Thursday, 14 June 2012

Undercover Sex - the curious logic of the Minister for Police

Hot on the heels of Caroline Lucas' charge that an undercover policeman exploded a bomb in order to help inflitrate an animal rights group, Police and Criminal Justice Minister, Tory MP Nick Herbert, has defended more recent operations involving police agents having sex with suspects as part of their investigatory duties.

As covered in yesterday's blog, there have been several recently revealed undercover operations where, aside from acting as agents provocateurs, undercover officers struck up intimate relationships with suspects and members of the groups they were working, in one case going so far as getting married and having children. Speaking to the continuing debate in Westminster Hall today, Nick Herbert said that it was not only acceptable, but important that officers could have sex on duty so that they are "plausible"- otherwise, their targets might rumble them more easily if they did something so inexplicable as turn down the opportunity of having it. "Banning such actions would provide the group targeted the opportunity to find out whether there was an undercover officer specifically within their group.", he declared.

Nick Herbert - important for police to have sex with activists they investigate
This is staggering: not only does it essentially oblige police officers to have sex as part of their job; it also logically suggests that they should go along with a whole range of activities to sync with whatever group they are involved with. Yesterday, Mr Herbert insisted in response to Caroline Lucas that the alleged bombing in 1987 could not happen now because of changed procedures under the RIPA laws, but in truth, it is easy to extend sleeping with targets to gain their trust to carrying out criminal acts to do the same. Indeed, this presumably was the motive of the police officer back in 1987 (unless, of course, it is to encourage the group to commit acts they would not otherwise have thought about doing, as appears to have been the case with officer Mark Kennedy's shenanigans).

Where would Mr Herbert draw the line? If fathering children with unsuspecting women who have done nothing criminal is ok, what about an undercover officer was faced with the prospect of being plausible within a suspected paedophile ring? Mr Herbert's logic is really badly flawed - what happens if the group decides they want their new member to rob a bank or mug someone as an initiation - do they have to fit in then? And what about the police officers themselves - can they refuse to have sex with their targets? Most police would see this behaviour as unethical and counter-productive. But with Nick Herbert setting the tone, will their superiors castigate them for failing in their duty if they don't hop into bed, close their eyes and think of England? 

Herbert is both proposing conduct more in keeping with an authoritarian regime than a democracy; AND he is pushing decent police officers down a very conflicted and personally dangerous path. But then its back to the office for him, smug in his bold rhetoric about things he will never be called on to do himself.

Of course, the authorities can be quick to cut loose their operatives - senior officers let it be known, after many years of apparent ignorance on their part, that Mark Kennedy allegedly exceeded his orders (something he flatly denies). Nick Herbert's line of argument today suggests otherwise - the Minister at least seems comfortable with some pretty unethical behaviour. Indeed, it seems he might positively require it. By his logic, Chief Constable Kennedy should only be a matter of time...

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