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Police: Undercover Officers

Volume 790: debated on Wednesday 21 March 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what communications they have had, over the last 30 years, with police forces regarding the tactic of undercover police officers forming sexual relationships to develop their cover stories.

My Lords, as part of its terms of reference the undercover policing inquiry is investigating the state of awareness of undercover police operations of Her Majesty’s Government since 1968. The Home Office is a core participant in that inquiry and is in the process of making disclosure to the inquiry of material relevant to the terms of reference. The inquiry will report its findings once all the evidence has been reviewed.

I thank the noble Baroness for her response, which of course was not an answer to my Question. Is she aware that, over a period of 24 years from 1985 to 2009, almost every single year there was a state-sponsored sexual relationship between a police officer and a woman who at no point was accused of doing anything illegal—not arrested, not accused? I just do not understand how the Minister can think that this is all right. This strikes at the heart of the ethics and integrity of our police forces and our security services. I stress that the cases we know about are only the ones we have heard about: those are the only police names in the public realm. Until we know all the names of the undercover police we will not know how many victims there were. I am also concerned about the inquiry. The Minister may know that there was a walkout today by the whole legal team of the women involved and the women themselves. How will the Government restore the credibility of that inquiry?

The noble Baroness says “state-sponsored”. I refer her to the terms of reference of the inquiry, which state that it will,

“ascertain the state of awareness of undercover police operations in Her Majesty’s Government”.

That is precisely what the inquiry was set up to do. As for the walkout today, I have been made aware of that and I am aware that the hearings are still ongoing. I encourage all core participants—indeed, anyone impacted by undercover policing—to participate fully in the inquiry so that we can learn the lessons and get to the truth.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that this is a very serious matter? Notwithstanding anything that comes out of the inquiry and the recommendations that follow, can she confirm that she is absolutely confident that robust procedures are now in place and that it can never happen again?

My Lords, I would love to stand at the Dispatch Box and say that certain things could never happen again, but nobody can legislate for the odd rogue undertaking or the malicious intent of people. Therefore, one cannot be absolutely certain that it could never happen again. What one can do is put measures in place to ensure, as far as possible, that it never happens again.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that undercover policing is an essential tool in the fight against terrorism and crime and that, provided it is properly regulated and standards are adhered to, we should not judge the majority of very brave police officers who go undercover by the misdeeds of a few?

I completely concur with the noble Lord. He is absolutely right; much crime has been unearthed by the use of undercover policing. As I say, there are now strict rules in place to prevent unacceptable behaviour going on and I could not agree more with him.

My Lords, we know that this inquiry has already taken three years, and it is expected that it will take another year before the victims get answers—campaigners walking out in protest today notwithstanding. We also know that the Special Demonstration Squad has been disbanded. But it would be naive to think that all embedded undercover work has ceased. What assurances can the Minister give that the culture, practice, instructions to and supervision of undercover officers have already changed to ensure that, as far as is humanly possible, no man or woman will ever be subjected to these practices again?

The noble Baroness makes a very helpful point, because the policing Code of Ethics makes it clear that police officers should not use their professional position to,

“establish or pursue an improper sexual or emotional relationship with a person with whom you come into contact in the course of your work”.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 provides the legal framework for the lawful deployment of undercover officers as covert human intelligence sources. We also have the 2014 CHIS codes of practice.

In relation to the length of time that the inquiry has taken, the slight extension to that is purely due to the sheer number of pieces of information it has to look at.

My Lords, I understand that the walkout from the inquiry was because of a sense that it was important that the individual police officers were identified by name. Will the Minister confirm that, by definition, undercover police officers have a cover name, and that, whatever the importance of getting to the bottom of what went on in this inquiry, it is important that they retain anonymity, because that is a pre-eminent part of what they do?

Will the Minister also confirm that this is not just a matter of rules and regulations? If it went on for so long, there must have been a serious management failure, because the relationship between a senior officer and the person doing the job is crucial in terms of keeping a check on their behaviour. That seems to me—as an outsider—not to have happened, and it is what we ought to focus on.

I would not like to speak for the chair of the inquiry, but I am sure that some of the institutional failures that happened way back in the day will be looked at.

My Lords, in the walkout today, the leading QC representing the victims said that it was due to the legal teams not being able to participate in a meaningful way. How have we got to a position where this has been going on for three years and cost £9 million but senior QCs feel they cannot participate in a meaningful way?

My Lords, the people who walked out will have their reasons for walking out, but I know that the Home Secretary has full confidence in the chairman to carry out the inquiry in a way that gets to the truth of what happened.