Apartheid protesters’ convictions quashed in London after 51 years | Metropolitan police
The criminal convictions of three anti-racism campaigners have been overturned after it was disclosed that senior Scotland Yard managers told an undercover police officer to lie in their trial.
The trio were convicted of public order offences five decades ago when they took part in a protest against South Africa’s apartheid regime.
On Tuesday, at Kingston crown court in London, their convictions were quashed after it was revealed recently that their protest had been infiltrated by the undercover officer who used the fake identity of Michael Scott.
Scott, who spent four years as an undercover officer pretending to be a leftwing campaigner, was arrested alongside the trio – Jonathan Rosenhead, Christabel Gurney and Ernest Rodker – during the demonstration in 1972.
In the subsequent trial, Scott’s Metropolitan police supervisors told him to use his fake identity when he was prosecuted as they believed that his credentials as a campaigner would be bolstered. A senior officer wrote: “The case should prove beneficial to us in that [Scott] has proved himself to the extremists and may well become privy to subsequent mischief.”
Scott’s real identity was concealed from the original trial and the campaigners. His managers also authorised him to attend private meetings between the protesters and their lawyers when they discussed legal tactics.
Scott reported back to his managers the contents of those meetings, breaching a vital legal principle that defendants can hold confidential discussions with their lawyers to decide how they defend themselves in a trial.
Helen Pitcher, the chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigated the case, said the police’s misconduct “was so egregious that a judge in possession of all the facts would have decided it was necessary to halt proceedings in order to protect the integrity of the criminal justice system”.
In 1972, Scott, under his false name, and 13 campaigners were fined after being found guilty of obstructing a public highway and obstructing police. They had been attempting to block a coach transporting the British rugby team to the airport so that they could play matches in South Africa.
After the short hearing on Tuesday, Rosenhead said: “The police, and in particular undercover police, were used then in an attempt to undermine civil society opposition to reactionary government policies.” His fine and legal costs – amounting to £200 in today’s figures – are to be reimbursed.
Scott was one of 139 undercover officers who spied on more than 1,000 mainly leftwing political groups in a covert operation that started in 1968 and lasted more than four decades.
The convictions of 60 political activists have been overturned so far after vital evidence gathered by the undercover officers was withheld from their original prosecutions.
A judge-led public inquiry is examining alleged misconduct by the undercover officers, including possible miscarriages of justice.