The Undercover Policing Inquiry, otherwise known as the Pitchford Inquiry, was announced by Home Secretary, Theresa May, last July. Its purpose is to ‘inquire into and report on undercover police operations conducted by English and Welsh Police Forces in England and Wales since 1968’. The inquiry’s scope will ‘include but not be limited to, whether and to what purpose, extent and effect undercover police operations have targeted political and social justice campaigners’, covering police undercover units, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) and National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU).
May felt bound to initiate such an inquiry because of growing and compelling evidence that undercover police had systematically abused their position, impacting upon peaceful and law abiding individuals and organisations targeted with dubious and sinister policing practices. However, as we know, inquiries can often be about suppressing the truth, whilst offering pretence towards actually finding it. Time will tell with regard to Pitchford.
The Pitchford Inquiry should to be extended to Scotland and, if it is not, a similar style inquiry should be launched here by the Scottish Government. If not, we will have the ridiculous sight of a Tory Government acknowledging a problem in undercover policing and being seen to try to do something about it, whilst a supposedly more progressive Scottish Government trenchantly refuses to acknowledge a Scottish dimension to such police operations, let alone trying to do anything about it.
A key consideration of Pitchford is the malpractice by officers in the SDS and NPOIU who were undercover, including how they even entered into sexual relations with people they were spying on. One woman likened this to ‘being raped by the state’. What must be fundamental is how the information gleaned from all types of police spying is then used against working people, especially as it has come to light recently that working people were prevented from gaining employment as a result of their political and union activities.
Collusion between the state – elements within the police and intelligence services, business, corporations and their representative bodies and some in the media – has been occurring and used against working people and their representatives since the end of the First World War, the extension of the franchise and the emergence of the labour and union movement as a serious force in British political life.
The most prominent organisation that organised the networks against the organised working class was the Economic League, forerunner to the Consulting Association. Set up in 1919, its aim was to ‘counter subversion’ and identify and prevent from working those people considered subversives. These so-called subversives were, just as they are now, activists fighting for the means to provide for the families and end exploitation in the workplace.
In recent times, the Consulting Association provided information to multi-national construction firms for blacklisting trade unionists for the ‘crime’ of fighting for better and more secure terms and conditions for the members and for safer and improved health and safety on building sites. Not an unreasonable objective you would think given building sites are still seen as being amongst the most dangerous workplaces in Britain today.
The extent of the collusion between the state, and the likes of the blacklisters, will hopefully be exposed during Pitchford. However, evidence of the extent of state surveillance on so-called ‘subversives’ and ‘subversive activities’ already exists. The Shrewsbury Three, Grunwick strikers, British Leyland unions, the 1984-1985 miners’ strike, and the peace and Anti-Apartheid movements were all victims of spying and undercover police activity.
It was said in Peter Taylor’s programme, True Spies, that in the 1970s there were over one million paper files on people. In today’s electronic world one can only imagine the number of people who are now having files opened up on them. It would be good if Pitchford touched upon this systematic spying on the people of this country but no-one should hold their breath waiting on that happening.
The notion that the SDS or NPOIU has not been active in Scotland or that Scottish officers have not been involved and complicit is preposterous and has been proven to be so through reporting by the Ferret, Sunday Herald and Sunday Mail.
When the offices of the Consulting Association were raided the names of hundreds of Scottish workers were found on their blacklist. At a meeting in the Scottish Parliament, a blacklisted activist, Eleanor Hutson, reported how during the G8 the now notorious, Mark Kennedy, was the transport coordinator of activists protesting in Scotland. Hutson was then found to be on the Consulting Association blacklist. Moreover, a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in 2012, A review of national police units which provide intelligence on criminality associated with protest, said: ‘Although Mark Kennedy worked for a national unit his undercover activities were authorised by senior officers from the police force that covered the particular local area in which he was working’.
Recently, reports have shown how the new Chief Constable of Police Scotland, Phil Gormley, had oversight of the activities of SDS and NPOIU.
While the Ferret, through FOI information, reported how senior Scottish police officers attended meetings of the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Terrorism and Allied Matters Committee (ACPO TAM), which is responsible for counter-terrorism and controlled the units currently being investigated by Pitchford. The senior officers who attended ACPO TAM meetings included Sir Willie Rae, former Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police, Paddy Tomkins, former Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police, and former Chief Constable, Sir Stephen House.
Two other Scottish Police officers, Eleanor Mitchell and Paul Hogan, have recently been reported to have been working for NPOIU. Paul Hogan was seconded from Tayside Police to the NPOIU and was said to have worked with ‘key industry partners on the work of the department in order to develop intelligence sharing opportunities and maximise opportunities’. This sounds eerily like the type of collusion which sees information passed between state agencies and businesses and which provides the information from which blacklists are constructed. The Scottish connection is also exposed by the ex-undercover cop, Bob Lambert, who fathered a child with a female activist and worked recently at St Andrews University before resigning in the midst of the furore over his past activity.
Calls have, thus, grown for Scotland to be included in Pitchford, and if not, for the Scottish Government themselves to launch its own inquiry. The response from the Scottish Government has been disappointing at best and distinctly obstructive at worst. Its latest position is it is in discussions with May, but as yet there is still no sign Pitchford will be extended to Scotland, nor is it clear whether the Scottish Government actually want Scotland to be included in Pitchford.
Neil Findlay has led the way in calling for Pitchford to be extended to Scotland, asking the Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson, in Parliament whether he shared his concerns that Police Scotland will neither confirm nor deny that it is monitoring the activities of environmental, union and political activists or say whether that information is being provided to third parties.
Mathieson’s response was woefully inadequate suggesting a flagrant and reckless disregard for the seriousness of these allegations: ‘I have no knowledge of Police Scotland having certain individuals under surveillance. If Mr Findlay has concerns about that, he could pursue it with Police Scotland. If he is dissatisfied with that, he could take it up with IOCCO—the surveillance commissioner—which would be able to look at the matter’. Mathieson, therefore, sought to absolve himself and his Government from any responsibility in looking into these matters despite being the responsible for police activity in Scotland. The First Minister in another response to Neil Findlay said that there would be no plans for an inquiry here and that Scotland would pay attention and look to learn lessons from Pitchford. It was an embarrassingly complacent answer.
The SNP Scottish Government has ‘form’ in ignoring or obstructing such investigations. It refused to countenance any inquiry into the disproportionate number of miners arrested and convicted in Scotland during the 1984-1985 strike and always refused an inquiry into blacklisting in Scotland.
The case for Scotland to be included in Pitchford is overwhelming but if it is not included then Scotland must conduct its own inquiry. If not the reputation of Police Scotland will continue to be stained and the Scottish Government will rightfully be exposed for taking the side of the old order and establishment at the expense of the rights of ordinary working people.
Tommy Kane is Senior Researcher for Neil Findlay MSP