UK Politics

Yvette Cooper: Undercover police operations must be tightly controlled

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper
Image caption Ms Cooper said there was no "simple trade-off" between security and liberty

Labour has called for tighter controls on undercover policing in the wake of what it says have been cases of "appalling" abuse of trust by officers.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said undercover operations remained crucial for pursuing organised criminal gangs and paedophile rings.

But she said they must be independently authorised, renewed and scrutinised via a process of on-the-spot checks.

Women have claimed they were tricked into sexual relationships by officers.

Proper scrutiny

A total of 11 women and one man have said they intend to sue over the activities of five former undercover officers, with one alleged to have fathered a child before disappearing.

It is also alleged that officers have used the names of dead children to create fake identities.

Mick Creedon, the Chief Constable of Derbyshire Constabulary, is currently investigating allegations of misconduct by the Metropolitan Police's Special Demonstration Squad, which has specialised in undercover operations for 40 years.

In a speech in London, Ms Cooper said a future Labour government would make significant changes to how undercover operations were approved and conducted.

While covert operations would continue to be necessary, particularly in cases of serious crime and online child abuse, she said they must be proportionate and subject to thorough safeguards.

"Covert operations remain limited within policing, but they are a vital tool especially dealing with serious organised crime or online child abuse," she said. "But we know there have been appalling abuses."

Controls on undercover policing were much weaker than in other areas, she suggested, and recent moves by the government to tighten requirements did not go far enough.

"If they (the police) wanted to send in an officer to live a secret life for years, building relationships and trust and fathering another human being - a far greater intrusion into someone's life - they can do so in the wider interest of preventing disorder, public safety, or even collecting taxes and payments, and they only need the say so of a senior officer."

Liberty and security

It was reported on Sunday that all police forces in England and Wales will be made to examine their archives to search for evidence of misconduct by undercover officers amid recent allegations surrounding the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry.

Home Secretary Theresa May has said any officers found guilty of criminal behaviour in the original Lawrence inquiry and other investigations would be brought to justice.

While vital to protecting the public, Mrs May has said undercover operations need to be constantly re-assessed and said the law will be changed to require approval by the Surveillance Commissioner before an undercover officer's deployment can be extended beyond a year.

More generally, Ms Cooper called for the police to be given stronger powers to tackle serious crime and repeated her call for the DNA of rape suspects to be retained for several years, for anyone suspected of domestic violence to lose their gun licence and for tougher restrictions on the movements of terrorist suspects.

While praising the work of the intelligence services, she said there must be a stronger system of oversight.

"Too often in the past we have been trapped into appearing to have to make a simple choice between liberty and security or between rights and responsibilities," she said.

"A One Nation Labour approach needs to value both liberty and security and demonstrate the strong interdependence between them.

"People can't exercise their freedoms unless they feel safe yet security measures to protect democracy are counter-productive if they undermine the democratic freedoms thy were supposed to safeguard."

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