FOLLOWING THE PUBLIC OUTRAGE generated by last night’s C4 Dispatches (Monday 24 June), it is notable that the Guardian and the Mirror are leading with the accusation that the Metropolitan Police conducted a ‘smear campaign’ against the Stephen Lawrence family, in 1993; but that each is being careful to ensure that the phrase is contained within apostrophes.
It is also notable that the Prime Minister (David Cameron) and the Home Secretary (Teresa May) have not taken the time to notice the distinction, before instructing Ellison’s Operation Herne to investigate the allegation relating to Police activities that were supposedly conducted twenty-years ago.
The source of the accusation, one Peter Francis, has reportedly acted as a confidential Guardian source since 2011, and has also contributed to a book that, it just so happens, was written by the C4 Dispatches presenter – and is due to be published by Faber & Faber on 4th July, this year.
We can all expect it to do well after all this free publicity; and all the selective politician and media quotes, which will find their way onto its back-cover…
C4 Dispatches has an envious reputation for serious, investigative journalism; but last night’s programme failed to live-up to that mark. It was no more than a ‘they said, book said’ piece that ensured that the Lawrence allegations were centrally placed – because, without them, there would have been no story. Moreover, unlike previous Dispatches reports, this programme offered no evidence whatsoever to substantiate its central claim, which is the greatest heresy of all to any self-respecting journalist.
There is a story here – and one that should be published – but it is in danger of being overlooked as no-longer-serving Police Officers, in search of celebrity status, take to spinning history as a means of earning a fast buck in the foot-steps of Andy McNab.
The central node in the real story is the old Metropolitan Police Special Branch, whose personnel were mainly recruited from the Police Force and never subject to the type of psychological evaluation and specialist training required to successfully undertake deep-infiltration (which, whatever one’s personal objections, are absolutely necessary to ensure public safety). Those whom present threats to democracy plan their acts in secret; they infiltrate democratic groups to control them from within; they use their right to peacefully protest as cover; they adopt secret identities – and they always lie about their actual aims. The fact is: the only way to negate such threats is to be aware of the plans being made to conduct them; and the only way of gathering that information is to infiltrate such groups (either by recruiting a reliable informant or inserting a trained operative into their midst).
Intelligence gathering is a murky, thankless, time-consuming business to which most are psychologically unsuited – and the real story here is the Metropolitan Police’s failure to ensure that its undercover operatives were both psychologically suited, and psychologically supported, when undertaking such work. It does not lay in the accusations of a once-upon-a-time, low-level operative, whom did not know why he was being tasked to gather specific information; why collators deemed it important – and, most importantly, had absolutely no knowledge of the purpose to which his reports might be put.
The Stephen Lawrence murder was a serious crime that needed investigating, and the public would have rightly been appalled had the Lawrences and their associates not been fully investigated in the hope that a motive might be found. Using all the resources at their disposal was no more than due diligence by the officers leading that initial enquiry, and is no less than what any other victim’s family might expect today.
But the real story here, and the real scandal that is not being reported, is about the risk of employing unsuitable undercover operatives whom are likely to ‘go native.’ Agents are required to adopt a personality that is often entirely opposed to their personal psyches in order to reflect the culture, likes, and dislikes of those whom they are infiltrating. Method actors will tell you how it is sometimes difficult for them to ‘shrug-off’ the part they have been playing on stage after a mere ninety-minutes – so imagine how difficult it is for undercover operatives to keep their own psyches intact for months, or maybe years, without being able to relieve the mental tension by sharing a joke with their fellow actors.
The real story here is apparent in the mental pain staring-out from behind the wide-eyed stare of Peter Francis in front of the Dispatches cameras, and the Met’s dispassionate disposal of his services when he was no longer of operational use…
Yes. There is so much more to know about the Met’s scandalous, historic treatment of its low-level operatives; but it is unlikely to ever be published.
The government will see to that.