Undercover police damages cases to be heard in secret
- 17 January 2013
- From the section UK
Women who say they were tricked into sexual relationships with undercover police officers will have their cases heard in secret, a judge has ruled.
The women say they were victims of officers who infiltrated groups of political activists.
The High Court ruling means evidence relating to the management of Mark Kennedy, exposed in 2011, is less likely to become public.
The women want damages for emotional, psychiatric and financial losses.
A total of 11 women and one man have announced their intention to sue over the activities of five former undercover officers.
The most well-known former officer, Mark Kennedy, infiltrated environmental groups. His involvement with one group led to the collapse of a trial of protesters who had been accused of plotting to shut down a coal-fired power station. The officer switched sides, offering to appear for the defence.
As well as Mr Kennedy, the officers include Mark Jacobs, who infiltrated a group of Welsh anarchists.
But the Metropolitan Police has argued the claims should be considered by a closed court known as the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT). It deals with complaints relating to secret surveillance powers.
Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled at the High Court that the women were making serious allegations - but the IPT had jurisdiction over their human rights claims.
He said that the claimants could bring elements of the claims to the High Court at a later date but only after the IPT had ruled.
Harriet Wistrich, a solicitor for six of the claimants, said: "This decision prevents both the claimants and the public from seeing the extent of the violation of human rights and abuses of public office perpetrated by these undercover units.
"The claimants have already suffered a gross violation of their privacy and abuse of trust by the police.
"If the case is dealt with by the IPT they will be denied access to justice and may never discover why they were thus violated by the state."
Jules Carey, a solicitor representing the other claimants, said: "Today the court has acknowledged that they have suffered the 'gravest' interference with their fundamental rights.
"It has nonetheless taken the view that the police are capable of authorising such grave interferences under RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act). Our clients will have to carefully study the judgment and consider an appeal on this issue."
In written submissions to the court, lawyers for three women said Mark Kennedy had "encouraged them to become emotionally dependent on him and to publicise their intimate relationship with him widely amongst other activists and their own families."
The lawyers said the cases "raise serious questions about police misconduct and the extent to which police officers can invade the personal, psychological, and bodily integrity of members of the general population".
Mr Jacobs was a Metropolitan Police officer who masqueraded as a truck driver from Northampton when he infiltrated a small group of activists in Cardiff until 2009.
The claimants' lawyers say he "exploited the vulnerabilities of the claimants and sought to encourage them to rely on him emotionally".
It's alleged that Mr Jacobs had sexual relationships with two women in the group, at one point accompanying one of the women to the funeral of her father, who had died of cancer.
The boyfriend of one of the women is also seeking damages from the police as a result of Jacob's relationship with his then partner.
In separate proceedings, Mr Kennedy is suing his former bosses, saying police chiefs failed to stop him from falling in love.