12 Mar 2015

Undercover policing: Judge to lead public inquiry

Home Secretary Theresa May establishes a judge-led inquiry into past and present undercover policing in England and Wales, with powers to compel witnesses to give evidence.

The inquiry will consider the deployment of undercover police officers by the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) and by other forces in England and Wales.

The inquiry, which will be led by court of appeal judge Lord Justice Pitchford, will also review undercover policing in general and make recommendations about best practice.


The highly secretive SDS unit within the Metropolitan Police was set up in 1968 and disbanded in 2008.

Former SDS officer Bob Lambert

Bob Lambert, a senior former SDS officer, infiltrated environmental and animal rights groups.

In July 2013 he told Channel 4 News that he accepted his behaviour while undercover was morally reprehensible.

He had relationships with four women and even fathered a child with one of them, and then disappeared from her life.

She later told a Channel 4 Dispatches programme that she felt like she had been “raped by the state”.

See the Bob Lambert interview in full: I was weak and cruel, admits ex-undercover police boss

Bob Lambert said “with hindsight I can only say I genuinely regret my actions and I apologise to the women affected.”

Police corruption: what Ellison found

In March 2014 Home Secretary Theresa May described as "profoundly shocking" the findings of a report by barrister Mark Ellison into possible corruption in the original Metropolitan Police investigation into the murder of of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

It found that allegations of corruption made against one of the officers on the investigation were not passed on to Lord Macpherson's Inquiry into how the case was handled.
It found that investigations into this failure by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in 2006 and the Met itself in 2012 were both inadequate.
It found mass shredding of key evidence in 2003, and concluded that further relevant material which would have shown corruption could have been destroyed or lost.
It found the SDS had deployed a police "spy" into a group seeking to influence the Lawrence family campaign during the Macpherson Inquiry. This spy reported back to an officer involved in writing the Met's submissions to the Macpherson Inquiry - contact described by Ellison as "completely improper".
It found that in other cases SDS officers failed to reveal their true identities to courts and failed to correct evidence given in court that they knew to be untrue.

Following his initial findings, Mr Ellison was asked to carry out a further review into potential miscarriages of justice involving undercover police officers, with particular focus on the SDS and the NPOIU. That report is due to be passed to the Attorney General by the end of March 2015.

‘Public interest’

In a statement Theresa May said on Thursday: “It has become apparent during the course of both the criminal investigations and Mr Ellison’s review that these are significantly larger pieces of work than were envisaged previously.

“Therefore, in light of the public interest in having a statutory inquiry start as soon as possible, I have decided to establish the inquiry whilst ensuring that the progress of existing work is not affected.”

Report into links between Home Office and SDS

A new inquiry by Stephen Taylor, published on 12 March 2015, found that there was no documented evidence that the Home Office, which funded the SDS separately from 1969-1989, had any knowledge of “detailed operational methods or activities” other than “retrospective headlines produced by Special Branch”.

Anti-corruption measures

Under a new law, from April 2015 it will be an offence punishable by up to 14 years in prison, for a police officer to excercise “the powers and privileges of a constable in a way which is corrupt or improper.”

Under new regulations, police disciplinary hearings will be held in public from 1 May 2015 and be chaired by a legally qualified person.

Regulations to protect police whistleblowers from unfair disciplinary action will come into force on 1 May 2015, and the Home Secretary announced proposals that in future when whistleblowers take concerns to the IPCC, it will no longer be obliged to pass those concerns back to the force involved before it can investigate.