THE Public inquiry launched yesterday into the Police Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) ‘will expose both creditable and discreditable conduct, practice and management’, Justice Pitchford claimed in his opening remarks.
The scope of the inquiry into the SDS, a police spy organisation which secretly infiltrated political groups, organisations and parties for over 40 years, was outlined by Justice Pitchford. The SDS was disbanded in 2009.
Neville Lawrence, father of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, was sceptical. He said that a jury should be present at the public inquiry or they would never get to the truth. The outcome of the inquiry, Lawrence said, will be decided by just one person – Justice Pritchard – and that is not good enough.
In his opening remarks, Justice Pritchard said the inquiry will ‘need to examine any evidence of the targeting of individuals for their political views or participation in social justice campaigns. This is the first time that undercover policing has been exposed to the rigour of public examination. At the conclusion of its investigation, the inquiry will report to the Home Secretary and make recommendations as to the deployment of undercover police officers in future.’
The inquiry is expected to last for three years.
Some undercover officers fathered children with campaigners who were completely unaware of their true identities. ‘We need the full truth to emerge!’ said Helen Steel, speaking outside the inquiry yesterday.
Steel was in a relationship with a man she later found out was actually a police spy. The man she knew as John Barker at the time she was living with him had in fact lied about his name, age and background, and was using the identity of a dead child. John Barker was really Peter Francis, a deep undercover police officer, part of the Special Demonstration Squad, spying on her and the Green organisation she was in.
Helen Steel said yesterday: ‘We need police to stop hiding behind their “neither confirm nor deny” policy and to actually admit the truth that they actually abused people in these undercover relationships. They need to admit that they gave information about trade unions to blacklisting companies, that the families of grieving relatives who lost loved ones were being spied on by undercover policing units while they were seeking justice. All these issues and many more need to be fully exposed.’
Ex-SDS undercover officer Peter Francis spied on the Lawrence family who were campaigning for justice for their murdered teenage son Stephen. Francis said yesterday: ‘If you think of political campaigning – all political campaigning, CND, anti-war, anything that you can think of since 1968 onwards – you potentially may have been standing next to a police spy, you may have had a relationship with a police spy, you may even have had children with a police spy.
‘The levels that we went to to get information are the same tactics used against serious criminals and terrorists. Can this really be justified against the vast majority of law abiding political activists? . . . In the Special Branch you were an elite part of the police force where you felt that you were doing something extra special on behalf of the state. Dealing with what the state described as “subversives”.
‘So people were involved in political activities, trying to cause change, in whatever area – you felt that you were part of the state, at that given moment of time. It was almost your duty, it was almost your privilege to stop change.’