Recent weeks have seen yet more revelations about the extent of police infiltration of left movements in the UK. Scottish Labour MSP Neil Findlay, who has long campaigned on the issue, argues we cannot allow Spycop activities in Scotland to go without major investigation.
The public inquiry into what has become known as the “spy cops” scandal was announced by the then Home Secretary Theresa May, in 2014. Her decision followed years of disclosures unearthed by the activists (assisted by the Guardian, the Morning Star and a few honourable others) who had been spied upon. The eventual revelations by former undercover officer and whistleblower Peter Francis, and growing evidence that emerged from the Blacklisting scandal and other campaigns convinced the Government to act. On the face of it, this was one of the very few good things that emerged from May’s tenure as Home Secretary. The inquiry is now 5 years old and only in the last few weeks have the victims of undercover policing been able to take the stand to give evidence.
The inquiry will look at the role and conduct of undercover police officers most notably in the Special Demonstrations Squad and National Public Order Intelligence Unit (and others) and their actions, with much of the focus on their surveillance of political and social justice campaigns.
To recap on some of the main issues:
Over 1000 almost exclusively left wing political, environmental, trade union and justice campaigns and individuals were kept under surveillance by undercover officers.
130 Police officers were involved over a 40 year period.
Undercover officers created false identities stolen from dead children.
Undercover officers had intimate and long-term relationships with women under their assumed identity.
Some women had children by undercover officers.
The SDS worked closely with Economic League and Consulting Association which was organised by 44 of the biggest UK construction companies to systematically blacklist construction workers who were trade union, political or environmental activists denying them work because of their trade union, political or environmental activity.
This work saw a wide range of people and groups monitored including MPs Peter Hain, Diane Abbot, Dave Nellist and Jeremy Corbyn, the Stephen Lawrence campaign, the NUM, the Fire Brigades Union, London Greenpeace, the Rebel Clown Army, the McLibel support campaign – the list goes on and on.
The Spycops scandal affected Scots – Scots were disproportionately impacted by blacklisting. Evidence shows that notorious officers like Mark Kennedy (Jenner) visited Scotland on a number occasions, got involved in relationships with women here and when monitoring activists involved in protests around the G8 summit at Gleneagles.
Dame Stella Remington, former Director General of MI5 was named by former MP Tam Dalyell as having been the MI5 officer at Polkemment colliery picket line in his constituency during the Miners’ strike and we now know that as far back as the late 60’s the SDS infiltrated a summer camp held near Dumbarton organised by the International Marxist Group.
Given the scope of surveillance it is inconceivable that major industrial disputes and campaigns such as the 1972 and 84 Miners’ strike, the national building workers strike, Scottish Anti-Apartheid campaign, The Anti poll tax campaign, Scottish CND, the Timex dispute, the Pollock free state and many, many other campaigns would not have been included in their work.
I have campaigned on this issue for the last 10 years in the Scottish Parliament, leading debates, asking questions and holding many meetings with those affected and this leads us to crux of the issue – Scottish victims of the Spycops scandal are the only victims on the mainland of the UK who have no access to a public inquiry. The UK Government point to Scotland having devolved policing and therefore any inquiry must be a Scottish one. Given repeated arguments about powers they may have a point, so it therefore falls to the Scottish Government to hold its own inquiry – they have not only refused to do so, they actively opposed the case for judicial review of the failure to hold an inquiry taken by environmental activist and Spycops victim Tilly Gifford. The Scottish Government, instead point to a review into undercover policing conducted by Her Majesty’s inspector of Constabulary that concluded ‘nothing to see here’. This was the Police inspecting the Police – no surprise there.
Given we now know that undercover political policing occurred in Scotland as early as the late 1960’s is it now time for the Scottish Government to call its own Undercover Policing Inquiry?
We have the power to do so, but is there the political will?