An anti-globalisation activist has won the first stage of a High Court battle to have a major inquiry into alleged wrongdoing by undercover British police officers extended to cover their activities in Northern Ireland.
Jason Kirkpatrick was granted leaved to seek a judicial review of the Government’s refusal to widen the probe being chaired by Lord Justice Pitchford beyond England and Wales.
His lawyers argued that officers attached to the Metropolitan Police and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit secretly travelled to Belfast for spying purposes without PSNI knowledge.
It was also revealed in court that the families of at least two murder victims in Northern Ireland have now been informed that undercover operatives were present at protest events surrounding the killings.
Amid claims of potential miscarriages of justice due to the secret activities, counsel for Mr Kirkpatrick insisted no answer has been provided to the public interest issues raised.
Ben Emmerson QC told the court: “This is a hopeless decision-making procedure, flawed from the top to bottom and frankly embarrassingly bad.”
Undercover officers were deployed to infiltrate alternative movements, from anarchists to environmental demonstrators.
The Pitchford inquiry was launched following scandals involving officers and women tricked into relationships.
One of the former operatives at the centre of the controversy, Mark Kennedy, is alleged to have operated in Northern Ireland alongside environmental campaigners and anti-globalisation demonstrators in 2005.
He was said to have travelled to Belfast along with Mr Kirkpatrick.
But Mr Justice Maguire was told more officers from the Met’s special demonstration squad also came to Northern Ireland.
Judicial review proceedings have been brought against the British home secretary for refusing to extend its scope.
The challenge is also directed at the Northern Ireland Office for allegedly failing to take action when the issue was referred to it.
As the hearing got underway in Belfast, Mr Kirkpatrick was joined by Kate Wilson, who said she was Mark Kennedy’s partner for two years, and other political activists claiming the operative exploited and manipulated them.
During submissions, Mr Emmerson contended that the last two Stormont Justice Ministers, David Ford and Claire Sugden, have raised concerns about the need to ensure accountability for the officers actions in Northern Ireland.
He cited documents showing a number of officers from the special demonstration squad came to Northern Ireland to gather intelligence after infiltrating protest groups.
There are no records that either the RUC or PSNI were aware of their actions, the barrister continued.
Referring to correspondence on their alleged presence at protests over unnamed killings, he said: “It’s been discovered that there’s sufficient connection to two murders at least in Northern Ireland for the need to notify families of the involvement of undercover officers.”
Convictions have been quashed in England and Wales because of the role of operatives who encouraged serious crime and then gave evidence using false identities, the court heard.
“We simply don’t know whether there may be individuals in Northern Ireland serving prison sentences ... as a result of agent provocateurs,” Mr Emmerson insisted.
He likened the government’s attitude to the situation to the “brass monkey approach of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil – it’s just turning a blind eye”.
Tony McGleenan QC, responding for the two secretaries of state, argued that a bespoke tribunal similar to the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry could be set up to deal with all Northern Ireland issues.
He claimed it was within the home secretary’s remit to refuse to extent the terms of reference of the Pitchford probe.
But Mr Justice Maguire held that leave to seek a judicial review should be granted because an arguable case has been established.
“The court considers there are a whole range of questions which arise and relatively few answers have been offered by either secretary of state in respect of those questions,” he said.
A full hearing will now be listed for a date later this year.
Outside court Mr Kirkpatrick told how he came to Belfast with Mark Kennedy after being introduced through a mutual friend.
“The special demonstration squad have been responsible for dozens of overturned convictions in England,” he said.
“They were doing the same types of activity in Northern Ireland, so all these issues must be looked into to establish if there are any other unsafe convictions here.”