Undercover police officers spied on Peter Hain over 25 years

Peter Hain next to a statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square in 2019 He called the surveillance of him reprehensible pointless and a massive waste of police resources
Peter Hain next to a statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square in 2019. He called the surveillance of him ‘reprehensible, pointless and a massive waste of police resources’.

Former anti-apartheid campaigner hits out a ‘staggering scale’ of covert monitoring of peaceful protesters

At least six undercover police officers spied on the leading Labour politician Peter Hain while he campaigned against apartheid and racism, secret documents presented to a public inquiry have revealed.

The surveillance, which stretched over 25 years, included spying on private political meetings held at his parents’ home.

Hain, who later went on to sit in the cabinet and authorise the deployment of undercover officers against terrorists, made a scathing attack on the “staggering scale” of the covert monitoring of peaceful protesters, calling it “reprehensible, pointless and a massive waste of police resources”.

He also repeatedly accused police spies of fabricating and exaggerating their reports on him and other protesters in order to “justify their role or potentially to damage their targets, like me”.

These reports contained “pernicious smears”, he added.

On Friday, Hain became the first politician to give evidence to the public inquiry looking into the use of undercover police to spy on more than 1,000 political groups since 1968.

The inquiry, headed by former judge Sir John Mitting, has released to Hain 70 secret reports that detailed how undercover officers had spied on him between 1969 and 1994. The last of these, three years after he had been elected to parliament, contained a list of the national executive of an anti-racist campaign, the Anti-Nazi League, on which he sat.

Hain, 71, is a peer and privy councillor after 24 years as an MP. During his time in the Commons, he was a member of the cabinet for seven years and a minister for a further five years in a series of Whitehall departments, including Northern Ireland and the Foreign Office.

Disclosure of the reports by the inquiry was helping to uncover “a particularly unpleasant and often hidden chapter in the history of this country and our democracy”, he said.

Hain said the “sheer scale of the undercover infiltration of meetings and events he happened to be at … is staggering”. He said that most of meetings were “perfectly innocent by any standards, conforming to the norms of conventional parliamentary democracy”.

He told the inquiry he was put under surveillance by the police when he was a “political activist, involved in non-violent activities and organising against some of the most appalling and abhorrent manifestations of racism and prejudice that existed during the 20th century, in particular the apartheid regime in South Africa”.

His family was forced from South Africa into exile in Britain in 1966 because of their political activities.

In 1969, he came to prominence as part of the campaign against South African sports tours of Britain. Hain accused the undercover officers of embellishing their reports about these campaigners to portray them as violent, when they were not.

Other reports logged his involvement in public meetings of the anti-apartheid movement in the 1970s. The number plates of cars belonging to campaigners who attended the gatherings were also noted down.

Hain said he was also struck “by the pointlessness of undercover officers attending, reporting on and keeping reports of these meetings. The anti-apartheid movement was a mainstream democratic organisation, rather than one focused on protest.” Its leaders included bishops, he said.

The police spies also recorded the names of MPs who spoke at the movement’s conferences. “As a parliamentarian and former senior minister of government, this minute detail into the surveillance of legitimate activities of MPs is striking,” he said.

The spies also monitored Hain’s activities between 1972 and 1975 while he was a member of the Young Liberals, then the youth wing of a mainstream political party. They reported details of small private meetings of this group and anti-apartheid campaigners that were held at his parents’ home where he also lived.

He said the surveillance was “illegitimate, completely disproportionate, democratically questionable, and massively wasteful of precious police resources”.”

He added that undercover operations to arrest organised criminals, drug gangs and terrorists was justified. He said that while he was in government, he was given access to “very sensitive intelligence” when he approved covert surveillance to foil Islamic terrorists.

“But undercover policing, entailing the expenditure of huge resources (presumably millions of pounds) over decades, involving spying on perfectly legitimate political and protest activity, is reprehensible”.

source: Rob Evans