The Mark Kennedy affair became big news when, in January last year, a trial collapsed. Out of 114 climate activists arrested at a planning meeting to shut down Ratcliffe coal-fired power station, 26 had been charged.
The thing is, it was 113 activists and the undercover police officer Mark Kennedy. Twenty of the activists, who admitted planning the action but said it was justified, had already been convicted.
Another six activists had not decided to participate at the time of arrest and so were having a separate trial. In light of the information that one of their number had been a police officer who must have submitted a report that may well exonerate them, they asked to see what Kennedy had said. The prosecution have a legal duty to reveal any evidence that might help the defence.
Rather than disclose it, the prosecution dropped the case that millions of pounds had been spent on. (Remember that next time you hear any bullshit about it collapsing because Kennedy was going to testify for the defence. Kennedy never helped the activists, it was in fact his solid police work that caused the trial to collapse).
Faced with this scandal, a whitewash self-investigation report was commissioned from Sir Christopher Rose, a Surveillance Commissioner who had ultimate oversight over the deployment of Kennedy and other undercover officers. He said the prosecutors had seen Kennedy's fat file on the case but hadn't realised it was significant in any way, that it didn't occur to them that a transcipt of what went on in the meeting might be handy, honest guv, it was incompetance rather than a cover up.
Then in April last year the Director of Public Prosecutions, Kier Starmer, took the highly unusual step of recommending that the 20 already convicted appeal against their convictions, which were duly quashed.
Starmer tried to make out that Ratcliffe was a one-off and there is no systemic problem, but if any activists thought they had convictions from other cases that may have had undercover evidence witheld, they should get in touch.
The gall of the man is hugely impressive. How are activists meant to know if undercover officers reported on them?
We can start with actions that had convictions where known undercovers were definitely present. The salient example is the Drax 29 - a train carrying coal to Drax power station was stopped and its cargo shovelled on to the tracks. Mark Kennedy was one of the drivers that dropped them off, and 29 people were convicted. Yet the DPP didn't look into that as an unsafe conviction.
But as the undercover scandal refuses to go away and more details come out, the 'one rogue case' stance has crumbled underneath them. It's taken them over a year but today they finally invited the Drax 29 to appeal, meaning it is a formality that their convictions will also be overturned. This makes a total of 49 convictions quashed (plus 6 that were reprieved at the last minute), giving Kennedy & co the high score for largest miscarriage of justice in recent legal history.
But this, too, is a fob-off. Despite the already massive total of wrongful convictions, it has the distinct appearance of an iceberg tip. In many cases, officers won't have gone on actions yet will still have reported on things they overheard or that their comrades told them about. In many cases, officers went on actions, reported and left the movement without being uncovered. How are those activists wrongly convicted to know that evidence was witheld?
Starmer knows this, so his reluctance can only be a cover-up for the police. We know he knows, because he has seen it with his own eyes. As a young defence lawyer he handled a case of hunt saboteurs where one of them, Jim Sutton, went through the case under his false name and identity. He was in fact police officer Jim Boyling. There is also serious suggestion that Bob Lambert was prosecuted under his activist alias for the deadly crime of leafletting.
If I get burgled, find a finger print and take it to the police, they're unlikely to tell me to find a name to match it before they investigate. It's they who have the fingerprint files with matching names. They are the only ones who can put that together.
By the same token, they - and only they - know exactly who all the undercover officers are, what they reported, and which cases led to conviction. The responsibility is with them to go through those files and contact those wrongly convicted. Anything else is a conspiracy to let miscarriages of justice stand.
I'm doing a two-week run at the Edinburgh Fringe
2 months ago