Having just had a reply to my letter to the Home Office about policy spying on the environmental protest movement, it is becoming clear that after all the initial hoo-ha about the PC Mark Kennedy affair (or should I say affairs) the whole matter is being smothered in classic Home Office style under cover of two internal inquiries, held in private, with no genuine independent scrutiny, and largely circumventing the central issue which is: should the police be engaging in this sort of activity at all when environmental protests are peaceful and strongly reflect the public interest? The police establishment continue to treat the affair as one which ‘unfortunately went wrong’ as a result of the activities of one or two ‘rogue officers’ – shades of News International putting the phone hacking down to the activities of a ‘single rogue reporter’ when we now know it was the result of a large-scale conspiracy organised from above. But it isn’t just Mark Kennedy and one or two other ‘rogues’, by a long shot.
The 2 inquiries are by the IPCC into the disclosure issues around the case and by HMIC (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary). The latter is far the more important and will review, according to the letter to me of Nick Herbert the Policing Minister, “the operational accountability of undercover work conducted by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit NPOIU) and how intelligence activity is authorised in accordance with the law”. However the ‘independence’ of this latter review is highly suspect. HMIC inspectors are predominantly senior police officers, and the review is led by former chief constable Bernard Hogan-Howe. Why this matters is that it is the decisions of senior police officers that most need to be investigated since they clearly devised and ran the whole operation, not the undercover operatives on the ground.
The Home Office is obviously sensitive to the way it is fixing the whole matter with a private internal inquiry, so it has appointed an ‘External Referencing Group’ to provide independent scrutiny. But it turns out that of the 7 members of the group 3 are serving or former police officers and one works within the Home Office department responsible for NPOIU’s funding. So much for independent open scrutiny!
The real questions here are not Mark Kennedy, even if the tabloid press slaver over his exploits, but rather 6 public interest issues. How did sexual misconduct come to be the norm rather than the exception in this whole episode? Why did the police fail to disclose critical evidence relating to undercover officers in the court proceedings of political campaigners? Were the police officers now revealed under instructions from their superiors to act as agent provocateurs? Why was this undercover policing launched in the first place when there was no danger to the public or to individuals? Were the undercover officers’ activities abroad authorised with the agreement of other countries (e.g. Germany and Iceland)? Why was public money used for the undercover operations when NPOIU is housed within ACPO (the Association of Chief Police Officers) which is a profit-making private company unregulated by democratic authority?