Scotland Yard chiefs unaware of undercover unit

Stephen Lawrence: Group fighting for justice. Picture: PA

A highly-criticised undercover police unit was so secretive even Scotland Yard bosses were unaware that it existed, it has emerged.

The force’s shadowy Special Demonstration Squad was kept under wraps by Special Branch commanders from more senior officers including deputy commissioners and commissioners during the four decades it was in operation.

It has come under fresh criticism for keeping records of personal information linked to bereaved families who were fighting for justice after loved ones were murdered or died after contact with police.

A new report revealed references to 17 campaigns dating between 1970 and 2005 had been discovered, in addition to records already unearthed about groups fighting for justice for murder victim Stephen Lawrence, and warned that more may emerge.

Relatives of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot in 2005 after police mistook him for a terrorist, have said they may sue the force. The families of Cherry Groce, whose death sparked the Brixton riots, and Ricky Reel, who died in mysterious circumstances in 1997, were also mentioned in the records.

Derbyshire Chief Constable Mick Creedon, who is leading an investigation into the SDS, said: “What is surprising to me is the number of people, the most senior levels in the Met working in covert policing, working in public order command, who did not know about the unit at all.”

He heavily criticised the SDS, Special Branch and Metropolitan Police senior management for the fact that the information was kept at all, calling the scale of the record-keeping by the unit “staggering”.

One reference was to an unnamed person planning to go to a funeral, even though “there was no intelligence to indicate that the funeral would have been anything other than a dignified event”, the report said, and Mr Creedon confirmed that there were “more personal examples”.

“Quite simply put, unless the information could have prevented crime or disorder it should not have been retained and certainly not for the period it has been.”


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