25 June 2018
The Metropolitan Police has refused to name the workers that its undercover Special Branch spied on, including to the victims themselves.
In March the Met finally confessed that it had supplied information to The Consulting Association (TCA) – a blacklister run by 44 major construction firms. By the time the TCA was raided by the Information Commissioners’ Office (ICO) in 2009, thousands of names had been added to the blacklist, mostly for trade union activities or for raising health and safety concerns on building sites. Each of these workers was refused employment – some for decades – as a result of the conspiracy, which had a debilitating impact on not only their financial welfare, but their social lives and close relationships.
Today, the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme reported that the police knew exactly who had been spied on by the Special Branch and that the names and details of victims were included in a confidential report. What’s more, the Met has held on to that report for at least two years, since the completion of an inquiry into the matter that began in 2014, but it refuses to share this information with the victims.
It is also unclear how many workers were surveilled by the police, although former Special Branch officer turned whistleblower, Peter Francis, told the programme he would not be surprised if the figure was in the hundreds, or even the thousands.
Francis explained that officers were placed among groups that were “deemed to be subversive” (although not criminal), including trade unions, left-wing politicians and political activists. The officers would infiltrate meetings and demonstrations and socialise with members of the organisations they joined.
Dave Smith, Secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, told the BBC that he was surveilled by an officer who had been provided with a false passport and National Insurance Number in order that he could join the UCATT union and spy on their – completely legal – activities. The officer was embedded there for more than ten years.
Many commentators on the programme agreed that blacklisting is still occurring behind closed doors and could spread more widely than the construction sector. Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said there is evidence that trade unionists are still being blacklisted, and viewers contacted the programme to say that they too suspected the practice was yet to be uncovered in other industries.
Although an inquiry into the undercover police work is ongoing, Dave Smith said he had little faith in its objectivity or that it would truly hold those responsible to account. Police and Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, warned that this was a sign that more needs to be done, pointing out that the inquiry had been “mired in difficulties” from the start and that such investigations cannot meet their objectives if they do not secure the trust of victims.
Mulligan – who has a national role in the force regarding police ethics and transparency – also expressed concern at the secrecy of the Met Police, stating that victims must at least be given some explanation as to why the information known to Special Branch cannot be made public. If there are genuine concerns that release of the report would endanger public safety then they need to be clear about this, she said, adding that under the circumstances she is “suspicious around people trying to protect themselves” as part of an institutional cover-up.
The Institute of Employment Rights recommends in our Manifesto for Labour Law – which has been adopted as the blueprint for Labour Party employment policy, as well as receiving support from within the SNP and Green Party – that blacklisting should attract criminal penalties for business leaders, while firms known to have engaged in the practice should be banned from taking public works contracts.
Further, in our recent publication Blacklisting: the need for a public inquiry, authors Dave Smith and employment law specialist Alex Just call for a Hillsborough-style inquiry into the scandal, as well as a change to the law detailed in their Manifesto Against Blacklisting.