The ongoing controversy of the Mark Kennedy/”Mark Stone” case where the undercover cop infiltrated environmental activist groups in a 7 year, multi-million pound operation and allegedly slept with female activists to get information, has led to calls that ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers, be stripped of its powers to hire undercover officers. But for me, this raises a more fundamental question: why has ACPO got those powers in the first place.
I think it should be made clear here: ACPO is a private company, set up by chief constables and other senior officers to look after their own interests. In other words, it’s like a trade union, except it isn’t covered by trade union legislation, but is a commercial operation. It is a private company.
It’s perfectly understandable that private companies sometimes hire private investigators to carry out investigations to protect the company’s interests. But ACPO goes much further than that – it employs full-time police officers to work undercover; and of course, these full-time officers are paid from public funds as they carry out these private investigations. It’s like Tesco being able to task undercover operations against Sainsburys and Morrissons funded by the taxpayers. It’s a ridiculous situation, and we deserve to be told why and how this state of affairs ever came to be.
ACPO now say they welcome independent regulation of these investigations. But of course they say that, now the “Mark Stone” affair has hit the headlines. A more fundamental question is: why on earth should police officers carry out these investigations at all? If ACPO want private investigations, they should hire private investigations. If ACPO think undercover operations are necessary to fight crime, these operations should be properly carried out by police forces, not officers working for a private company but paid by the public. The seven-year, multi-million pound operation revealed by the Kennedy/”Stone” case was clearly wrong. And what’s worse, there’s reason to believe that other operations of this type are still going on.
The official line has always been that the police work for us, the public. Now we know that’s not the case. The question is: what are we going to do about it?