Panel To Review Convictions Of Anti-Apartheid Activists
The convictions of several anti-apartheid activists, who protested, were arrested, prosecuted, tried and convicted, with an undercover police officer have been referred by Sir John Mitting, chair of the Undercover Policing Inquiry to the panel set up to consider miscarriages of justice.
London School of Economics Professor Jonathan Rosenhead (82), Christabel Gurney OBE (77), and veteran activist Ernest Rodker (84) were among a group of 14 protestors convicted in 1972 for public order offences. The group was demonstrating against the British Lions rugby team due to fly from Heathrow airport for a tour in apartheid South Africa. The protestors blocked a coach carrying the team as it left the Star & Garter hotel in Richmond for the airport. They were arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for obstruction of the highway.
Almost 50 years later, it has emerged that among them was an undercover police officer, known as ‘Michael Scott’. His real name has still not been made public. He is referred to in the Inquiry by the cypher HN298. He was part of the undercover police unit the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) which, replaced in the 2000s by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), spied on more than 1,000 political groups since 1968.
The undercover officer, his supervisors, and high level officers at Special Branch chose not to disclose his role and identity to the prosecutors, defendants, their lawyers or the court. Instead. ‘Michael Scott’ was tried with them and convicted. He reported back to his superiors on confidential discussions with defence lawyers. Contemporaneous records show that the SDS made a calculation about the benefit in terms of intelligence-gathering by maintaining the credibility of this officer in the anti-apartheid movement, which they evidently saw as more important than the damage caused to the criminal justice system through the undermining of the conditions for a fair trial and the sanctity of lawyer-client discussions.
Only in Spring 2021 was this injustice made public – when ‘Michael Scott’ gave evidence to the Inquiry, and his and Special Branch documents about his role, were made public for the first time. The Inquiry has had the records for years. The police had these records for decades.
In 2015 a ‘review’ by Mark Ellison was submitted to the Attorney General indicating that the convictions of 83 political campaigners may have been unsafe and were being considered by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) for referral to the courts. It appears that few, if any, have. This – the Star & Garter set of convictions – is the first referred by the Inquiry.
Jonathan Rosenhead says:
“Why have police sat on this all this time? There are echoes in the police behaviour in our case of the police’s institutional corruption exposed in the handling of the Daniel Morgan murder investigation. In the Star & Garter case the police failed for almost 50 years to own up to the miscarriage of justice resulting from their own behaviour. Indeed throughout the Mitting Inquiry process the Metropolitan Police have been doing their best to frustrate its purpose. Their lawyers have been deployed to minimise and delay access to information by activists, and also by the public. Instead of cleaning out the stables, the police seem to be engaging in a defensive operation to prevent damaging information getting out”.
The group’s lawyer, Mike Schwarz, a partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, said: ‘You have to ask yourself, what else are the police hiding, why haven’t the CPS or CCRC referred cases to the courts and will the Inquiry ever do what it can and should to make public and rectify what seems to be a multitude of other wrongful convictions?’
The Inquiry’s press release and conclusions to the miscarriages panel were published on 22 June 2021, and can be found here.
The inquiry’s terms of reference including its role and the role of a panel in examining potential miscarriages of justice can be found here.
Evidence relating to ‘Mike Scott’ / HN298 can be found here.
The Ellison ‘Review of possible miscarriages of justice – impact of undisclosed undercover police activity on the safety of convictions’ – report to the Attorney General, 2015 can be found here. At page 12 of this review, Ellison said the convictions of 83 activists were being considered for possible referral to the courts on the grounds that they may be unsafe, as a result of the involvement of undercover police officers.
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