THE Metropolitan Police Service has launched an inquiry into allegations of police collusion in the blacklisting of construction workers.
The Met has confirmed it is opening an investigation, under the supervision of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPPC), into claims that police supplied information found on an illegal construction industry blacklist.
The inquiry is expected to address allegations that police shared complex surveillance data about Irish workers with the Consulting Association, the company that ran a 3,200-person blacklist, in order to keep them out of work and potentially bar them from Ministry of Defence projects.
Last month, The Irish Post revealed that the blacklist, which was used by some of Britain’s biggest construction companies, contained information on hundreds of Irish workers.
The newly announced investigation falls under Operation Herne - an inquiry into allegations of historic policing malpractice by officers within the Special Demonstration Squad, a secret unit in the Met’s Special Branch.
Police have decided to investigate the historical claims after a successful appeal by Christian Khan solicitors, the firm representing the Blacklist Support Group, over a failure by the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) to record an original complaint about police involvement in November.
Sarah McSherry, a partner at London-based firm Christian Khan, called the DPS’ initial response “deplorable”.
The Belfast woman said: “Rather than record it, they said ‘the complaints process is not the correct vehicle to forward these concerns or allegations’. That either betrayed a deplorable lack of knowledge about the Police Reform Act and their very role as a complaints investigation team, or it revealed a complete unwillingness to treat the complaint seriously or investigate the serious allegations of criminal behaviour by police officers."
Ms McSherry added that her firm will now petition the IPCC to undertake the inquiry wholly independently of the Met.
Confirming the news, a Met spokesperson said: "The complaint alleging breach of the Data Protection Act by police is being investigated by officers from Operation Herne under the supervision of the IPCC.”
He added: “The investigation is at a very early stage and we are not prepared to provide further details at this time."
Dave Smith, leader of the Blacklist Support Group, claims he has seen evidence suggesting that police supplied information about Irish workers contained in the Consulting Association database.
“Some files read exactly like police surveillance,” he said. “How would a manager on a building site have known about an individual’s movements on a Sunday afternoon on an anti-racism protest or their attendance of Irish community campaign meetings in the evening?”
He added: “The file of one person from Northern Ireland talks about his "interesting migratory patterns”."
Reiterating the Labour Party’s call for the Government to hold a public inquiry into blacklisting earlier this year, Mr Smith said: “Operation Herne is a step forward, but only a full public inquiry will get to the truth about this human rights scandal."
David Clancy, Investigations Officer at the Information Commissioner’s Office, which discovered the blacklist following a raid of the Consulting Association in 2009, told the Scottish Affairs Select Committee late last year that he believed information on one blacklisted Irish national must have come from the police or security services.
Referring to Mr Clancy’s claim, Shadow Business Secretary Chukka Umunna MP told The Irish Post: “I hope that the investigation which will now proceed will examine in detail this deeply concerning aspect of the scandal which has emerged."
Speaking in the House of Commons in January, Mr Umunna said: "For a long time many of our construction workers have suspected that they were being systematically denied work—work that they were more than qualified to do. As a result, lives have been ruined, families have been torn apart and many have been forced out of the industry."
Business Secretary Vince Cable said that blacklisting was "thoroughly objectionable and indefensible", but resisted the call for a public inquiry by questioning whether the practice was continuing.
A spokesperson for the Department of Business said that it has no intention of investigating historical blacklisting cases, but added: “If new evidence came to light that these practices were continuing today, that would be a serious matter. The Secretary of State has asked anyone who has information about this practice going on to get in touch with the relevant authorities."