Protesting unethical undercover policing

Emily Armistead demands justice for the women personally affected by undercover policing

Almost three weeks after news broke that police are spying on the UK protest movement, controversy continues to emerge on a daily basis. Whilst any use of undercover agents in a largely peaceful and entirely progressive movement is wrong, the revelations that male undercover police were having sex with women to elicit information adds further outrage.

On Monday I joined with women from across the movement at a blockade of Scotland Yard. We wanted to show our solidarity with the women who have been personally affected by police abuse and demand that the police reveal the names of all undercover officers who have operated in the movement. Women who have unknowingly had relationships with them have a right to know the truth and should be in a position to be able to take action against the police. Of course most of the police officers keeping an eye on (and filming) the demo were men. The police after all is not known for its promotion of gender (or any other kind of) equality. So maybe it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to us, that when a patriarchal police force played dirty tricks to undermine a movement, women should take a double hit.

Whilst the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), the murky private body which ran these operations, claims that police regulations do not allow undercover agents to have sexual relations with targets, a former spy cop revealed last week that sex with activists was encouraged as a tactic. There should be no grey area here. In Germany, where undercover police officer Mark Kennedy had sexual relationships with activists whilst on hire to the German police, the law is clear: it is illegal for police to have sexual relations whilst undercover. It’s shocking hat such obviously necessary legal boundaries to covert policing don’t exist here.

Germany of course has recent historical experience of living with a police state, which might explain why better checks on the police are in place. Whilst Acpo might not quite be the Stasi, its political operations to undermine democratic movements, secret databases of activists, and abuse of human rights through undercover policing still send a shiver down your spine. Numerous inquiries have now been launched into the controversy. All of these are being led by the police and are not likely to shed light on all the details of this shady affair, nor properly hold those responsible to account. A failing police force investigating its own malfeasance smacks of a state institution completely deluded about the democratic principles it should be there to protect.

Only an independent and open judicial inquiry can provide real answers to the many questions raised by this scandal and put in train measures to end the disproportionate and political policing of protesters. And whilst that won’t erase the trauma for women who became both political and sexual targets for PC Kennedy and his colleagues, it may prevent further abuse of female activists at the hands of the police.

Photo by kenjonbro, shared under a Creative Commons license