Second police spy unit stole dead children’s IDs

Met police’s deputy assistant commissioner admits to Commons committee that both units broke internal guidelines

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, criticised the Met police for not apologising for the ‘gruesome’ practice. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Police chiefs have admitted that a second undercover unit stole the identities of dead children in the late 1990s or even more recently in a series of operations to infiltrate political activists.

Growing evidence of the scale of the unauthorised technique – nicknamed the “jackal run” after its fictional depiction in Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Day of the Jackal – now means the number of families affected could total more than 100.

The Metropolitan police’s deputy assistant commissioner Patricia Gallan told a parliamentary inquiry that both secret police units broke internal guidelines when they employed the technique, which MPs criticised as “gruesome” and “very distressing”.

She had been called to give evidence to the Commons home affairs committee following the Guardian’s disclosures that the Metropolitan police had secretly used the tactic without consulting or informing the children’s parents in order to bolster their fake persona when operating undercover.

But, despite mounting concern over the practice, she declined to apologise to the families of the children until Scotland Yard had completed an internal investigation.

She said: “I do absolutely appreciate the concern and I understand the upset and why people are very distressed about this.”

Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, told her: “I’m disappointed that you’ve not used the opportunity to be able to send out a message to those parents who have children who may have had their identity being used that the Met is actually sorry that this has happened.”

In another development, a family who believe that their son’s identity was stolen as recently as 2003 has lodged a complaint against Scotland Yard. Barbara Shaw, the mother of a baby who died after two days, is pressing the police to reveal the truth and to issue an apology. She said she was deeply upset to discover that her child’s identity was used in this way. “He is still my baby. I’ll never forget him,” Shaw said.

The Guardian has disclosed that, over three decades, undercover police officers in a covert unit known as the special demonstration squad had been hunting through birth and death records to find children who had died in infancy. Once they found a suitable candidate, they then created an alter ego to infiltrate political groups for up to 10 years. They were issued with official records such as national insurance numbers and driving licences to make their personas more credible, in case the campaigners in the groups they were spying on became suspicious and began to investigate them.

The SDS adopted the technique after it was founded in 1968. The evidence suggested that the unit stopped using it in the mid-1990s when officials records became more computerised.

However it now appears that the tactic has been used more recently by a second unit which started operating in 1999.

The National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), which is still running, was also tasked with gathering intelligence on protesters.

Gallan told the committee that the practice “has been from the evidence I have seen confined to two units, the SDS and the NPOIU”.

Pressed by MPs on whether the squads had gone “rogue” and had gone out of control, Gallan said they were operating at the time outside of police’s guidelines for undercover operations. “From what I have seen, the practices at that time would not be following the national guidelines.” She said the units had departed from the accepted practices, but she had yet to find out why.

MPs also heard allegations that a suspected undercover police officer stole the identity of the dead child, Rod Richardson, when he posed as an anticapitalist protester for three years.

Jules Carey, the lawyer for the family, told the committee : “I am instructed by one family who have a son who was born and died in 1973 and we believe that a police officer used the name Rod Richardson which is the name of the child and was deployed as an undercover police officer in about 2000 to 2003 using that name and infiltrated various political groups.

Rob Evans and Paul Lewis
The Guardian, Tuesday 5 February 2013 21.15 GMT

Find this story at 5 February 2013 
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