Metropolitan police’s Patricia Gallan gives evidence to MPs following Guardian revelations about undercover policing – along with victims’ lawyers and reporter Paul Lewis
The identities of an estimated 80 dead children have been used by undercover police. A police operative who used the alias Pete Black to spy on protest groups explains how they did it
Hello and welcome to live coverage of the Commons home affairs select committee’s hearing into the Guardian’s revelations about undercover policing.
Patricia Gallan, a deputy assistant commissioner in charge of the Metropolitan police’s investigation into the controversy, faces questions from MPs about the scandal, which this week widened to include the stealing by police of the identities of dead children.
Before Gallan appears, the public hearing will begin at 3.15pm with evidence from solicitors for women who feel they were duped into having relationships with undercover officers. Eleven women are currently bringing legal action against the Metropolitan police for damages. The lawyers appearing before the committee today are:
• Harriet Wistrich, solicitor, Birnberg Peirce & Partners
• Jules Carey, solicitor, Tuckers Solicitors
• Marian Ellingworth, solicitor, Tuckers Solicitors
Also speaking will be my colleague Paul Lewis, who along with fellow Guardian reporter Rob Evans two years ago broke the story that led to these hearings when they reported that police officer Mark Kennedy had lived for seven years undercover in the environmental protest movement, establishing sexual relationships with activists during the course of his work. One woman was his girlfriend for six years.
Lewis and Evans went on to report that, of nine undercover police identified by the Guardian over the past two years, eight were believed to have slept with the people they were spying on. In at least three cases, relationships between police and the women they were spying on resulted in the birth of children.
Kennedy will also give evidence today – but in private.
In a further development, this week Lewis and Evans reported that police secretly authorised undercover officers to steal the identities of around 80 dead children over three decades. (Kennedy is not thought to have done this.) In this video, a police operative who used the alias Pete Black to spy on protest groups explains how they did it.
Keith Vaz, the chair of the home affairs committee, has said he is “shocked” at the “gruesome” practice, and has said the police should inform parents whose children’s identities were used. Scotland Yard has announced an investigation into the controversy, and has said the practice is not “currently” authorised. Lord Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, has called for a public inquiry into undercover policing following the revelations.
We’ll be covering the hearing live here, and you can watch it on the parliament website.
Updated at 3.21pm GMT
The committee seems to be running late – or the live broadcast is not working. Apologies.
Updated at 3.30pm GMT
The live stream has begun. Sorry for the delay.
Keith Vaz, the committee chair, says the committee has sat in private to take evidence from witnesses.
Now the lawyers are here to speak in public.
He starts with the issue of police using dead children’s identity.
Lawyer Jules Carey says he has been instructed by one family whose son Rod Richardson’s name was used by an undercover police officer, who infiltrated various political groups.
Updated at 3.38pm GMT
Carey says his client wants to understand why he child’s name was used. He says he is also representing a number of women who are concerned that such operations are still carrying on.
He says he has submitted a written complaint to the police, which he believes is the complaint that has triggered a police investigation.
Vaz asks lawyer Harriet Wistrich if there is any justification for police to use undercover tactics.
She says there is no justification for them to use sex in their work.
That is the issues she is concerned with: the “overwhelming damage” that has been caused.
All the women involved have been “very, very seriously psychologically harmed” as a result of what the police did to them, Wistrich says.
The police were aware of this, she says.
Vaz quotes from Mr Justice Tugendhat’s recent judgment about undercover police, in which the judge used James Bond as context for police using sex during undercover work.
Wistrich asks what controls we can put on undercover police.
She says MPs could not have meant sexual relationships to have been part of the Regulation of Investigatory Practices Act.
Does the law need to be changed, Vaz asks lawyer Marian Ellingworth.
Ellingworth says sex should not be sanctioned.
Carey says RIPA cannot approve sexual relationships. The structure of the act does not envisage sexual relationships, he says. The words “personal and other relationships” cannot have been meant to include sex – they are too vague for that.
You cannot legislate to breach a fundamental right such as “bodily integrity”, Carey says.
Tory Lorraine Fullbrook asks what the absolute legal limit should be on undercover police officers’ behaviours.
Wistrich says you have to completely stop before a sexual relationship.
Fullbrook tries to pin her down on the “absolute legal limit”, but Wistrich says that depends on the circumstances.
Vaz says Fullbrook is looking for a list of what is and isn’t acceptable.
Wistrich says again there are circumstances when different things are acceptable – for example to stop a child trafficking ring.
Carey says undercover officers shouldn’t be deployed unless it’s necessary and proportionate – political groups wouldn’t be covered, he says.
Tory Michael Ellis repeats Tugendhat’s point that undercover policing wouldn’t surprise the public.
These kind of sexual relationships “probably happen more often to men” than to women, he claims, citing the example of Mata Hari.
He accuses the lawyers of wanting to tie the police’s hands unreasonably.
Wistrich says using sex in this way is massively beyond the bounds of a civilised society.
Labour’s Bridget Phillipson asks if police were directed to form these relationships or did so of their own volition.
Ellingworth says the police won’t even confirm that the men in question were undercover officers, let alone say whether they were following orders.
Wistrich says the police have not yet tried to come up with a circumstance that they say are justified.
Phillipson asks if female officers have had relationships with men.
Carey says they are aware of one female officer who has been deployed in this way. None of the lawyers are instructed by males.
Wistrich says there are always exceptions, but this is really a form of “institutionalised sexism”.
The impact is massively upon women, she says.
Labour’s David Winnick asks if it’s naive to believe the police were not aware sexual relationships were taking place involving undercover officers.
Wistrich says she believes they were, officially or unofficially.
Carey says there is a striking similarity in terms of how many of these relationships started and ended. Many of their clients felt these relationships were entered into by design by the officers. That suggests senior officers were aware of it.
Carey says the public would expect police officers to behave like James Bond if we lived in a world full of Dr Nos. But we don’t, he says.
There is no necessity for these actions, Carey says.
Winnick raises the adopting of the names of dead children. Was this authorised?
Wistrich says she felt this would have been authorised.
Winnick asks if the lawyers consider that a particularly despicable act.
Carey says every aspect of this policing operation is “utterly depraved”. It’s very hard to quantify particular aspects.
“It’s utterly despicable,” says Wistrich.
Labour’s Chris Ruane asks how the police can be held to account here.
Wistrich says that’s what the lawyers are aiming to do.
They have met with “a complete barrage of obstacles” from the police. The police have asked for information from them but given none in return.
Wistrich says she has written to the IPCC, which is supervising an investigation into some of these issues, but got no response.
Ruane asks what the key questions that need to be answered. Wistrich suggests:
Why were the police involved in these people’s lives? What information did they gather? How can this be stopped from happening in the future?
Carey says the principal question he would ask is whether they have read the nine principles of policing from 1828.
He reads one out: the police’s actions depend on public approval of those actions.
They’ve lost public respect through these actions, Carey says.
Tory Mark Reckless asks whether the deception by the officers means the sex they had with activists was non-consensual.
Wistrich says that’s a very good point. She’s written to the CPS but got no reply.
Vaz asks for copies of all these letters.
Carey says he is representing a client who had a child from one of these relationships.
Updated at 5.31pm GMT
The Guardian’s Paul Lewis takes his seat.
Vaz asks how Lewis and Rob Evans discovered all this information.
Lewis says they spoke to police officers while working on a book related to this. He says the police officers were not just using the names of dead children, they were adopting many aspects of that person’s identity.
Where does the figure of 80 officers using this tactic come from, Vaz asks.
It’s an estimate, says Lewis. He’d like to hear from the Met police about this. It’s possible it could be fewer or more than 80 officers.
Carey’s complaint comes from 2003, he says.
Vaz says it’s a “pretty gruesome practice” and that it must be “heartless and cruel” for the parents not to have been informed.
Lewis ask if this was limited to the Special Demonstration Squad or was used more widely.
Lewis says he has spoken to people whose children’s identities have been used in this way.
He says the Met police have placed the families of these children at some risk. Other activists could try to track down the undercover officers and seek out the family of the child whose identity was stolen. Far right groups were infiltrated in this way, Lewis says.
Vaz asks if the Met police have asked Lewis for this information.
Lewis says he has an obligation to protect his sources. He’s confident that the police know all the children’s identities.
Vaz asks him to accept that in some circumstances the police are justified in using undercover agents.
Lewis says some undercover operations are justified, but raises the issue of proportionality. He mentions far right groups and violent animal rights groups. But in the main we are talking about non-violent activists, he says.
Tory Michael Ellis asks if the public have a human right to be protected from crime and suggests senior officers are best-placed to decide when it’s right to use undercover officers.
He says he agrees with that.
But he begs to differ that the public would be unsurprised by officers using sex in this way.
Ellis says it was Tugendhat who said the public would be unsurprised, and he has great experience.
Lewis says Tugendhat was not referring to the public’s view, but to MPs’ view when they passed the relevant law.
Ellis asks if Lewis has heard any account of absence of consent in these sexual relationships – discounting the overall deception.
Lewis says men and women have had sex with undercover police officers. They may argue that they did not have the necessary information to give informed consent – although Lewis says he doesn’t agree with that.
He says police say this behaviour was only happening among “bad apples”.
But he and Evans have identified nine undercover officers, and eight were having sexual relationships with activists. One officer was a woman, he says.
One undercover policeman told Lewis that of a team of 10 nine were having sexual relationships with activists.
Fullbrook asks if senior officers knew about this. Lewis says it’s likely. One undercover officer says he was told by a senior officer to use contraception. That implies the senior officer knew.
Labour’s Bridget Phillipson says the length of the relationships involved shocked her.
Lewis says having met the victims he has found it difficult to convey their pain. He suggests the committee’s MPs think about how they would feel if their own partner turned out to be an agent of the state.
At least four children have been born as a result of these relationships, Lewis says.
Lewis says he does not believe MPs intended this in the RIPA, and would have used the words “sexual relationships” rather than “personal relationships”, and he certainly does not think they would have imagined children resulting from these relationships.
Winnick asks if undercover agents could have done this job without embarking on sexual relationships with activists.
Lewis says some officers did not do this, so the answer is yes.
Was it a rogue operation?
Lewis says some senior officers were unaware of the existence of the Special Demonstration Squad.
How can the police clean up this matter and restore confidence?
Openness and transparency, says Lewis. Over the last two years, the Met police have offered “very little help”.
We are heavily reliant on sources who have the courage to come forward, Lewis says.
At some stage the Met police will have to think about the best strategy to regain trust, he says.
The truth tends to come out eventually, he says.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan of the Met police takes her place next.
Vaz says there will be an open session and then a private session.
He says he was pretty shocked to learn about the use of dead children’s identities. Was she equally shocked?
Gallan tries to outline her role instead.
Vaz insists she answers the question.
Gallan says we are investigating something that has been going on since 1968 and it is important to understand the context.
She says she is overseeing the operation examining past practices relating to this.
She says she does not know if the figure of 80 children’s identities being used is accurate. She knows of two cases. More evidence will probably come to light, but she does not want to prejudge the investigation.
But she is very concerned at what she has heard, she says.
That is why the Met have asked the IPCC to supervise.
Gallan says it is looking at the activities of the SDS over 40 years.
There are more than 50,000 documents to sift through and retired officers to speak to. They want to hear from anyone who has any evidence, she says.
But was she shocked, asks Vaz.
Gallan says she was “very concerned” because “it is not practice as I know it”.
That doesn’t sound very condemnatory, Vaz says.
It isn’t still happening, Gallan says. It has been confined to the SDS and the NPOIU (National Public Order Intelligence Unit).
Vaz asks who is dealing with the operational matters regarding undercover policing. The commander of cover policing, Richard Martin, she says.
Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley is above him, she says.
She can’t give a date when the practice of using dead children’s identities stopped, she says. But it is not sanctioned today among the Met or any other police force in the country, she says.
Should the children’s parents be informed, Vaz asks.
Gallan says it’s important to find out all the circumstances and whether they are accurate.
She says ethical and legal issues also need to be considered.
Would it affect any operatives whose positions would be exposed, she says.
Vaz says some members of the committee have heard this kind of thing regarding phone-hacking.
Vaz stresses that where the police have names and addresses now, they should inform parents now.
Gallan says she can’t give a blanket yes or no.
It has never been practice within most areas of undercover policing to take identities in this way, she says. Only the SDS and National Public Order Intelligence Unit did this.
Thirty-one staff are working on Operation Hearn, looking into the issue of undercover police regarding the SDS, including 20 police officers.
The estimated cost to date is £1.25m.
Vaz says that sounds like a lot of money and a lot of officers, implying that they can probably get through all those 50,000 documents more quickly than they are.
Vaz asks if when she has completed her operation she will inform the parents.
Gallan says she needs to consider all the issues and can’t give a yes or no answer.
Vaz asks if she would like to apologise for this scandal.
Gallan says at the appropriate time statements would be made.
Until she knows all the facts she can’t do anything like that, she says.
The admission that a second unit, the NPOIU, has used dead children’s identities is very important, since that unit was only formed in 1999.
Vaz asks if the Guardian revelations broke the news to her of the use of children’s identities. She knew of one example in September last year.
Since then has she informed the parents, Vaz asks. She says she hasn’t and she’ll explain why in closed session.
Gallan is asked again about apologising. She says there are live proceedings ongoing and the Met police will decide at the end.
Michael Ellis asks what rank of officer was in charge of the SDS or the NPOIU.
Superintendent, Gallan says.
Were they rogue units?
Gallan says from what she has seen the practices in place weren’t following national guidelines. We need to get all the evidence, she says, so she doesn’t want to go further than that.
Ellis asks if taking children’s identities was not accepted practice even at the time.
Gallan says it was not standard procedure.
Ellis says these were unauthorised practices even at the time. He suggests these were rogue units or units operating outside their protocols.
That’s one of the things we’re investigating, Gallan says.
A senior officer cannot authorise something that is outside of procedures at the time, Ellis says.
Winnick asks if Gallan thinks it was in the public interest for the Guardian to give the names of some of the dead children?
She says she believes in the free press.
Has the reputation of the press been harmed?
Gallan says when used appropriately undercover work is very important, and they are worried about anything that undermines confidence in that.
Asked the same question again, she says: “I think it is.”
I’ll take that to be a yes, says Winnick.
How far is it possible for undercover work to take place without sexual relationships, Winnick asks.
Gallan says she doesn’t believe you can authorise such activities, morally.
If something like that does happen it should be reported immediately.
Winnick asks if it’s right to assume the officers were not not told to engage in sex.
Gallan says she might be able to explain that in closed session, but it was not authorised.
Metropolitan police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe has said it is “almost inevitable” some undercover officers will have sexual relationships in this way although he wouldn’t encourage it, Vaz says. Doesn’t that contradict Gallan’s view?
Nick Herbert, the policing minister, has said that to ban such actions would provide a ready-made test for the targeted group, Vaz says.
What is her view?
Gallan repeats that there is a moral issue. Legally, the law is silent on that, and she will explain that in closed session, she says.
The Met police does not authorise that conduct, she repeats.
She says she cannot envisage under any circumstances a commander authorising this kind of behaviour.
But was it prohibited, asks Vaz.
In the closed session, she will explain more, says Gallan.
Tory James Clappison suggests that some of these relationships went on for so long that senior officers must have known what was happening.
Vaz says he is disappointed that Gallan has not sent out a message that the Met police is sorry that the practice of using dead children’s identities has taken place.
Winnick adds that the committee is disappointed.
Vaz says he is concerned that she has known about one incident since September and still has not got to the bottom of it.
One of the victims followed the trail and turned up at the house of the dead child’s parents. They weren’t there, but imagine their grief if they had have been, Vaz says.
Gallan repeats her “concern” and says she is keeping an open mind about the facts.
It would be inappropriate to rush to make statements in haste, Gallan says.
Does she have a timetable for the conclusion of Operation Hearn, Vaz asks.
Gallan says it would be wrong to put a timescale on it.
We are determined to go where the evidence takes us, she says.
With that the committee goes into closed session.
Here is a summary of what we have learned from that committee session.
• The use of dead children’s identities by undercover police officers was not confined to the Special Demonstration Squad, but was also a practice employed by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, a unit that was only set up in 1999, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan of the Metropolitan police revealed to the Commons home affairs committee.
• Gallan knew about one case of a child’s identity being used in this way in September last year. The practice is not sanctioned today among the Met or any other force in the country, she said.
• Including the case that came to light in September, she knew of only two cases of this happening, she said, and did not know if the Guardian’s estimate of 80 cases was accurate. But she felt that more cases would probably come to light.
• Keith Vaz, the chair of the committee, said he was “disappointed” that Gallan would not apologise for the police’s actions, saying only that she was “very concerned” at the allegations and wanted to wait until all the facts had been established before rushing to make a statement.
• Vaz was also extremely concerned that Gallan had not informed the parents in the case discovered in September last year, and wanted her to promise she would inform all the parents involved as soon as possible. Gallan would not agree to this.
• Police officers having sex with activists in groups they infiltrated was not authorised, and could not justified morally, Gallan said. She could not envisage any circumstances under which a commander would authorise this.
• She admitted the Metropolitan police’s reputation had been harmed by the scandal.
• Thirty-one staff are working on Operation Hearn, looking into the issue of undercover police, including 20 police officers. The estimated cost to date is £1.25m.
• Lawyers for women who feel they were duped into having relationships with undercover officers attacked the practice as being “depraved”, “dispicable” and beyond the bounds of a civilised society. MPs on the committee broadly seemed to agree, although Tory Michael Ellis drew attention to Mr Justice Tugendhat’s contention that such relationships would not surprise the public, accused the lawyers of wanting to tie the police’s hands unreasonable. He asked if the public had a human right to be protected from crime and suggested senior officers were best-placed to decide when it was and was not right to use undercover officers.
That’s all from me. Thanks for all your comments.
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