The Metropolitan Police have apologised for the historic practice of using the names of dead children to create false identities for undercover officers.
The practice came to the public’s attention following a series of allegations in the Guardian newspaper in 2011 and provoked criticism and outrage from families concerned their children’s identities may have been used.
Following the reports, Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe asked Derbyshire Chief Constable Mick Creedon to investigate these and other allegations about the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad conduct.
A report published by Mr Creedon on Tuesday says the Met “routinely made use of the tactic of using the identities of deceased children” and that “the SDS management team were aware of the practice and indeed it was actively promoted to officers recruited to the unit.”
The report quotes one former SDS Commander as saying: “I inherited an approved system, …we had the safety net that this information would never become public knowledge.”
Mr Creedon’s report stresses that the practice is no longer used and that the Met takes other measures to ensure the safety of undercover officers who could be ask risk if their true identities became known.
Responding to the report, Sir Bernard said: “I know people have been shocked, upset and even angered by what they’ve read and heard, and as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, I have a duty to account for what our predecessors have done when faced with serious challenges.”
Paying tribute to the bravery of undercover officers, he said police leaders have a responsibility to protect their employees from “criminals behind bars and at large today who would have no qualms in doing serious harm if they discovered a former close confidant had been working for the police.”
Sir Bernard added: “I believe the public do understand the necessity for police and others to do things like this to protect against a much greater harm. It was never intended or foreseen that any of the identities used would become public, or that any family would suffer hurt as a result. At the time this method of creating identities was in use, officers felt this was the safest option.
“I absolutely agree with Chief Constable Creedon that the Metropolitan Police should apologise for the shock and offence the use of this tactic has caused. My officers have this morning passed on that apology directly to one family, which has been told its child’s identity may have been used, and fourteen families who have contacted us to ask whether this may have happened.”
The Commissioner’s apology was welcomed by London Assembly Member Jenny Jones, who said: “I am pleased the police have apologised to one family, but this falls short of coming clean to all the families whose children’s identities were harvested. In giving a blanket apology they have avoided the difficult task of apologising to real people. The families whose children’s identities were stolen have a right to know, as they could be in danger.
“Former police spies are protected because of their false identity, but they may have left some families exposed and at risk of violence from the organisations the officers were infiltrating. This is not such a concern for those officers undercover in environmental protest movements, but infiltrating far right groups could pose a danger.”