Undercover policing: MPs demand reforms
- 1 March 2013
- From the section UK
Unacceptable sexual relationships by undercover police show an urgent review of laws regulating their activities in England and Wales is needed, MPs say.
Using dead children's identities is "ghoulish" and forces must apologise, the Home Affairs Committee said.
It said the law failed to protect the rights of those affected, including those in relationships with officers.
The Association of Chief Police Officers said it backed more controls and would welcome a review of the law.
Home affairs committee chairman Keith Vaz said the effect of undercover officers' conduct on women with whom they had relationships had been "devastating".
A raft of allegations have been made since it became known in 2011 that former PC Mark Kennedy had spied on environmental protesters posing as long-haired dropout Mark "Flash" Stone and had at least one sexual relationship with an activist.
Five women and one man are suing the Metropolitan Police over alleged intimate relationships with undercover officers, says the cross-party committee. It also says an undercover officer is alleged to have fathered a child before disappearing.
"It is unacceptable that a child should be brought into the world as a result of such a relationship and this must never be allowed to happen again," the committee stresses.
Harriet Wistrich, the solicitor acting for eight women who had relationships with officers, said they had been devastated by discovering the real identities of men who had been part of their lives for up to six years.
"All of the women I am working with have suffered very serious, significant serious psychological damage, sometimes of a devastating nature," she said.
"It's outrageous this kind of infiltration should take place, whatever the circumstances."
James Bannon, a former undercover officer told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that having relationships with women to infiltrate a group could only be justified in extreme circumstances.
"If you have exhausted every other avenue of infiltration in order to gather evidence on a particular person or particular group and your only course of action after you've exhausted everything else is to have a relationship in order to effect your cover with somebody, then I think there's a justification around it," he said.
It has also been claimed - says the report - that an officer planted a bomb on behalf of an animal rights group and that another was prosecuted under his assumed identity, had given evidence on oath, and participated in confidential lawyer-client discussions with his co-defendants.
Mr Vaz also condemned the "ghoulish and disrespectful practice of undercover officers looking to develop cover stories plundering the identities of dead infants".
One witness told the committee that after her partner (whom she did not know to be a police officer) had gone missing she found the birth record of the child whose identity he had been using and went to the parents' address in an attempt to find out more about him.
The parents were not there, says the committee. "But it is easy to see how officers infiltrating serious, organised criminal and terrorist gangs using the identities of real people could pose a significant risk to the living relatives of those people.
"The families who have been affected by this deserve an explanation and a full and unambiguous apology from the forces concerned. We would also welcome a clear statement from the home secretary that this practice will never be followed in future."
Mr Vaz added: "We are not satisfied that the current legislative framework provides adequate protection against police infiltration into ordinary peoples' lives - a far more intrusive form of surveillance than any listening device or hidden camera."
The report says there was a "compelling case" for a fundamental review of the legislation governing undercover policing, including the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act 2000 (Ripa).
It also says Operation Herne, the Met's investigation into the practices of one undercover unit, has cost £1.25m "with little to show in terms of results" and calls for "decisive action" to speed it up.
Acpo's head of crime, Merseyside Chief Constable Jon Murphy, said undercover officers played a critical role gathering evidence and intelligence to protect communities from harm.
"Used correctly, the tactic is lawful, ethical, necessary and proportionate. But it is also one of the most challenging areas of operational policing and can have considerable impact on public confidence.
"For this reason Acpo has long supported increased oversight of undercover policing and would welcome a review of Ripa."
A Home Office spokesman said: "Undercover police operations are a vital element of the fight against organised crime and terrorism, but it is crucial covert powers are used proportionately.
"The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act already provides strong safeguards but we recognise the system can be improved."