Undercover U.K. police should not have sex with suspects they’re keeping under surveillance, a panel of lawmakers said, after several such relationships by officers, including one that resulted in a child.
Prosecutors halted criminal proceedings in 2011 against six people who’d been due to stand trial on charges related to a conspiracy to sabotage a power station. Police had failed to disclose the fact that an undercover officer, Mark Kennedy, who’d been sent to infiltrate the environmental campaign group, had a long-term sexual relationship with a female activist.
Parliament’s cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee condemned the relationship and other similar cases in a report published in London today. The panel noted media reports that several police officers had long-term, intimate relationships with members of groups they’d infiltrated. One was reported to have fathered a child, while another undercover officer was reported to have planted a bomb for an animal-rights group.
“We do not believe that officers should enter into intimate, physical sexual relationships while using their false identities undercover without clear, prior authorization, which should only be given in the most exceptional circumstances,” the committee said. “In particular, it is unacceptable that a child should be brought into the world as a result of such a relationship, and this must never be allowed to happen again.”
The panel, headed by opposition Labour Party lawmaker Keith Vaz, invited some of the women who had relationships with undercover officers to testify in private.
“I have, for the last 13 years, questioned my own judgment and it has impacted seriously on my ability to trust, and that has impacted on my current relationship and other subsequent relationships,” the panel cited one witness, whom it didn’t identify, as saying.
Another witness was quoted as saying that psychological damage was caused to both police and the women they targeted.
Current legislation to protect individuals being watched is inadequate, as the methods used are “a far more intrusive form of surveillance than any listening device or hidden camera,” the lawmakers said.
“The impact of the conduct of undercover officers on the women with whom they had relationships has been devastating, and it represents a wholly improper degree of intrusion by the state into the lives of individuals,” Vaz said in an e-mailed statement.
“We recognize the system can be improved,” the Home Office said in an e-mailed statement. “The Home Office is already working with the police and others to implement recommendations” that have been made.
The Association of Chief Police Officers’ head of crime, Chief Constable Jon Murphy, said that “used correctly,” undercover policing “is lawful, ethical, necessary and proportionate.”
“But it is also one of the most challenging areas of operational policing and can have considerable impact on public confidence,” Murphy said in an e-mailed statement. Police now undertake greater training, he said.
In its report, the lawmaker panel also condemned what Vaz described as the “ghoulish and disrespectful” practice of undercover officers developing cover stories by “plundering” the identities of dead infants.