Operation Elter

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This article is part of the Undercover Research Portal at Powerbase: investigating corporate and police spying on activists.

Part of a series on the
Policing Inquiry
Operation Elter
Description: Police investigation into the National Public Order Intelligence Unit

Operation Elter is a police inquiry into the conduct of the undercover policing unit National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), which ran officers such as Mark Kennedy. The operation is run independently of Operation Herne which investigates the similar Special Demonstration Squad. It plays a role in facilitating the passing of material on the NPOIU to the Undercover Policing Inquiry.

Police officers in the Undercover Policing Inquiry are assigned EN numbers for the purposes of considering restriction orders. The EN officers page lists those that have been made public through the Inquiry's processes.

Background: undercover policing units

Two police units have focused on placing undercover officers in political protest movements. The first of these, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), was controlled by the Metropolitan Police Special Branch and existed from 1968 to 2008. Officers from the SDS were generally focused on London based targets, though they did travel to other places.[1] In 1998/1999, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit was formed to perform the same function on a national level. Initially it was an offshoot of the SDS, but control of it subsequently transferred to the Association of Chief Police Officers' Terrorism and Allied Matters Committee (ACPO TAM).[2] ACPO has since been dissolved and much of its role transferred to the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC). The NPOIU itself was disbanded in January 2011.

As the scandal unravelled, it emerged that undercover officers had engaged in the theft of identities of dead children, spied on the family of Stephen Lawrence and targeted protestors for sexual relationships. In the face of this criticism, the Metropolitan Police established Operation Herne in October 2011 (then as Op. Soisson) to investigate the allegations. In February 2013 it was made nominally independent of the Metropolitan Police when it was placed under the lead of Mick Creedon, then Chief Constable of Derbyshire (who retired in May 2017).

Foundation and control of Operation Elter

Initially, Operation Herne looked only at the activities of one particular NPOIU undercover, 'Rod Richardson', in a sub-operation known as Riverwood (see under his profile for details).[3]

The complaint that 'Rod Richardson' had stolen the identity of a dead child was initially referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission in February 2013. They handed it back to the police but said it would be a ‘supervised investigation’. It was then downgraded to a straightforward unsupervised police self-investigation, Operation Riverwood. When it was completed the police announced that no action would be taken against any officer. They have refused to publish the investigation’s report or show it to the family of the child concerned.[4]

However, during the process, Operation Herne acquired much of the archives of the NPOIU and uploaded them to their investigation system.

Following work by Mark Ellison into miscarriages of justice by undercover officers, Operation Herne's head, Chief Constable Mick Creedon, agreed to take on a fuller examination of the NPOIU in October 2015.[5]

In January 2016, Creedon briefed the NPCC's Chief Constables Council on emerging issues with the NPOIU.[6] Initially the investigation into the NPOIU was unbudgeted for within Herne and a Special Grant funding bid was made to the Home Office to conduct a six month scoping project into the issues around the NPOIU. This was rejected in Spring 2016 and as a result, Mick Creedon and Assistant Commissioner Helen King applied the NPCC at its July 2016 Council meeting with a request for funds of £1.6 million.[7]

In September 2016, responsibility for the investigation into the NPOIU passed to the National Police Chiefs Council (headed by Chief Constable and former ACPO TAM vice chair Sara Thornton). According to the Updated Terms of Reference for Operation Elter:[8]

[Mick] Creedon has therefore agreed to undertake a review of the NPOIU using a proportion of the Operation Herne team to provide an objective, independent review of the unit. Mr Creedon will report all findings to the National Police Chiefs Council Gold Group.
The first stage of the investigation will involve an initial period of six months during which Op Elter will undertake a scoping exercise to identify emerging issues.
Following this initial six months scoping exercise Operation Elter will examine the creation and strategic direction, oversight and tasking of the NPOIU and how the unit operated throughout its existence
Operation Elter will then compile a report to encompass all of the above aspects and provide a better understanding of the undercover work undertaken by the NPOIU. The report will be for the National Police Chiefs Council, the Undercover Policing Inquiry team and the Home Office.
Furthermore Operation Elter has been identified as the custodian of the majority of material in relation to the NPOIU. The stated route of access for the Undercover Policing Inquiry to obtain material relevant to the NPOIU is through the NPCC coordination team.

Miscellaneous details

According to a Freedom of Information Act response in August 2017, Operation Elter:[9]

  • was independent of Operation Herne, being under the leadership of the NPCC;
  • Andy Cooke, Chief Constable of Merseyside Police had succeeded Creedon as the lead officer; and
  • the operation had cost £3.2million to date, being funded by UK police forces (this includes the Metropolitan Police[10]).

A briefing to the NPCC in July 2016 noted that the material held on the NPOIU was four times as large as that held on the SDS.[7] While in a statement to the Inquiry on behalf of the NPCC dated March 2017 it was noted that at that point the operation had gone through only 10% of the available material though was in the process of purchasing the Relativity system to enhance search and categorisation. As part of this work it had loaded 5.5 million files onto its operational database ('Forensic Tool Kit'), with a further 20 terabytes of data to go (estimated as amounting to 40 million files).[11]

Terms of Reference

The terms of reference for Operation Elter are given as:[8][5]

  • The initial establishment, the rationale and terms of reference for the NPOIU.
  • The role of the Home Office in relation to the NPOIU.
  • The role of the Metropolitan Police Service in relation to the NPOIU.
  • The funding for the NPOIU.
  • How the NPOIU was deployed and tasked.
  • The management, oversight and accountability mechanism for the NPOIU.
  • The legal, regulatory and ethical frameworks within which the NPOIU operated.
  • The organisations, groups and subjects the NPOIU were targeting and/or reporting on.
  • The reporting mechanism – both in terms of intelligence and evidential reporting.
  • High profile operations the NPOIU were involved in.
  • The selection, recruitment, training and support provided to NPOIU officers.
  • The role of the NPOIU in relation to other state agencies.
  • The work will not report on anything that would involve breaching the Official Secrets Act or compromising national security.

A submission by the NPCC to the Undercover Policing Inquiry noted that the terms of reference for Elter included:[11]

'conducting criminal and misconduct investigations, researching miscarriages of justice, and detailing the history of the NPOIU'.

Relationship with the Undercover Policing Inquiry

Operation Elter plays the lead role in providing material on the NPOIU to the Undercover Policing Inquiry and to the risk assessors providing assessments on behalf of officers seeking restriction orders preventing the disclosure of their identities. As part of the latter, it provides a nominal profile on each NPOIU officer to the assessors, as well as responding to requests for further information.[11]

The NPCC is helping coordinate the response of the regional police forces to the Inquiry, and as such had appointed in early 2015 Andy Ward of Merseyside Police to act as the 'Inquiry National Coordinator' on this, with an associated Inquiry Coordination Team.[7] This team plays for Operation Elter a similar role as the Metropolitan Police's Public Inquiry Team, the latter mediating between the Inquiry and Operation Herne. Though there are be significant differences, as the NPCC deals with all police forces, not just one, and many of the issues in relation to specific NPOIU officers will remain under the authority of the individual forces, rather than the NPCC.[11][12]

In late 2016, Operation Elter had provided to the Inquiry information on the 'identities of a large proportion of those who worked for the National Public Order Intelligence Unit'.[13] In March 2017, the Inquiry stated:[14]

18. The Inquiry also has access to Operation Elter. We have and will continue to inspect documents in situ at Operation Elter’s premises. The Inquiry has received electronic copies of significant quantities of documents from Operation Elter which it is analysing with the IT currently at its disposal. As is the case with the Special Demonstration Squad, we are commencing officer-by-officer investigations.


  1. Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, Undercover: The true story of Britain's secret police, Guardian Faber, 6 March 2014.
  2. For further details see Special Branch documents on foundation of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, 1998 - 2000, published at SpecialBranchFiles.UK.
  3. Mick Creedon, Operation Herne: Report 1 - Covert Identities, Metropolitan Police Service, July 2013 (accessed via Derbyshire.Police.UK). In particular, the report stated:
    Operation Riverwood
    On 4th February 2013 the Metropolitan Police received a public complaint from the family of Rod Richardson, a young boy who had died in the 1970s. It is alleged that an undercover officer working for the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) had used this child’s details as his covert identity. This matter was referred to the IPCC. The matter was returned to the force and is currently subject of a ‘local investigation’..
  4. Heather Saul, Families of dead children whose identities were used by undercover police have not been informed, The Independent, 16 July 2013 (accessed 7 November 2017).
  5. 5.0 5.1 Updated terms of reference for Operation Herne, Metropolitan Police Service, 15 October 2015 (accessed via UCPI.org.uk).
  6. The minutes of the NPCC Chief Constables' Council of 25th/26th January 2016 are available via npcc.police.uk but are redacted with regards the session on the Undercover Policing Inquiry.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Mick Creedon & Helen King, Resourcing of Op. Herne and need for NPCC UCPI Coordination Team, National Police Chiefs Council, 23 June 2016 (accessed via WhatDoTheyKnow.com). This document is an agenda item for a meeting of the Chief Constables' Council of 13th/14th July 2016.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Mick Creedon, Updated Terms of Reference for Operation Elter, National Police Chiefs Council, 7 October 2016 (accessed via WhatDoTheyKnow.com).
  9. Brian Wilson, Response to FOIA request of Peter Salmon, Metropolitan Police Service, 9 August 2017 (accessed via WhatDoTheyKnow.com).
  10. MOPAC/MPS Financial Performance Quarter 3 2016/17, The Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), 8 March 2017 (accessed 6 September 2017 via London.gov.uk).
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Sir Robert Francis QC, Stephen Morley & Cecily White, Submissions on behalf of the NPCC on the approach to anonymity and restriction orders, National Police Chiefs Council / Serjeants' Inn Chambers, 23 March 2017 (accessed via UCPI.org.uk).
  12. Andy Ward (NPCC Inquiry Coordination Team), Undercover Policing Public Inquiry Update, National Police Chiefs Council, 23 June 2016 (accessed via WhatDoTheyKnow.com). This document is part of papers submitted to the Chief Constables' Council meeting of 13th / 14th July 2016.
  13. Piers Doggart, Undercover Policing Inquiry - timescale and processes (email to Tamsin Allen), Undercover Policing Inquiry, 28 November 2016 (accessed via UCPI.org.uk).
  14. David Barr QC, Kate Wilkinson, Emma Gargitter & Victoria Ailes, Counsel to the Inquiry's note for the hearing on 5 April 2017, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 2 March 2017 (accessed via UCPI.org.uk).