Commissioner's article in the Evening Standard
27 June 2013
Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe:
Make no mistake, the allegation that undercover police officers attempted to smear the family of Stephen Lawrence 20 years ago casts a terrible shadow over the Metropolitan Police Service. As Commissioner, I'm committed to finding out the truth behind what would be indefensible behaviour and ensuring that any wrongdoing is punished. Neville and Doreen Lawrence, Stephen's friend Duwayne Brooks and the public deserve nothing less.
"I want to find out the truth about the past."
I want a Met that treats all Londoners with equal respect, where officers behave with integrity and professionalism, showing courage when they tackle criminals and compassion when they support victims. These are the values that our officers and staff have just chosen for themselves. Anyone who can't live up them isn't right for today's Met. We demand high standards of behaviour, and challenge robustly those who fall short.
I asked on Monday for the Independent Police Complaints Commission to consider these allegations. It can decide whether to investigate itself or whether to supervise the work that police officers are already embarked upon.
I don't see how targeting the family of a murder victim as they campaigned for justice could ever have had legitimacy. It's a long way from the original purpose of this undercover unit.
The Special Demonstration Squad, which is alleged to have targeted the Lawrence family, was borne out of a violent protest in London against the Vietnam War. In March 1968, 10,000 protestors marched to Grosvenor Square and the American Embassy. A pitched encounter with police saw 50 people hospitalized including 25 police officers. It was fortunate no one was killed.
The televised scenes made a powerful impression on our predecessors at New Scotland Yard and the Home Office. The SDS was created. Its mission - as we understand it - was to identify issues and individuals with the potential to create serious public disorder which could lead to injury or worse.
The full story of what happened between then and disbanding of this Squad in 2008 is now being investigated as part of Operation Herne. This began in 2011 and I asked the Chief Constable of Derbyshire, Mick Creedon, to take charge in February this year to provide greater independence from the Met. In addition, the IPCC is already supervising four strands of this review.
Chief Constable Creedon agreed the terms of reference for his inquiry with the Deputy Commissioner. Firstly, he wants to understand why this unit was set up, how officers were used and who they targeted. Secondly, he will examine specific allegations about the behaviour of officers and whether these involve criminality or misconduct. In particular, the investigative team has focused on allegations of wrongdoing, particularly from women who say that undercover officers had sexual relationships with them, some of which led to children being born.
This week, we heard Peter Francis say in print and on television that he had been targeted against the Lawrence family in the 1990's, to see if he could find out information that could be used against them. The Met has now been challenged, rightly, to explain what happened, who knew what, and why was it done. I have asked the inquiry to make this an urgent priority.
Mick Creedon's team really needs to speak to Mr Francis to learn more. They are also working to find officers involved in the SDS at the time that may be able to assist the investigation in establishing if such action was ever taken. I encourage them to come forward and help us shed more light on the work of the SDS throughout its history.
The investigation has already looked at more than 50,000 documents, and has many more to examine. The activities of the Special Demonstration Squad span five decades, and 1750 witnesses have already been identified. Although the squad itself was small, it's not been an easy task to understand what orders were given and why. This may be an unfortunate consequence of the different standards around undercover policing that existed at the time. It was not as well-regulated by law, and one key piece of legislation, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act only came into effect in 2000.
The Special Demonstration Squad was a covert unit whose existence was not known even to some senior officers at New Scotland Yard. The requirement to keep operations secret meant its activities were known to even fewer. This is not uncommon for covert units, but it presents a huge investigative challenge when present-day officers try to reconstruct what happened, how decisions were taken and why.
Another challenge for the team is that there are former undercover officers alive today who risked their lives to infiltrate criminal networks, and whose identities and tactics must be protected for their own safety and to preserve this capability to keep British people safe. So the investigation has to deal with highly sensitive information.
These would be serious challenges whatever form of inquiry was pursued. But I am confident that the police investigation led by Chief Constable Creedon has the powers and expertise it needs, whilst the IPCC's role provides independent oversight. But if Parliament chooses to call a public inquiry, then the Metropolitan Police would, of course, offer all possible assistance.
I feel the frustration of Doreen & Neville Lawrence as they seek immediate answers. The investigation currently running should be the best way to provide these.
I do want to reassure Londoners that undercover policing is now extensively supervised. Independent surveillance commissioners have had a role since 2000, and the government has now proposed additional powers to oversee undercover investigations. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary also watches over this activity. Its latest report published today, shows it is not afraid to challenge the police service when it feels more can be done.
However tight the controls are now, however extensive the supervision, I want to find out the truth about the past. We never take for granted the continued support and trust which Londoners feel for their Met. The public demonstrated that in no uncertain terms a year ago as we all enjoyed a peaceful Olympics. We are determined not let you down.