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COPPERS admitted for the first time yesterday that the deception of women activists into relationships with undercover officers breached anti-torture laws.
During a case management hearing at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the Metropolitan Police’s lawyer argued that much of a lawsuit filed by environmental campaigner Kate Wilson should be heard in secret.
Jonathan Swift QC said that evidence should be presented at a closed hearing, with a “special advocate” appointed to speak on the claimant’s behalf. This lawyer would not be permitted to speak to Ms Wilson or her lawyers.
The tribunal indicated that it did not see the need for closed hearings except to protect anonymity. If the police still seek secrecy, the tribunal would instead appoint a “counsel to the tribunal” who could liaise with Ms Wilson and her lawyers over elements of the case heard in private.
Ms Wilson had a two-year relationship with Mark Kennedy, who was unmasked as a member of the elite National Public Order Intelligence Unit in 2010.
As well as taking action in the High Court, along with seven other women who were deceived into such relationships, she has argued that the Met infringed several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
This case will be heard at the tribunal — a judicial body which hears complaints about surveillance by public bodies — during a five-day trial in the spring.
Ahead of the hearing, the Met has admitted that a number of Ms Wilson’s allegations are true.
In particular, the force has acknowledged that Mr Kennedy’s sexual relationship with the activist amounted to a breach of article three of the ECHR — which prohibits torture and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The Met has also admitted a breach of article eight of the convention, which protects the right to privacy.
But it has denied or declined to admit a number of the instances of privacy breach cited by Ms Wilson in her lawsuit.
One issue in dispute is the extent to which Mr Kennedy’s superiors and colleagues were aware of, or indeed sanctioned, his tactics.
At yesterday’s preliminary session of the case, Mr Swift argued that hearing evidence in public might endanger the security of other officers by revealing elements of a “mosaic of information.”
He also said the court should not concern itself with whether the practice was systemic in the Met, on the grounds that such issues would be addressed by the much-delayed public inquiry into undercover policing.
Charlotte Kilroy, acting for Ms Wilson, said: “This is a human rights claim, and the wider involvement of the state is very relevant to the severity [of the Met’s infringements of the ECHR].
“It would be quite wrong for this tribunal to shut this claim down on the basis of very narrow admissions.”
The Met cannot not escape liability on the grounds that article eight of the convention has a caveat for measures “necessary in a democratic society,” since the article requires such exceptions to also be “in accordance with the law,” she said.
Fellow activist Helen Steel, who was deceived into a relationship by another officer, John Dines, told the Star it was “highly significant” that the Met had admitted a breach of article three.
“This was yet another attempt by the police to prevent the details of abusive undercover tactics coming out into the open,” she added.
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