Oral statement to Parliament

Speech by Home Secretary Theresa May on undercover policing

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Oral Statement by Home Secretary on 24 June 2013 on undercover policing and allegations police smeared reputations of Lawrence family

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the latest allegations concerning the use of undercover officers to smear the reputations of Doreen and Neville Lawrence and Duwayne Brooks.

These allegations follow several serious claims about the activities of police officers engaged in undercover operations, and I would like to update the House on the several investigations and inquiries into the conduct of those officers.

But before I do so, I know the whole House will want to convey their support for the Lawrence family. They experienced an unspeakable tragedy, their pain was compounded by the many years in which justice was not done, and these latest allegations – still coming twenty years after Stephen’s murder – only add to their suffering.

I know, too, that the House will agree with me about the seriousness of allegations concerning police corruption and wrongdoing. We must be ruthless in purging such behaviour from its ranks.

As members of this House will remember, in February I announced that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police had agreed that Mick Creedon, the Chief Constable of Derbyshire Constabulary, would investigate allegations of improper practice and misconduct by the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad, which for around forty years specialised in undercover operations.

Mick Creedon took over a Metropolitan Police investigation called Operation Herne, and in addition to these latest allegations about the Lawrence family, Operation Herne is also looking into claims about the use by police officers of dead children’s identities, the conduct of officers who had infiltrated environmentalist groups, and other serious matters. Given the nature of those allegations and the many years the Special Demonstration Squad was in existence, we should not be surprised if further allegations are made. And I want to be clear that all such allegations will be investigated.

Operation Herne is led by Chief Constable Creedon and elements are supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. I can tell the House that today the Metropolitan Police is also referring details of the new set of allegations to the IPCC, meaning that this aspect of the investigation will also be supervised. I know that some Members have suggested that the IPCC should take over Operation Herne completely, and that is an understandable reaction. I spoke to Dame Anne Owers, the Chairman of the IPCC, earlier today, and I can tell the House that she does not believe a greater degree of IPCC control would enhance the investigation. But I can confirm that where the Creedon investigation finds evidence of criminal behaviour or misconduct by police officers, the IPCC will investigate and the officers will be brought to justice.

I have also spoken to Chief Constable Mick Creedon today. He told me that the first strand of his work – regarding the allegations about the identities of dead children – will report before the House rises for summer recess. At present, there are 23 police officers working on the case, with a further ten police staff working in support. In the course of their investigation they have already examined in the region of 55,000 documents and have started to interview witnesses, including police officers who worked in the Special Demonstration Squad.

Mr Speaker, I want to emphasise that undercover operations are a vital part of protecting the public. But it needs very detailed supervision, and undercover operations need constant reassessment to ensure that what is being done is justified. For obvious reasons, members of the public cannot know the details of the police’s undercover operations, but we need to have the assurance that this work is conducted properly, in accordance with a procedure that ensures that ethical lines are respected.

In February last year, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary reported on how forces go about undercover policing. This work was undertaken partly in response to allegations about the conduct of a police officer named Mark Kennedy, who had been tasked to infiltrate an environmental protest group. HMIC’s report made a series of recommendations designed to improve the procedures that police forces have in place for managing and scrutinising the deployment of undercover officers. Amongst other recommendations, HMIC said that the authorisation arrangements for high-risk undercover deployments should be improved and that additional controls should be put in place where a deployment is intended to gather intelligence rather than evidence.

Since March this year, HMIC have been working on a further report that will check on how the police have implemented their recommendations, and I can tell the House that this report is due to be published on Thursday. I can also tell the House that Tom Winsor, the new Chief Inspector, plans to undertake a further review of undercover police work later this year.

Last week, my Rt Hon Friend, the Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice, told the Home Affairs Select Committee that Government intends to bring forward legislation to require law enforcement authorities to obtain the prior approval of the Office of Surveillance Commissioners before renewing the deployment of an undercover officer for a period exceeding twelve months. In future, authorisation should also be sought under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act for any activity to develop a cover persona.

I want to turn now to the allegations regarding the Lawrence family. The investigation into Stephen’s murder has cast a long shadow over policing, especially in London. That is why in July last year I asked Mark Ellison QC to investigate allegations of deliberate incompetence, and corruption, on the part of officers involved in the original investigation into the murder. Mr Ellison was the lead barrister in the successful prosecutions of Gary Dobson and David Norris and he is supported by Alison Morgan, junior counsel from the prosecution.

I have spoken to Mr Ellison today, and I encouraged him to go as far and wide as he would like in his investigation. I have also spoken to Mick Creedon to make sure that Mr Ellison will have access to any relevant material uncovered in the course of Operation Herne. We must await the findings of the Ellison Review – which given the latest allegations will be published later than originally intended – and when the Review concludes, a decision will have to be made about whether its findings should lead to any formal police investigations.

Mr Speaker, I am determined that we should have zero tolerance of police corruption and wrongdoing. That is why the Government is beefing up the IPCC, making the Inspectorate more independent, and it’s why we asked the College of Policing to establish a code of ethics for police officers.

As the House knows, I have also launched a panel inquiry into the murder of Daniel Morgan and I am determined that we get to the bottom of all of these latest allegations.

We must do so to ensure public confidence in the police and the criminal justice system, not least for the sake of Doreen and Neville Lawrence, and for the memory of their son Stephen. I commend this statement to the House.