News story

Home Secretary announces terms of reference for undercover policing inquiry

Theresa May also establishes miscarriages of justice panel to sit alongside inquiry following Mark Ellison's review

Home Secretary

Terms of reference

Home Secretary Theresa May today announced the terms of reference to the undercover policing inquiry.

The Inquiry, which was set up in March, will investigate undercover policing units – including the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) and National Public Order Intelligence Unit – operating in England and Wales since 1968, including the extent to which they targeted individuals and groups such as political and social justice campaigns.

The purpose of the inquiry chaired by Lord Justice Pitchford is to:

  • investigate the role of, and the contribution made by undercover policing towards the prevention and detection of crime;
  • examine the motivation for, and the scope of, undercover police operations in practice and their effect upon individuals in particular and the public in general;
  • ascertain the state of awareness of undercover police operations in Her Majesty’s Government;
  • identify and assess the adequacy of the:
  • justification, authorisation, operational governance and oversight of undercover policing;
  • selection, training, management and care of undercover police officers;
  • identify and assess the adequacy of the statutory, policy and judicial regulation of undercover policing.

The inquiry is expected to run for up to three years and will report to the Home Secretary.

Home Secretary Theresa May said:

I’m delighted to announce the terms of reference for the undercover police inquiry so Lord Justice Pitchford can begin his review into undercover police operations in England and Wales.

Undercover policing is an essential tactic in the fight against crime but any allegation that the police misused this power must be taken seriously. The actions and behaviour of corrupt police officers can easily undermine public confidence.

This inquiry will not only look at historical failings but make recommendations to ensure those unacceptable practices are not repeated in the future.

Lord Justice Pitchford said:

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for the publication of the Terms of Reference of the public inquiry into undercover policing commencing on 17 July 2015.

Within the course of the next few days I will make some opening remarks publicly at the Royal Courts of Justice. I shall say something about the background to the inquiry, its Terms of Reference and the process that I intend to adopt. I shall also be seeking the assistance of persons and institutions that will have a contribution to make to the work of the inquiry, and invite written applications for core participant status under rule 5 of the Inquiry Rules 2006.

Advance notice of the hearing will be given to the usual media outlets but it will not be necessary for interested persons to attend in order to register their interest. My opening remarks will be recorded and published on the inquiry website to be launched shortly. The inquiry team will be making written contact with individuals and institutions known to have an interest in the inquiry and I will invite all those who wish to consider making a contribution to make contact with us. I will give contact details for that purpose.

Mark Ellison’s review

Today, Mark Ellison’s review, “Possible miscarriages of justice: impact of undisclosed undercover police activity on the safety of convictions” has also been published. The review found:

  • a number of convictions causing concern. These are currently under active consideration by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Criminal Case Review Commission;
  • there are a large number of convictions where the lack of surviving records prevents a detailed analysis of the nature of the deployments, making it extremely difficult to identify if there was, or was not, any relevant activity or observation by the undercover officer in those cases;
  • undercover officers may well have ended up being arrested. The SDS records show that sometimes that was dealt with by the officer going through the investigation and court process in their undercover name. This inevitably entailed deception of the arresting officers and courts, and also the legal advisers who represented a number of activists arrested at the same time, all of which had to be dealt with in a manner consistent with their undercover role;
  • that sometimes an undercover officer who had been present at a riot or other disorder where arrests had been made and criminal proceedings had been brought knew that aspects of the prosecution case being advanced through police witnesses was false; and
  • the nature of undercover deployments was such that on occasions they must have generated material which was disclosable in criminal proceedings but which was not revealed by the undercover unit to the responsible investigators and prosecutors.

In response to Mr Ellison’s review, the Home Secretary has included – as part of the Terms of Reference for the undercover policing inquiry – a review of the scope for miscarriage of justice in the absence of proper disclosure of an undercover police operation during criminal prosecutions.

She will establish a panel, consisting of senior members of the CPS and the police, which will review cases where the inquiry believes miscarriages of justice may have taken place as the result of an undercover police operation or its non disclosure.

Home Secretary Theresa May said:

I’m grateful for all the work Mark Ellison has done in unearthing such appalling practices in undercover policing. His reports have shone a spotlight on this police tactic and his work on miscarriages of justice will continue by way of a panel that will review any possible affected cases.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright QC MP said:

Mark Ellison has produced a helpful report for which I thank him. It is clear from what he has found that further work is needed, which will now be taken forward by Lord Justice Pitchford in his public inquiry. The work which has been done by him and which remains to be done by the public inquiry is essential to restore public confidence in undercover policing.

Published 16 July 2015