When Mark Ellison QC produced last year’s report into undercover police officers spying on Stephen Lawrence’s family, he also found that officers appeared to have engineered miscarriages of justice.
Boyling was on trial as part of a group, meaning that this police officer was party to defence meetings with their lawyers. One of his comrades was convicted. This was eventually overturned last year, though it does leave the question hanging of how many other wrongful convictions have been left to stand.
After his report into the Lawrence spying, Mark Ellison was tasked to produce a new report on the miscarriages of justice. He was due to report in March, but on 13 January a written parliamentary answer revealed that there will merely be a ‘progress report’. The final item has no projected completion date.
This will set some people’s alarm bells ringing. Two years after the Home Affairs Select Committee’s ‘interim report‘ into undercover policing we are still waiting for the full thing. With the Chilcott report fossilising in the vaults it would be easy to see Ellison’s delay as too convenient for those with something to hide. However it seems more likely that the scale of the job is significantly larger than anticipated.
When police pre-emptively arrested 114 climate activists at a 2009 meeting to plan the shutdown of a coal fired power station, one of them was Mark Stone, aka police officer Mark Kennedy. Charges were brought against 26. A first trial of 20 activists saw all of them convicted.
The remaining six pointed out before their trial that, in the meantime, they’d uncovered Kennedy’s true identity. They asked to see his undisclosed evidence but, rather than hand that over, prosecutors dropped the charges. It turned out Kennedy had recorded the meeting, securing evidence that exonerated the six but which the prosecutors and police had withheld from the defence. The initial 20 had their convictions quashed afterwards.
Sir Christopher Rose’s now discredited report said that the case was anomalous and there was no systemic problem. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Kier Starmer, dodged Jeremy Paxman’s repeated question about whether there might be other cases.
Then an earlier, similar case in which Kennedy had participated in stopping a coal train on its way to Drax power station was highlighted. Another 29 convictions were overturned. It was clearly systemic.
We have information on less than 10% of the officers who have worked for Britain’s political secret police since the formation of the Special Demonstration Squad in 1968. If, like Kennedy, they each secured around 50 wrongful convictions then there are about 8,000 miscarriages of justice being left to stand. Even if we conservatively assume there was only one wrongful conviction per officer per year of service, it’s around 600.
It is no exaggeration to say that we could be looking at the biggest nobbling of the judicial system ever exposed. Let’s hope that, in contrast to the undercover officers, Mark Ellison will reveal the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.