by Chris Bovis
On Friday evening award-winning journalist and investigator Rob Evans spoke at the York branch of Amnesty International’s series of events, Writers for Rights. The subject of his talk was the undercover policing by officers of the Special Demonstration Squad, and the ethical and human rights abuses inflicted by officers investigating political groups.
Evans spoke about how the last three years had revealed reams of information and case studies whereby undercover police officers had committed ethical/human rights abuses. He gave examples of stolen identities, perjury, and even instances of undercover officers having children with members of the political organisation they were tasked with infiltrating.
Without a doubt Evans asked the right questions. What authority or mandate gives these undercover offices the right to commit these ethical/human rights abuses? However, personally, I left somewhat unsure of his argument. The examples to which Evans continuously returned throughout the evening were Stephen Lawrence and Jean Charles de Menezes; neither of whom were involved in political groups before they were killed. The role of undercover policing with the Lawrence case, for example, was in discrediting the family (particularly Doreen Lawrence), in their campaign for justice following the murder.
Clearly, some of events around these deaths were political (with a lowercase ‘p’), yet my apprehension with these examples stems from their use alongside general case studies concerning undercover policing in political parties (with a capital ‘p’), including environmentalist groups and far right organisations. Doubtless Evans’ new book on undercover policing delves further and more thoroughly into the issue than a short talk could possibly do.
However, it is worth noting, that on a brief examination of the book, I found the structure slightly bizarre; the book is treated as a novel, rather than an investigative piece. Furthermore, (and this is probably more my own bug-bear) there were no indications to where the evidence came from, through referencing, bibliographies or other stylistic form.
This is not to say that the talk, or the research committed to it, is fruitless. I firmly believe that Evans’ work has brought to light a grave number of injustices, and has asked a number of questions for which answers must be sought. Nevertheless, I am, at least for the time being, under the impression that there is still a lot more work to do.
Chris Bovis is the Chair of the University of York branch of Amnesty International, and a PhD student at the Centre for Medieval Studies.