23 Mar 2016

Undercover policing inquiry: will they have to name officers?

Grave allegations, basic democratic freedoms undermined, deceitful relationships, profound questions of racial equality – at last the public inquiry into undercover policing is underway.

The past two days have been spent grappling with how a Metropolitan Police ‘policy’ of neither confirming nor denying identities in the world of covert operations can survive, and if not and what the rules should be for restricting details of the 100+ spy cops, given a dozen names are now in the public domain.

For as some lawyers argued if ‘s inquiry is to have any credibility, openness is key.

The New Scotland Yard sign stands outside the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police, in central London on January 11, 2013, following the report by the Metropolitan Police and NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) detailing 50 years of allegations of sexual abuse by former BBC presenter Jimmy Savile. British police said that late BBC star presenter Jimmy Savile was a predatory sex offender whose victims were as young as eight and who preyed on children and adults in hospitals and even a hospice. A report by police and child protection authorities found that the TV presenter, who was one of the biggest TV stars in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, used his celebrity status to "hide in plain sight". AFP PHOTO/CARL COURT (Photo credit should read CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

Today pitched the Met against 11 current and former MPs who were spied on, together with another 126 individuals and groups over the issue of secrecy.

The least they want are the names used by officers while undercover to be made public.

The whistleblower Peter Francis was there lending his support to the demands for transparency.

His counsel Ben Emmerson QC said Mr Francis wants to assist the inquiry in exposing unethical, unlawful and inadequately supervised covert police practices that went on for decades and of which he played a part.

Only some of his knowledge is in the public domain, Mr Emerson told the inquiry, and there is much more to come.

But the police position is adamant – no names because of the risk to the officers, their families and methods

The inquiry’s chair Lord Pitchford will rule three weeks on the first real test for this public inquiry – just how public it can be.