Lindsey German speaking with reporters about the interim report of the Mitting Inquiry.

Lindsey German argues that the interim report on undercover policing shows the Metropolitan Police is not fit for purpose

A vindication for campaigners and another nail in the coffin of the Metropolitan Police. That is the takeaway from the interim report of the Mitting Inquiry into undercover policing, published on 29th June. The report concludes that the infiltration of left-wing groups in the 1970s and early 1980s was not justified, that undercover police gathered what Mitting called a ‘remarkable’ amount of information on activists who were not threatening public order, and that the Special Demonstration Squad should have been rapidly disbanded after its formation to deal with anti-Vietnam war demos in 1968, rather than continuing for decades.

The inquiry was initiated 8 years ago by then prime minister Theresa May, in response to a growing number of scandals about the SDS. No wonder the undercover police have a bad name. They stole the identities of dead children to carry out their deceit; they embarked on sexual relationships with women activists they worked with, in some cases fathering children with partners who had no idea they were police; they spied on and helped victimise trade unionists who were blacklisted as a result and couldn’t find work.

They damaged the lives of many thousands of people, hoovering up details of names and bank accounts of those involved in left wing campaigns, militant trade unions and socialist organisations. They behaved in the most appalling way to the women they deceived into having affairs. The contempt in which they held women or black people is evident from the language of their reports.

I was a core participant in the first tranche of the Mitting inquiry, giving evidence of my activities and seeing the extensive spying which involved surveillance of me and many comrades then in the SWP, for which I was an organiser and editor in the late 1970s and 80s. The scale of the infiltration is shocking: people that I worked with, organised a campaign with, and regarded as friends and comrades, turned out to be police spies, finding out both practical details of political activity but also personal information which could be used against us.

The key reason for this surveillance was allegedly to preserve public order. In reality it was about infiltration and political information about the left. The late 70s was a time when the fascist National Front was a growing force, bent on marching through black and Asian areas and engaged in violent thuggery against ethnic minorities and the left. The Anti Nazi League was formed in 1977, on the initiative of the SWP, to build a broad movement against the Nazis, which it did successfully in the ensuing years, both through campaigning with meetings and Rock against Racism events, and by directly confronting the Nazis on the streets when they tried to march.

Incredibly, the SDS and Metropolitan police did not infiltrate the NF or other fascist groups. According to Mitting’s concluding remarks, this was not because of political bias to the fascists but because such infiltration would have been too dangerous! In reality, the police all too often protected the fascists on demonstrations where they were outnumbered by local communities and left campaigners. Two anti fascists – Kevin Gately in Red Lion Square in 1974, and Blair Peach in Southall in 1979 – were killed on demonstrations at the hands of the police.

The truth is the Metropolitan Police were hostile to left wing campaigns and many individuals shared some of the racist ideas of the fascists. Those blacklisted and spied on were people who wanted a better world, fought injustice, build strikes and factory occupations, campaigned against apartheid, for women’s liberation, and were socialists. This was regarded as enough to make them dangerous – even though many of the ideas fought for then are widely accepted today.

The inquiry will continue for several more years and even more police surveillance will be revealed. Campaigners are demanding full disclosure and openness, the names of all the spycops, and the end of police spying. The Met already has an appalling reputation for misogyny and valence against women, homophobia, and racism. This interim report shows that the organisation is simply not fit for purpose and should be disbanded.

I did not suffer in the way that some have, who had relationships with spycops, or who lost their jobs. But I feel this is an infringement on my right to organise, to my supposed freedom within a democracy to express my views, and on my civil liberties. It is also an attack on all those campaigning for socialism, for greater democratic accountability, against oppression and in support of rights at work. Stopping surveillance and disbanding the Met would go some of the way to restore justice.

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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.

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