A dead newborn child's identity was stolen by undercover UK police officers working for an elite unit that infiltrated left-wing groups, London's Metropolitan Police Service has revealed.
The newborn was among a number of children whose identities were stolen by the Met's covert Special Demonstration Squad, with others aged one, four through 14, 16, and 17. Only the ages of the children have been released so that the identities of the officers are not compromised.
The identities were disclosed after repeated requests by Duncan Hames, a Liberal Democrat member of Parliament for Chippenham, who hoped that he would be able to console a constituent who feared that his 15-year-old daughter's identity might have been stolen. Because no 15-year-olds were identified, he was able to reassure the parent — but it took Hames nearly two years just to get police to release the ages of the children.
The Met secretly authorized the theft of identities from dead children for three decades, issuing covert officers with fake passports and authorizing them to infiltrate protest groups — all without consulting or informing the children's parents. The practice was revealed in 2013 following an investigation by the Guardian, which established that generations of police officers had searched national birth and death records for the right matches.
Police have since been forced to make a general apology, but have maintained that they cannot tell the individual families whose children's identities they stole.
'I think it undermines the confidence that we can have in the sincerity of the apology that was given that there was no willingness to address the anxieties that parents of dead children have.'
Hames has been attempting to obtain the ages — and no other identifying information — since February 2013 under the UK's Freedom of Information Act, but the Met used "every means possible" to try and obstruct the release of the information, he told VICE News.
"Our experience over the last two years has been that they have taken every opportunity they could to resist sharing even the slightest bit of information about these activities," Hames said. "I think they probably just hoped that we would grow tired and go away. And that is an absolute travesty of how Freedom of Information is supposed to work."
"Instead of engaging with this totally natural desire for parents to know whether or not someone has been masquerading as their children, the police clammed up and weren't prepared to release even this modest amount of information," he noted.
The dispute ended only when the Met abandoned its appeal against a ruling last August by the Information Commissioner, the watchdog for freedom of information requests, to publish the figures. "They realized their obstruction was indefensible," Hames remarked.
Hames accused the police of "feet dragging" when he raised the issue with Home Secretary Theresa May in Parliament on Monday.
"The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) believes it pertinent to mention that it has been recognized by the Police Service — and the MPS in particular — that the tactic of using the identity of a deceased child to form a legend for undercover police officers may be viewed by some as 'morally repugnant' and that it is no longer police practice," Nigel Shankster, the Met's senior information manager, wrote in its final response to Hames. "The MPS has, in the intervening period, reconsidered its position in challenging the decision of the ICO at Tribunal and has decided that disclosure will indeed be made in this case."
The practice of using the identities of dead children for undercover police officers is no longer ongoing but it was widespread, according to an internal investigation by Derbyshire Chief Constable Mick Creedon, who also examined claims that some officers were involved in inappropriate sexual relationships while undercover. Creedon found that out of 106 pseudonyms adopted by the squad between 1968 and 2008, 42 can be confirmed or treated as highly likely to have come from dead children.
Hames told VICE News that he felt the police were still not willing to address the anxieties of parents who had lost children.
"I think it undermines the confidence that we can have in the sincerity of the apology that was given that there was no willingness to address the anxieties that parents of dead children have," he said. "I've been contacted subsequently today as a result of the attention that has been given to this information, so I know that there are other parents out there who have already been through a terrible experience who are now worried, and who are searching the internet to see if there are any signs that someone is going by their dead child's identity."
The legislator has called for police to establish a procedure by which concerned parents can ensure their dead child's identity was not stolen.
"I really think that the Met police need to look again as to whether there is any process they can establish whereby they could reassure parents," he said. "If not in every case, at least in many cases."
This could be achieved via disclosure of geographical information or gender, Hames suggested, or a process whereby parents concerned that this may have happened to their child can go to the police and be reassured.
"I'm convinced there is more the police can do to put more parents' minds at rest," he said.
Follow Ben Bryant on Twitter: @benbryant
Photo via Wikimedia Commons