The announcement last week that there will be a public inquiry into undercover policing would have been unthinkable until very recently. The orthodox view is that in order to preserve the efficacy of secretsurveillance, it must be kept hidden from public scrutiny at all times. But the home secretary has rightly recognised that in many ways that orthodoxy is now unsustainable.
In numerous cases – including the most infamous police investigation of recent times, the Stephen Lawrence murder – there appears to have been improper use of undercover officers, lacking proper oversight. The system is not working and needs fundamental correction. A judge-led public inquiry is the beginning of that process.
What is striking is that we have reached this point not so much through the legal process, but despite it. What we have learned is largely a result of the victims of undercover policing and a police whistleblower being willing to give their accounts publicly and journalists giving them the platform to do so.
It was through publishing their stories, rather than the cases going through the courts, that we discovered details of the activity that many police officers probably expected would remain hidden for ever. That, as well as the inclusive approach of the Lawrence family who always emphasised that their concerns went beyond the facts of their own case, is how the call to hold a public inquiry eventually became irresistible.
Read the full article on the Guardian website here