21 Jun 2016

Spycops: ‘a state-sponsored ghoulish practice’

It was, according to one former undercover officer, “a state-authorised ghoulish practice”.


They are the words of Peter Francis (above), who served in the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad and who himself was one of those who stole the identity of a family’s dead child and used it to create a false persona.

Tomorrow the Spycops public inquiry will address this thorny issue as to whether the state has a duty to reveal to all parents if their dead child’s identity was taken and used in the name of undercover policing.

The scale of this practice can be gleaned from a 2013 report into the practices of the SDS, and in particular, this tactic to provide officers with a ‘legend’ – a fake life story.

The inquiry, known as Operation Herne, found at least 42 out of 106 covert identities, used by that squad over 11 years between 1983-94, were stolen from dead children aged between 8-14.

The Metropolitan Police say 23 families who contacted investigators received a letter of apology from the force’s Commissioner but it would neither confirm nor deny if their child’s details were stolen.

Mr Francis says all those families have a right to know and a full explanation. His offer to make a public apology to the inquiry, he says, has been rejected as inappropriate.

But the offer extends to meeting the family of a child whose identity he stole and he adds: “For the sake of closure, I strongly believe all my former SDS colleagues who used stolen identities should offer to do the same.”

But it’s not a simple matter. The inquiry’s chairman Lord Pitchford has to decide whether any family has an absolute right, whether the police and the inquiry have a duty to inform, and whether there are exceptional cases where an undercover officer’s life may be put at risk if the truth behind the pseudonym is exposed.

Jules Carey, a solicitor representing families who are wanting answers, said: “The police’s ‘Not Confirm Not Deny’ policy should not be used to conceal wrong doing and shut down accountability.

“The practice of using the identity of a dead child to construct an undercover police officer’s legend without parental consent was abhorrent and unlawful.”

Follow @simonisrael on Twitter