NUJ makes separate application for core participant status in Pitchford Inquiry

Royal Courts of JusticeThe TUC has applied to represent all unions who believe their members have been spied on by undercover police officers.

Addressing the Pitchford Inquiry yesterday, TUC senior policy officer Hugh Robertson volunteered to act as a conduit for those unions who have not already been given core participant status, allowing them to question witnesses, make opening and closing statements and have access to documented information prior to its release.

The unions who have been given core participant status are FBU, NUM, UCATT, along with the Blacklist Support Group.

The NUJ made its own application, saying journalists were routinely spied upon because of their role reporting on campaign activists.

Hugh Roberston told the Inquiry: “By seeking core participant status, we don’t want to replicate the position of the trade unions already granted it. We want to act as a conduit for the fifty trade unions who don’t have that status, but could be named by undercover officers during the Inquiry, or could wish to comment on the evidence as it appears.

“Trade unions unwillingly did have a direct significant role in covert police surveillance and, because of information that is likely to come to the Inquiry of the nature of these operations, and particularly in relation to their activities in relation to disputes, pay etc., it could be they are named and face criticism and we believe that the TUC will be able to act as a conduit for them during the Inquiry.”

Speaking on behalf of the NUJ, Danny Friedman QC said: “The union of journalists has a role, a significant role, in these events. It was journalists that covered the protests that you are likely to look at that were, in terms of protesting movements, infiltrated. It was journalists who broke the story, quite frankly, and one thinks of the work of Mr [Rob[ Evans and Mr [Paul] Lewis, but more broadly than that, Mr Francis, as you know, has named five unions.

“He has not named the NUJ but [undercover cop] Mr [Peter] Francis only knows the period that he knows about, and there is very good reason to believe that the NUJ, amongst other unions, that have not been named, was targeted and one only has to think about the industrial action in relation to things like Wapping, potentially conduct, and investigations into the BBC and the like, to see why the union has strong grounds to believe that its members were a direct and significant part of the role of the issues you are going to look into.

“Now, the particular interest would here be the undercover policing of journalists covering political protests. If it can be assumed the Inquiry will consider the undercover policing of demonstrations and various groups of people and campaigns organising those demonstrations, then the applicant here is advocating that that consideration should include whether undercover policing had targeted journalists covering the demonstrations and their organisations.

“Three significant concerns apply: one, chilling effect on journalists; two, the compromising of their sources; and, three, third-party disclosure of the information collected by undercover officers on to non-police sources who are dealing with things like journalist accreditation, access to events, conditions on access to events, and the like.”

Speaking after his union was granted core participant status, UCATT acting general secretary Brian Rye said: “This is an important step forward in the battle for justice for the victims of blacklisting. We now have the opportunity to directly question those involved why they infiltrated UCATT and how police information came to be found on the files of blacklisted victims.”

Lord Justice Pitchford will consider the applications before the inquiry resumes next month.


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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