Imran Khan QC delivers his opening statement on behalf of Suresh Grover and The Monitoring Group to the Chair of the Undercover Policing Inquiry.
You can read IKP's opening statement below:
1: Sir, The Monitoring Group (formerly known as the Southall Monitoring Group (SMG)) was established in Southall, West London, in the early 1980’s by young local community activists and lawyers to challenge State misconduct and neglect as well as all forms of racism. Suresh Grover is currently the co-Director of The Monitoring Group and is also one of its founders.
2: SMG changed its name to The Monitoring Group (which I will refer to as the Group) soon after the publication of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry recommendations in February 1999.At that time, it was contacted by over 1,000 victims of racism from across the United Kingdom and attempted to meet their needs by developing a national presence.
3: The group is still active and is recognised as one of the oldest anti-racist organisations in the UK. Through its daily advocacy work, community-led activism and public interest campaigns, it has become a permanent feature for Black, Asian and Migrant communities in their struggles for civil rights and state accountability and, therefore, occupies a unique space in the UK’s social justice landscape.
4: Over the course of its formative years, the group crystallised its key founding principles that included defining its aims, vision, mission, ethos and terrain of activity. In that period, it used the term Black to include all communities who had a shared history of colonial rule and racism in the UK; and Racism to include caste and religious based discrimination and violence.
5: The young founders of the Southall Monitoring Group, including Suresh Grover, not only participated in local struggles against racism that included responding to the racist murder of a young Asian student, Gurdip Singh Chaggar, in June 1976 and the killing of school teacher, Blair Peach, in 1979 by Metropolitan Police Force’s Special Patrol Group during an anti-racist demonstration, they were also inspired by national and global struggles against racism and apartheid.
6: Both the history and work of The Monitoring Group is so wide ranging that this Opening Statement does not allow us to cover all the significant moments which are set out in the Written Statement. Its longevity can be explained by its independence from the State and its unique hybrid character which was moulded by lessons learnt from the civil rights movement in the USA and the North of Ireland and the struggles waged by working class Black communities in the UK. The group advocates for root & branch change in society to dismantle discriminatory and oppressive structures in society. We have set out in our Opening Statement what the Group has achieved over the last forty years, which includes providing trauma support to over 1,500 victims of racism over the last decade.
7:Both Suresh Grover and the Group have either initiated or participated in a multitude of public interest and justice campaigns (a fuller list is referred to in the Written statement). We draw your attention to just four of them:
i. Blair Peach, a schoolteacher, was killed during an anti-racist demonstration in Southall in 1979. Police actions on the day also led to over 800 arrests and 345 being charged for a variety of criminal offences. Mr Grover was one of the key activists who established the legal defence for those charged, documented the social impact of the event and galvanised local, national and international support, for over a decade, to name those responsible for the killing of Blair Peach. The Monitoring Group has been in regular contact with Blair Peach’s partner, Celia Stubbs, and the campaign group – Friends of Blair Peach. In 1999/2000 The Monitoring Group organised a meeting with the then Home Secretary and argued for a Public Inquiry to examine the circumstances leading to Blair Peach’s killing. Although this demand was refused, in 2010, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner released Commander Cass’s internal report that strongly suggested that an officer from the Special Patrol Group was responsible for Blair Peach’s murder. Last year in April 2019, to mark the 40th anniversary of Blair Peach’s murder, the Group organised a series of events under the banner Southall Resists that included a large scale demonstration and the installation of a number of plaques outside Southall Town Hall including one in Blair Peach’s memory. The event was attended by Celia Stubbs, the Leader of Ealing Council and Members of Parliament. As the Inquiry is aware Celia Stubbs is a Core Participant in this Inquiry.
ii. The Group was involved in supporting the Lawrence Family Campaign from autumn 1993 onwards, and played a critical role in developing the campaign from 1994 onwards, in particular during the private prosecution (1994) and Public Inquiry (1998). The Group also provided office space, secretarial support and full time personal support to the family campaign during the intervening years. It organised local and national meetings and events to gather support for the family’s quest for Justice.
iii. The Group has played a central role in supporting the Reel family, who are Core Participants in this Inquiry. In 1997, Ricky Reel was found dead in the River Thames, at Kingston following a racist attack on him and a group of friends. Police maintained that Ricky died while trying to urinate in the river and refused to acknowledge any racial motivation in the original attack.
iv. The Group played a central role in supporting the family of Michael Menson and established the Michael Menson Family Campaign. The family of Michael Menson are of course Core Participants in this Inquiry. Michael Menson died in February 1997, after being set alight in a racist attack in Edmonton, North London. Despite police insistence that this was an act of suicide, an Inquest jury found that Michael had been unlawfully killed. The Group helped galvanise support for a new investigation by organising a meeting with the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw and the newly established Scotland Yard Racial and Violent Taskforce headed by DAC John Grieve. The reinvestigation led to the conviction of three men in the UK and the trial of a fourth man in Cyprus. Suresh Grover accompanied the family to Cyprus for the trial in 1999. In 2000, DCI Robin Scott, the original investigating officer and ten other officers were removed from operational duties.
8. Mr Grover and The Monitoring Group believes that its members were probable subjects of covert operations from April 1979 onwards when Blair Peach was killed and over 800 people arrested in one day. This is one of the pivotal events in its history that lasted decades and remains ‘unfinished business’ as no one has ever been brought to justice for Blair Peach’s killing. Given that material exists which shows that many of the subsequent families and campaigns that the Group was involved in were subject to surveillance it is inconceivable that there is not material which calls to be disclosed to the Group. Ricky Reel and Michael Menson for instance, are mentioned in Operation Trinity (Operation Herne Report 2, page 53 (21.1.5)) and others, such as Celia Stubbs, the widow of Blair Peach, and Janet Alder, the sister of Christopher Alder, have been visited by senior Operation Herne officers to confirm undercover deployment in those campaigns. Currently, The Monitoring Group is also actively supporting the Burke Monerville family who have been granted Core Participant status at the Inquiry. Further, there was, of course, undercover surveillance during the course of campaigning by the Stephen Lawrence family.
9. The National Civil Rights Movement (NCRM) founded and chaired by Suresh Grover was launched in March 1999, a month after the publication of the Macpherson report. The aim of the NCRM was twofold: firstly to provide support for family justice campaigns and secondly, to ensure that the Macpherson/Lawrence recommendations were implemented through community pressure. The NCRM provided campaigning advice and support to over 80 family justice campaigns. It has now been confirmed that there was undercover deployment at its founding conference.
10: To date neither Suresh Grover nor the Group have had any disclosure from the Inquiry. It is not even clear when, if any, disclosure will be made and the period/s that it may relate to. Given the Group’s long history and the varied number of campaigns and events it is associated with, this is deeply disappointing. The Inquiry was provided with the Group’s history at the very beginning when it made the application for Core Participant status. It seems that the Inquiry is only relying on the disclosure made to the group by Operation Herne, which is pitifully low on information and mostly redacted. The couple of sentences that are not redacted relate to incidents at the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry in 1998, almost two decades after the group was formed. The Inquiry’s lack of disclosure is unprecedented and has led to the erosion of the Group’s trust in the Inquiry’s ability to be transparent and robust in its ability to examine evidence thoroughly.
11: The first revelation of any police surveillance by Special Branch of the Group was made in The Guardian of the 13th October 1989 in an article by the investigative journalist, David Rose, who stated that in 1987, the Southall Monitoring Group (SMG) was the subject of a report written by Ealing police intelligence officer, PC J.E. Black which, quoting a disaffected Labour councillor on the controlling Labour group, described SMG as a 'political cell' set up by the Greater London Council (GLC) to follow an agenda while purporting to be a community organisation. It further described SMG’s efforts to make links with militant left-wing trade unionists as an active attempt to expand its influence over the whole of West London. It concludes that while the group 'can be expected to continue its attempts to undermine the police, they are unlikely to be successful except in conditions of widespread disorder, general strike, etc. when they might have a potential for more widespread destabilisation’. This report has never been made public nor its assertions ever verified. The article details a protracted battle between a local police Superintendent and the SMG over a family suffering racial violence in the London Borough of Hounslow.
12: The Group’s work was continually undermined by local police for nearly a decade and as a consequence its funding from the local council ceased in 1997. Although the reasons were not put in writing, both council officers and members made it clear that the Group’s persistence in challenging racism in the locality coupled with its close relationship with the Lawrence family and the campaign was viewed negatively as it continued to undermine confidence in the police by Black communities. It is worth reminding ourselves of the obstacles, hardship and difficulties endured by the parents of Stephen Lawrence and their supporters (including other families in similar situations) before their concerns were acknowledged and vindicated by Sir William Macpherson’s findings and recommendations. At that time, and it seems still, both Human Rights lawyers and anti-racist campaigners were viewed as ‘anti-police’ carrying an insidious ‘political agenda’.
13: Unsurprisingly, PC Black’s report has never been disclosed to the Group nor made public but if its contents have been reported accurately, it bears little resemblance to the origins and influence of the Group. It was true that SMG (as it was known then) was supportive of the anti-racist initiatives developed by the Greater London Council under the leadership of Ken Livingstone and his Deputy, John McDonnell MP. Their approach represented a positive sea change in its engagement with, and policies on, BAME communities. For the first time in the UK, a local authority was willing to engage with ordinary people as partners and it opened access for a generation of working people that had been locked out from decision making processes. It was also the first time that a Government body was prepared to acknowledge the prevalence of racism (as well as other forms of prejudice and bigotry) and its damaging impact on the Capital. They created specialist departments to achieve positive outcomes. In this context, the Group submits that the real intentions of the Special Branch report becomes clearer. It was not only collating information on a group unlawfully but attempting to discredit it by presenting a wholly false picture. The Group’s genuine support for anti-racist policies advocated by a progressive and left wing politician were being deliberately misconstrued in order to generate opposition to SMG from within the local community.
14: Indeed, there is no doubt that the report compiled by Special Branch does exist because its collation was relayed to SMG by local politicians at the beginning of 1989. What prompted the discussion was the Group’s ability to galvanise local support for a half day closure of the town – shops, businesses including Banks and Bookmakers - to mark the funeral of Kuldip Singh Sekhon, a taxi driver who was deliberately lured and targeted because of his race and then stabbed 58 times. The group was told that the police feared SMG’s growing influence locally, and as a consequence they had been asked to provide intelligence.
15: For the group, the cold reality and consequences of the potential surveillance only became clear years later. Suresh Grover and SMG/The Monitoring Group became aware of a number of trends that affected its work. These were:
a reluctance on the part of local politicians to refer cases because they were also worried about the prospect of being under surveillance;
a greater presence of non-uniformed police officers at community meetings hindering the ability of victims to speak openly;
a lack of access to resources as many funders sought recommendations or supporting statements from police officers;
a number of unexplained robberies at the groups’ office premises; and
being targeted for arrest at protests.
16: It is the Group’s submission that Operation Herne in its report on Black Justice Campaigns wrongly concluded that all these campaigns were simply and only victims of ‘collateral intrusion’. It stressed that there was no evidence of covert operations targeting families of justice campaigns, ‘’the SDS and the covert operatives did not directly target such campaigns but became directly exposed to them as a result of the activities of the groups that they had infiltrated” (Operation Herne July 2014).
17: Both the narrative of collateral intrusion and its justification is a serious cause for concern for Black and anti-racist groups and the issue requires a thorough examination by the Inquiry. At a meeting, in April last year, with another Core Participant, Mr Burke Monerville who was accompanied by Suresh Grover, you, Sir, according to Mr Grover, worryingly voiced your uncritical acceptance of the police explanation on collateral intrusion of family justice campaigns. The Group reserves the right to make additional submissions once further and enhanced disclosure is provided to all the non-state non police Core Participants. For the moment, the group wishes the Inquiry to consider these additional points.
18: Operation Herne’s conclusions are based on the apparent absence of records indicating direct targeting of these campaigns. This is a flimsy argument. Herne is not only aware of the ad hoc process of how records were kept but how limited they were and their absence, therefore, does not itself prove that the campaigns were not directly targeted.
19: Operation Herne’s conclusions are an attempt to hide the extensive nature of covert operations against Black political and social groups, including justice campaigns, that challenged the status quo and were, and are often, viewed as ‘subversives’. The Group submits, in reality and at operational level, Operation Herne was aware of the close and interchanging of relationships and information between SDS and its parent partners – the Special Branch and MI5 but it chose to limit its search thereby presenting an incomplete picture.
20: That picture is one which is represented by an extensive body of evidence showing that the British state took the politics of Black Power and activism seriously and the potential likelihood of ‘civil unrest’. They were worried about the international impact of the explosion of ‘race riots ‘in the USA in the 1960’s and believed the UK was also prone to similar protests. Rather than deal with the underlying causes of discrimination, the British State began to carry out covert operations against Black organisations and activists. For instance, during the summer of 1967 Special Branch officers carried out covert operations at Hyde Park in London against members of the Universal Coloured People’s Association (UCPA). In 1968, Special Branch gathered evidence to support the prosecution of UCPA and Black Panther Movement (BPM) founder Obi Egbuna and fellow activists Peter Martin and Gideon Dolo. Special Branch also carried out covert operations on a meeting organised by the Indian Workers Association (GB) who invited Malcolm X to the UK in 1965. None of these groups used violence but they were clearly not collateral damage.
21: As predicted, civil unrest did explode in the UK but not, as anticipated in the 1960’s. Although there were frequent race related public disturbances in the 1970’s, British inner cities and towns finally exploded in 1981 and unfortunately, for the very reason that British intelligence had feared. In fact ‘racial disadvantage’ is the very term that Lord Scarman used in his Inquiry into the Brixton disorders to describe the key driver for the disorders:
"The evidence which I have received, the effect of which I have outlined ...., leaves no doubt in my mind that racial disadvantage is a fact of current British life ..... . Urgent action is needed if it is not to become an endemic, ineradicable disease threatening the very survival of our society .... racial disadvantage and its nasty associate racial discrimination, have not yet been eliminated. They poison minds and attitudes; they are, as long as they remain, and will continue to be a potent factor of unrest". (Lord Scarman, at page 135 of his Report relating to the Brixton disorders of 1981)
22: In reality, the history of race relations in the UK is littered with significant moments of public disorders going back at least a century with the first ‘race riots’ in 1919. Unfortunately, Lord Scarman’s warnings in 1981 were not heeded. The reaction of the British State was dramatic. It passed draconian legislation limiting people’s rights and implemented major changes in the policing of citizens targeting working class communities, both Black and white. According to the Institute of Race Relations:
“Sir Kenneth Newman, the head of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, had been drafted in to lead the Metropolitan Police in 1982, with the specific purpose of bringing the lessons of public order policing from Belfast to the capital. He immediately introduced ‘targeting’, drawn directly from anti-terrorist operations in Northern Ireland, under which police resources were concentrated in black areas with particular estates, clubs and meetings places regarded as ‘symbolic locations’, subjected to intense surveillance and military-style operations”.
23: One of these symbolic locations was Broadwater Farm in Haringey, the other was Southall, amongst others. Given the context above, it is, at best, naïve to suggest that there was never any discussion by the leadership of the SDS to examine the threat posed by public order disturbances and the emergence of Black activism in the UK. Indeed, the basis of its very existence was precisely to stem this form of apparent threat and violence. There were dramatic changes to policing in London after the 1981 events fusing a more strategic and political approach to contain public order in mainland Britain – it not only led to changes in legislation but also for instance, very directly to the lives of Black youth workers in Haringey and Southall who suddenly became the frontline in a politically drawn boundary with devastating consequences for themselves and for policing in these and other areas for decades. There are core participants in this Inquiry directly because of Sir Kenneth Newman’s legacy and certainly not and only because they are collateral intrusion.
24: It is critical for the Inquiry to understand that The Monitoring Group (and some other Core Participants in our category) do not only work with families on their campaigns. It was established with a very distinct aim to hold State bodies to account and its sustained advocacy on policing made it, given the remit of the SDS, vulnerable to covert operations beyond collateral intrusion. The Group illustrate the point with a clear example. After the London Bombings in 2005, the group began to work in Beeston, West Yorkshire, the geographical area where three of the four London Bombers lived. In the first week Suresh Grover was contacted by MI5 operatives on at least two occasions to dissuade him from working with the ‘suspect’ community and discussing legal representation for arbitrary arrests. The Group, therefore, does not believe that its work was not monitored and remained unshared with undercover police officers. The Group is, therefore, very concerned that the Inquiry is failing to obtain and identify material which is essential to Mr Grover’s and the Groups involvement in the proceedings.
25: Mr Grover and the Group also wish to express their frustration at the manner in which the issues of racism (and sexism) have been dismissed or made invisible by the Inquiry. Whenever the topic of racism has arisen, Mr Grover and the Group consider that you, Sir, have demonstrated extreme discomfort and stubbornness.
26: This Inquiry needs to acknowledge that the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry definition of institutional racism was the culmination of a lengthy and exhaustive judicial process, possibly stretching over two decades as the subject was also explored by Lord Scarman in his Inquiry. Mr Grover believes it is simply not possible for you, Sir, to examine the prevalence of any racial prejudice or bias within the SDS and its adverse impact on core participants and BAME communities if you are unwilling to accept the definition and start from its basis. Sir William was acutely aware of the likely resistance to explore the problem of racism and he gave this advice:
“There must be an unequivocal acceptance of the problem of institutional racism and its nature before it can be addressed, as it needs to be, in full partnership with members of minority ethnic communities..” (The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report, February 1999).
27: A key question posed for this Inquiry is whether any bias can be detected in any decisions, actions or process involving covert operatives and their operations that affected BAME core participants and communities adversely. Currently the Inquiry possesses little knowledge and few tools to examine this issue in forensic detail in order to learn lessons. At the moment it is not clear whether the Inquiry will seek to appoint internal advisers. There is a vague indication that this may be done at the final stage of the hearing schedules. That appointment of internal advisers should have taken place before the hearing stage so that the ‘forensic’ analysis and scrutiny of the evidence could be examined concurrently with a race lens. The decision not to appoint specialist advisers was a fundamental mistake and the Group do not believe its negative consequences can now be fully remedied.
28: What, in fact, are the indicators to detect racism in an organisation such as the SDS? As a starting point this Inquiry cannot dismiss Sir William’s conclusions or the framework he provided to answer this question. This Inquiry’s capacity is however, more broad ranging and will examine forty years of covert operations of a secretive unit dictated by a militarised structure. It was supposedly established for a specific purpose of averting an internal violent threat. Whether the threat was real, exaggerated or false, the Inquiry cannot discount the fact that the assessment and ongoing decisions are prone to bias and subjective thinking. Indeed the Stephen Lawrence Report accepted the idea that widespread ‘unwitting prejudice' can lead to racially discriminatory practice.
29: Recent findings of empirical psychology, about implicit racial biases, provide a framework for better understanding the unwitting part of institutional racism.
“Over the past decades, empirical psychology has consistently shown that the workings of our minds are not transparent to us, and that many of us harbour and are influenced by implicit biases….Individuals are more ready to identify an ambiguous object as a dangerous weapon when in the hands of a black male than a white male. More worrying yet, in shooter simulations where participants in the study are told to shoot only at individuals who are armed, it has been found that individuals are more likely to make the error of shooting an unarmed black male, and also to shoot more quickly black, rather than white males” Dr Jules Holroyd (University of Nottingham).
30: The killing of George Floyd and many other, predominantly, unarmed Black males in the US by law enforcement has shown that these findings have a great deal of substance and must be heeded. They are not surprising: we live in a society structured by racial injustice, and it is no surprise if our minds bear the traces of those social structures. One of the important implications of this research is that it vindicates the lived experience of individuals who are subject, on a daily basis, to sometimes overt but at other times subtle forms of discrimination. Another important implication is that knowing more about how such discrimination operates, we, and you Sir, are better equipped to combat it.
31: In order to understand it Sir, you should know that Black people have been subjected to centuries of slavery, decades of second class citizenship, widespread legalised discrimination, economic persecution, educational deprivation and cultural stigmatisation. Black people have been bought, sold, killed, beaten, raped, excluded, exploited, shamed and scorned for a very long time. The word racism is hardly an adequate description of the experience. You should know that racism does not stand still; it changes shape, size, purpose and function. It changes with the economy, social structure, the system and above all the challenges, the resistance to that system. And when discrimination becomes institutionalised in the power structures of society then we are dealing not with prejudice but with power. That power is derived from discriminatory laws, constitutional conventions, judicial precedents, institutional practices – all of which have the sanction of the state and the blessing of society. And if this Inquiry fails to consider racism in this way, the recommendations it makes, will continue to facilitate and perpetuate the very problem Mr Grover and the Group are asking you to eradicate
32: In conclusion, this Inquiry is confronted with the difficult task of ensuring its findings and recommendations are both relevant and implemented when it concludes its work. Firstly, it is examining the actions of a State agency over a time span that will seem less relevant when it finally publishes its work; nearly two decades will have passed since the apparent disbanding of SDS. Secondly, the State parties, as usual, will attempt to convince the Inquiry that its structures and outlook have qualitatively changed and that they have already learnt their lessons. Regardless, the Inquiry has a legal duty to scrutinise every claim they make and act on the basis that it believes unlawful acts have been committed. Thirdly, it will have to negotiate the land mines dug in by the Government’s Covert Human Intelligence Bill, which will have given vast powers to the security services. The Bill in its current form allows them to commit crimes, including murder and torture, not only in the interests of national security but also on the disconcertingly vague grounds that they are “in the interests of the economic wellbeing of the United Kingdom”.
33: The Monitoring Group has participated as family campaigners in three previous Public Inquiries. When this Inquiry was announced in 2015, they encouraged other individuals and groups to apply for Core Participant status. Once they were granted Core Participant status, they organised meetings and conferences to galvanise interest in the Inquiry. They even invited members of the Inquiry’s legal team to participate in a Q&A session at one of their conferences and they were grateful for their attendance. Once the preliminary hearings started, they expected to be playing their part in a fair, open and robust process. However, the Inquiry process has been disappointing and damaging to its own credibility. Although five years have passed by, Mr Grover and the Group remain in complete darkness over disclosure of the identity of the covert officers who spied on them. Not a single shred of material has been provided to them. They do not even know at which stage their evidence will be heard although they possess accumulated knowledge and information spanning over 40 years
34: The Inquiry’s difficulties are of its own makings. It acceded to State applications to restrictions orders when there was no reasonable reason to do so; it allowed State parties to frustrate and delay the process. And it has shown remarkable reluctance to address the critical areas of racism and sexism because, in reality, it sees them as marginal: issues that are not worthy of its time. As a consequence, it has discarded our positive suggestions of recruiting specialist advisers to assist the Inquiry. In short, the process has led to the creation of an unequal playing field in favour of those who spied on the Group.
35: However, the Inquiry exists because of the bravery and tenacity of Core Participants especially the Lawrence family and the targeted women. It has substance because of the whistle-blower who exposed the skeletons in the first place and journalists who uncovered the horrors to the public. Its conviction derives from the unshakeable spirit of protestors – Black and white, women and men - who dared to dream for a better world. That dream will live on regardless of the conclusions of this Inquiry.
Imran Khan QC
Imran Khan and Partners Solicitors