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A Note on the Inquiry into Undercover Policing Strategic Review

Yesterday, the Inquiry into Undercover Policing published the latest iteration of its Strategic Review (IUPSR). It did not concede to the demands of non-state core participants for a panel of individuals (with direct experience of the effects of covert policing operations) which would aid the inquiry Chair in achieving the objectives of modules one and two. However, it could not disguise their very real success in pressing the inquiry to address its current deficit model of public access. If the inquiry does deliver upon its promise to “take expert advice on what can be done to overcome” obstacles to live-streaming of proceedings (IUPSR; 58); if it does ensure that where there is “demand...evidential hearings will be a separate room” (IUPSR: 71), it will all have been due to the continued vigilance of non-state core participants.

Within hours of its publication, interested parties had begun to interrogate the inquiry’s seeming assurance that the “truth” about specific policing operations, and the management of them, will emerge even with the loss of “a full account of what happened” to non-state core participants (IUPSR: iii). Police witnesses are to be offered first the stick and then the carrot in order to encourage...a “fuller and...franker account of their time undercover than has previously been avowed” (IUPSR: iii). Thus, all former Special Demonstration Squad and National Public Intelligence Unit officers will be compelled to give evidence (IUPSR: iii), but, as we now know, many such officers will receive the protection of partial or full anonymity.

Legal processes and police practices have long been reconciled to the idea that confession evidence contains as much of the truth as is needed to satisfy state objectives. It is therefore not surprising that once it has coaxed confessions from police witnesses, the inquiry will be content to overlook other evidence relevant to module one’s “examination of the deployment of undercover officers in the past, their conduct, and the impact of their activities on...others (IUPSR: 18). In the interests of the wider public, such evidence must not be overlooked.

Non-state core participants have already steered the inquiry toward a better (‘though still far from adequate) vision of access to justice. We have every reason to hope that they will drive it toward a realisation that truth and reconciliation must go hand in hand.


The Inquiry into Undercover Policing, Strategic Review, May 2018.

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