A year ago the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill - aka the Spycops Bill - was making its way through the UK parliament and became law on 1 March.

My mind was, I admit, focussed on a forthcoming election so I didn’t pay too much attention to what The Canary has called ‘the most dangerous law of our time.’

Like most other political activists, I’ve followed the Spycops story over the last decade, angered but not surprised by the countless abuses carried out by undercover police officers and their handlers - including rape - over many years against progressive organisations, including animal rights and anti-war groups and the women’s movement.

READ MORE: Police 'institutionally sexist', says Welsh Spycops victim

Under pressure, the government set up an inquiry in 2015, but progress is painfully and deliberately slow. Some victims have received compensation. No police officer has been, or is likely to be, prosecuted. 

Sounds like yet another victory for the British state over the universal freedom to protest, but then an opportunity came along to finally legitimise the right of the state to do whatever it takes to crush dissent. 

The National Wales: Spycops victim Kate Wilson won a landmark tribunal against the Met Police late last year, when it was ruled the force violated her human rights (Picture source: PA Wire)Spycops victim Kate Wilson won a landmark tribunal against the Met Police late last year, when it was ruled the force violated her human rights (Picture source: PA Wire)

That opportunity came in 2019 when the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which hears legal complaints against the intelligence agencies, declared MI5’s secret policy - allowing agents to take part in serious crime - as lawful.

It didn’t take much imagination for Priti Patel to see that she could apply the legal precedent more widely, which is exactly what the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Act does.

I’d encourage you to read the 15-page document, and after you cut through the jargon you arrive at the following facts: that police forces, intelligence agencies, the armed forces, government departments and others can authorise anybody, including minors and vulnerable people, to commit any crime, including murder, rape and torture ‘in the course of, or otherwise in connection with’ covert operations. 

READ MORE: 

New UK government legislation could kill the right to protest in Wales

'Let's not pretend freedom is ingrained in the British system - it is not'

The justification? In the ‘interests’ of ‘national security’ and the ‘economic well-being of the United Kingdom’, which can, of course, mean anything and everything.

And scrutiny? Criminal conduct authorisations can be handed out without any checks or balances. The police or whoever issues the authorisation need only inform a ‘Judicial Commissioner’ a week after the event.

And if you’re unlucky enough to be targeted in a covert operation, you’re excluded from criminal injuries compensation, rounding off the most dangerous law of our time.

The National Wales: Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti attempted to amend the CHIS Act, but the changes were defeated in the House of Commons (Picture source: PA Wire)Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti attempted to amend the CHIS Act, but the changes were defeated in the House of Commons (Picture source: PA Wire)

A handful of MPs, including those of my own party, voted against the bill.

The House of Lords voted against the inclusion of minors and for the crimes of murder, rape and torture to be excluded from the legislation, but the amendments were defeated in the Commons by 363 to 267 votes.

Where does this leave activists like us who campaign for a cleaner, fairer world, a world without war? 

Tom Fowler, anarchist, animal rights and prominent spycops campaigner, is clear that we must redouble our efforts to counter growing state oppression. In a very real sense, we need to take heart from the fact that the powerful always fear those who stand up to them. 

You can listen to Tom talking about his work on the spycops campaign, offering ideas on how you can get involved, on my next podcast out on Monday 10 January.

If you value The National's journalism, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.