Tuesday will mark the latest stage of the undercover police scandal when the judgement is expected in the legal appeal by the victims of police spies against the Metropolitan Police Service. I'm surprised to find that I admire much of the work done by the Met Commissioner, which makes it all the stranger that he is mishandling the historical mess that undercover police have made of innocent people's lives. Bernard Hogan-Howe is now taking a Janus faced approach when it comes to undercover police having sex with the people they are spying on. He says one thing in public but his lawyers say the opposite in the High Court.
At last week's City Hall Police Committee he told me that the Met has always had a policy that it is unacceptable for officers to have sex with the people they are targeting. However, just the week before the High Court was hearing the case concerning an issue relating to some of the eleven women and one man who are seeking damages for trauma caused to them when undercover police engaged in long-term sexual relationships with them. In that case Met lawyers acting on the commissioner's behalf - he is the named defendant in the case - were arguing "It might in some circumstances be necessary and proportionate to authorise an undercover operative to engage in sexual contact in order, for example, to maintain cover, prevent serious crime and even save life."
We already know from an earlier judgement in this case that according to a Met lawyer not only was it possible for Mark Kennedy to be authorised to have sexual relationships with the people he was targeting but he was in fact authorised to do so by the Metropolitan Police.
So the Met has in the past authorised an undercover officer to have sex with the people he was targeting at the same time as having a policy which discourages sexual relations. Am I the only one finding it difficult to understand how the commissioner is able to hold these two completely contrary views? How do these views stand together?
The commissioner said last week he wanted more transparency on this issue and yet he is the one instructing his lawyers to force the case against the Met out of the High Court - and public domain - into an Investigatory Powers Tribunal, where the women and their lawyers are not only excluded from attending but from hearing any of the evidence.
The commissioner constantly assures the people elected to scrutinise him that he wants as much transparency on this issue as possible, but he is paying his lawyers to act otherwise. The only opaqueness in this is created by him.
I should like to see a resolution which would give the public confidence and end the confusion. The commissioner should make clear that what has happened was a breach of policy and law, he should say sorry and stop putting the victims through this court case. He should tell the public they can and should expect better in the future from the police. He should stop using thousands of pounds of public money to pay for a QC, junior barrister and a team of solicitors to fight this case.
He should be clear to police officers that this is not a policy which they can ignore and that any transgressions will not be seen simply as 'digressions'. The public should know when officers have sex with people they are spying on that it is not a digression but a crime - an invasion of their fundamental right to bodily integrity - and should be seen at the very least as gross misconduct and disciplinary sanction.
The case against the Met isn't criminal proceedings - the commissioner's lawyers are aiming to strike out the claims against him on the basis that the police could authorise their officers to have sex with targets to gather intelligence. It boils down to the Met arguing that Section 26 (8) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 which permits 'personal or other relations' includes sexual relations. The women argue that the MPs who drafted RIPA did not contemplate that surveillance by an undercover officer might be conducted using such an extraordinary and intrusive technique and that for citizens to lose their fundamental right to bodily integrity Parliament would need to say so explicitly.
If the commissioner is successful in striking out the case against him then we should all be concerned about the state of the democracy we live in. If they win it will mean Section 26 (8) of RIPA gives any police officer at the rank of superintendent or above the power to authorise the police to sleep with people, whatever the Met say its policy actually is. It is worth pointing out this wasn't just sex, these police spies were part of these women's lives for years, living in their homes, in one case attending a family funeral and in another even going to relationship counselling together to discuss having children.
This is not a warrant from the home secretary for a limited amount of time to combat some great terrorist plot. This means the Superintendent at your local police station can authorise his officers to infiltrate your life, your home and your bed for an unlimited amount of time just to gather possibly, probably, imaginary intelligence if they are satisfied that it is necessary and proportionate to do so.