Philandering policemen, secret courts, and this insidious threat to our faith in justice

Published in The Daily Mail (November 20th, 2012)

With his long hair, his sinewy body honed by daring feats of climbing, his stacks of ready money and his passionate commitment to the cause of saving the planet, Mark Stone had little difficulty forming relationships with his fellow eco-warriors.

They were a close-knit group, after all, as they travelled from protest to protest, highlighting the dangers of climate change and pollution, using stunts such as climbing towers, invading airports and chaining themselves to fences to highlight their mission.

Stone was often in the forefront of the actions — he had trained as an industrial climber and said he had earned money from running drugs. Such was his commitment to the environmental cause, he travelled to 22 countries in just seven years, joining protests from Iceland to Poland.

Perhaps inevitably, he had a string of relationships with women. One spent two years with him, thinking she had found her lifelong soul-mate and potential father of her children. But she was not the only one he escorted back to his canal boat.

So when Mark Stone was unmasked last year as Mark Kennedy, a policeman spying on green activists and informing his superiors on all he saw, the shock was all the more profound, the pain for those who had loved and trusted him all the more excruciating.

Yet, it turns out that Stone was far from the only philandering police officer mixing business with pleasure while engaged on covert actions at taxpayers’ expense against legitimate protesters.

When his cover was blown, Kennedy claimed to be one of no fewer than 15 officers sent to infiltrate the ranks of green protesters. Four, he said, remained undercover. 

The upshot of all this is that 11 women and one man are now suing the Metropolitan Police for damages, arguing they were tricked into sexual relationships by undercover cops. One is demanding that the Met pay for the upbringing of a child fathered by a policeman while supposedly on duty.

‘I feel I was cheated, violated in a cruel way, almost like a prostitute,’ one of the women told the BBC. Another claims to have been torn apart by fears that all her most private emails and phone calls were relayed straight back to her lover’s superiors in the police.

Yet, astonishing as these ill-conceived and pointless cloak-and-dagger operations against the green movement seem, it is Scotland Yard’s response to the new legal claims that really beggars belief.

In a display of utter contempt for the public upon whose trust it depends, Scotland Yard is seeking to keep its filthy laundry hidden from view by applying to the High Court for the cases to be heard by a secretive tribunal. 

This saga sounds like a cinematic thriller set behind the Iron Curtain. It is hard to believe these are the alleged activities of British police officers, respected worldwide for their supposed restraint.

The protesters under scrutiny posed no serious threat either to the State or national security. Whatever your view of scruffy eco-warriors, few of them genuinely seek to destroy our society — yet gung-ho senior officers took it upon themselves to send in spies as though they were lethal terrorists. 

When the case emerged into the light, it led to the collapse of at least one trial and the quashing of 20 convictions against environmental activists as a result of Kennedy’s bungled operations. There are more potential miscarriages currently under review. 

Additionally, millions of pounds have been wasted in the surveillance operations — money that can be ill-afforded at a time of substantial cuts to police spending.

Any public revelations of the true scale of this fiasco would be hugely embarrassing to Scotland Yard. It is all too easy to see why it wants the cases for damages moved before the Orwellian-sounding Investigatory Powers Tribunal, established in 2000 to adjudicate on snooping by the likes of MI5 and MI6.

If the Yard’s application to the High Court is successful, there is little hope of justice being done. After all, only 1 per cent of complaints heard by this little-known tribunal have been upheld since its inception.

Claimants taking cases to the tribunal have fewer rights than in an ordinary court. The people who claim they were tricked and abused by serving police officers pretending to be their lovers would not be allowed to choose their own lawyers, or have the opportunity to cross-examine any witnesses, or read the reasons for the eventual judgments. They would not even have the automatic right to appeal.

Such a travesty of justice would undermine the concept of trust in the police that is one of the cornerstones of  our democracy.

The application for these cases to be heard in secrecy comes amid mounting concern over the Government’s attempts to widen the scope of secret trials involving state agencies, in flagrant denial of British traditions of civil liberties. 

There are good reasons why justice in a democracy must be open and transparent. For a start, the public has the right in this case to know what on earth possessed senior police officers to start covert investigations into environmental activists.

Their decision to do so seems out of all proportion to the possibilities of serious crimes by the people under investigation, and shows no respect for the fundamental British right to protest.

We need to know how widespread police infiltration was of protest movements, and if the operation was politically driven. We should be told whether all these sexual relationships were used as a deliberate method of gathering information, even if only by rogue officers. 

Then there is the role of the shadowy National Public Order Intelligence Unit, which failed to control Kennedy after sending him undercover as part of its mission to gain intelligence on ‘politically motivated disorder’. It is so secretive we are not told where it is based, yet its budget doubled in just four years. It is understood it contains details on its database of significant numbers of people without criminal records.

Already, the Kennedy case has sparked an astonishing 12 inquiries, such is the explosive nature of all these charges.

Policing, of course, depends upon public consent. Surveys show that, in common with other institutions, there has been a marked decline in trust of the police over the past decade. 

This has been most noticeable for senior officers, with the number of Britons who say they trust them falling from nearly three-quarters to under half — hardly surprising given the poor leadership and political machinations too often on display.

The Kennedy case joins a lengthening charge sheet against the police leadership. The recent revelations over the Hillsborough disaster, and on how police failed to act on allegations about Jimmy Savile, have been added to a list that includes selling confidential information to journalists, shooting innocent people, abusing stop-and-search laws and watching as rioters raided shops.

For all the bravery and dedication of individual officers, the police are a public service perceived by many as no longer serving the public adequately. This is why, despite the pitiful turnout at last week’s elections, the creation of police commissioners is a welcome development, an attempt to shake up senior ranks displaying consistently woeful judgment.

Policing is a tough job that carries with it heavy duties and expectations. There will, of course, always be mistakes and mishaps. But when these occur, it is vitally important we learn in as frank and open a manner as possible precisely what has gone wrong. 

By resorting to secret courts, Scotland Yard is deliberately trying to subvert an open examination of the mistakes in the Kennedy case — and is dangerously undermining our faith in justice.

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