The second phase of the independent Undercover Policing Inquiry starts today (Wednesday, 21 April), and will examine the work of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) between 1973 and 1982.
The SDS was a covert policing unit, set up by the Met in 1968, to gather intelligence on protest groups deemed capable of causing serious public disorder. It was disbanded in 2008.
Helen Ball, Assistant Commissioner for Professionalism, said:
“Covert policing is an important tactic used to gather crucial intelligence and evidence in serious crime and terrorism investigations. Undercover officers volunteer for this high-pressure role which can at times result in great risk to their safety, and the contribution they make to keeping the public safe should be recognised. This is the case now, as it was when the SDS existed.
“This second phase of the Inquiry will examine the work of SDS in the 1970s and early 1980s – a time of immense social change and civil unrest. During this period, the IRA started its bombing campaign in England; striking workers caused widespread disruption, which culminated in the ‘Winter of Discontent’; and there were a number of violent protests and riots. It was against this challenging backdrop that the SDS were operating.
“In this part of the inquiry, evidence will also be heard about officers’ actions and behaviour, which in some instances were clearly inappropriate and unacceptable – certainly by modern standards, and in some cases by the standards of the time in which they occurred.
“The inquiry will hear examples of undercover officers entering into inappropriate sexual relationships with women they met during their deployments, and of undercover officers using the identities of deceased children - a practice that does not happen now. The Met acknowledges that these cases caused significant harm and distress, and for this we are sorry.
“However, I want to make clear that undercover policing has undergone significant reform over the decades since this happened and is an area of policing which the public can have full confidence in.
“The Met fully supports the aims of this inquiry and we will continue to offer every assistance, so it has access to all the information and material it needs. We are committed to being as open and transparent as possible in this very sensitive and complex area of policing and we pledge to use each stage of the Inquiry as an opportunity to reflect on how to learn and improve further.”