They spied on who?

"The innocent have nothing to fear" from cops, we're told. But Mark Steel wants to know who's more innocent than Doreen Lawrence, whose son was murdered by racists.

Doreen Lawrence (City of York Council UK)Doreen Lawrence (City of York Council UK)

HOW MANY times did the average person in Britain read this story before they were sure they'd read it right? The police, it turns out, infiltrated the campaign to get justice for Stephen Lawrence, who was murdered by racists in 1993, partly to get information that could smear his family.

The police regularly demand increased powers to "protect the public," and now we know who they need to protect us from: Doreen Lawrence.

The honest citizen never knows where Doreen might strike next, so we all have to be vigilant. Maybe there should be regular announcements on trains, that if we see Doreen Lawrence, we should notify a member of staff immediately. At airports, we should be asked: "When you packed your bag, nothing extra was slipped in by Doreen Lawrence, was it?"

The usual response to anyone who questions police tactics is: "The innocent have nothing to fear." So it might be reasonable to ask, how much more sodding innocent can you get than Doreen Lawrence?

To be fair, the police have now said sorry, as if it were a slight administrative error. Maybe it was, and due to a mix-up with paperwork, the police confused Doreen with the Richardson gang that ran south London's criminal underworld in the 1960s. Undercover officers were told: "Doreen's planning a trip tomorrow to church. Follow her closely, but be careful, she'll have a shooter. Here's a picture of the villain she's meeting. You'll spot him easily as he's the vicar, but you'll know him as Don the Dog-Collar Driller. When she says, 'We must pray for justice,' that's code for 'We've got a driver, and we're all set to nab the diamonds next Tuesday.'"

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TO GIVE the police credit, anyone can act appallingly toward random, innocent individuals. But it takes a certain genius to behave like this toward one of the most admired people in the country. It makes you wonder who else they've been spying on.

My guess is they've got undercover agents in the Macmillan nurses. Then we'll find out they've been bugging the offices of the RSPCA and have a whole squad masquerading as a branch of the Woodcraft Folk, and if we knew all the details, we'd feel truly protected.

This would make as much sense as one of their other endeavors, which was to get officers from the Special Demonstration Squad to assume the identity of ecology activists to get inside information on groups campaigning against McDonald's.

One of these policemen even helped to write the leaflet against McDonald's that resulted in a multimillion-pound libel trial. Again, the most logical explanation for all this effort is that there was an error, and the squad got the anti-McDonald's group confused with the Continuity IRA.

Maybe other activists became suspicious when the undercover agent insisted that they shouldn't write the opening paragraph of the leaflet until they were all wearing balaclavas. That must be more plausible than the version now revealed, that one of these police spies had sexual relationships with four women in Greenpeace, and with one of these women, he fathered a child, before suddenly disappearing. An official police statement has accepted that this behavior was "inappropriate."

You could add that never in the history of language has the word inappropriate been more inappropriate. A more appropriate response might be: "You did WHAT?!? You fathered a child with someone who thought you were an environmentalist so you could discover details of their leafleting operation against Big Macs, are you ******* MENTAL, you sick ****. What kind of **** are you, you ******* twisted ****????!!!!?????"

How many other kids are products of this sort of behavior? Maybe it's quite common for a teenager to suddenly get a letter saying: "You have probably wondered why your father left you when you were six months old. Seventeen years ago, I was in the Special Demonstration Squad, and my senior officer noticed a letter in the Swindon Advertiser, written by your mother, complaining about the lack of attention the local council was paying to trimming the grass verges. This level of subversion had to be monitored, so I went undercover as a citizen concerned about neat grass in public places, and began a relationship with her. The next thing I knew, you were born. Then I had to run off, as I had an assignment monitoring a campaign for Cornish independence. I'm sure you'll understand that this was in the public interest. All the best."

Whenever a negative story about the police emerges, figures in authority rush to assure us of the integrity of most policemen. But the question isn't whether most police are trustworthy and honest; it's that when the force does behave in an antisocial way, it's protected like no other institution.

Imagine if any other profession behaved like this, so window cleaners had a special squad working to get information on the Lawrence family, or accountants had undercover agents fathering children with women so they could gather information on whether they were paying the correct rate of VAT.

Someone, somewhere would be sacked or fined or something, but the police make half an apology and carry on. In fact, you wouldn't be surprised if the one who'd fathered the child added up the hours of sex, and claimed it all as overtime.

First published in The Independent.