Seven women who were deceived into long-term sexual relationships with undercover police officers have received an "unreserved apology" from Scotland Yard chiefs.
After a four-year legal battle, the Metropolitan police announced on Friday that the force had reached settlements with the women and published a full apology for the "totally unacceptable behaviour" of the undercover officers. The relationships, the apology said, were "abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong".
The Met has also paid the women substantial undisclosed damages.
The cases involved four officers who worked on an undercover unit called the Special Demonstration Squad, Bob Lambert, John Dines, Mark Jenner, and Jim Boyling, and another from the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, Mark Kennedy. They became involved in intimate sexual relationships with members of environmental campaign groups they were trying to infiltrate from the mid-1980s to 2010.
The relationship between Lambert and a women named Jacqui led to the birth of a child and was settled in a separate case last year for more than £400,000.
"I acknowledge that these relationships were a violation of the women's human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma. I unreservedly apologise on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Service," Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt said in the apology. "I am aware that money alone cannot compensate the loss of time, their hurt or the feelings of abuse caused by these relationships."
He said the relationships were "a gross violation of personal dignity and integrity" that should never have happened.
"None of the women with whom the undercover officers had a relationship brought it on themselves. They were deceived pure and simple," he continued, emphasising that Met did not in any way suggest that the women involved could be criticised for the way the relationships developed.
Police admitted the women's emotions had been preyed on to "a gratuitous extent" and that the women had their good nature manipulated. "This was distressing to hear about and must have been very hard to bear," Hewitt said.
The Special Demonstration Squad was disbanded in 2008, while the National Public Order Intelligence Unit was operational until 2011. Preventing such relationships from happening again was one of the key reasons Police Spies Out of Lives, a group set up to support the legal action of the eight women who were deceived, brought the case before the high court.
A statement issued on behalf of the eight women by Police Spies Out of Lives said that while no apology or amount of financial compensation could make up for the emotional trauma they had endured, "we are pleased the police have been forced to acknowledge the abusive nature of these relationships and that they should never happen".
Linking their cases together, they said, had allowed them to become a powerful force in tackling what they described as institutional sexism by the Metropolitan police.
"Five years ago it would have seemed inconceivable to the public that state employees would go to such lengths," they said, "but the scale of the abuse uncovered demonstrates that this was accepted practice for many years."
The group claimed it was aware of more intimate relationships that have yet to be exposed.
As part of the settlement, Metropolitan police acknowledged that if a "life or death" matter did lead an officer to have a sexual relationship with a target, "he would be required to report this in order that the circumstances could be investigated for potential criminality and/or misconduct".
Hewitt said: "The forming of a sexual relationship by an undercover officer would never be authorised in advance nor indeed used as a tactic of a deployment," adding: "Undercover policing is a lawful and important tactic but it must never be abused."
Police accepted that "failures of supervision and management" allowed such relationships to take place.
"The more we have learned from what the claimants themselves have told us, from the Operation Herne investigation and from the recent HM Inspectorate of Constabulary report, the more we accept that appropriate oversight was lacking," Hewitt said.
Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Laura Silver at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.