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by Bethany Rielly
FORMER police officers giving evidence to the spycops inquiry could be “inhibited” from speaking fully if they are forced to give evidence in public, their lawyers claimed today.
The Undercover Policing Inquiry, launched to investigate units that infiltrated more than 1,000 political groups over 50 years, is considering changes to public access rules when its hearings resume in April.
At an operational hearing today, major media outlets and campaigners called for all future hearings to be live-streamed with visuals and audio.
The inquiry, which opened in November, was only accessible to the public via a rolling transcript on its website.
The restrictions prompted allegations of an “an Establishment cover-up.”
Speaking at the hearing, Jude Bunting QC, representing seven media outlets including the BBC, the Telegraph and the Guardian, argued: “The starting point in this inquiry should be openness. The hearings in November 2020 failed to meet that objective.”
Lawyers representing spycops argued against removing the restrictions.
Robert McAllister QC told the hearing that his clients “may well be affected or inhibited by the knowledge of the audio transmission itself, and have their own concerns that people that they know may recognise their voices.”
Fellow spycops lawyer Richard Whittam also argued against live-streaming, claiming that his clients are “vulnerable.”
However Rajiv Menon QC, representing a number of the campaigners, said that it is those affected by undercover policing “who are the victims in this inquiry of abuse of power by the state.
“The former undercover officers, with respect, are not victims and should never treated as such,” he said.
Inquiry chairman Sir John Mitting will now decide whether to make changes to public access for the next phase.
The inquiry was set up to investigate allegations that members of two undercover police units had committed abuses, including the deception of campaigners into intimate long-term relationships and stealing the identities of deceased children.
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