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Star Comment: Force them to change

THE admission by the Metropolitan Police that Jim Boyling and Bob Lambert were indeed undercover officers illustrates the moral vacuum at the heart of Britain’s secret state.

Both men formed long-term relationships with activists they were spying on — an outrageous breach of their partners’ trust and a shocking abuse of the supposed purpose of undercover policing.

It took a lot to get the Met to cough up the truth. Of course, this is what many of us have come to expect from Britain’s biggest police force.

Its initial responses to the killing of innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005 and the death of bystander Ian Tomlinson after being unlawfully struck by officer Simon Harwood in 2009 exposed an instinct to smear and cover up when confronted with wrongdoing allegations.

In this case, despite mounting publicly available evidence that its officers had indeed tricked women into love affairs, it has taken a judge’s threat to wring the names of the officers involved from the force.

Even now the Met insists the relationships formed were “genuine” — though the claim beggars belief in reference to men whose entire identities were fake.

The eight women demanding redress for emotional trauma are entirely justified. Undercover officers, operating with the full knowledge of the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), have ruined their lives.

The SDS ceased to exist in 2008, but the National Public Order Intelligence Unit which now carries out similar functions employs many more officers than it ever did, lending credence to the suspicion that its activities are now more widespread than ever.

The Network for Police Monitoring’s Kevin Blowe is absolutely right that the force must now reveal the identities of other officers who have engaged in this repugnant snooping exercise.

The Met’s foot-dragging over the names of Boyling and Lambert do not imply that this is likely. If it fails to come clean the government should force it to — and institute a wider investigation into the extent of state surveillance in this country.

The SDS was founded in the 1960s in response to demonstrations against the Vietnam war.

Even then, the shift from previous methods of undercover policing — which was usually short-term infiltration of criminal gangs with arrests for specific crimes in mind — to the longer-term adoption of false identities merely to hoover up information marked a dangerous step towards the creation of a secret police force.

The remit of undercover officers has only expanded since. It is clear that police have infiltrated all sorts of different groups — communists, socialists and anarchists, animal rights protesters, environmental activists, anti-fascists and anti-racists, peace campaigners.

In short, any British citizen who asserts their right to peaceful protest or activism of any kind is at risk not merely of being spied on but of being duped into sexual relationships or even marriage by the spies. There are even children from such phoney relationships.

Together with the reckless expansion of online monitoring which the government refuses to even acknowledge as a problem, the cynical abuse of law-abiding people by the police is a wake-up call.

Politicians’ claims that Britain is a free society whose citizens can exercise their civil rights without interference from the state are lies.

The shadow state is clearly out of control. But we cannot trust either police chiefs or MPs to do anything about it.

It will take a determined grass-roots campaign against the state’s snooping culture before this government — or a future Labour one — feels forced to act.

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