The U.K.’s Metropolitan Police Service is the subject of a report describing a secret organisation within Greater London’s police force that spied on activists and families who campaigned against miscarriages of justice, often following deaths in police custody.
The report was written by Derbyshire Chief Constable Mick Creedon, who is tasked with investigating The Met.
The Special Demonstration Squad (later renamed Special Duties Squad) was formed in 1968 and disbanded in 2008. It had one main task, the report says: To secretly infiltrate political or “justice campaign” groups it suspected might pose a threat to public order, and spy on them. “Justice campaigns” included family and supporters of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot dead by Met officers at a London Underground station in 2005 after they mistakenly believed he was a suicide bomber. He was actually an electrician who was on his way to fix a broken fire alarm.
The existence of the SDS and its four-decade long role was apparently kept a secret even to senior commanders of the The Met, the report notes:
Over the forty years that the unit existed, senior MPS management of the day either knew nothing about the existence and activities of the unit, or when they did they appeared to have allowed the SDS to exist in secret isolation in a manner that was complacent and possibly negligent. The secrecy added to the culture and complacency of some SDS managers.
The report also contains this org chart (below), showing how the group operated, and who was in charge. The SDS’s tasks were divided between officers infiltrating “extreme left wing/extreme right wing” groups and “animal rights/environmental extremism” groups. Importantly, they reported up to Special Branch, which interposed a layer of management between SDS and The Met itself:
Reports were kept secret by labelling them in a way that banned officers from sharing them with colleagues who were lower in rank, the report says:
The only evidence regarding any effective management of collateral information is the fact that the identified intelligence reports submitted by the SDS to MPS Special Branch were all prefaced with the term ‘no downward dissemination without reference to Commander Special Branch‘ . It is abundantly clear that this matter was not given the consideration and application that would be expected by today’s RIPA [Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000] Authorising Officers or from the Office of Surveillance Commissioners who oversee such activity by law enforcement.
Worse, the officers in SDS had no training and no supervision:
Operation Herne [the name of the group handling the internal investigation] has spoken with numerous SDS undercover officers and they have confirmed they received no training in respect of collateral intrusion and their collection of intelligence and information took no account of such considerations. …
Operation Herne is critical of the lack of management and supervision of the processes and controls in respect of the retention, storage and weeding of such intelligence which contained information that can now be regarded as ‘collateral intrusion’.
Oddly, the report says that individual officers within SDS should carry no blame for their activities because they were merely following orders:
However no criticism should be leveled towards the operatives who were simply performing their role, as that was what their training taught them to do.
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