Counter-terrorism money being spent on redacting evidence to inquiry on undercover policing

Funds intended for counter-terrorism are being spent on an IT system to analyse documents being submitted to the Pitchford Undercover Policing Inquiry

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The Independent Online

Counter-terrorism money is being used to redact police evidence to an inquiry into undercover policing tactics, it has been revealed.

Nearly £750,000 from the counter-terrorism budget has been earmarked for an IT system to assess and redact material which might be sent to the Pitchford Undercover Policing Inquiry, according to papers obtained from a Freedom of Information request and seen by the website PoliceOracle.com.

The inquiry, chaired by senior judge Sir Christopher Pitchford, was set up after it emerged that undercover officers including Mark Kennedy, of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), had slept with activists while infiltrating protest movements.

In 2011 eight women came forward to claim they had been deceived into having long-term relationships with five officers, including Kennedy. In one case, an animal rights campaigner alleged she had had a son with her partner, without realising he was in fact an undercover officer who was already married with children.

Some activists have also questioned why they might have been defined as “domestic extremists” and put under surveillance in the first place.

The Pitchford Inquiry, ordered by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, will also examine concerns around the activities of undercover officers who infiltrated groups who became involved in the campaign for justice for the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Police have sought to have large parts of the inquiry held in secret to protect the identity of covert operatives but in May, Lord Justice Pitchford refused to grant blanket anonymity to undercover officers and said he would decide on what to make public on a case-by-case basis.

Police Oracle reported that the newly released documents show that money from this year’s £670m counter-terrorism budget is now being spent on an IT contract for analysing NPOIU documents that might be sent to the inquiry.

Questioning this use of counter-terrorism money, Tim Brain, formerly the chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Finance Business Area and now an academic, said: “Looking at it from Joe Public’s view, I would say: ‘You get that money to keep us safe, not to fund retrospective inquiry work’.”

He added: “I would assume some forces are more likely to be involved than others, so I would have thought they should pay from contingency funds in their budgets.  However, forces have been forced to cut back and cut back, so there is less money to cover unexpected costs.

“Maybe we are at the point where some forces are relying on contingency funding to balance their books, so they do not have enough left.”

Questioning whether the inquiry would take place on “an uneven playing field”, Green Party member Baroness Jenny Jones said: “You have to ask what chance there is of getting to the truth when the police have £750,000 to redact files.”

By contrast, she claimed, other participants “struggle to get travel costs to see their lawyer.”

She added: “£750,000 is a lot of money to spend on a machine whose primary, short-term purpose is to put black lines through documents. It reinforces the view that the police’s negative approach to this inquiry is focused upon damage limitation and giving away the minimum they can.”

The Police, however, are understood to regard the analysis of the vast number of NPOIU papers that might go to the inquiry as a far more complex process than simply putting black lines through documents.  

As well as a desire to protect the identities of undercover officers, there are understood to be concerns about revealing operational and tactical information that might be of use to criminals seeking to avoid detection.

The National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC), meanwhile, pointed out that most of the information being requested was held within counter-terrorism data systems.

An NPCC spokesman said: "This has been funded from the counter-terrorism policing budget on a one-off basis because the majority of the operations were conducted under their command and the IT system used is funded by counter terrorism policing.  The budget for counter-terrorism is of course focused on preventing and pursuing terrorists but this agreement has been reached because we also have an obligation to be transparent and accountable to this public inquiry.”

The spokesman added: "“We are committed to being open and honest with the Inquiry and supporting it by providing extensive information and records.  We have a duty to make sure we carefully review that information and any information that could put undercover officers or their families at risk of harm is redacted."

Last month concerns were raised about delays to the Pitchford Inquiry after it was reported that it had spent more than £3m despite not yet having heard any evidence.