Women who were deceived into intimate relationships with undercover police officers have said it is “beyond belief” they will have to wait a further two years for the public inquiry into the undercover policing scandal to hold any further public hearings.
The slow-moving inquiry is scheduled to complete its current round of hearings on Friday and is not due to question any further witnesses in public until spring 2024.
Police Spies out of Lives, a group that represents women deceived into intimate relationships by undercover officers, said: “The idea that we have to wait until 2024 for the next tranche of hearings is beyond belief. Justice delayed is justice denied. We urge the inquiry to rethink this timeframe.”
The public inquiry is on course to become one of the longest ever. Set up originally in 2015, it is not expected to end before 2026.
The long gap until the next set of hearings has been criticised by victims of the surveillance who are frustrated and angered that it is taking a long time to establish how they were monitored. Many blame the police for deliberately dragging out the inquiry.
Retired judge Sir John Mitting, the inquiry’s chair, is examining the conduct of 139 undercover officers who spied on more than 1,000 mainly leftwing and progressive political groups in secret operations between 1968 and at least 2010.
The longevity of his inquiry could match another that is infamous for the length of time it took to complete – Lord Saville’s inquiry into the killing of 13 unarmed civilians by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday lasted 12 years.
It was set up after a series of revelations about the misconduct of undercover police officers, who spied on the campaign for justice run by the parents of Stephen Lawrence after he was killed by a racist gang.
At least 20 undercover officers deceived women into intimate relationships, often lasting years. Four officers are known, or are alleged, to have fathered children with women they met during covert deployments.
The undercover officers routinely stole the identities of dead children to use as fake personas during deployments that usually lasted four years.
So far the inquiry has held three rounds of public hearings, across 26 days, which scrutinised the undercover operations between 1968 and 1982. These included monitoring of campaigners against apartheid and the Vietnam war, and feminist activists.
The latest round, spanning two weeks, questioned the senior managers who were responsible for supervising the undercover officers. Many gave curt and vague answers or claimed that they could not recall events.
A spokesman for the inquiry said “a significant amount of work needs to be completed” before the next hearings, which will look at the covert operations between 1983 and 1992.
He added that inquiry staff needed to process evidence relating to more than 150 undercover officers, their managers and those who were infiltrated, adding that hundreds of documents needed to checked before they could be made public.
This next phase is likely to include the infiltration of campaigners against nuclear weapons and the poll tax, and an alleged firebombing of a Debenhams store by police spy Bob Lambert in 1987 – a claim he denies.
Before the next set of hearings, Mitting is intending to publish a report of his findings on the early years of the covert operations.
In the latest hearings, all the managers maintained that they did not know that the undercover officers they were overseeing had formed sexual relationships with women. The inquiry has heard that these relationships were “endemic and common” from the 1970s onwards.