Despite a whitewash investigation by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, activists finally head towards a judicial review over Scotland’s exclusion from the Undercover Policing Inquiry. We look at why the HMICS report was a whitewash and the judicial review is needed more than ever.
At the start of February the HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland released its report into undercover policing in Scotland. I was one of those who met with the Justice Minister, Michael Matheson, in early 2017 to demand real action over how spycops had operated unchecked in Scotland, including in relationships now recognised as abusive. Our concerns about the HMICS review all turned out to be true, and a supine Matheson said a public inquiry was ‘not in the public interest’. Yet again the shambles that is Police Scotland gets to cover up its misdeeds.
However, as Matheson seeks to close down justice via one route, another opens. Another of those who met the Justice Minister is Tilly Gifford, a Scottish activist targeted by police units close to those who contributed to the HMICS report. Tilly has been pursuing a judicial review into the decision not to include Scotland under the terms of reference of the Undercover Policing Inquiry.
Now, we know that many of the spycops were active in Scotland. I was one of those who helped organise the Stirling Eco-Village during the G8 protests and met several of them there, including Mark Kennedy. Good friends have told me of how their relationships with these undercovers involved traveling to Scotland on multiple occasions, including going to significant family events.
Yet, there is an incredible reluctance by the establishment to learn what happened on Scottish soil. All the more bizarre when we know that Scottish police were seconded to the National Public Order Intelligence Unit who were in charge of officers like Mark Kennedy. Why is there so much resistance; and what is being hidden?
Tilly’s case is important because it is one of the last options to get to the truth so badly needed, especially by the many women targeted through sexual relationships. It shall examine the decision-making behind why Scotland was excluded from the Undercover Policing Inquiry. It is one of a number of similar cases, with others taking place in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. At first the Government lawyers had argued that it was out of time, but this argument was readily demolished, and the Scottish courts found there were sufficient grounds for it to be heard.
Unfortunately, having got past that important hurdle – which demonstrated there was merit to the case – the Scottish Legal Aid Board (which is overseen by Matheson’s Ministry of Justice) decided to refuse funding. Despite the merit of the case, without this there was little chance of getting it to court. Fortunately, pressure started coming from various quarters, including MSP Neil Findlay, a stalwart on this issue. This week, that decision was reversed so Tilly can take her case forward.
A small, but important victory. As with much of the spycop saga, it is campaigners’ persistance that has kept things moving forward in the face of considerable intransigence from the state.
So why go ahead with all this? The HMICS report is actually a good example. This report, a classic case of the police investigating themselves, was requested by Matheson to examine whether there was a need for a more in-depth investigation. No surprise it said this was unwarranted. However, going through it, one can readily see the textbook obfusication, half-truths and slights of hand that make up its careful phrasing – something all too common an experience for those who seek to hold the police accountable for their misdeeds.
If you are going to grant police considerable powers in the first place, then the ability to hold to account is all the more vital to stop them getting out of control. Something, Police Scotland finds all too easy if the other abuses to have hit the headlinesthe last couple of years is anything to go by.
The report itself is deficient on a number of fronts. It ignores entirely any abuses prior to 2000. Which means a number of women whose relationships with spycops were conducted in Scotland before then are erased. Given these relationships were breaches of fundametnal human rights, for which the Metropolitan Police issued a rare apology, this is simply an injust snub to those women. Similar points can be made regarding blacklisting of trade union activists, which took place in Scotland as much as anywhere else, and is known to have been supported by special branch units.
The report pretends nothing went wrong really, and if it did, then it’s all been sorted out since then. There is much focus on the post-2013 regime, which misses the point entirely. You cannot correct the future if you do not properly acknowledge the mistakes of the past. Basic questions are not answered, such as who authorised the visits of those undercovers to Scotland and how much local police forces were informed or had a role in that authorisation. Language such as ‘Scottish police not sighted’ is laughable in its attempt to obscure and is frankly insulting.
There is no proper discussion of how Scottish officers were involved in the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, which we know they were seconded to. We do get some information, such as there being 18 undercovers deployed during the G8, but while 12 can be accounted for by known spycop units, there are six undercovers who ‘were provided from the wider cadre’. Does this mean Scottish officers were deployed against protestors, with all the implications for democracy that this entails? Absent is any mention of the six undercovers sent by German police at the same time.
The report singularly fails to address important questions. If it was meant to reassure people that there was nothing amiss and everything has been sorted out anyway, it has done precisely the opposite. It indicates that the full truth is being deliberately buried. The question is why, and what is so bad here that Police Scotland and the Justice Minister are both so determined to cover up?
There is no doubt a full inquiry into undercover policing in Scotland needs to take place.
The author is a political activist and currently works with the Undercover Research Group, investigating and documenting undercover policing. He is a self-representing core participant in the Undercover Policing Inquiry.