Undercover practices 'wrong'

Undercover police officers' wives had lives 'shattered' by relationships with female activists

Women ‘blindsided’ by media revelations that husbands had sexual relationships with women they were spying on

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 05 November 2020 03:30

The lives of women married to undercover police officers were “shattered” by revelations they had relationships with unsuspecting female activists, an inquiry has heard.

The former wives of members of the secretive Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), which existed between 1968 and 2008, spoke publicly for the first time on Wednesday.

A representative told the Undercover Policing Inquiry they were “blindsided” by revelations that led to the probe being set up.

Angus McCullough QC said: “None of them had any idea that in the name of policing their husbands were having sexual relationships with other women. All were left shocked and devastated by the media coverage as it unfolded, and the media intrusion that accompanied it, which affected not only them but also their children and wider families.”

The lawyer is representing three women who came forward to tell their stories, but said many others were affected.

Mr McCullough said the women had supported their husbands in the belief that their undercover work was targeting serious and violent criminals or extremists, not protesters and campaign groups.

“Years later they found out that their marriages were based on lies, that their husbands’ jobs - of which they had been so proud - had been vehicles for the worst kind of infidelity,” he added.

“They have been left to reconstruct their lives, and those of their children, forever tainted by their connection with men who have behaved so appallingly. What once brought them pride, now brings them shame and fear.”

The women believe the Metropolitan Police may have deliberately picked married officers to go undercover with the SDS, as a way of keeping them grounded and “on side”.

They want the inquiry to reveal whether they were vetted themselves, and to look into why there was a “near total absence” of support from Scotland Yard during the deployments and over years of devastating revelations.

It is examining the tactics used by the SDS and the undercover section of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) dating back to the late 1960s.

Media reporting revealed that some undercover officers, including Mark Kennedy, had sexual relationships with the female activists they were spying on 

The inquiry was set up by Theresa May in 2015, after a damning report found that the parents of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence were spied on while campaigning for justice.

Media reporting previously revealed how officers, including Mark Kennedy, had sexual relationships with female activists while maintaining their cover identities.

Undercover police officers also used the names of dead children to create fake identities for decades without their families’ knowledge between the 1970s and 1990s.

Richard Whittam, representing 12 former undercover officers, told the inquiry that several of them had relationships.

“It is important not to have preconceived ideas about such relationships,” he added. “For example, a relationship was renewed after the truth about the status of the undercover police officer was discovered. Another relationship continues to this day.”

A lawyer representing the Metropolitan Police previously told the inquiry the relationships were “wrong” and said the force was “acutely aware of the continuing anger and distress” of affected people.

Another lawyer, speaking on behalf of 103 former members of the SDS and 11 from the NPOIU, said their work had “a serious and disproportionate adverse impact on their health, well-being, families and careers”.

“The SDS was a creature of its times and, like every other human institution, neither infallible nor immune from making mistakes,” Oliver Sanders QC added.

“It was a politically-neutral cog in a much larger apparatus and its operational colleagues and partners all collectively assessed the threats to public order and national security as real and serious.”

Mr Sanders said in the era the SDS started operating, the lack of technology meant campaign groups relied on in-person events and protests, and intelligence had to be collected in person.

He added: “The requisite intelligence work is inevitably a hit-and-miss process which will necessarily involve the collection of intelligence on harmless individuals or groups.”

The inquiry, which is expected to last at least three years, will continue on Thursday.

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