LONDON // News that Britain's largest police force took the identities of dead children and issued fake passports in their names to undercover police officers has sparked an investigation by a British parliamentary committee.
The police practice spanned decades, according to a story published yesterday by The Guardian, and included identities given to officers who infiltrated non-violent protest groups around the country.
Keith Vaz, the Labour MP who chairs the home affairs committee in charge probing police undercover practices, called the practice "shocking and distressing". A former director of public prosecution, Lord Ken Macdonald, told the BBC the revelations called for a public inquiry.
The practice was in use between 1968 and 1994, according to police officers interviewed by The Guardian, and was introduced to offer credible back-stories to undercover identities. The story claimed that the identities of about 80 children were used without the knowledge of their parents by the Metropolitan Police Service, that services the Greater London area.
The technique became common use for the Metropolitan police's Special Demonstration Squad, SDS, which disbanded in 2008.
The Metropolitan force says the practice is no longer used but said that it would launch an investigation into "past arrangements".
The unit's practices have come under intense scrutiny since revelations came to light in early 2011 that the SDS used undercover police officers to spy on protest groups.
In at least three cases, relationships between undercover officers and the women they spied on resulted in children.
Eleven women and one man are bringing a high court legal action against the Metropolitan police for emotional trauma as a result of the personal relationships they struck up under false pretences with undercover officers.
Last month, the UN called on the UK to hold a public inquiry into its undercover police practices. Maina Kiai, a UN special rapporteur, said the use of undercover officers to infiltrate non-violent groups was "unacceptable in a democracy".
The revelations are the latest in a series of scandals that have rocked Britain's police over the past few years.
Last week, a senior Metropolitan police officer was sentenced to 15 months in jail after she was found to have asked for money in exchange for information about the police investigation into a tabloid at the heart of the UK phone-hacking scandal that erupted in 2011.
That scandal saw News International newspapers, the British subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation media empire, implicated in hundreds of illegal wire tapping cases and police bribery cases.
Regional branches of the UK's police have also not escaped controversy.
The head of the West Yorkshire police resigned in October after a police cover-up was alleged in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, when 96 football fans died in a crush that was first blamed on the fans.
In December, London's High Court, quashed the original finding and ordered new inquests after it was revealed that 160 police statements had been altered after the fact, in most cases to remove negative comments about policing on the day.
A January report by the Home Affairs Committee has also raised question marks about the way complaints against the police are handled. The committee found that Britain's police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, was "woefully underequipped" and unable to deliver "objective scrutiny".