Friday, October 21, 2011

Worse and worse

At the beginning of the year, we learned that British police had engaged in extensive, long-term spying on peaceful protestors, infiltrating undercover police officers into groups such as GreenPeace for years at a time who acted not just as spies, but as agent provocateurs. That's damning enough, but now the scandal has got worse. The government was poised to release the usual whitewash report this week, but were forced to pull it at the last minute after the Guardian revealed that at least one of these spies had been instructed to perjure himself in court in order to protect his undercover status:

Documents seen by the Guardian suggest that an undercover officer concealed his true identity from a court when he was prosecuted alongside a group of protesters for occupying a government office during a demonstration.

From the moment he was arrested, he gave a false name and occupation, maintaining this fiction throughout the entire prosecution, even when he gave evidence under oath to barristers. The officer, Jim Boyling, and his police handlers never revealed to the activists who stood alongside him in court that he was actually an undercover policeman who had penetrated their campaign months earlier under a fake identity.

But it gets even worse. In addition to perjuring himself, Boyling continued to spy on the defence case, sharing the same lawyers and passing on privileged material to his superiors. And they were doing all of this to stop... cyclists. Clearly a dangerous threat to society.

Boyling isn't the only one. Other agents also perjured themselves at the behest of their superiors. What we are seeing here is a police force which is rotten to the core and out of control, using police state tactics to undermine fundamental democratic rights. That has to change. That will be a long process, but a good start could be made by bringing charges against those senior police who have suborned perjury, to make it clear that it is not acceptable in a modern, accountable police force. Because if the police aren't subject to the law, they can hardly expect anyone else to take it seriously.