The fight for justice for those affected by the Spycops scandal is far from over
Bethan Sayed, Plaid Cymru AM
This week I hosted an event about the spycops scandal.
This is indeed a scandal of the State, whereby undercover Police Officers here in this country infiltrated various left wing, environmental, miscarriage of justice and animal rights campaign groups as part of operations led by the Special Demonstration Squad and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit.
The root of the issue is the way in which the Officers and these units operated, why they infiltrated such groups, and ultimately how they were able to behave in such an unethical way.
They had abusive relationships with women, many of whom are from Wales, and fathered children with women who thought that their partners were also fellow activists.
One of the victims summed up her view of the campaign very effectively at the event I hosted.
Lisa, who was in a relationship with undercover Officer Mark Stone (Mark Kennedy) said, ‘this campaign is about political policing. He could come and go without any court orders. Nobody deserves that type of treatment’.
There is an ongoing public inquiry, initiated by Theresa May, yet three years in we are still no closer to the truth, and most of the names of Undercover Police Officers have yet to be revealed.
Many of you may have seen the support the company Lush has given to the spycops campaign by means of a public advertising initiative across their UK shops.
I believe this was a bold statement, and has managed to take the campaign from the fringes of political discussion right in to the mainstream.
But let us address this supposed attack on all Police Officers that has dominated discussion from the outset of this intervention from Lush.
This was partly due to the visible display that was on show in the shops, but have since been removed, of a face of a Uniformed Police Officer on one side of a face, and a normal citizen on the other.
It is definitely not about putting all Police Officers in the same box, or an attempt to undermine their daily work.
But it certainly is all about seeking to get answers for the women and families affected, to find out the extent of the impact of these undercover operations on campaign organisations and political life, and to ensure that this does not happen again.
We should not dismiss the fact that this was a unit set up and actioned by the Police, and those in very powerful positions of authority.
These were not just rogue Officers doing as they pleased. They were part of a strategic group that had a job of work to do.
As one of the former members of the Unit, and Whistle-blower Peter Francis said, the Unit had no moral compass. Damning words.
At the moment, we cannot be reassured that such Units are not currently infiltrating groups within our society as we speak.
This is a very worrying reality for those of us who have, and continue, to be involved in such groups.
We need to be assured that we can take part in democratic activity without fearing that there are those within the State system who are monitoring or assessing our actions, and using information collated for issues that we are entirely unaware of.
I was struck in the meeting how difficult it was for two of the Welsh women who were intimately involved with undercover Police officers to speak about their harrowing experiences.
There are other Welsh women who have not spoken publicly yet. I have spoken about my mental health before now in public, and can empathise with the anxiety of rising to speak about such deeply personal issues.
But nothing can compare to this. What these women, ‘Lisa’ and ‘Rosa’ ( not their real names) went through was abuse by the State. Everyone in the room was transfixed on them.
We sat there in absolute shock, listening to the film -like recollections of their lives with men they thought to be their life partners, their confidants, their rocks.
Both women were articulate and intelligent, and we heard how their lives were thrown in to turmoil when they discovered the truth about the nature of their relationships.
Lisa was entirely right to call it institutional sexism, and described how it was policy for Undercover Police Officers to have wives and children in their ‘real’ lives.
Lisa found out that her partner was an undercover Police Officer while on holiday with him. She found a passport in the glove compartment of his car with a different name on it. She saw that he had dependants, a wife in Ireland.
Her world fell apart. A World she knew where she could confide in her partner about anything, a World where she thought she could text him intimate thoughts or feelings went crashing down in front of her eyes.
It was hard not to get angry listening to her describe how she had felt duped, how she felt that she should have seen the signs, but did not.
These were trained Officers, and they knew what they were doing, she said. Lisa believes that she was subjected to psychological torture.
She was not convicted of any crime, but she was treated as if she had done something wrong by virtue of the Police deciding that she should be monitored, assessed and analysed by a Unit that she didn’t even know existed.
You could see the trauma in Rosa quite clearly as she spoke. She was involved in a relationship with Jim Sutton (Jim Boyling) and had two children with him. She told us that at one stage in their relationship he went missing.
She tried to find him and eventually travelled to South Africa where she had heard he might be, only to find a Police Officer.
He had told her layers of lies before returning to her life, getting her pregnant, making her change her name and having her children under a false name. it was brutal to hear, and again, the sheer level of abuse hit home.
This action was inflicted upon her and others. She told us how these Police Officers told the same lies to women time and again.
They pretended to have breakdowns to maintain control over a situation, to gain control over the women they were spying on. In what situation is this ever acceptable?
The women were given a standing ovation at the end of the event in the Pierhead building, and I was honoured to host the event to be able to hear their stories.
But I was deeply angry that I had to arrange such an event at all, in that these practices are wrong, and should simply not be part of any Police initiative or operation.
The matter for discussion now is, what next? People in the room came up to me afterwards, passionately asking me how they could get their Assembly Members involved, how Wales could better support the public inquiry and raise political awareness more generally.
Val Aston, who spoke as a member of Netpol police monitor steering group, told us how they are campaigning for a new Chair for the Public Inquiry, as they do not have faith in the current Chair, Sir John Mitting.
I have committed to drafting a joint letter of AMs to the public inquiry, calling for action and for a change of leadership in this regard.
I also believe that while Policing is a non-devolved issues, we must engage our MPs and Police Commissioners on this most important issue.
We need to ensure that clear and transparent changes are made to undercover Police Operations in the future, so that we can seek to restore faith in the system.
Ultimately, we need answers as to how far these types of operations have permeated through Welsh life.
Val Aston mentioned that she had tried to find out if there are any Undercover Police in the fracking movement in the UK, yet she has not had a response.
This campaign is far from over. I stand with Lisa and Rosa in fighting for justice for them and others affected, and the end of political policing.