The Metropolitan Police are in the spotlight again, as a new report reveals evidence that Scotland Yard sent an undercover officer to spy on the family and supporters of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence.
The independent inquiry, carried out by QC Mark Ellison, was prompted by allegations from former undercover police officer Peter Francis that he had been “tasked to find intelligence … to smear the Lawrence family.” It has now pushed the Home Secretary Theresa May to announce a public inquiry into police spying.
The initial claim that the Met sought to smear the family was difficult to substantiate due to the routine destruction of intelligence reports. Ellison did find, however, that officers from the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) infiltrated the campaign to bring Stephen’s racist killers to justice, and in the course of this also gathered personal information on Doreen and Neville Lawrence.
He also found that in autumn 1993, in the highest reaches of the Met, there was “clear evidence of a strong feeling of indignation and a degree of hostility” towards the family, feelings strong enough to motivate obtaining sensitive material that could be used to improve the image of the police.
Most shocking was the revelation that in August 1998, one of the officers — known only as N81 — met with Richard Walton, the Met’s current counter-terrorism commander, who was then part of the team preparing the police submission to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry into the the force’s failings during the murder investigation.
Ellison called the meeting “a completely improper use of the knowledge the MPS [Metropolitan police service] had gained by the deployment of this officer” and said that Walton’s account of this meeting was “less than straightforward and somewhat troubling”.
Ellis also found activities had been deliberately kept off the record. A note from one special branch commander said that he knew an officer was getting briefings from undercover police but that “it was essential knowledge of the operation went no further” and no written record should be left. The Met also destroyed four years’ worth of material on the Lawrence case in 2003, under then Commissioner Lord Stevens.
In 2000, Doreen and Neville Lawrence were suing the Met, under Lord Stevens, for misfeasance after years of bad treatment following their son’s murder. It has emerged that the Met suppressed intelligence that linked a detective sergeant on the original murder investigation to the father of one of the prime suspects, in order to protect the position of the Commissioner.
This report offers more evidence, were it needed, that the Metropolitan police is an utterly rotten institution and that the existing accountability mechanisms are toothless and feeble. But it is not just the Met; the experiences of Hillsborough and Orgreave show that South Yorkshire Police are no better, to give only one example.
From everything that is known about the police, , the only reasonable conclusion is that a culture of secrecy and self-protection, enduring racism and prejudice, and a woeful inability to actually prevent or solve crimes are not aberrations but are intrinsic to the current police force.
While we can and should fight for greater scrutiny and accountability, and for the abolition of the secret state and the political police units, we should be clear that the police fundamentally exist to protect the capitalist ruling-class. In this sense, the police cannot be fundamentally “reformed” or “democratised”.
In any case, the only force capable of making this happen would be a workers’ government, and it would need to go further; to survive in power it would be need to dismantle the entire machinery of the capitalist state and replacing it with a force directly accountable to local workers’ councils.