Prosecutors decided that it was not in the public interest to prosecute an undercover police officer who stole the identity of a dead baby, despite concluding last year that there was enough evidence to bring him to court.
The police spy had taken the identity of Rod Richardson and used it when he pretended for three years to be an environmental and anti-capitalist protester.
For years, undercover police officers who infiltrated political groups regularly adopted the identities of dead children and used them to construct fake personas in what amounted to common practice in the covert deployments. Police chiefs have been forced to apologise for the use of the technique which has been condemned as being “ghoulish and abhorrent”.
The real Rod Richardson had died two days after he was born in 1973. His mother, Barbara Shaw, pursued a long campaign to compel the police to disclose the truth of what had happened.
In 2013, political activists and the Guardian exposed Richardson’s undercover mission. At that time, Shaw said: “It’s wrong that someone took Rod’s identity without us knowing … He is still my baby. I’ll never forget him.”
Shaw died in May last year – two weeks before her family was informed by the Crown Prosecution Service of its decision.
The CPS had initially concluded that there was a realistic prospect of securing a conviction against Richardson on the grounds that he had broken the 1925 Criminal Justice Act by making an untrue statement to obtain a passport.
It then decided a prosecution was not in the public interest as Richardson had followed the training and working practices of the undercover unit to which he belonged.
The decision was disclosed on Tuesday at the judge-led public inquiry that is examining undercover policing.
The inquiry is looking at how 139 undercover police officers spied on more than 1,000 political groups in clandestine operations that started in 1968 and ran for more than four decades.
Many of the undercover officers trawled through birth and death certificates to select suitable candidates. They then created aliases based on the details of the dead children and were issued with identity records such as passports, driving licences and national insurance numbers.
The inquiry has heard conflicting explanations of why officers and their managers started using the technique in the 1970s. One explanation was they had learned that the Soviet spy agency, the KGB, used this tactic and believed it to be a secure method of creating alter egos.
Another explanation was that they had picked up on it after the tactic had been popularised by the author Frederick Forsyth in his 1971 novel, The Day of the Jackal which was made into a film.
Richardson is the last undercover officer known to have relied on this technique when he infiltrated leftwing groups between 2000 and 2003.
Fiona Murphy, representing six bereaved families, told the inquiry that they were devastated and horrified after learning that the identities of their dead children had been stolen by police spies. She said the undercover officers “developed practices that were the stuff of spy novels and movies, and the managers presided over that operation without regard for morality or legality”.
The inquiry is currently hearing two weeks’ of public evidence that centres on the conduct of the managers who supervised the undercover operations between 1968 and 1982.
A CPS spokesperson said :”We have huge sympathy for the family and understand our decision will have been disappointing, but our role is to always make fair and independent decisions based on the evidence.”