'Tighten up' undercover police ops
Undercover officers have helped prevent bomb attacks and seize weapons from extremists but future operations should be approved in advance by high-level authorities outside the police, a report says.
Tighter controls are needed after Mark Kennedy, who spent seven years posing as long-haired drop-out climber Mark "Flash" Stone, ignored orders, carried on working after being arrested and seems to have believed he was best placed to make decisions about his deployment, inspectors said.
His actions led to the collapse of the case against six protesters accused of planning to invade the second largest power station in the UK.
Sir Denis O'Connor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, called for police chiefs to establish a system where prior approval from the Office of Surveillance Commissioners would be needed for pre-planned, long-term operations.
Currently, the Home Secretary's approval is needed before a bug can be set up, which may take 15 seconds, but an assistant chief constable can sign off putting an undercover officer in place, sometimes for years, he said.
While there were "only a handful of this kind of undercover deployments active at any one time", operations were not controlled as well as those in other units which used undercover officers to tackle serious criminality.
This may have been because undercover officers in what was the National Public Order Intelligence Unit were seeking intelligence to stop criminal activity, rather than evidence to be used in courts, inspectors said.
Sir Denis said that while the ability to use undercover officers was "an absolutely essential tactic to protect people", a series of controls should be brought in to test whether a potential deployment is necessary and proportionate.
He called for a clearer distinction between public order policing and tackling domestic extremism, which are now both part of the National Domestic Extremism Unit, with extremism being managed under the counter-terrorism network in the future.
Responding to the report, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "It is clear from this report that serious reform is needed to the oversight of undercover policing to put proper checks and balances in place. Undercover tactics are required to investigate and prevent some very serious crimes. But there must be strong safeguards too, to make sure they are used proportionately with a much higher level of authorisation and oversight, and are not abused."