Police tell the former undercover cop who claimed a ‘smear’ campaign against the family of Stephen Lawrence that he will not be given immunity from prosecution.
Channel 4 News has learned that the police team leading a major inquiry into undercover policing have told Peter Francis, the former Special Branch officer at the centre of `smear’ allegations involving the family of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, that they cannot provide him with immunity from prosecution for any breaches of the Official Secrets Act.
In response, Mr Francis, who fears he may be prosecuted over what he’s told journalists in the past, declares that he cannot cooperate with their investigation and repeats his demand for a public inquiry: “My master now is no longer the police” he told the programme, “it is the public”.
It is almost three months since Peter Francis appeared on Channel 4’s Dispatches (“The Police’s Dirty Secret”) to claim that his undercover unit, the former Special Demonstration Squad, had been involved in an attempt to “smear” the family of Stephen Lawrence in the 1990s.
Mr Francis, who was deployed undercover as Pete Black, a far-left militant, in September 1993, alleged that his superiors at Scotland Yard wanted him to look for intelligence to discredit the family’s campaign for justice.
He also claimed that senior officers deliberately chose to withhold information about his undercover role from Sir William Macpherson, who led a public inquiry into the police handling of the teenager’s death.
His interview, carried also in the Guardian newspaper, provoked widespread political outrage and prompted the Prime Minster David Cameron to vow to “get the full truth out” about the “horrific” allegations.
Peter Francis, in his first broadcast interview since the Dispatches programme, says that despite having his credibility questioned in some quarters, he has no regrets about speaking out. One recent newspaper article referred to “growing doubts” about the account from a “very troubled undercover cop”.
His version of events has been challenged publicly by two former senior bosses at Scotland Yard (including Bob Lambert, his former supervisor, who is himself facing scrutiny over past conduct whilst working undercover).
Furthermore Mick Creedon, the Chief constable of Derbyshire Police who is leading the police investigation into these and other claims involving undercover cops, told MPs in July that they had not yet found any evidence of a deployment to undermine the family and their campaign.
Yet Mr Francis says he stands by his claims “100 per cent”.
When asked whether the reason for Chief Constable Creedon’s failure, to date, to come up with any corroborating evidence for the ‘smear’ allegation could be that no such campaign existed in the first place, Peter Francis responded: “No, not in the slightest … just keep looking and if he doesn’t find it maybe the public inquiry will help him find it”.
If, indeed, a public inquiry ever takes place.
Peter Francis has been open about the personal difficulties he experienced following his undercover deployment.
He had a nervous breakdown, was diagnosed with complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and sued the Metropolitan police for lack of psychiatric care. But he rejects any notion that his recollection of events could in any way have become distorted over time as a result:
“I relive incidents. I relive these things. This is what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is all about. I am 100 per cent adamant it’s correct. These are my nightmares …This is Pete Francis declaring what Pete Black did. I have no master any more.”
“The Metropolitan Police left Pete Black out there, they left him. My master now is no longer the police it’s the public, so I will give them all the truth on the issues.”
Calls for a public inquiry into this matter have so far been resisted by the government.
The Home Secretary has directed two existing inquiries, one led by Chief Constable Mick Creedon, the other by barrister Mark Ellison QC, to investigate the claims made by Mr Francis.
Peter Francis says he’s had no contact with the Ellison review team to date, but has received requests to meet with officers from Mick Creedon’s Operation Herne team.
Central to Peter Francis’s willingness to cooperate with the police is the question of whether he might be prosecuted for what he’s said in the past about undercover policing.
He’s been the source for a number of Guardian newspaper articles over the last two years which have exposed some of the most questionable practices used in the past by undercover officers (such as the use of dead children’s identities and the sexual relationships some officers had with targets).
Channel 4 News has seen a letter sent by a senior member of the Operation Herne team to Peter Francis on 29th August in which the officer questions where the perceived threat of “an official secrets investigation” has originated but offers to provide “some clarity”.
He writes: “Neither CPS or myself can provide immunity from prosecution for breaches of the Official Secrets Act or any other matter. However, it is important that I fully investigate these matters and as the Senior Investigating Officer I have made the decision at this time to treat you as a witness…and hope that you are prepared to assist the enquiry”.
Peter Francis’s response?
“Basically I just revert to what I originally said…I will only appear before a public inquiry. I’m also prepared to appear before the House of Commons select committee. I’ve already volunteered to do that”.
Peter Francis’s stance on a public inquiry is supported by Baroness Lawrence, Stephen Lawrence’s mother.
Solicitor Imran Khan, who is representing Baroness Lawrence, told Channel 4 News the Metropolitan police had written to her confirming that records indicated that undercover officers were deployed to look into campaigners and supporters of the Lawrence campaign.
“What Francis appears to be saying seems to be true but we only take what he is saying at face value,” Mr Khan said.
“What we want to happen, certainly what Doreen wants to happen is for there to be a public inquiry, Peter Francis comes along to that inquiry, gives his evidence in the open, we can question him, the police can question him and everything is out in the open.
“The question is for Doreen is ‘how do I trust what they are telling me if it’s all behind closed doors? How do I trust how they are going to treat somebody who has in fact whistleblown and is trying to help the family by coming out and telling them things they didn’t know anything about?'”
On Wednesday the Met police issued a statement saying it is “incorrect to say that the investigation had uncovered evidence that officers were deployed to smear the Lawrence family. Although Operation Herne is ongoing to date no evidence has been found that supports this very serious allegation.”
The statement continues: “records exist which indicate that undercover officers were deployed into supporters and campaigns connected with Stephen’s family .. To be extremely clear, the documents uncovered by the Operation Herne investigation team relate to deployments of undercover officers into groups that attempted to align themselves to the campaign that started after Stephen Lawrence’s murder, not an attempt to smear a grieving family.”
But the question that remains is this: with no guarantee of immunity from prosecution for Mr Francis and no public inquiry in sight, the current police investigation faces the very real dilemma of how to meaningfully investigate this hugely sensitive allegation without being able to talk to the man at the centre of it all.