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Mohamed Elmaazi follows up with campaigners and victims of political policing who explain why they staged a walkout from the public inquiry into Undercover Policing at the Royal Courts of Justice

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The Real News Mohamed Elmaazi

Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS)

MOHAMED ELMAAZI: Victims of political policing in the UK along with their legal representatives marched out of the latest hearing of the inquiry into undercover policing in England and Wales on Wednesday. At least 60 men and women proceeded to temporarily block the main entrance into the World Courts of Justice, holding a banner that said “Tear down the spy cops inquiry’s brick wall of silence.”

Phillipa Kaufman, one of the lawyers representing non-state participants at the inquiry, explained the decision of her clients to withdraw from the process.

PHILLIPA KAUFMAN: Their loss of confidence is also something that arises from the nature of the inquiry chair himself. When he was asked to stand aside, to do what happened in the [inaudible] inquiry, to sit with a panel of individuals who have experience of the matters that go to the heart of this inquiry. Race discrimination and sex discrimination.

MOHAMED ELMAAZI: Non-state court participants told me they had had enough of what they believe is an inquiry process that appears to be more concerned with protecting the identities of political police rather than exposing wrongdoing and holding them accountable. Within the last year police authorities have confirmed that they have infiltrated and spied upon at least 1000 organizations in the last 50 years. The number was previously believed to be at least 400 groups.

Dave Smith has been at the forefront of campaigning for justice for the thousands of construction workers who over decades were denied the ability to work, in part due to police collusion with private corporations to help blacklist trade unionists and those raising health and safety concerns.

DAVE SMITH: All of the non-police court participants have walked out of the public inquiry today, basically because the new judge in charge has just demonstrated through all of his decisions he’s made so far to be completely inadequate to actually bring this national scandal to justice. One of the worst things that’s happened is the police officers who have been proven to have long-term sexual relationships with the female activists they were sent in to spy on.

HELEN STEEL: My name’s Helen Steel. I was in [inaudible] with a group called London Greenpeace. In the 1980s a man called John Barker started coming to the meetings of the group. I got to know him over the course of three years and ended up in a relationship with him. I lived with him for two years, and we talked about spending the rest of our lives together and starting a family. Then he disappeared, seeming to go through some form of mental breakdown. So I searched for him, because I still cared about him, and in the course of that search I found out he’d actually actually been using the identity of a child who’d died when he was eight years old. My life kind of fell apart at that point, because I thought I’d known someone, this person, so well, and yet actually I didn’t know anything about them.

DAVE SMITH: Metropolitan police has paid out vast amounts of money, made public apology for this happening. Yet at the last hearing Sir John Mitting said quite publicly, and repeated it and defended himself, saying any police officer who was married was unlikely to have committed such an offense during his employment.

HELEN STEEL: I got together with seven other women and brought a court case against the Metropolitan Police, and that ended in November 2015 with the police paying damages and giving an apology, where they acknowledged these had been serious human rights abuses. And since that time more women have discovered they were also deceived into relationships with undercover policemen.

DAVE SMITH: And then when the very same police officers are now asking instead of evidence being heard in public it should be heard in private, because it might embarrass them and their family, the new judge is allowing that in his decisions he’s made so far.

SURESH GROVER: There are three major problems with the inquiry. I’ve raised these concerns consistently. The first is the delay. The inquiry was set up four years ago and as yet it hasn’t even started hearing evidence on police officers and from those people who were directly affected by spying. And the delay is really basically because of police obstructions within the inquiry, using also some legal loopholes to keep on delaying naming undercover, real names of police officers.

DWAYNE BROOKES: My friend Steven Lawrence was murdered by six white cops. There were a number of campaign groups that were seeking justice, one of which was the Steven Lawrence campaign. The Metropolitan Police and undercover officers infiltrated those campaigns, spied on victims, and also spied on me.

HELEN STEEL: I’m also here today representing in person the Global Support Campaign, which was also spied on by these undercover officers. In fact, it’s emerged that one of the undercover officers , Bob Lambert, actually had a hand in writing the leaflet that we were sued over, that McDonald’s sued us over. And then my former partner John Dines, he spied on the campaign, and we know that there was sharing of information between Special Branch and McDonald’s, a private company.

SURESH GROVER: The third thing is Mitting himself. Mitting’s attitude is really to believe the police, and create all sorts of weird reasons about security and danger to them where there’s no evidence of it. And in fact, we have one of the whistleblowers, [inaudible] he’s amongst us, he’s never been threatened because of what he did.

DWAYNE BROOKES: The core participants are working together for justice each and every one of us. So it was unified. We’re fed up with Mitting, we’re fed up with these decisions, and we want some kind of change. So today we are showing Mitting that we require a panel. He either needs to stand down , or he’s joined by a panel of people who have the relevant experience and knowledge of the issues that will come up during this inquiry to sit with him.

MOHAMED ELMAAZI: Sir John Mitting replaced Sir Christopher Pitchford in July last year when Pitchford stepped down due to poor health.

From 2007-2012 when he was still a judge, Mitting chaired the secretive Special Immigration Appeals Commission, or Solich tribunals, which Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights called Kafkaesque, and concluded in a 2007 report that, quote, The public should be left in absolutely no doubt that what is happening has absolutely nothing to do with the traditions of adversarial justice as we have come to understand them in the British legal system. A 2012 report from Amnesty International showed that nothing had improved with Solich, and in fact the use of secret evidence, which the non-state actors can’t see, increased and became further normalised during Mitting’s tenure. In other words, Justice Mitting accepted as legitimate a court system blasted as Kafkaesque, where secret evidence and taking the word of intelligence officials is par for the course. It is difficult to believe that this fact was not front and centre in the mind of the Home Secretary Amber Rudd when she chose Mitting as the replacement chair of the inquiry into undercover policing. This is Mohamed Elmaazi in London for the Real News Network.

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Mohamed Elmaazi obtained an LLB from SOAS and Masters in International and Comparative law from AUC. He volunteers with the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities and researches for The Real News Network. His research interests include human rights, surveillance and structural racism.