When did police decide their job was to smear crime victims, instead of protecting them?
Doreen Lawrence’s reaction said it all: ‘Out of all the things I’ve found out over the years, this has certainly topped it.’
When you think that this includes an appalling 20-year catalogue of police incompetence, of racism and cover-ups during the investigation of the horrific murder of her 18-year-old son Stephen, who was killed just because he was black, what she says is truly shocking.
What has stunned her is the allegation by a one-time undercover Met Police officer who says he was told by his superiors to find ‘dirt’ that could be used against members of the Lawrence family.
Worse, if possible, is that he says he was part of an operation to stitch up Stephen’s friend, Duwayne Brooks, a key witness of the fatal attack in 1993. Fortunately, a judge saw through the trumped-up charge on which Mr Brooks was subsequently brought to court.
These revelations will not only have profound, long-term effects on the reputation of the police, it will expose in an unedifying fashion the corrupted mindset of much of the state apparatus.
For a decent society depends on the maintenance of law and order. Indeed, many argue that a state’s first duty is to protect the lives of its inhabitants. Thus, we are dependent on having an honest police force in which the public has complete confidence.
Over recent months, though, we have been jolted by a series of scandals. Most notably, we learned last year that the main cause of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 people died, was incompetence and lack of control by South Yorkshire Police. Senior officers then lied and intimidated witnesses in order to put the blame on the victims.
When did the police lose sight of the fact that their job is, first and foremost, to look after the victims of crime?
Doreen Lawrence has said of the recent allegations: 'Out of all the things I've found out over the years, this has certainly topped it'
Peter Francis was asked by senior officers in the Met Police to find information to smear the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence
The Lawrence spying operation was clearly not the only such undercover dirty tricks operation. Last year, we discovered that officers were told to ‘go native’ and pretend they were eco-warriors so as to infiltrate protest groups. One officer was alleged to have slept with a string of vulnerable women to extract information, and it was reported that one even had his baby without knowing the truth.
The fact is, it is a sickening perversion of their work for police chiefs to order officers to search for information not on the guilty, but on victims and the innocent.
Nor is it just the police who are guilty of such behaviour. What has happened to our public services in general?
Take, for example, the NHS.
The Macpherson report into the failures of the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation (here held by Stephen's parents) concluded that one aspect of the problem was that the force was 'institutionally racist'
It’s less than a year since the brilliant Olympic Games opening ceremony presented to the world an image of a caring, compassionate NHS. British values at their best.
Since then, we have witnessed countless revelations about an institution where senior health service managers have ignored pleas about the neglect and abuse of patients, and who routinely sack and gag whistle-blowers — and are then rewarded with promotion.
The latest horrors concern the Care Quality Commission, which not only failed to properly investigate the deaths of 16 babies at an NHS hospital but also initially tried to keep secret the names of those responsible.
We also found out that Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust bosses looked the other way between 2005 and 2009, when as many as 1,200 patients died unnecessarily in pain and squalor.
Such behaviour by those who are guardians of the nation’s health care is unforgivable.
For these cornerstones of the State machine have a basic responsibility to be accountable to those who pay their wages: namely, the taxpayers.
And so the revelation that the Met Police set up a spying operation in order to discredit the grieving family of a young man who had been the victim of a race murder seem part of a pattern.
We are told one reason this was done by the police was an attempt to protect themselves during an investigation that proved to be one of the Met Police’s most incompetent.
The Macpherson report into the failures of the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation concluded that one aspect of the problem was that the force was ‘institutionally racist’.
But, also, we can now see, it was institutionally defensive — a shameful characteristic shared with so many other public sector bodies.
That report, in 1999, bemoaned the police’s failings and the fact that ‘nobody has been convicted of this awful crime’, calling it an ‘affront both to the Lawrence family and the community at large’.
Today, 14 years later, the revelation about the police spy operation on the Lawrences is a further betrayal of that family.
Of course, we have all been tempted to cover up misdeeds in our lives, but lying and unfairly blaming others is something we are educated in childhood not to do.
We are taught that everyone can make mistakes, but that we should take responsibility for our actions and own up; that anyone who tries to get out of trouble by blaming an innocent classmate is deserving of contempt.
And when we become adults and get jobs, we learn that if anything goes wrong on our watch, it is our duty to carry the can, not point a finger of blame.
When did this mindset of defensiveness take hold of our public services? Was it when more and more functions became centralised and it was hard to identify who was in charge of anything?
Or was it a consequence of the growth of managerialism, encouraging a culture in which risks are not taken, you cover your back, fill in the forms properly and follow instructions to the letter?
We’ve all read the result: stories about firemen and police officers letting someone die because they fear being sacked for breaking stupid health and safety regulations.
Another factor, clearly, is the growth of litigiousness and the role of rapacious lawyers. This is what has happened with the health watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, which was advised it couldn’t reveal the identities of those responsible for the deaths of 16 babies because of the Data Protection Act. Its chief executive and chairman were warned of the dangers if they had gone ahead and landed the watchdog with expensive law suits.
The fact is that lawyers infest every nook and cranny of our public services, giving contrary advice, making more work for their profession, and terrifying the wits out of those who fear being taken to court for breaching the human rights of a villain or an incompetent.
Our state institutions are in a bad way, but the brutal truth is that we wouldn’t even know this if it weren’t for the media.
It was this newspaper that took up the shocking case of the failure to bring anyone to court for the murder of Stephen Lawrence, relentlessly exposed the terrible shortcomings of the police investigation, and finally forced the police and the courts to secure some measure of justice for the family.
It has been this and other newspapers that have exposed NHS bureaucrats by reporting the terrible stories of failures in hospitals, and the greed of expenses-cheat MPs.
Is it any wonder that during and since the Leveson inquiry into Press ethics that there has been a concentrated attempt by the Establishment to muzzle the media.
We all want transparent and accountable public services — but this has been jeopardised by the prevalent culture of defensiveness.
It has only been through the tireless, tenacious and heroic work of people such as Doreen Lawrence and Julie Bailey (who started the campaign group Cure The NHS after her mother died at Stafford) that this battle has not been lost.
It beggars belief that Doreen Lawrence, who has endured so much pain already and whose only crime was to want justice for her murdered son, should be the subject of an appalling police campaign to attempt to destroy her family’s good name.
It is victims such as her who should matter most to the police. It is the sick who should matter most to medical profession. If these principles are not upheld, then I fear that this country’s public services are beyond repair.