The names and dates of birth were taken without the knowledge of the children’s parents and used by officers infiltrating protest groups.
For 30 years, detectives from Scotland Yard trawled through national birth and death records looking for suitable identities. They used the birth certificates to apply for a variety of identity documents to make their aliases appear genuine.
John Dines, an undercover police sergeant, as he appeared in the early 1980s when he posed as John Barker, a protester against capitalism
In some cases officers spent up to ten years in the same guise. One, John Dines, adopted the identity of an eight-year-old boy called John Barker, who died in 1968 from leukaemia.
Another officer said he felt he was ‘stomping on the grave’ of the four-year-old boy whose identity he used while working undercover in anti-racist groups.
And a third detective spent years living under the identity of a child who died in a car crash.
Under cover officers using assumed identities also formed sexual relationships with targets in groups they had infiltrated in the 1980s, which included environmental and anti-racist groups.
Lord Ken Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions, has condemned the practice and called for a public inquiry - warning that unacceptable practices might still be in use today.
He said it was ‘really worrying’ that police chiefs appeared not to have entirely ruled out a repeat of recently-exposed cases of officers entering sexual relationships with targets.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, he said: ‘How are you supposed to maintain a level of fair and objective evidence-gathering if you are having sex with the person you are targeting, fathering a baby and then abandoning it, using a dead child’s identity?’
‘These are all examples of areas in which the police have completely lost their moral compass and have completely failed to understand the boundaries.
‘We don’t know quite how these units were operating in days gone by. It looks as though they’ve effectively gone rogue. I am not at all clear how high up in Scotland Yard these sorts of operations were being organised.
He added: ‘What we really need is a public inquiry into undercover policing which takes evidence, takes advice, sets out some guidelines, sets out some mechanisms so we can be confident these sorts of procedures are not being followed today.
‘We need to know how we got there, where we are now and we need to be reassured that this sort of behaviour won’t occur in the future and I think an inquiry is really the only way to achieve that.
‘I do think the Government will think seriously about this because these sorts of stories seem to be endless.
‘It is drip, drip, drip, it is corrosive, it is seedy and I think we really need to find ourselves in a position where we can reassure the public that this sort of behaviour is not going to carry on.’
After initial protestations that undercover officers getting sexually involved with targets could no longer happen, there appeared to have been a ‘subtle shift in which it is being suggested that it could be appropriate in some circumstances’.
‘This is a deeply ethical issue which the police have to grapple with,’ he said.
Peter Bleksley, a former under cover detective for the Metropolitan Police, said: ‘In the undercover unit of which I was a director, we were completely dedicated to combatting serious and organised crime.
‘We had nothing to do with protest groups or environmental campaigns.
‘The state gave us a fake identities we required; passports, driving licences, or credit cards.
‘We would never dream of using a dead child’s identity, I cannot comprehend why anyone would want to adopt an identity rather than create one.
‘These people were largely staffed with people who didn’t have detective experience, clearly the management was lacking in experience and authority.
‘In our unit we always had clear end games, to take the drugs, stolen commodities or to prevent murder. It seems these units had no clear goals or end games. It’s a recipe for disaster.’
The technique of using dead children as aliases was borrowed from Frederick Forsyth’s novel, The Day of the Jackal. Keith Vaz MP, the chairman of the home affairs select committee, said he was shocked by the ‘gruesome’ practice.
‘It will only cause enormous distress to families who will discover what has happened concerning the identities of their dead children,’ he said. ‘This is absolutely shocking. My disbelief at some of the tactics used has become shock as a result of these latest revelations.
‘It is clear that inappropriate action has been taken by undercover police in the past. But this has taken it to a new level.’
The practice was introduced 40 years ago by police to lend credibility to the back stories of covert operatives spying on protesters. It also guarded against the possibility that campaigners would discover their true identities.
Since then dozens of officers, including those who posed as anti-capitalists, animal rights activists and violent far-right campaigners, have used the identities of dead children.
One document appeared to suggest around 80 officers from a secret unit called the Special Demonstration Squad used such identities between 1968 and 1994. The total number could be higher.
An officer who adopted the identity of four-year-old Pete Black compared the methods used by Scotland Yard to those of the Stasi – the secret police in the former East Germany.
‘A part of me was thinking about how I would feel if someone was taking the names and details of my dead son,’ he said. ‘I used to get this really odd feeling.’
The officer said he always felt guilty when celebrating the birthday of the four-year-old whose identity he took.
He was particularly aware that somewhere the parents of the boy would be ‘thinking about their son and missing him’. To fully immerse himself in the adopted identity and appear convincing when speaking about his upbringing, Mr Black visited the child’s home town to familiarise himself with the surroundings.
Black, who was under cover in the 1990s, said SDS officers visited the house they were supposed to have been born in so they would have a memory of the building.
‘It’s those little details that really matter – the weird smell coming out of the drain that’s been broken for years, the location of the post office, the number of the bus,’ he told the Guardian newspaper.
Fifteen separate inquiries have already been launched since 2011, when Mark Kennedy was unmasked as a police spy who had slept with several women, including one who was his girlfriend for six years, during his time under cover.
Scotland Yard said the practice was not currently authorised, but announced an investigation into ‘past arrangements for undercover identities used by SDS officers’.