AN INQUIRY into undercover policing was branded a “farce” yesterday as counsel for the victims complained that keeping the officers anonymised would undermine the purpose of the inquiry.
Counsel for the victims said they were “extremely disappointed” with the inquiry’s progress and several observers left the public gallery at London’s High Court during proceedings.
Inquiry chairman Sir John Mitting heard applications for anonymity by seven former officers from the Metropolitan Police’s special demonstration squad (SDS).
The officers’ submissions in support of remaining anonymous claim that they fear risk of violence and intrusion into their and families’ private lives if their identities and roles are disclosed.
But the victims’ written responses said that there was insufficient evidence that important public interests in favour of disclosing the identities of the seven officers had been taken into account.
Phillippa Kaufmann QC, representing the victims, said the extent of the anonymity proposed was alarming and risked undermining public confidence in the inquiry.
She said that it made the hearings “increasingly look like window-dressing” as the level of anonymity meant evidence could not be properly tested.
Ms Kaufmann also submitted that, if the anonymity stage of the inquiry was not conducted with “significant breadth,” there was a serious risk the inquiry would “get off to a wrong start.”
She accused the inquiry of setting “far too low a threshold of risk” when determining officers’ applications for anonymity and said that individuals would be unable to know if they were victims of spying if officers’ cover names were not revealed.
Mr Mitting prompted walkouts from the public gallery when he told Ms Kaufmann that lawyers would meet a “brick wall of silence” in regard to information about two officers, known only as HN23 and HN40.
Maya Sikand, representing former SDS officer Peter Francis, told the inquiry that Mr Francis knew HN40 and was “unsure” why disclosure of his cover name would reveal his real name.
She also said that Mr Francis knew HN23 and that he would have valuable evidence for the inquiry on the “violence he was authorised to carry out.”
Mr Mitting’s decisions on the application will be published at a later date.
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