undercover policing and the operation of the SDS.”
“While I initially said that Mark Ellison’s further work and criminal investigations needed to conclude before the inquiry commences, it has become apparent that these pieces of work were much larger than initially envisaged.
“In the interest of learning the lessons of past failures, I have decided to establish the inquiry now while ensuring existing work is not affected.
“Undercover policing is an essential tactic in the fight against crime but to improve the public’s confidence in undercover work we must ensure there is no repeat of these failings in the future.”
This latest inquiry will be led by judge Lord Justice Pitchford.
The work by Mr Ellison found that Scotland Yard had spied on the Lawrence family in the hope of discovering information which could be used to smear them following the teenager’s death.
Neville Lawrence, Stephen’s father, said he would like to be fully involved in the inquiry. “I’ve always felt that my family were under greater investigation than those guilty of killing my beloved Stephen and so it is only natural to want to discover what was really going on.”
An independent review into how much the Home Office knew about SDS activities, which was commissioned last March, has concluded that “given the absence of documents and the passage of time” he could not rule our the possibility that “an individual or individuals within the Home Office” may have been aware of using the identities of dead children, officers forming relationships under false pretences and justice campaign groups being targeted by SDS.
Chief Constable Mick Creedon of the Association of Chief Police Officers said: “Undercover policing is a vital police tactic has saved lives, protected victims and brought dangerous criminals to justice.”