The practice of undercover officers using the names of dead children to infiltrate protest groups was more widespread than first suspected, a senior Scotland Yard officer conceded yesterday.
As the Metropolitan Police force was publicly castigated by MPs for refusing to apologise to the families of the dead children or even give assurances that they will be informed, the Yard's head of the Directorate of Professional Standards revealed that not just one unit but a second one, only founded in 1999, was being investigated.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan was urgently summoned to appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee after claims that undercover officers from the force's Special Demonstration Squad had used the “shocking” practice of stealing the identities of dead children without seeking consent from their parents.
Ms Gallan conceded that not only was the SDS – which existed for 40 years before being disbanded in 2008 – being investigated but also the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, which was only founded in 1999 and taken over by the Metropolitan police in 2011.
Furthermore she conceded that her investigation, Operation Herne, had known of one case for five months but had yet to contact the family or offer any form of apology. The MPs heard that there had been a complaint from another family whose little boy Rod Richardson, died as a baby in 1973 but believed his identity had been stolen twenty years later.
“My client is upset that her child's identity was used and wants an explanation from the police,” said solicitor Jules Carey, confirming he has submitted an official complaint.
MPs were told that not only were names stolen but officers infiltrating protest groups researched the families concerned to take on the whole identity, placing relatives at risk of being targetted by groups – some of whom were extremist.
During a tense session before the Home Affairs Committee, Dep Ass Com Gallan repeatedly refused to apologise to the families.
“Do you not think it is heartless and cruel not to inform them as a matter of urgency?” asked chairman Keith Vaz.
“We need to investigate the allegations and there are legal and ethical issues,” replied the senior officer, adding she would make any public statements “at the appropriate time”. “It would be wrong of me without knowing all the facts at this point to give a yes or no answer.”
She insisted that the practice was no longer sanctioned by any force in the country but could not offer a date when it had ceased or confirm that these were simply two “rogue” units.
Mr Vaz expressed disappointment that despite Operation Herne's lengthy investigation into undercover practices, costing £1.25 million to date, that it had yet to get to the bottom of the issue.
“I am disappointed you have not used the opportunity to send a message to the parents of these children that the Metropolitan Police is actually sorry it happened.
“I am concerned that you have known about one instance since September last year but despite spending £1.2 million and having 30 officers working on this case you still have not got to the bottom of why these children's identities were used.”