5 February 2013

The Guardian scoop yesterday was about the use of the identities of dead children by British undercover police officers in the 1990s. The Metropolitan Police SDS – Special Demonstration Squad – authorised aliases based on the identities of dead children to enable infiltration of protest groups. This covert use of identities was without the knowledge of children’s parents.

The report claims that for over 30 years police officers trawled through births and deaths records in search of suitable matches. The search for a “match” was known among officers involved as the “Jackal run”. Some then spent the next ten years using the stolen identity. Undercover officers were issued with official documents to support the assumed identity, including driving licences and national insurance numbers.

The Met has explained that the practice is no longer used. But why not? If it was appropriate at one stage why is it no longer so?

The Standards for Public Life in the UK are built on seven principles. These are:
Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership.

On the face of it, the practice of assuming the identity of a dead child would lack integrity, openness and honesty, and possibly several more of these principles. Should more have been expected of the Police?

The State Services Commissioner in Understanding the Code of Conduct – Guidance for State Servants provides a summarised explanation of the 18 standards in the New Zealand code. The explanation of being honest seems apposite to the British situation. A paragraph of that explanation is as follows:

“…Honesty does not necessarily mean continuous, full disclosure. In some circumstances, full disclosure is a requirement. Other circumstances may require care. For example, the courts have recognised that organisations with responsibility to enforce legislation cannot be required to openly disclose their evidence-gathering activities. It is sometimes necessary to disguise the way these activities are carried out. But these circumstances are rare. Unless there is a lawful reason for doing so, we must not act on the premise that the end justifies the means…”

Is the deceit involved in establishing an alias for undercover operations necessary in terms of the definition? Is it a lawful reason? Does the end justify the means?