For many months a leading barrister has been delving into the secrets of the police’s long-running undercover infiltration of political groups.
What he turns up could well prove to be highly embarrassing to police chiefs.
Since last March, Mark Ellison QC has been investigating whether campaigners have over the decades been unjustly convicted because key evidence gathered by undercover police units was concealed from their trials.
Ellison’s inquiry has official backing as it was commissioned by home secretary Theresa May.
When she originally announced the inquiry’s remit, it appeared that his deadline to complete his inquiry was March 31 this year.
But now it seems that his inquiry will take longer than expected. On Friday, the Home Office said in a parliamentary answer that Ellison is now only “intending to provide a progress report” by the end of March.
It appears that this progress report is likely to estimate how many convictions of activists could be unsafe and outline reasons that may have caused the miscarriages of justice. It is unclear when he is due to complete his inquiry.
It may be that his inquiry is taking longer because he is uncovering a lot of unsafe convictions of activists.
This blog examines how Ellison was commissioned by the home secretary after he had aired misgivings about the conduct of the undercover police during his previous inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence case.
He had found that the undercover police operated as if the legal rulesrequiring them to disclose evidence to ensure fair trials did not apply to them.
He had also suggested that the undercover police knew that evidence advanced by prosecutors against campaigners was false but did nothing, hid vital evidence, and could have encouraged others to commit crimes.
According to its official remit, his inquiry has been initially focussing on the Special Demonstration Squad and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), but could be broadened out to scrutinise other covert work.
Friday’s parliamentary question was asked by Green MP Caroline Lucas, who – with her Green colleague Jenny Jones – has been one of the few politicians pursuing the truth about the undercover operations.
Potential miscarriages of justice will be sent to the official watchdog, the Criminal Cases Review Commission, to see if they should be referred to the appeal courts.
Mike Penning, the policing minister, declined to tell Lucas how many cases have been sent to the CCRC so far.