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The allegations in the newspapers today will send a chill up the spine of all those who value free speech, democracy and campaigning for one’s beliefs. Being investigated not for crime but for political beliefs is quite obviously unacceptable.
Almost five years ago, before the last general election, the activities of what was then the special demonstration squad were reported in TheGuardian. Over the past few years, we have seen horrifying allegations, many looked at as part of Chief Constable Mick Creedon’s Operation Herne investigations. They include allegations that SDS officers engaged in sexual relationships, and even fathered children, then leaving the women as if the relationship had never occurred; used the identities of dead children for covert identities; and spied on the Lawrence family—the grieving parents of a cruelly murdered son.
Two years ago, the shadow Home Secretary called for stronger safeguards on undercover operations. There remains an overwhelming case, further strengthened today, for more safeguards, including independent pre-authorisation, for example by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners, especially for the small number of long-term covert operations, and then continuous, not paper-based, independent checks. I hope the Minister can respond directly on that point.
Now we also want assurances that the inquiry into the activities of the SDS led by Lord Justice Pitchford will be extended to the allegations set out in the newspapers today. As my right hon. Friend Mr Hain said, this is an affront to parliamentary democracy—to the sovereignty and independence of this House. It is also an affront to the vital principle, the breach of which can be very serious indeed, of confidentiality between a Member of Parliament and those he or she represents. Lord Justice Pitchford’s inquiry must be extended to look into the allegations as part of the investigation into the Met’s special demonstration squad. I stress again that undercover policing remains a crucial tool in combating serious and organised crime, but it must not be abused.
In conclusion, Labour has for years pressed for much stronger oversight of undercover policing, and that is all the more important in the light of today’s shocking revelations. Lord Justice Pitchford needs to be able to conduct an extensive and wide inquiry, which, crucially, should have the flexibility to investigate any allegations about undercover policing, in particular those relating to surveillance of Members of this House.