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by Bethany Rielly
LEADING campaigner Tariq Ali has criticised a public inquiry into undercover policing as a “monumental waste of time” which is seeking to “blame the victims.”
Mr Ali was spied on by at least 14 undercover police officers working with the Metropolitan Police’s special demonstration squad (SDS).
He became a target due to his involvement with the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (VSC).
Mr Ali was on the committee which organised two protests against the war, including the March demonstration in 1968 which saw huge clashes with police and protesters.
Authorities at the time viewed the protests as a threat to public order and feared that they could turn into a revolutionary movement. The SDS, a covert unit within Special Branch, was set up in 1968 to gather intelligence on the demonstrations.
The Undercover Policing Inquiry is examining the tactics used by the SDS, which continued for another four decades until 2008.
At an evidence hearing yesterday, lead counsel of the inquiry David Barr questioned Mr Ali on his political beliefs and the motivations of VSC at the March demonstration.
He asked whether Mr Ali and the VSC national committee had encouraged protesters to bring objects such as fireworks to the protests and marbles which were used to throw police from horses.
In Mr Ali’s witness statement he accused the inquiry of focusing on his politics, rather than on the brutality of the police.
“This is the politics of ‘blame the victim’,” he said. “And no doubt I and others will be declared guilty. Even 50 years on, the state is fighting exactly the same battle it was engaged in in 1968.”
Mr Ali said that as a result, his “strong feeling is that this inquiry is likely to be a monumental waste of time.”
He disputed the police’s claims that he had intended for the protests to trigger a revolution.
“I mean you’d have to be slightly deranged to imagine that a VSC demonstration would trigger off a revolution in Britain where, you know, a majority of the people had elected a Labour government,” he said.
Mr Ali also disputed claims made against him by the SDS in documents disclosed to the inquiry describing them as “at best a distortion and at worst an invention.”
The hearing was live-streamed to a hotel in central London, with space for just 60 people. Members of the public are only able to view a transcript of the evidence, uploaded to the inquiry website with a 10-minute delay.
The feed has been restricted to protect the identities of police officers.
Campaigners protested outside the venue against the “lack of transparency and accountability” of the inquiry.
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