HUNDREDS of political activists could have their convictions quashed after the publication of a report into the conduct of a secret undercover police unit in the Stephen Lawrence case.
The prosecutions of protesters from the far Left and Right, as well as animal rights campaigners, black justice groups and Irish republicans, will be checked against the records of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) amid concerns that some were unsafe.
The review will pave the way for a public inquiry into the SDS, which was set up by the Home Office in 1968, learnt its tactics from the intelligence services and evolved into an out-of-control wing of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch.
A report by Mark Ellison, QC, into the actions of the SDS in the Lawrence case revealed yesterday (Thursday) that it had placed a “spy in the camp” of the murdered black teenager’s family. Information gathered by that spy was fed back to the upper echelons of Scotland Yard.
Twenty-one years after Stephen’s death, and weeks before new inquests open into the Hillsborough disaster and with the Plebgate affair still rumbling, the latest disclosures are immensely damaging for confidence and trust in the Police Service and the international reputation of British policing.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said that Mr Ellison’s findings were profoundly disturbing and a judge-led public inquiry was necessary to get to the full truth.
Before that can happen, however, criminal cases involving the SDS — whose officers gave false evidence in the courts and believed that they were exempt from the normal rules of evidence disclosure — will be reviewed.
“There is a chance that people could have been convicted for offences when they should not have been,” Mrs May told the Commons.
Stephen, 18, who wanted to become an architect, was murdered by a gang of white youths in an unprovoked racist attack in Eltham, southeast London, in April 1993. A group of men were identified as suspects within hours, but it took 18 years for the Met to bring two of them to justice.
The Macpherson report, published after a public inquiry in 1998, said that the Met’s approach to the investigation had been hampered because the force was institutionally racist.
Mr Ellison’s review of the case found that key material had been withheld by the Met from the Macpherson inquiry team.
His key findings included:
— An SDS officer, known as N81, was embedded in an activist group allied to the Lawrence family campaign and had wrong-headed and inappropriate meetings with a member of the Scotland Yard team at the Macpherson inquiry;
— Senior police showed clear evidence of a strong feeling of indignation and a degree of hostility towards the family’s criticisms of the murder investigation;
— There were reasonable grounds to suspect that a detective sergeant on the murder team was corrupt and might have had links to a key suspect’s father;
— The Met carried out a mass shredding of intelligence files on corrupt officers in 2003;
— There was no conclusive evidence to prove or disprove a claim by the former SDS officer Peter Francis that he was asked to smear Stephen Lawrence’s family.
A separate report on the police investigation into the SDS said that three former officers who had sexual relations with women who did not know their true identities could face criminal charges.
In addition to the public inquiry, Mrs May announced other measures to reinforce her drive to improve police integrity and change policing culture.
A specific offence of police corruption would replace the outdated crime of misconduct in a public office and greater safeguards for police whistleblowers would be brought in, she said.
A national audit of police forces’ anti-corruption capabilities will be carried out and the Home Office will fund the entry into policing at senior ranks of talented people from other walks of life.
THE TIMES MARCH 08, 2014 12:00AM