Inquiry into 'toxic' undercover policing methods gets underway

Probe launched following claims that undercover police infiltrated the family of murdered teen Stephen Lawrence

(Image credit: Ian Waldie/Getty)

A public inquiry investigating undercover police operations in England and Wales has begun in London.

The three-year inquiry will examine the motivation and scope of undercover police operations, looking at their impact on individuals, establishing how operations were authorised and overseen and discovering how much officials and ministers knew, the BBC reports.

It was launched by Home Secretary Theresa May after allegations emerged that an undercover officer had infiltrated the family and friends of murdered teenager Stephen Laurence.

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It also comes after claims that police stole the identities of dead babies to be used by undercover officers without the knowledge or consent of their parents and officers had intimate relationships with women while undercover.

"The breadth and nature of what is being alleged is almost too big to grasp, but it fundamentally comes down to a simple question of whether elements of the police were out of control," says the BBC's Dominic Casciani.

"The most toxic allegation so far has been that Scotland Yard had a "spy" in the Lawrence family camp," he argues.

Peter Francis, a former Metropolitan police officer who spent years working undercover, has detailed how he was told to "hunt for disinformation" on the Lawrence family and the friend who witnessed the murder of Stephen in 1993 at the hands of a white gang.

In his opening remarks, head of the inquiry Lord Justice Pitchford said the investigation would also examine evidence that undercover operations targeted people because of their political views or participation in social justice campaigns.

Referring to such tactics, Francis told the BBC: "[With the] benefit of hindsight - I just think it's a total abuse of police power to employ these extreme measures that we use against terrorists and against serious organised criminals against political campaigners".

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