In May 2009, just after the G20 protests in the City, the Metropolitan Police were accused of using undercover officers as agents provocateurs to incite members of the the crowd to throw missiles at police lines. At the time, the Met's Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson told the Home Affairs Select Committee that this was "an extraordinary allegation" and when pressed on whether there had been plain-clothed officers on duty, there was the following exchange between Tom Brake MP and Commander Bob Broadhurst, who led the policing operation on the day:
Six months later in November, Broadhurst continued to deny allegations that as many as 25 undercover City of London police had mingled with the crowds around the Bank of England, even though many of us suspected we had seen them. I remember chatting to an activist from Fitwatch at the back of the crowd, near the junction with Poultry and King William Street, when we suddenly realised that we were surrounded by a number of really suspicious men in smart-casual clothes who were edging closer to listen in. From their behaviour, we all thought they were undercover cops and we moved swiftly away.
Q351 Tom Brake: Can I ask Commander Broadhurst, please?
Commander Broadhurst: I was obviously the Gold Commander. We had no plain clothes officers deployed within the crowd. It would have been dangerous for them to put plain clothes officers in a crowd like that. The only officers we deploy for intelligence purposes at public order are forward intelligence team officers who are wearing full police uniforms with a yellow jacket with blue shoulders. There were no plain clothes officers deployed at all.
Q352 Tom Brake: In which case, Commander Broadhurst, can I ask you what explanation there is for two men who I personally saw walking through the police lines where I had attempted to secure the release, if I can put it that way, of a number of people who needed medical attention for instance and not succeeded? What explanation can you give for the fact that those two men walked through the police lines without any form of challenge? Who were they and why were they allowed to walk through the police cordon?
Commander Broadhurst: I do not know who they are. They were not plain clothes officers deployed by me or anybody on the operation. All I would say initially, and you can come back to me later on when I give evidence to you, is that there is an issue around the discretion used by individual officers, the message communicated to those individuals, how they interpret that. It may well be that the people you saw have gone through some officers who have used more discretion than others who are not letting anybody out. That is an issue I need to grapple with in our training and our work on such tactics.
Today, Broadhurst was back in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee to answer questions about the unmasking of the police spy Mark Kennedy. As a result, the Met was forced to issue a correction to the commander's previous evidence, admitting that covert officers had been deployed "to identify individuals who may be involved in the organisation of criminal activity and to give live time intelligence/evidence as to the protesters' activity".
Confirmation of the presence of surveillance officers would probably never have happened had it not been for recent revelations about undercover operations targeting climate activists. The obvious question to ask is therefore this: now that Broadhurst has unexpectedly been caught lying to parliament about evidence provided by an Lib Dem MP, why should anyone believe the Met's categorical denial that some officers deliberately tried to incite protesters to violence?
Let's not forget that one man, Ian Tomlinson, died on 1 April 2009 in the midst of the G20 protests. His family are still demanding answers and the tactics used by police will form a crucial part of the evidence at the inquest into his death, which starts on 28 March. Any suggestion that plain-clothed police officers attempted to stoke up trouble to create the circumstances for a brutal crackdown on demonstrators - or indeed, anyone who happened to wander within range of police batons - has serious implications for that inquiry.
Does the blame for Tomlinson's death really belong solely on one violent 'bad apple', PC Simon Harwood? Or is there a wider responsibility on the Met and the City of London Police, for apparently letting their officers loose to find ways to batter whoever they wanted to, using whatever means they could find??