Police chiefs unaware of secret unit that spied on families

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A HIGHLY-CRITICISED undercover police unit was so secretive even Scotland Yard bosses were unaware it existed, it has emerged.

The shadowy Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) was kept under wraps by Special Branch commanders from more senior officers including deputy commissioners and commissioners during the four decades it was in operation.

It came in for fresh criticism yesterday for keeping records of personal information linked to bereaved families who were fighting for justice after loved ones were murdered or died after contact with police.

A new report revealed that references to 17 campaigns dating back to between 1970 and 2005 had been discovered, in addition to records already unearthed about groups fighting for justice for murder victim Stephen Lawrence, and warned that more may emerge.

Relatives of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot in 2005 after police mistook him for a terrorist, have said they may sue the force. The families of Cherry Groce, whose death sparked the Brixton riots, and Ricky Reel, who died in mysterious circumstances in 1997, were also mentioned in the records.

Derbyshire Chief Constable Mick Creedon, who is leading an investigation into the SDS, said: “What is surprising to me is the number of people, the most senior levels in the Met working in covert policing, working in public order command, who did not know about the unit at all.”

He heavily criticised the SDS, Special Branch and Metropolitan Police senior management for the fact that the information was kept at all, calling the scale of the record keeping by the unit “staggering”.

One reference was to an unnamed person planning to go to a funeral, even though “there was no intelligence to indicate that the funeral would have been anything other than a dignified event”, the report said.

Former SDS officers are already facing possible criminal charges for allegedly tricking women into sexual relationships, and have been accused of using dead children’s identities without permission while undercover.