Lord chief justice says there was a ‘total failure’ to disclose evidence gathered by undercover police officer Mark Kennedy.
A group of environmental protesters have had their convictions overturned after senior judges ruled that crucial evidence gathered by an undercover police officer was withheld from their original trial.
The 29 protesters were convicted in 2009 after they blocked a train carrying coal from going into the Drax power station in North Yorkshire.
On Tuesday the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas, and two judges quashed their convictions after it was admitted that the involvement of Mark Kennedy, the undercover police officer who infiltrated environmental groups for seven years, had been hidden.
Thomas said there had been «a complete and total failure» to disclose evidence that would have been fundamental to the activists’ defence. He said reasons for the failure remained unclear.
Earlier, Brian Altman QC, for the prosecution, told the court of appeal that the failure had been catastrophic, and it was unclear whether the fault lay with the police or prosecutors.
The verdict brings to 56 the number of protesters who have been wrongly convicted or prosecuted as a result of undercover police operations.
The appeal court heard that Kennedy attended a private meeting where the 29 campaigners formulated their protest. He hired a van and drove some of them to the protest.
The court was told that police had conceded after the original trial that Kennedy had been «the sole driver» for the protest, raising the possibility that the demonstration against climate change would not have gone ahead if he had not been involved.
Thomas ruled that Kennedy’s role should have been disclosed to the activists as it would have enabled their lawyers to argue at the original trial that the spy had been an agent provocateur or that there had been an abuse of the legal process.
One of the acquitted campaigners, Robbie Gillett, said: «In our trial in 2009, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service deliberately withheld evidence from the jury. They’re not interested in providing a fair trial to the political activists which they spy upon.
«This is political policing. It is an invasion of people’s lives, a waste of public money and from the police’s perspective, a legal failure.»
Thomas said he was going to decide whether police or prosecutors should pay for costs of the wrongful prosecutions as he suggested those responsible for the misconduct should be required to pay.
Kennedy was unmasked by activists in 2010 after they became suspicious of his true identity.
His unmasking has led to a series of revelations in the Guardian over the controversial work of undercover officers who have been deployed to infiltrate political groups since 1968.
In another case, police and prosecutors withheld evidence of Kennedy’s infiltration from 26 campaigners who planned to occupy Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in 2009. Twenty had their convictions quashed, and the prosecutions of another six were dropped.
On Tuesday, Altman described some of the covert work of the spy who had transformed his appearance and pretended to be a committed environmental activist using the alias Mark Stone.
He read extracts from the notebooks of the long-haired, tattooed spy recording how he had been approached by an activist to see if he would be prepared to drive some campaigners to a protest. A day later another campaigner told him that a group of activists were going to delay the train going into the Drax power station.
Kennedy, who cultivated his image as an activist with money to spare and earned himself the nicknamed Flash, used £250 of the state’s cash on the hire of a van.
Early on 13 June 2008 he used the van to drive some of the activists to the protest and dropped them off. Within minutes he was on the phone to his police handler reporting what the activists were doing.
At the original trial, some of the group were ordered to do 60 hours of unpaid work and others were given conditional discharges.