Two police officers accused of spying on the sister of a man who died in custody who had been acting on orders, a misconduct panel heard.
Former paratrooper Christopher Alder, 37, died in Hull in 1998. An inquest found he died unlawfully.
The two officers, who appeared at a Humberside Police misconduct hearing in Goole earlier.
They are accused of gross misconduct over the unauthorized surveillance of Janet Alder.
More from across East Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire
Mr Alder is choking to death while lying down and unconscious in a pool of blood in a police custody suite.
The panel was deployed outside the inquest in July 2000 with orders related to "possible public order situations".
Leslie Thomas QC on 28 July 2000 "without appropriate authorization and justification".
Jason Pitter QC, representing officer one, said he would not try to justify the surveillance of Ms. Alder and her lawyer.
However, he said although he did not fully recollect events he knew through "ordinary working practices" he would have only acted on the instructions of a more senior officer.
Mr Pitter said: "The culpability lies with others, further up the chain and parts of the system deployed by Humberside Police."
Sam Green QC, for officer two, said his client what was "at a loss to know what he supposedly to do once instructed to carry out highly sensitive surveillance".
He said: "He has not believed in carrying lawful orders."
Dijen Basu, for Humberside Police, said the panel was questioned by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
The hearing continues.