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Lies, damned lies and the British security services


Tax deal: Margaret Thatcher

Tax deal: Margaret Thatcher

Tax deal: Margaret Thatcher

MI5 instigating crimes in order to shield informants' identities. Information withheld from the police to thwart investigations. Lies told to conceal collusion and cover-up. Facts eventually unearthed by journalists.

Authorities insist that it's time to move on. But victims and families refuse to let go. The story of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) sounds familiar.

The SDS was a secret unit of the Metropolitan Police, run as an adjunct of MI5 from 1968 to 2008. It was wound up when it emerged that it had used the identities of dead children to give undercover operatives false identities. Some fathered children with unsuspecting members of targeted groups.

Two years ago, former SDS officer Peter Francis told Channel 4's Dispatches that the unit spied on the family of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence with a view to discrediting their complaints about the inadequacy of the murder investigation.

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An inquiry ordered by Home Secretary Teresa May discovered that, between 1970 and 2005, the SDS had also infiltrated 17 groups campaigning about deaths in police custody, or after contact with the police. Victims of SDS operations say they'll continue to fight for the full truth.

The scale may be different here and the stakes more deadly, but there is little difference in principle between MI5's role in the SDS and its functioning in the north in the same period.

Two years ago, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) launched an inquiry into allegations of excessive force by police in the 1984-5 miners' strike. The focus was on the "Battle of Orgreave".

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In June 1984, miners put pickets on Orgreave coking plant near Sheffield. Stopping Orgreave would hit steel production and greatly strengthen the miners' hand. In what was to prove a decisive confrontation, the miners were clubbed down and driven from the gates by mounted police wielding batons.

The IPCC said police violence had been excessive and cited "evidence that the senior officers became aware, after the event, of instances of perjury by SYP (South Yorkshire Police) officers, but did not wish it to be disclosed … (This) does raise doubts about the ethical standards of officers in the highest ranks at SYP at that time."

Meanwhile, as detailed in Guardian journalist Seamus Milne's The Enemy Within, MI5, the Special Branch, GCHQ and the US National Security Agency (!) were all deployed by Mrs Thatcher to subvert the miners and damn their cause. The IPCC ruling against any further inquiry has stiffened the determination of miners' families to press on.

The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign declared on Monday: "We've been down a side road with the IPCC and now there's a clear road ahead for us to demand a public inquiry."

There's a familiar ring to that, too. New inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans at the Hillsborough ground in 1989 have unearthed evidence of co-ordinated police perjury at the instruction of senior officers. It has been shown that the tragedy was caused not by reckless fans, but by the police funnelling 17,000 people into a fenced-off area built for 11,000. The police and the Sun then joined forces to libel the Liverpool dead. It took a long campaign by the families to force new inquests.

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Three years earlier, at Wapping, Mrs Thatcher in effect hired the Met out to Rupert Murdoch to crush workers trying to save 5,000 jobs at News International. It was in the night streets of Wapping as battle was joined that the alliance which was eventually to drag journalism into the gutter was formed between Murdoch, the Met and the Conservative Party.

Claims of MI5 involvement in constructing the "triple alliance" have not been proven. But a report in the Independent in January 2012 of a talk given at the agency's Millbank, London, headquarters by Sir Stephen Lander, MI5's director general, on "What is the Security Service for?" at least provides food for thought.

The attendance included executives of BT, Rolls-Royce, HSBC, Allied Domecq, Consignia, BP, Ernst & Young, Cadbury Schweppes and BAE Systems. Lander told them that the agency could be "more useful" to them. They should ask.

It is commonly assumed that the manifold ills of Northern Ireland are all home-made, that the weight of history and the sectarian distortion of the state are the main - if not the only - factors in making the past intractable. But Britain's Security Service was behaving over there in much the same manner as over here.

Ms Villiers should take it on board that they have their own past to deal with and should do so, before pleading with us to move on.