Undercover officers spied on a humanist group in Lewisham between 1972 and 1983 as they engaged in “political policing”, an inquiry has heard.

The Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI) is examining the past work of two secretive police units after condemnation of their tactics, which saw them target groups perceived to be left-wing.

Revelations that women were tricked into sexual relationships with officers and police spies had used the identities of dead children without their families’ permission have sparked public outrage.

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The latest series of hearings in the inquiry, which began on Wednesday, is examining the activities of the Metropolitan Police Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) between 1972 and 1983.

It was revealed that SDS officers infiltrated Lewisham Humanists, a group founded in 1960 to promote “morality without religion”, according to founder Barbara Smoker.

Since its formation, the group has supported national campaigns such as abortion law reform, provision of family planning facilities, legislation for voluntary euthanasia, greater tolerance of ethnic minorities, rights for homosexuals, opposition to worship in state schools and the abolition of faith schools.

The group continues to hold monthly meetings at New Cross Learning, has a regular stall at Nunhead Cemetery Open Day and participates in the Annual Lewisham Interfaith Walk for Peace.

Lewisham Humanists was just one seemingly harmless organisation infiltrated by SDS.

Other examples include Christian Aid, the National Union of Students and the National Union of Teachers.

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Undercover officers also spied on the justice campaign for Steven Lawrence, who was murdered by a gang of racists in Eltham. 

The extent of groups and individuals targeted by undercover officers was highlighted in an opening statement from Kirsten Heaven made to the inquiry on Friday.

Ms Heaven, speaking on behalf of co-operating non-police, non-state core participants, said material disclosed through the inquiry was “shocking” because it revealed “quite how far the tentacles of the secret state had spread even by the 1970s and how many individuals and groups exercising their right to participate in campaigning activities were being routinely targeted and spied upon”.

She said documents confirmed that “undercover policing in this era was without doubt political policing” which led to the “widespread and illegitimate infiltration of groups and individuals perceived to be largely on the political left wing”.

Ms Heaven said this included targeting justice and defence campaigns and “reporting on lawyers and even advice from a solicitor protected by legal professional privilege”.

She said what was absent from the disclosure of material were “regular and thorough risk and threat assessments as regards subversion and public disorder” to justify the SDS actions.

Undercover activities included photographic surveillance and data collection, with intelligence on the SDS being “potentially used to block the career of an activist”.

Ms Heaven described a “controversial police practice” introduced by DCI Conrad Dixon in 1968, that became known as the “oblique approach”, which became “fully operational” by the SDS by the early 1970s.

This saw the infiltration of so-called “relatively innocuous organisations” to build cover for gaining access to more significant ones.

Ms Heaven said this meant large numbers of individuals or groups became “fair game” for “routine spying” by SDS.

She cited examples of the impact of the approach, including reporting on a “child’s Christmas party and jumble sales” when targeting the Women’s Liberation Movement over a two-year-period.

Children of activists and groups of young people were also subject to reporting by undercover officers, she added.

A document version of the statement highlighted that a schoolgirl was targeted as being an “active member of the Harlesden branch of the SWP” and the daughter of an “SWP stalwart”, with there being a “partially redacted photograph” of her presumably taken while on a “right to work” march in 1981.

Another child was reported on and photographed when he took part in an anti-Nazi demonstration, the statement said.

Ms Heaven asked how “such a gross invasion of privacy and family involving the targeting of children could be seen (as) legitimate and justified and not harmful to society?”.

Women’s groups being reported on included Women’s Voice, Greenham Common Women’s Support Group, Women Workers League and Brixton Black Women’s Group.

She said the SDS and security services appeared to be “far less interested in the obvious threats posed by the rise of the far right and the National Front”.

“This public inquiry must be committed to establishing the truth about why it was that large sections of the left and social justice campaigns were subjected to wide-scale and sustained police spying and interference,” Ms Heaven added.

“It is clear from what has already been revealed that there was widespread and systematic contempt for the rights of many perceived by the SDS and the security services to be on the left of the political spectrum.”

She called on the inquiry to “un-redact” the names of all groups that had been spied upon to allow the “true scale” of SDS operations to be revealed.