UK police under fire for seducing activists, stealing dead infants’ names

The UK House of Commons held a Home Affairs Select Committeeprobe into a series of scandals involving undercover policeofficers. In an interim reportpublished on Friday, thecommittee addressed three separate issues.First: Undercover officersbecame intimate with those they were investigating. Second: Thepractice of using the names of dead infants to create coveridentities for the officers. And last, but not least: MPscriticized the overall system of undercover police work.Unauthorized, but ‘almostinevitable’ sexThe MPs highlighted severalcases in which undercover officers infiltrated various activistgroups and initiated long-term intimate relationships with membersof those groups. The affairs were then broken off when the agentsfinished their work. Some incidents reviewed by the commissiondated as far back as the 1980s.Several of the women are nowclaiming damages over the incidents. While MPs refrained fromcommenting on the legality of the officers’ actions, “theterrible impact on the lives of those women who had relationshipswith undercover officers is beyond doubt,” they said, addingthat the officers “were not unaffected” either.“There is an alarmingdegree of inconsistency in the views of Ministers and senior policeofficers about the limits of what may and may not be lawfullyauthorized,” the report said. Officials offered MPs differentviews on whether such relationships were justified, could beprevented or should be banned outright. One official said suchcloseness “could almost be inevitable” is somecases.One practical consideration,former Minister for Policing Nick Herbert explained, is that anexplicit ban on such intimacy “would provide a ready-made testfor the targeted criminal group to find out whether an undercoverofficer was deployed among them.” However, there must be strictrules for officers becoming intimate with their targets, the MPssaid.“We do notbelieve that officers should enter into intimate, physical sexualrelationships while using their false identities undercover withoutclear, prior authorization, which should only be given in the mostexceptional circumstances,” the reportsaid.The report outlined that itis clearly unacceptable to conceive a child as result of suchrelationships, which reportedly happened to one of the officers.“This must never be allowed to happen again,” the MPssaid.‘Ghoulish anddisrespectful’Another dubious practicecondemned by the MPs was the use of the names of dead infants tocreate aliases for undercover agents. The practice was “ghoulishand disrespectful,” and potentially dangerous to the bereavedfamilies, they said.One witness told thecommission how she found the home address of the people shebelieved to be the parents of her missing partner, who was anundercover officer using a fake name. Her intention was notmalevolent, but “it is easy to see how officers infiltratingserious, organized criminal and terrorist gangs using theidentities of real people could pose a significant risk to theliving relatives of those people,” the reportstressed.“The families whohave been affected by this deserve an explanation and a full andunambiguous apology from the forces concerned,” the commissioncontinued. “We would also welcome a clear statement from theHome Secretary that this practice will never be followed infuture.” The Metropolitan Police iscurrently conducting an investigation into the use of dead infants’names. To the shock of the commission, the practice was“apparently a surprise to senior officers and it is vital thatthe investigation establish quickly how high up the chain ofcommand this practice was sanctioned,” the reportsaid.The commission pledged torequest updates on the progress of the probe every three months,including the remaining amount of work, costs, disciplinaryproceedings, arrests made, and the families involved beingidentified and informed. The probe should be concluded by the endof 2013, and the results will be published on the commission’swebsite every three months.“It cannot be sufficientlyemphasized that using the identities of dead children was not onlyabhorrent, but reflects badly on the police. It must never occuragain,” the MPs said.Reform pendingDuring the investigation, theMPs found that “standards in undercover operations arejeopardized by lack of clear lines of responsibility between… thedifferent forces and units involved.” They cite discrepanciesin training, tactics and review, and called for the establishmentof a coherent set of operational instructions.Of particular concern for thecommission was the weak oversight for undercover agents who weregathering intelligence, and how there was no expectation that theevidence gathered must stand up in court.The MPs argued thatundercover police activity should be limited to genuine threats topublic safety or national security. They also expressed doubts overthe practice of infiltrating activist groups engaged in peacefulprotest in the hopes of reaching more radical groups.The report said that acompelling case exists for a fundamental review of the legislativeframework governing undercover policing, including 2000’sRegulation of Investigatory Powers Act.“We recommend that theGovernment commit to the publication of a Green Paper on theregulation of investigatory powers before the end of thisParliament, with a view to publishing draft legislation in theSession after the next general election,” the reportsaid.

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UK police under fire for seducing activists, stealing dead infants’ names

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