Police ‘spied on Labour ministers’

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Published: Thursday 26th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Police spied on Labour MPs including then home secretary Jack Straw and ex-Cabinet ministers Peter Hain and Harriet Harman during the 1990s, a former undercover officer has claimed.

Whistleblower Peter Francis said he read secret files on 10 MPs during his 11 years working for the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch.

Mr Francis said he personally collected information on three MPs – Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn and the late Bernie Grant – while he was deployed undercover infiltrating anti-racist groups, the Guardian said.

He also named Ken Livingstone, the late Tony Benn, Dame Joan Ruddock and Dennis Skinner as having been subjected to Special Branch intelligence-gathering.

The files on all 10 were held by Scotland Yard, the newspaper said.

Labour called for the claims to be investigated as part of the probe being led by a senior judge into the activities of undercover policing and the operation of the Met’s controversial Special Demonstration Squad.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “These are extremely serious and disturbing allegations. Lord Justice Pitchford’s inquiry must be extended to look into these as part of the investigation into the activities of the special demonstrations unit of the Met.

“While undercover policing remains a crucial tool in combating serious and organised crime, it must not be abused.

“There have now been a series of serious allegations about undercover policing – ranging from the treatment of Stephen Lawrence’s family to police having long-term inappropriate relationships. We called some time ago for much stronger oversight of undercover policing and it is also vital to get to the truth about what has happened.”

Mr Hain, who had been a leading figure in the anti-apartheid movement, wrote in the Guardian: “That the special branch had a file on me dating back 40 years ago to anti-apartheid and anti-Nazi League activist days is hardly revelatory.

“That these files were still active for at least 10 years while I was an MP certainly is and raises fundamental questions about parliamentary sovereignty.”

Former London mayor Mr Livingstone said: “I wish I could have been a threat when I was an MP but I was completely powerless. My phone was being bugged in the 80s when I was on the Greater London Council. MI5 always denied it was them. So this was done by Special Branch?

“Did they think we were a threat to the western system? If only this were true. What a load of crap. What’s so ridiculous is that we were being subjected to IRA bombings right the way through that period and they were wasting officers spying on me and Tony Benn.”

He added: ” I’d love to see the files. My kids would love to see the files. They’re most likely full of rubbish.”

Mr Francis told the BBC: ” When I was deployed undercover in the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), any MP that I came across, such as on demonstrations, I would report back on them.”

He said that when he first saw the files he understood that each had probably been created before the individual was an MP because of their previous involvement in radical causes or protests but “w hen they became MPs these files carried on”.

“I felt that it was OK to report back on MPs,” he said. “I used to give myself a pat on the back, thinking ‘I have done a good job’. These MPs were spied on and they should know.

“I don’t think the police force should be monitoring MPs, full stop. I don’t think we have any right to do that at all. It may be justifiable to say that the Security Service should be doing it – but I certainly don’t think the police should be doing it.”

Home Secretary Theresa May announced her intention to set up a judge-led public inquiry following the report of the independent inquiry led by Mark Ellison in March 2014, which found that Scotland Yard had spied on the family of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

And the separate police-led Operation Herne found that the now-defunct SDS unit carried out undercover operations to collect information on 18 justice campaigns over the course of 35 years – including that of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot by police after being mistaken for a terrorist.

The Metropolitan Police said it was “very willing” to speak to Mr Francis about the claims as part of its investigation into the SDS.

” Operation Herne has previously reported publicly on SDS methodology and remains a live ongoing investigation,” a spokesman said.

“Operation Herne maintains that without speaking to Peter Francis it is simply not possible to fully investigate allegations he makes. Operation Herne remains very willing to engage with him.”

“The Met has not shied away from the matters raised about the SDS by Operation Herne and Mark Ellison QC, and whilst talking openly about undercover policing is challenging because of its very nature, the upcoming inquiry represents a real opportunity to provide the public with as complete a picture as possible of what has taken place.”

Published: Thursday 26th March 2015 by The News Editor

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