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ISBN 978-1-5286-4212-5

E02786195    06/2023

HC 1539


The report which this foreword introduces is the first fruit of the work undertaken by the Undercover Policing Inquiry, under the chairmanship of Sir Christopher Pitchford from July 2015 until July 2017, and under my chairmanship since then. It covers the first 14 years, approximately, of the Special Operations Squad (SOS)/Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), a unit of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) set up in July 1968 (hereafter referred to as the SDS, unless specifically referring to the SOS). It attempts to set out the history of the unit and to draw conclusions about the purposes for which it was set up and continued, and their justification. The findings of fact and conclusions are mine and mine alone.

These findings are based on multiple sources of evidence. As in the case of any historical inquiry, the starting point must be contemporaneous documents created by those who participated in the events being investigated. Sufficient documents from the MPS and public sources have survived to permit reliable findings to be made about the creation of the unit and the purpose it served in 1968. The documentary record then becomes sketchier until November 1974. From then on, Security Service files contain an extensive and substantially complete record of the intelligence gathered by the undercover officers deployed by the unit. I know that different views are held about the lawfulness and propriety of the retention of so much personal information for so long. I do not intend to enter into this debate, but only to make the trite observation that, without this evidence, accurate reconstruction of what occurred would not have been possible. I wish to express my gratitude to the Security Service for the collation and production of these files.

Flesh was put on the bones of the documentary material by evidence given by surviving former undercover officers and their managers, and by members of the public with whom they interacted. As will be apparent from the content of this report, their evidence was, almost without exception, of significant value in enabling me to understand what had occurred, in particular about matters such as personal relationships, which were not documented. I acknowledge the inconvenience, at best, which the provision of this evidence has caused to them. I am grateful to all of them for the trouble they have taken to assist me in my task.

I also acknowledge, again with gratitude, the manifold tasks performed by all concerned – within the Inquiry team and within the teams representing the MPS, its former officers and non-state core participants – to process the documents and prepare for and conduct the Inquiry’s hearings.

This report is part of a work in progress. Some issues are better addressed when all of the evidence about them is in, notably:

  • the impact of the conduct of male police officers on women deceived into sexual relationships with them, and on the families of the officers;
  • the impact on the surviving relatives of deceased children of the adoption of their identity; and
  • the purpose of gathering intelligence on “justice” campaigns.

For the same reason, I have also refrained from expressing any general conclusions about the attitude of police officers and managers within the unit towards deceitful sexual relationships during deployments.

I have also refrained from expressing any view about many of the wider issues canvassed in submissions – for example, the proposition that the SDS was one of the instruments set up by a conservative state to suppress the aspirations of those who wished to produce radical change by political means. Those concerned about such issues will have formed their own opinion about them; and the addition of one further opinion based on limited evidence will serve no useful purpose.

Signature of John Mitting

Sir John Mitting