Does the law protect those affected by undercover police officers?


In June 2013 the plight of people whose lives have been affected by undercover officers became headline news. Lives which had been dramatically altered ‘in the course of duty’. Is this fair? Do they have the support of the law?

Undercover police officers are officers who infiltrate groups and organisations that are deemed to pose a threat to society and that are suspected of planning and carrying out illegal activities. The role of undercover officers is to fully submerge themselves in these groups and report back to the police about the members and their plans.

Infiltration of environmental groups

The recent high profile case of Mark Kennedy, an undercover police officer who spied on environmental protest groups, has highlighted this seemingly grey area of police practice.

Kennedy, like other undercover police officers, had several intimate relationships with women he was spying on. His actions and the similar actions of other undercover police officers sparked outrage amongst the public. As a result of the scandals, Ministers have announced new proposals to tighten the regulation of undercover agents.

The public was outraged by the revelation that undercover agents have relationships with women because it appeared that the police and government sanctioned the breach of these women’s rights.

Recent legal cases against the police

In 2011, eight women who had been duped into forming long-lasting intimate relationships with undercover police officers brought legal action against police chiefs. They claimed that their human rights as protected by the European Convention on Human Rights had been breached. In particular, these rights were Article 3 which states no one shall be subject to inhumane and degrading treatment, and Article 8 which protects the right to a private and family life.

Only three of the eight women were able to bring claims under the Human Rights Act as their involvement with undercover police officers occurred after 2000, which is when the Act came into force.

In addition, the women also brought claims of assault, deceit, misfeasance in public office and negligence. They wanted to highlight the psychological, emotional and sexual abuse of campaigners and others by undercover police officers. A statement issued by the women said they wanted “the past to be thoroughly and openly investigated, so that the damage may be acknowledged, those responsible may be held to account, and that as a society we may come to terms with what has happened”.

The legal action is still ongoing at time of writing.

Do officers incite criminal acts?

Another claim made against Mark Kennedy was that he was an ‘agent provocateur’ who incited the people he was spying on to commit crimes that could be used to convict them. Under English criminal law if a defendant can show that a police officer acted as an agent provocateur, meaning they initiated the crime, the defendant will have a defence.

The police officer in question could be prosecuted. However, the chances of this are slim and it is more likely that a person who has been affected by the undercover police officer’s actions will receive damages as a result of a civil claim.

If you believe you have been affected by an undercover police officer, you can get legal advice from a specialist solicitor. A solicitor will assess your situation and advise you on whether you have a civil claim for damages against the police. If you want to know more about human rights have a look at our EU law section.

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