6 October 2021

Defending the right to protest at the Undercover Policing Inquiry

The second round of hearings in the Undercover Policing Inquiry took place from 21 April to 13 May covering the Anti-Vietnam War protests in 1968, Rock Against Racism in 1977 and going up to 1982. 

Undercover police from the Special Demonstration Squad have been granted anonymity to protect their human rights and ‘right to a private life’ but the activists and families they spied on have had intimate details of their lives reported on and kept for decades. They were then interrogated by lawyers about the details in the police reports (that the police who did the reports ‘can’t recollect’ making). 

The Inquiry is important. These tactics are still being used and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will make protest illegal and these police activities legal.

Activists were interrogated about their activism and whether they wanted to cause public disorder, engage in "criminality" (including flyposting and obstruction) or violence, even though reports said that they did not.

Lord Peter Hain and witnesses from the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Stop the Seventy Tour were questioned. The lawyer and the police who infiltrated them acted as if protesting the Apartheid South African regime was still not OK, despite the vindication of history.

It became normal practice to use the identities of dead children as cover and even visit or get information from local Special Branch about those children’s lives.

Some had tricked women activists into sexual relationships. Asked if he had any feelings for one of the women, one officer said: ‘Well, I got a lot of information out of her.’

He contacted the Troops Out Movement (TOM) to ask if there was a branch in South East London. One was set up afterwards. He then climbed through TOM until he was part of the national organisation, using sexual relationships to help him do this. He found new people to come to events and demonstrations and then spied on them.

Spying on the children of activists and Schoolkids Against the Nazis also took place.

They spied on the Blair Peach Justice campaign after his murder and on his partner, Celia Stubbs. They sent 12 undercover police to his funeral and continued to spy on the campaign to protect police ‘reputations’

‘Madeleine’s’ evidence about being tricked into a relationship by ‘Rick Gibson’ was powerful and intrusive. This proved to be a bit of a turning point in the inquiry’s attitude to the police witnesses. There was far less banter and tougher questioning.

The undercover police consider what they did to be right. Most had been in Special Branch, and some said quite a lot of their work was directed by the Security Services.

When asked about why the police did not bother much with the National Front or the far right, they said they did not need to but when asked to give instances of violence, several described violence from the National Front or from police officers.

Protest is a vital part of parliamentary democracy. It must be defended. 

Read more about the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance

 Clare Wilkins
ARMs National Committee