Pitchford participant blasts undercover police for ‘preventing disclosure’
POLICE chiefs are using “blocking tactics” to “prevent disclosure,” a preliminary hearing of the undercover policing inquiry heard yesterday.
Christopher Pitchford, who is leading the inquiry into the conduct of officers deployed to spy on political groups, convened the session to hear arguments over whether the coppers should be allowed more time to prepare requests for anonymity.
The Metropolitan Police has said assessing the risk of disclosing officers’ real names and cover names has taken longer than anticipated, and a March 1 deadline was missed. It has also asked for the inquiry to be narrowed.
But in a powerful address to the hearing, inquiry core participant Kate Wilson said the police were “obstructing the goals” the probe was aiming for.
Ms Wilson is one of eight women deceived into relationships with undercover officers who won legal cases against the Met.
“We’re not strangers to the blocking tactics used by the Metropolitan Police to prevent disclosure,” she said.
Repeatedly interrupting her, Mr Pitchford told Ms Wilson to “distinguish” between the Met’s “incompetence and failure to plan” and “deliberate sabotage.”
In a reference to recent revelations that a Met unit may have shredded a warehouse of documents relating the scandal, Ms Wilson retorted: “Such as the destruction of documents?”
She said a friend and fellow core participant had recently died “without finding the truth,” and concluded: “We need to remember who is being investigated here. I’m flabbergasted at how much control the police have over the evidence and over the process.”
The Met’s barrister Jonathan Hall QC argued the police should have until October to apply for officers’ anonymity.
But the inquiry’s counsel David Barr QC warned that the police could be compelled to submit evidence under the 2005 Inquiries Act.
Mr Hall sought to assure Mr Pitchford the intention was “not to delay.”
He stressed that the Met had extensively co-operated with the inquiry.
Mr Hall also argued that the inquiry’s terms of reference were “flexible enough to [place] an intense focus on [elite undercover units] the SDS and the NPOIU.”
But the inquiry chairman suggested that if the centrality of the SDS was accepted, then the Met’s argument against the collection of submissions from every former SDS officer could fall.
“I’m finding it hard to accept that officers with a good or not good memory… will not have something relevant to say,” he told the hearing.
A lawyer acting for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said it was likely that anonymity applications from NPIOU officers would take even longer than those of the Met.