Campaigners who were spied on by undercover police officers are calling for an “end to political policing” in Britain as a landmark inquiry starts.
The Undercover Policing Inquiry will examine the monitoring of more than a thousand groups stretching back to 1968.
It will hear from women who were deceived into relationships with undercover officers including Mark Kennedy, who targeted environmental movements.
Other groups infiltrated by the Special Demonstration Squad and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit include anti-war organisations, trade unionists and anti-racism groups.
A previous probe found that undercover officers had also spied on the family of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence as they campaigned for justice.
The inquiry was announced in 2015, amid public outrage over accusations that officers took fake identities from dead children, but was delayed by anonymity battles and legal arguments.
It will start hearing evidence on Monday and is expected to last for three years.
Lydia Dagostino, a lawyer representing several core participants, hailed the long-awaited start as a “momentous occasion”.
“We’re about to open the door and get an eye on 50 years of political and secret policing,” she told a press conference on Friday.
“And it is not out of date, the government is about to pass a law in parliament allowing undercover officers to commit crimes. This is not just about 50 years ago, it is something happening now.”
Campaigners want the inquiry to make public the full list of groups that were targeted, as well as the cover names and photos of all police officers involved, to enable affected people to know they were involved in operations.
They are also demanding the exposure of potential miscarriages of justice, where protesters were allegedly convicted of crimes aided or incited by undercover police officers.
People who were spied on, including the Labour PM Diane Abbott, are demanding access to files that were compiled about them.
They are also seeking information on whether senior politicians had approved operations and how involved the security services became.
The inquiry will examine how undercover operations were planned, supervised and regulated, as well as what contribution they made to tackling crime and the effect on individuals involved.
A woman known as Lisa, who was in a relationship with Mr Kennedy for six years, described her despair when she discovered the man she was planning a future with was a “fictional character”.
“He was put in my life deliberately to deceive me,” she said. “At the time I felt so alone, I thought this kind of thing couldn’t possibly be happening to other people. But over 30 women have found they were also in relationships with people who didn’t exist.”
Lisa, who later sued the Metropolitan Police alongside other affected women, said the discovery had affected her ability to trust people and form relationships.
“It’s turned my life completely upside down,” she added. “It has left me questioning who I am and whether my life has turned out in a way of my design ,or whether it was controlled by people whose faces I will never see.”
Zoe Young, a freelance journalist who was spied on while involved with environmental campaigns and protests against the Iraq War, described the units involved as a “secret political police force”.
She said: “If there had not been this particular approach, might we not have the government we have now, might we have tackled climate change, might we not have invaded Iraq? We don’t know.”
The vast majority of groups and individuals known to have been targeted were politically left-wing, including politicians.
Dave Nellist, a former Labour MP who was expelled for his support for the Militant tendency, said: “We don’t want a damage limitation exercise, we want the actual ending of this systemic abuse that has gone on for the best part of half a century.
“We want transparency, want openness, want everyone to know what went wrong.”
The participants said they do not believe the intrusion they suffered was the result of “rogue officers”, but had been part of a wider strategy.
Hannah Sell, general secretary of the Socialist Party, added: “We’re campaigning for this inquiry to lead to the end of all political policing.”