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Undercover Policing

Volume 746: debated on Monday 24 June 2013


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend Mrs Theresa May in the House of Commons earlier today. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the latest allegations concerning the use of undercover officers to smear the reputations of Doreen and Neville Lawrence and Duwayne Brooks. These allegations follow several serious claims about the activities of police officers engaged in undercover operations, and I would like to update the House on the several investigations and inquiries into the conduct of these officers. But before I do so, I know the whole House will want to convey their support for the Lawrence family. They experienced an unspeakable tragedy; their pain was compounded by the many years in which justice was not done; and these latest allegations, still coming 20 years after Stephen’s murder, only add to their suffering. I know, too, that the House will agree with me about the seriousness of allegations concerning police corruption and wrongdoing. We must be ruthless in purging such behaviour from their ranks.

As Members of this House will remember, in February I announced that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police had agreed that Mick Creedon, the Chief Constable of Derbyshire Constabulary, would investigate allegations of improper practice and misconduct by the Metropolitan Police’s special demonstration squad, which for around 40 years specialised in undercover operations.

Mick Creedon took over a Metropolitan Police investigation called Operation Herne, and in addition to these latest allegations about the Lawrence family, Operation Herne is also looking into claims about the use by police officers of dead children’s identities, the conduct of officers who had infiltrated environmentalist groups and other serious matters. Given the nature of those allegations and the many years the special demonstration squad was in existence, we should not be surprised if further allegations are made, and I want to be clear that all such allegations will be investigated.

Operation Herne is led by Chief Constable Creedon and elements are supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. I can tell the House today that the Metropolitan Police are also referring details of the new set of allegations to the IPCC, meaning that this aspect of the investigation will also be supervised. I know that some Members have suggested that the IPCC should take over Operation Herne completely, and that is an understandable reaction. I spoke to Dame Anne Owers, the chairman of the IPCC, earlier today, and I can tell the House that she does not believe a greater degree of IPCC control would enhance the investigation, but I can confirm that where the Creedon investigation finds evidence of criminal behaviour or misconduct by police officers, the IPCC will investigate and the officers will be brought to justice.

I have also spoken to Mick Creedon today. He told me that the first strand of his work regarding the allegations about the identities of dead children will report before the House rises for Summer Recess. At present, there are 23 police officers working on the case, with a further 10 police staff working in support. In the course of their investigation they have already examined in the region of 55,000 documents and have started to interview witnesses, including police officers who worked in the special demonstration squad.

I want to emphasise that undercover operations are a vital part of protecting the public, but it needs very detailed supervision, and undercover operations need constant reassessment to ensure that what is being done is justified. For obvious reasons, members of the public cannot know the details of the police’s undercover operations, but we need to have the assurance that this work is conducted properly, in accordance with a procedure that ensures that ethical lines are respected.

In February last year, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary reported on how forces go about undercover policing. This work was undertaken partly in response to allegations about the conduct of a police officer named Mark Kennedy, who had been tasked to infiltrate an environmental protest group. HMIC’s report made a series of recommendations designed to improve the procedures that police forces have in place for managing and scrutinising the deployment of undercover officers. Among other recommendations, HMIC said that the authorisation arrangements for high-risk undercover deployments should be improved and that additional controls should be put in place where a deployment is intended to gather intelligence rather than evidence.

Since March this year, HMIC has been working on a further report that will check on how the police have implemented its recommendations, and I can tell the House that this report is due to be published on Thursday. I can also tell the House that Tom Winsor, the new chief inspector, plans to undertake a further review of undercover police work later this year.

Last week, my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice told the Home Affairs Select Committee that the Government intend to bring forward legislation to require law enforcement authorities to obtain the prior approval of the Office of Surveillance Commissioners before renewing the deployment of an undercover officer for a period exceeding 12 months. In future, authorisation should also be sought under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act for any activity to develop a cover persona.

I want to turn now to the allegations regarding the Lawrence family. The investigation into Stephen’s murder has cast a long shadow over policing, especially in London. That is why, in July last year, I asked Mark Ellison QC to investigate allegations of deliberate incompetence and corruption on the part of officers involved in the original investigation into the murder. Mr Ellison was the lead barrister in the successful prosecutions of Gary Dobson and David Norris, and he was supported by Alison Morgan, junior counsel from the prosecution.

I have spoken to Mr Ellison today, and I encouraged him to go as far and wide as he would like in his investigation. I have also spoken to Mick Creedon to make sure that Mr Ellison will have access to any relevant material uncovered in the course of Operation Herne. We must await the findings of the Ellison review, which, given the latest allegations, will be published later than originally intended. When the review concludes, a decision will have to be made on whether its findings should lead to any formal police investigations.

I am determined that we should have zero tolerance of police corruption and wrongdoing. That is why the Government are beefing up the IPCC, making the inspectorate more independent, and why we asked the College of Policing to establish a code of ethics for police officers.

As the House knows, I have also launched a panel inquiry into the murder of Daniel Morgan, and I am determined that we get to the bottom of these latest allegations. We must do so to ensure public confidence in the police and the criminal justice system, not least for the sake of Doreen and Neville Lawrence, and for the memory of their son Stephen. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. I join in his comments of support for Doreen and Neville Lawrence and their family. I suspect that no words can give comfort in a situation such as this. Having had to cope with the horror and the tragedy of the murder of their son Stephen, they had almost 20 years of campaigning for justice before anyone was brought to book for his murder. They then had to wait for a public inquiry into the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the investigation and the institutionalised racism at that time. We are still awaiting action to address the devastating failures and shocking decisions made by the Metropolitan Police at the time of Stephen’s murder.

Today, we have these disgusting allegations. Officers were tasked to spy on the Lawrence family to find “dirt” on them and their supporters. It is alleged that police officers logged who went in and out of the Lawrence family home, yet at the same time they were failing to gather sufficient evidence to prosecute Gary Dobson and David Norris, and any other suspects at the time. We can only imagine the hurt, distress and anger—and also the deep sadness and sense of betrayal that the Lawrence family and their supporters must continue to feel. With allegations made last year that corruption within the Metropolitan Police contributed to the failure to get justice for the Lawrence family, we called for a wider public inquiry into those allegations of corruption and we also considered it an opportunity to address more widely the progress within the police in addressing racism. Instead, the Home Secretary allowed the Metropolitan Police to review itself and, as the noble Lord has indicated today, asked Mark Ellison QC to review the paperwork on this specific issue.

It would be helpful today for the Minister to update your Lordships’ House on the progress in that case. He said something about it but it would help to have a little bit more information. Does he consider whether there is any overlap in these new allegations? A specific concern is whether police officers providing information to Mr Ellison have withheld relevant information from him. Will the noble Lord comment on that specific point? We have previously endorsed the call of Doreen Lawrence, Stephen’s mother, for the reinstitution of a public inquiry to examine any dereliction of duty by the Metropolitan Police at the time of Stephen’s murder and, more widely, the progress made in implementing the Macpherson report’s 70 recommendations. We continue to support that call.

On the substance of today’s allegations, clearly this links in with wider concerns, as the Minister has addressed, about the use of undercover and covert operations by the police. Noble Lords will be aware that I have previously raised in your Lordships’ House concerns over the identities of dead children being used by officers, without the consent or the knowledge of their families. We have had evidence of shocking allegations and instances of inappropriate relationships. I do know whether the Minister had the opportunity to read the Guardian magazine this weekend, but I would recommend the article by Rob Evans and Paul Lewis on the activities of SDS police officers. The impact of their activities on individuals shows how serious and devastating such behaviour can be.

I know that the noble Lord shares our concern about transparency in any investigation on inquiries into these issues. I spoke to him earlier about this and, as he said, the only way to restore public and professional confidence is to have openness in the investigation and openness in the actions taken to address any problems. We have some concerns about the Home Secretary’s approach in wrapping these allegations together with the pre-existing investigation being undertaken by Derbyshire’s Chief Constable Creedon and supervised by the IPPC. That investigation is looking at complex and covert investigations into environmental and animal rights groups that go back many years. In the past month, new allegations have been made about corporate protests and potential undercover police involvement. This is another monster of an inquiry being undertaken by the IPCC. It is already taken 20 months and cost £1.2 million, although no arrests have yet been made. This will take some years. Alongside Hillsborough, the scoping of Orgreave, and many other investigations, it is unclear whether the IPCC will be able to prioritise and deal with all those issues in an appropriate timescale. Rightly, these are all huge issues of concern.

In addition to the undercover element, there is a common theme. It was so powerfully evidenced in relation to Hillsborough, as the noble Lord and I discussed at the time, and is now reinforced in the case of the Lawrence family—namely, that police institutions seek to undermine victims. Police institutions try to smear those seeking justice as being agitators or they even try to find some evidence of their being criminals—trying to smear them in the process. The agony that the Lawrence family has endured since the day Stephen was murdered has also made this case uniquely damaging to British policing and public confidence. Unless that is effectively and properly dealt with, not only will that lack of confidence endure, it will undermine the confidence of the majority of police officers who seek to serve the public honestly and decently.

We now have two different inquiries: the investigation, Operation Herne, and the new Ellison review dealing with very similar things. I have a few questions for the noble Lord. I want to get to the bottom of whether the Government are absolutely confident that these inquiries will, first, be sufficiently focused; and, secondly, have complete co-operation from police officers. They also have to ensure that whistleblowers will be sufficiently empowered and protected to come forward. A number of recent cases show that the actions of whistleblowers have been vital in exposing the allegations of serious corruption within public institutions. Crucially, we seek an assurance that there is no information or evidence that could be lost in a black hole between the different inquiries.

The Home Secretary has chosen not to institute, as we requested, a swifter IPPC-led investigation that is independently resourced. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will ensure that Chief Constable Creedon reports on the specific allegations before the House of Commons Summer Recess? I think that the Home Secretary indicated this afternoon that that was the case in the comments that she made. It would be helpful if he would confirm that for us.

The Lawrence family and the public need the truth and they need it quickly. They deserve the truth. I shall summarise the points that we wish to raise with the Minister and the Government. First, we need a swift investigation by the IPPC into any allegations of misconduct in relation to spying on the Lawrence family; secondly, an update on the corruption allegations; and a clear need for a wider inquiry as Doreen Lawrence, Stephen’s mother, has called for. We need urgent progress and all those three areas and I hope that the noble Lord can give serious consideration and respond positively to all these issues.

My Lords, there is no doubting the seriousness of these allegations, nor indeed the determination of the Home Office, and the Home Secretary in particular, to expedite investigations and report the conclusions of those investigations to Parliament. I emphasise that elements of the inquiries in Operation Herne, the Creedon investigation, will be reported to the Home Secretary and in turn to Parliament as the sections of those investigations are concluded. A Statement will be made to the House before it rises in the summer on the particular aspects that were mentioned by the noble Baroness.

I think it is true to say that police officers are just as appalled as Members of this House at these latest allegations which, if they are true, suggest a mindset that existed in those days, quite some time ago now, which sought to discredit victims. That is an intolerable thing for policing to accept. The Home Office is determined to pursue these matters.

There has been some criticism. I was in the other place earlier and heard the Opposition there suggest that perhaps what we need is one big investigation. I think that the current investigations are actually making considerable progress. The burden of the new allegations will, of course, add to the work that needs to be done. We will make sure that the work is properly resourced and that Parliament hears about the progress of the reports.

Mark Ellison QC has indicated to the Home Secretary that the inquiry of his team is going much wider than just using Metropolitan Police Service files. Because of that, and because of the allegations that are involved, the inquiry is going to take longer to come to its conclusions, but it hopes to report in the late autumn. The Ellison review is working with other investigations. The allegations made in the media today will form part of Ellison’s task, as well as forming part of Mick Creedon’s own investigations through Operation Herne.

I hope I can reassure the noble Baroness that we understand her determination to get to the bottom of this, but I think that the police as a profession want to do so as well, to make sure that we know how these things happened in the past and that there is no risk of them happening in this day and age.

My Lords, for the benefit of the House, perhaps I may remind noble Lords that short questions should be put to the Minister in order that my noble friend can answer as many as possible.

My Lords, I was the shadow Home Secretary at the time of the Macpherson report, and like the then Home Secretary, Mr Straw, I did not hear a whisper of this. This is a vastly serious charge to make against the police. Perhaps the assumption is that nothing of this kind would happen today, but I think the Andrew Mitchell case shows that that is not necessarily true. I wonder if the time has come when, in addition to the criminal inquiries that have been set up, there should be one public inquiry to look at the whole question of police ethics. Would not that be to the benefit of the police and the public?

My Lords, I can understand the concern of my noble friend, who speaks from considerable experience of these matters. As he will know, the Home Secretary has set up the College of Policing, one of the principal tasks of which is to review police ethics and to establish within the policing profession a code of ethics that will guarantee that within the police force itself there is an acknowledgement of what is proper and what is acceptable in policing terms. I share my noble friend’s concern; it is the reason why we are taking things which happened in the past so seriously. We recognise that if we do not eliminate these issues from policing practice, there is a risk that we could see events similar to the ones that we have to talk about today.

My Lords, I can tell the House that on the night that Stephen was murdered, I was the community relations officer detailed to keep an eye on what was happening. A week after the murder, I was invited to meet the Minister for race relations in the Home Office, the then Mr Peter Lloyd. I was asked if I could say something about what was happening in Greenwich. I explained to him that the Lawrence family were the epitome of any British family. They were married, they had three children who went to school regularly, and they played tennis. Five Englishmen set upon their eldest son and murdered him in the street. At the time the community, in its grief, was concerned about how the police were reacting to the death of an 18 year-old. On the night of the murder, I went to the hospital and had to drive along the road, but the police had not cordoned off the area where Stephen had been murdered. I have said this many times, but today I can say it publicly: we were all very concerned.

After I had explained in detail what was happening, we were told that Peter Lloyd was so moved that he appointed a Member of this House to visit Greenwich. The Member called into the police station and spent a day with the police, and he said in his report that the police were doing everything they could. He did not contact the local council, he did not contact the community relations council and he did not contact the community. He did none of those things. We were outraged because we knew that something was wrong.

I stayed by the Lawrences in their struggle for 10 years, at which point I felt that they were strong enough. I would like to ask whether the Member of this House who spent a day with the police will be questioned during this inquiry. He gave the police confidence that they were doing a good job. The community knew that they were not, the race relations people knew that they were not, and the council knew that they were not.

For the black community, the police perjuring themselves in the way they have done is well known. A lot of young people were disenfranchised because of how the police treated them. They would arrest them, but when they asked, “What have I done?”, they would be charged with obstructing the course of justice. There was a time when the Metropolitan Police made it impossible for a young black person to walk the streets of London. If the Government are taking this seriously, and I am sure that they are, this cannot be a “surface” inquiry. I feel that the House deserves to know how a Member of this place could give the police such a good report while the families were suffering. I thank all noble Lords for listening.

My Lords, it has been a privilege to listen to the noble Baroness, who has recreated some of the fears and anxieties which the Macpherson report sought to address. There have been few more damning indictments of an institution than that report. What is currently being alleged is that there may have been some aspects of policing at the time which were not reported to Macpherson, including this particular unit and its activities. These are matters of great concern. I have to be brief because other noble Lords want to come in, but I am pleased to have listened to the noble Baroness.

My Lords, first, I declare my interest as a senior officer in the police service, and also that in the past 18 months I have given professional advice as part of a small group advising HMIC on the Kennedy case. That should go on the record.

I associate myself absolutely with the comments in the Statement that the noble Lord has read out to us. I share entirely the concern, and the tone of that Statement chimes exactly with my own feelings. I would also like to associate myself with the comments that have been made about the Lawrence family, and I will not go over that again. The whole issue is deeply worrying. I have only one small query in my own mind: why has it taken so long for that undercover officer to come forward? No doubt that will be a matter of record later on.

I will make one point and pose one question. The point I would like to make is that my knowledge of undercover operations at the extreme end is that it is a critical and highly dangerous part of policing. Penetrating officers into organised crime groups is difficult. It is critical—as the Front Bench has already acknowledged—and a very dangerous involvement indeed, which was not the case with Lawrence and is not the case with Kennedy either. I hope that the ongoing investigations will bear in mind the important end—the dangerous end—of undercover operations.

The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has already mentioned the need for ethics and I subscribe to that. He is quite right, but I would take it a stage further. My question to the Minister concerns leadership. Ethics are no good unless the values of the service and the moral and professional compass of the service are there first. It needs leadership to hold it together and move it forward. This is a drum I have beaten here before, as the Minister knows. I would like reassurance from him that the whole question of leadership—not the College of Policing but leadership—is being addressed as a matter of urgency within the Home Office. It is to do with recruiting and training the right people, giving them the space to operate and encouraging leadership rather than management. With good leadership, this sort of thing should not and would not happen. That is the essence of the whole problem that we are looking at.

Many senior police officers are aware that there is far too much focus on management and not enough on leadership. It is, after all, the police force that we are talking about. Police forces need leadership and command and a sense of direction and focus. All that the noble Lord has said, from his vast experience, points to the disappearance of some of that focus in modern policing. The Home Office is determined to get it back. I hope that addresses the issues that concern him.

My Lords, this is one of the most positive Statements to have emerged from the Home Office on this episode. Obviously, differences of opinion remain about the nature of the inquiry. I will make three points.

First, we endorse the sentiment expressed with regard to the tragedy and the further agony that the Lawrence family will experience on realising that the undercover operation was actually trying to implicate them—the nasty part of British policing. Two questions arise. The Macpherson inquiry talked about institutional racism. Would that inquiry have stopped talking about institutional racism if it had known that the police were involved in such an undercover operation? Would it not have recommended at that stage the need to criminally investigate police who were involved in this undercover operation? I raise this because there has been botched operation after botched operation in the investigation of this case.

My second point concerns the nature of the investigation, which the noble Baroness from the Opposition spoke about. I have full confidence in the IPCC and how it is supervised. However, public perception is still that the police and others tend to investigate themselves no matter how one supervises them. I do not believe in that. In this case, it is matter of innocent people against whom the police acted wrongfully. We need clear answers and that can come about only through an independent investigation.

The third point, if the Minister could reply, is that whereas one endorses what he says about covert operations where matters of national security are involved, this is an ordinary family who had lost a family member. What is the matter of national security in relation to this case? The sooner we get to the root of this problem with an independent inquiry, the better for British policing.

My noble friend is absolutely right. The Macpherson inquiry was only as good as the information that was made available to it. I said in my earlier response that if the Macpherson inquiry had had knowledge of the allegations that we are now aware of, there would have been a fuller investigation of this particular aspect, which may have changed the tone of that report even further.

I emphasise that the Ellison inquiry is an independent report. It stands outside the police force. However, we know that we need the police to investigate these sorts of matters. They are the vehicle in this country—they have the powers of arrest. They have the power and we need that power if we are going to pursue these allegations fully. Having Mark Ellison working alongside them, investigating the scope of these investigations at the same time, we have that degree of independence, which justifies the parallel passage of these inquiries and investigations.

My Lords, I express from these Benches the way in which our hearts go out to Doreen and Neville Lawrence at this fresh pressure upon them at this time. In that context, accepting the point made by the Minister that undercover operations are necessary to protect the public, I emphasise that the distinction between undercover operations and dishonest deception is a fine one. Therefore, can he tell us more about the possibility and timescale for a clearer code of conduct for undercover operations? How much—if any—of that could be published?

In order to set up proper supervision of undercover operations, primary legislation will probably be required; certainly legislation of some sort will be required, as was indicated by my right honourable friend Damian Green last week. He talked about secondary legislation to raise the level of authorisation for long-term undercover deployments to that of chief constable and to introduce a system of independent approval by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners for all renewals of long-term undercover deployment at 12-month intervals, so that there will be supervision by an independent body, set up by Parliament, to ensure that these operations are properly supervised.

Of course, the right reverend Prelate is absolutely right that we cannot reveal details without blowing the operation. However, the principles under which these operations are conducted will be established by using the Office of Surveillance Commissioners to supervise them.

My Lords, I echo the sentiment of the House and pledge our support to Doreen Lawrence, whom I have the privilege of knowing personally. It must be devastating to learn, just as she begins to build a relationship with the police, hoping that there will be proper and full justice for her son, that she faces yet another blow. If these despicable allegations are true, were the Home Secretary or the Metropolitan Police Commissioner at the time aware of them? If so, what assurance will the Minister give to the House that there will be zero tolerance for institutional racism, not only within the Metropolitan Police but all across our institutions in this country?

There is no tolerance of racial discrimination in this country. It is one of the features that have changed since those times. The Home Secretary became aware of these allegations only on Thursday last week. No Home Secretary that I know of has been aware of these allegations. We know that the noble Lord, Lord Condon, who is not in his place today but who was commissioner at the time, has widely condemned these allegations and had no knowledge of them, as he says in a statement which he issued earlier today.

My Lords, I most warmly congratulate the Minister on the sincerity and sensitivity with which he has approached these grave allegations. The question has been raised as to exactly how boundaries should be drawn. I respectfully suggest that this House, sitting in its appellate capacity in the Loosely case 13 years ago, laid down very specific and intricate rules. If those can be made a living law—exactly how that is to be done I am not sure—the problem, to a large extent, would be answered.

On the Lawrence question, it is perfectly clear to the House that a small, select, covert and confidential cell was set up to do a very specific job—to besmirch the Lawrence case. That decision could not have been a haphazard one. It must have been arrived at at a fairly senior level of management. The British public will want to know who that person was. Anything short of that would leave a huge gap in credibility.

Saying that gives me no pleasure, as someone who was Police Minister in the other place 45 years ago and thinks that we still have a most splendid police force, with few exceptions.

What the noble Lord says is quite clearly the nub of the issue. That is what the investigation of these allegations is designed to discover. It is not going to be easy. This was quite some time ago and many of those involved have passed on. It will not be easy to get to the truth. The paper trail and the documents may not exist—we do not know. However, I believe that the public demand this sort of scrutiny and transparency and it is right that they do so. We need to pursue the allegations with vigour because we need to show that this cannot be tolerated in retrospect and it certainly cannot be tolerated today.