Met police accused of using hackers to access protesters’ emails
April 5, 2017
Exclusive: Watchdog investigates claim that secretive unit worked with Indian police to obtain campaigners’ passwords
An anonymous letter claimed the Scotland Yard unit accessed activists’ email accounts for ‘a number of years’.
The police watchdog is investigating allegations that a secretive Scotland Yard unit used hackers to illegally access the private emails of hundreds of political campaigners and journalists.
The allegations were made by an anonymous individual who says the unit worked with Indian police, who in turn used hackers to illegally obtain the passwords of the email accounts of the campaigners, and some reporters and press photographers.
Met presses undercover police inquiry to examine fewer officers
The person, who says he or she previously worked for the intelligence unit that monitors the activities of political campaigners, detailed their concerns in a letter to the Green party peer Jenny Jones. The peer passed on the allegations to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which is investigating.
Hacked passwords were passed to the Metropolitan police unit, according to the writer of the letter, which then regularly checked the emails of the campaigners and the media to gather information. The letter to Jones listed the passwords of environmental campaigners, four of whom were from Greenpeace. Several confirmed they matched the ones they had used to open their emails.
The letter said: “For a number of years the unit had been illegally accessing the email accounts of activists. This has largely been accomplished because of the contact that one of the officers had developed with counterparts in India who in turn were using hackers to obtain email passwords.”
Jones said: “There is more than enough to justify a full-scale criminal investigation into the activities of these police officers and referral to a public inquiry. I have urged the Independent Police Complaints Commission to act quickly to secure further evidence and to find out how many people were victims of this nasty practice.”
The letter also alleges that emails of reporters and photographers, including two working for the Guardian, were monitored. A spokesperson for the Guardian said: “Allegations that the Metropolitan police has accessed the email accounts of Guardian journalists are extremely concerning and we expect a full and thorough investigation into these claims.”
The IPCC has for several months been investigating claims that the national domestic extremism and disorder intelligence unit shredded a large number of documents over a number of days in May 2014.
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Last month the IPCC said it had uncovered evidence suggesting the documents had been destroyed despite a specific instruction that files should be preserved to be examined by a judge-led public inquiry into the undercover policing of political groups.
The letter claimed that the shredding “has been happening for some time and on a far greater scale than the IPCC seems to be aware of”. The author added that “the main reason for destroying these documents is that they reveal that [police] officers were engaged in illegal activities to obtain intelligence on protest groups”.
The letter to Jones lists 10 individuals, alongside specific passwords that they used to access their email accounts. Lawyers at Bindmans, who are representing Jones, contacted six on the list and, after outlining the allegations, asked them to volunteer their passwords.
Five of them gave the identical password that had been identified in the letter. The sixth gave a password that was almost the same. The remaining four on the list have yet to be approached or cannot be traced.
Colin Newman has for two decades volunteered to help organise mainly local Greenpeace protests which he says were publicised to the media. He used the password specified in the letter for his private email account between the late 1990s and last year.
Newman said he felt “angry and violated, especially for the recipients”. He added: “I am open about my actions as I make a stand and am personally responsible for those, but it is not fair and just that others are scrutinised.
“I am no threat. There is no justification for snooping in private accounts unless you have a reason to do so, and you have the authority to do that.”
He said he had been cautioned by the police once, for trespassing on the railway during a protest against coal about two years ago.
Another on the list was Cat Dorey who has worked for Greenpeace, both as an employee and a volunteer, since 2001. She said all the protests she had been involved in were non-violent.
The password specified in the letter sent to Jones had been used for emails that contained private information about her family and friends.
She said: “Even though Greenpeace UK staff, volunteers, and activists were always warned to assume someone was listening to our phone conversations or reading our emails, it still came as a shock to find out I was being watched by the police. It’s creepy to think of strangers reading my personal emails.”
In 2005, she was part of a group of Greenpeace protesters who were sentenced to 80 hours of community service after installing solar panels on the home of the then deputy prime minister, John Prescott, in a climate change demonstration.
According to the letter, the “most sensitive side of the work was monitoring the email accounts of radical journalists who reported on activist protests (as well as sympathetic photographers) including at least two employed by the Guardian newspaper”. None were named.
Investigators working for the IPCC have met Jones twice with her lawyer, Jules Carey, and have asked to interview the peer. An IPCC spokesperson said: “After requesting and receiving a referral by the Metropolitan police service, we have begun an independent investigation related to anonymous allegations concerning the accessing of personal data. We are still assessing the scope of the investigation and so we are not able to comment further.”
The letter’s writer said he or she had spoken out about the “serious abuse of power” because “over the years, the unit had evolved into an organisation that had little respect for the law, no regard for personal privacy, encouraged highly immoral activity and, I believe, is a disgrace”.
In recent years, the unit has monitored thousands of political activists, drawing on information gathered by undercover officers and informants as well as from open sources such as websites. Police chiefs say they need to keep track of a wide pool of activists to identify the small number who commit serious crime to promote their cause.
But the unit has come in for criticism after it was revealed to be compiling files on law-abiding campaigners, including John Catt, a 91-year-old pensioner with no criminal record as well as senior members of the Green party including the MP Caroline Lucas.
The Metropolitan police said the IPCC had made it “aware of anonymous allegations concerning the accessing of personal data, and requested the matters were referred to them by the MPS. This was done. The MPS is now aware that the IPCC are carrying out an independent investigation.”
Tuesday 21 March 2017 16.35 GMT Last modified on Wednesday 22 March 2017 00.50 GMT
Find this story at 22 March 2017
© 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited
The letter I received about alleged police hacking shows how at risk we all are
April 5, 2017
The whistleblower lists damning claims of spying on innocent individuals by a secretive Scotland Yard unit. It’s now vital that we hold the police to account
‘When the police act with impunity all of our private lives are put at risk’
As the only Green party peer I receive a lot of post to my office in the House of Lords. Rarely, though, do I open letters like the one that has been revealed. The anonymous writer alleged that there was a secretive unit within Scotland Yard that has used hackers to illegally access the emails of campaigners and journalists. It included a list of 10 people and the passwords to their email accounts.
As soon as I read the first sentence of the letter, I knew the content would be astonishing – and when some aspects of the letter were corroborated by lawyers and those on the list – I was convinced that we owed it to this brave whistleblower to hold the police to account.
The list of allegations is lengthy. It includes illegal hacking of emails, using an Indian-based operation to do the dirty work, shredding documents and using sex as a tool of infiltration. And these revelations matter to all of us. None of us knows whether the police organised for our emails to be hacked, but all of us know the wide range of personal information that our emails contain. It might be medical conditions, family arguments, love lives or a whole range of drug- or alcohol-related misdemeanours.
When the police act with impunity, all of our private lives are put at risk. Whether you’re involved in a local campaign against library closures, a concerned citizen worried about air pollution or someone working for a charity – who’s to say that officers won’t be spying on the emails you send? The police put me on the domestic extremism database during the decade when I was on the Metropolitan Police Authority signing off their budgets and working closely with officers on the ground to fight crimes such as road crime and illegal trafficking. If someone in my position – no criminal record and on semi-friendly terms with the Met commissioner – can end up on the database, then you can too.
The truth is that without the bravery and professionalism of two serving police officers who have blown the whistle on state snooping I would know nothing about my files, and those of other campaigners, being shredded by the Domestic Extremism Unit. We would have had no suspicion that those files had been shredded to cover up the illegal hacking of personal and work e-mails by the police.
Please don’t fall for the old establishment lie that the problem is a few rotten apples. This alleged criminality is the result of a deliberate government policy of using the police and security services to suppress dissent and protest in order to protect company profits and the status quo. Such an approach inevitably leads to police officers overstepping the mark as they feel emboldened by those at the top levels of government and an immunity from prosecution provided by senior officers keen to please the people who decide their budgets.
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The police don’t always act as neutral agents of the law. We know that the Thatcher government’s determination to break the miners’ strike led to the Orgreave confrontation in 1984. There are still allegations about the links between the police and those running blacklisting databases that led to hundreds of construction workers being condemned to unemployment and poverty.
And don’t mistake this for a partisan attack on Conservative politicians. Theresa May has forced through the draconian Investigatory Powers Act, but the Labour party too has been timid at best in opposing this snoopers’ charter. Indeed it was the Blair government that left a legacy of draconian public order laws, and which broadly defined the anti-terrorism legislation upon which an edifice of modern surveillance powers has been constructed.
Many are unaware that joining an anti-fracking group, or going on a demonstration, could get you labelled a domestic extremist, photographed, questioned and followed for months or even years – without ever having been convicted of a crime.
It’s only by speaking out against these intrusions that we are able to challenge this rotten culture of impunity. After all, it was David Cameron who gave us the Hillsborough inquiry and Theresa May who set up the Pitchford inquiry into undercover officers. Politicians don’t always do things for good reasons, but they do respond to public pressure.
Change is possible, but in the meantime, we should be doing everything we can to make it hard for the police to spy on us. Use encryption, two-step email security and other precautions suggested by organisations such as Liberty. Don’t stop saying what you think, or working to make the world a better place, but do assume that the police will be working to protect the companies, banks or energy companies that you want to challenge.
It isn’t how things should be, but the evidence shows that is the way things are.
A campaign to get the police out of the lives of environmentalists and social justice campaigners is a good start, but it will fail unless it reaches out – starting by working with those in the Muslim community intimidated by Prevent.
Above all, we must convince the middle ground of society that everyone will be safer if the security services focused on what we all want them to do – stopping terrorists and serious criminals. This is not unreasonable, and the starting point is a change to the legislation so that it narrows the definition of terrorism to exclude the nonviolent, noisy and rebellious
Wednesday 22 March 2017 15.23 GMT Last modified on Wednesday 22 March 2017 17.29 GMT
Find this story at 22 March 2017
© 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited
Police Scotland confirms secret G8 file on notorious undercover police unit
April 5, 2017
POLICE Scotland has confirmed that a secret file was created on the activities of a disgraced undercover unit at the G8 summit at Gleneagles.
The “intelligence briefings” on the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, whose officers had sex with the protestors they spied on, will now be examined by a watchdog as part of its covert policing probe. Police Scotland said they would not comment on the contents of the file.
Two Met-based units – the Special Demonstration Squad and the NPOIU – were set up to keep tabs on so-called subversives and domestic extremists.
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A key strategy was to embed undercover officers in campaign groups, which included anti-racism organisations, and report back to handlers.
However, some of the tactics deployed by officers in the units, such as using the identities of dead babies and deceiving women into long-term sexual relationships before vanishing, have since been exposed.
The Pitchford Inquiry, set up by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, is examining undercover policing going back decades.
Although the judicial-led investigation does not apply to Scotland, NPOIU activity took place north of the border in the run up to the G8 summit in Scotland in 2005.
Mark “Stone” was a driver for campaigners at the G8, but was unmasked as undercover officer Mark Kennedy.
He later said in an interview: “My superior officer told me on more than one occasion, particularly during the G8 protests in Scotland in 2005, that information I was providing was going directly to Tony Blair’s desk.”
Ahead of the G8, the then Scottish Executive issued a Ministerial Certificate blocking the release of information connected with the summit. The blackout applied to all Scottish public authorities, including police forces, health bodies and the Government.
However, it can be revealed that the SNP Government quietly revoked the certificate in 2010, a decision that could result in information on the summit being released.
After being asked by this newspaper for the titles of all files produced by on the G8 in 2005, Police Scotland confirmed the names of 1168 files.
Forty-four were created by the former Fife Constabulary, whose patch included the Gleneagles hotel, while 1124 files were produced by Lothian and Borders police.
Many of the files are on routine policing matters, but one document is described as “intelligence briefings” on the “National Public Order Intelligence Unit”.
Other files include “stop the war coalition – regulatory board” and “indymedia”, which was a left-wing website at the time.
There was also correspondence with the security services on the “Senior Leadership Development Programme”, a funding request for a “special branch operation” in May 2005 and over a dozen files on the peaceful Make Poverty History march.
After the UK Government refused to extend the Pitchford Inquiry to Scotland, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland launched its own review of undercover policing.
A spokesperson for HMICS said: “As outlined in our terms of reference HMICS will examine the scale and extent of undercover police operations in Scotland conducted by the SDS and the NPOIU. As part of our scrutiny, we will review the authorisations for undercover deployments during the G8 Summit in Scotland in July 2005. HMICS are currently engaged in this process with the full cooperation of Police Scotland. With specific regard to the intelligence file, HMICS will ?examine this file for any information that may inform our review process.”
Donal O’Driscoll, a core participant in the Pitchford Inquiry who was spied on in Scotland, said: “We have long argued that the both the SDS and the NPOIU were active in Scotland, particularly around the 2005 G8. The existence of this file strengthens our case that there needs to be a full inquiry into the activities of spy cops in Scotland – and renders the exclusion of Scotland from the Pitchford Inquiry even more inexplicable.
“We continue to have no confidence in the HMICS review. Nevertheless, I’d expect them to at least make the effort to examine this and related briefings as part of the bare minimum they need to do. Not least because it is now beyond dispute there were multiple undercover police from the NPOIU and foreign police forces present at the G8 protests. However, only a full public inquiry can get to the truth as to what the police and the state had planned and co-ordinated when they interfered in legitimate democratic protest.”
A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Police Scotland does not routinely comment on covert policing or intelligence. We will not offer any comment on the contents of any specific files. Any inquiries relating to the NPOIU should be directed to the Met Police. Police Scotland will also fully and openly co-operate with the review of undercover policing to be carried out by HMICS.”
/ Paul Hutcheon, Investigations Editor / @paulhutcheon
Find this story at 25 March 2017
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MI6 spy Gareth Williams found dead in bag had ‘hacked Clinton secrets’
October 23, 2015
A MI6 spy who was discovered dead in a holdall at his apartment in 2010 had hacked into sensitive information about former US President Bill Clinton, it has been claimed. The spy had obtained Clinton’s diary for an event and passed it to a friend.
Gareth Williams, 31, hacked into the event’s guest list as it was to be attended by President Clinton, passing it to his friend who was also to be a guest at the party, according to sources speaking on condition of anonymity to the Sun on Sunday.
“The Clinton diary hack came at a time when Williams’s work with America was of the most sensitive nature,” one source said. “It was a diplomatic nightmare for Sir John Sawers, the new director of MI6 at the time.”
The death of Williams remains an unsolved case after five years. A three-year investigation by the Metropolitan Police ended in 2013, deciding that no one else was involved in Williams’ death and his being locked inside the bag, which was found in his bath. A coroner’s report following his death judged that he was killed unlawfully, however.
Another inside source told the newspaper that before his death, living with a new identity has been taking its toll on Williams. “Williams’s state of mind in the months before his death was worrying those closest to him,” the source told the paper. “He found the training so stressful and his mood blackened even talking about it.”
“Typically he’d be asked to learn a new identity then report to a country hotel to meet an interrogation team. There he would be grilled about his new ID for 48 hours without sleep, the source added. “His wrist was broken once after he was handcuffed to a metal bar inside a van that was driven around the country for several hours while he faced a barrage of questions.”
Last week, it was reported that spies may have broken into Williams’ flat in Pimlico, central London, through a skylight, re-entering the residence in order to destroy evidence while the property was under armed guard after the spy’s death. An anonymous source told the Mirror that forensic officers realised that equipment in the flat had been moved in their absence. Williams was a keen cyclist from Anglesey in North Wales and before his death had attended a hacking conference in the US and also a drag show by himself two days before his death.
International Business TimesBy Jack Moore | International Business Times – Sun, Aug 30, 2015
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MI6 spy Gareth Williams was ‘killed by Russia for refusing to become double agent’, former KGB man claims (2015)
October 23, 2015
Defector Boris Karpichkov claims Russia had a secret agent in GCHQ and Williams knew who it was
A Russian defector has claimed that the MI6 spy who was found dead in a padlocked holdall in his bath in Pimlico was “exterminated” by Russian intelligence agents because he refused to become a double agent and knew the identity of a Kremlin spy working inside GCHQ.
Codebreaker Gareth Williams was found dead at his home in 2010. He had been a cipher expert at GCHQ but was on secondment to MI6 when he died.
MI6 spy in a bag case: Gareth Williams ‘probably’ locked himself in
Scotland Yard boss Horgan-Howe warns MI6 over spy Gareth Williams
Spy Gareth Williams was probably the victim of a ‘criminally mediated’
Coroner criticises MI6 investigation into spy Gareth Williams’ death
MI6 spy Gareth Williams ‘poisoned or suffocated’
MI6 spy Gareth Williams tied himself to bed, says landlady
According to the coroner at the subsequent inquest, his death was likely a “criminally mediated” unlawful killing, though it was “unlikely” to be satisfactorily explained. Police investigating Williams’ death suggested he had died as the result of a sex game gone wrong.
But a defector, Boris Karpichkov, claims intelligence sources in Russia have admitted the MI6 spy was killed by the SVR, the current incarnation of the country’s espionage agency which was formerly known as the KGB.
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Karpichkov claimed the SVR attempted to recruit Williams as a double agent, allegedly using details from the British cypher’s private life as leverage.
Police disclosed at the time of Williams’ death that he owned £15,000 worth of women’s designer clothing, a wig and make up. It had been suggested that Williams dressed as a woman outside of work, though a forensics expert has since said they believe the spy likely worked undercover as a woman.
Spy Gareth Williams was probably the victim of a ‘criminally mediated’ unlawful killing
Karpichkov, who is ex-KGB, claims the SVR threatened to reveal the Briton was a transvestite, before Williams in turn revealed he knew the identity of the person who had “tipped the Russians off” about him.
“The SVR then had no alternative but to exterminate him in order to protect their agent inside GCHQ,” he alleges.
Karpichkov, who also lives in the Pimlico area, said he had seen Russian diplomatic cars in the area around the time of Williams’ death but had believed they had been sent to monitor himself. He claims to have not seen the cars since Williams died.
Karpichkov has also claimed that Williams was killed by an untraceable poison which was pushed into his ear using a needleless syringe.
At the time of the inquiry the coroner said that the involvement of intelligence services in Williams’ death remained a “legitimate line of inquiry” but stressed “there was no evidence to support that he died at the hands” of a government agency.
Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith Monday 28 September 2015 12:55 BST1 comment
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MI6 spy found dead in bag probably locked himself inside, Met says (2013)
October 23, 2015
Three-year investigation by Scotland Yard concludes Gareth Williams probably died as a result of a tragic accident
Gareth Williams: last year a coroner concluded that the spy was probably unlawfully killed and his death the result of a criminal act.
The MI6 spy found dead in a bag three years ago probably locked himself in the holdall and died as a result of a tragic accident, Scotland Yard has said.
Outlining the results of a three-year investigation on Wednesday, the Metropolitan police said Gareth Williams most likely died alone in his flat.
But Detective Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt said the police could not “fundamentally and beyond doubt” rule out the possibility that a third party was involved in his death.
Williams’s naked body was found in the padlocked bag, with the keys discovered under his body, in the otherwise empty bath in his flat in Pimlico, central London, in August 2010.
Last year, a coroner concluded that Williams was probably unlawfully killed and his death the result of a criminal act. Following an eight-day inquest, the Westminster coroner, Dr Fiona Wilcox, said he was probably either suffocated or poisoned, before a third party locked and placed the bag in the bath.
But Hewitt said Scotland Yard’s three-year inquiry had come to a different conclusion and that Williams was “most probably” alone when he died.
“Despite all of this considerable effort, it is still the case that there is insufficient evidence to be definitive on the circumstances that led to Gareth’s death,” he said.
“Rather, what we are left with is either individual pieces of evidence, or a lack of such evidence, that can logically support one of a number of hypotheses.”
Hewitt added that the investigation had added “some clarity and detail” to the case, but that “no evidence has been identified to establish the full circumstances of Gareth’s death beyond all reasonable doubt”.
A forensic examination of Williams’s flat, a security service safe house, has concluded that there was no sign of forced entry or DNA that pointed to a third party present at the time of the spy’s death.
Scotland Yard’s inquiry also found no evidence of Williams’s fingerprints on the padlock of the bag or the rim of the bath, which the coroner last year said supported her assertion of “third-party involvement” in the death. Hewitt said it was theoretically possible for Williams to lower himself into the holdall without touching the rim of the bath.
Winding down the lengthy investigation, which has drawn interviews and statements from 27 of Williams’s colleagues in MI6 and GCHQ, Hewitt said the death remained a tragedy that would be kept under review by detectives.
In a statement, Williams’s family said they were disappointed with the police findings and that they agreed with the coroner’s conclusions that he was most likely killed unlawfully.”We are naturally disappointed that it is still not possible to state with certainty how Gareth died and the fact that the circumstances of his death are still unknown adds to our grief,” the family said.
“We note that the investigation has been conducted with further interviews upon some of the witnesses who gave evidence at the inquest and that the investigation team were at last able to interview directly members of GCHQ and SIS [MI6].
“We consider that on the basis of the facts at present known the coroner’s verdict accurately reflects the circumstances of Gareth’s death.”
In a press briefing at Scotland Yard, Hewitt admitted it was “a cause of some regret” that the police were not able to definitively explain the circumstances surrounding the 31-year-old’s death.
He rejected suggestions that the security services had “pulled the wool” over his eyes, following concerns over how MI6 and counter-terrorism officers had handled some evidence during the initial investigation. It emerged on Wednesday that police only gained access to Williams’s spy agency personnel and vetting files after the coroner’s inquest ended last May.
Williams, a maths prodigy and fitness enthusiast originally from Anglesey, was a private person with few other close friends aside from his family, police said. In interviews, MI6 and GCHQ colleagues described him as a “conscientious and decent man” and detectives were unable to identify anyone with any animosity towards him or a motive for causing him harm.
As part of the fresh investigation, a forensic sweep of Williams’s flat discovered 10 to 15 unidentified traces of DNA, which are being kept under examination, but none on the North Face holdall or around the bath area of the en suite bathroom of the flat’s main bedroom. There was also no evidence of a “deep clean” of the flat to wipe all trace of DNA.
Hewitt said: “There are really three hypotheses that you can use here. One is that Gareth, for whatever reason, got himself into that bag and then was unable to get himself out and died as a result of that.
“One is that Gareth, with someone else, got into the bag consensually, then something went wrong and he died as a result of that. The third is that someone murdered Gareth by putting him in that bag. I would argue that any physical absence [of evidence of] a third party being present tends to make the hypotheses that there is a third party present less likely.”
He added: “The coroner drew an inference. I am now drawing a different inference.”
At the coroner’s inquest, two experts tried 400 times to lock themselves into the 32in by 19in holdall without success, with one remarking that even Harry Houdini “would have struggled” to squeeze himself inside. But days after the inquest, footage emerged of a retired army sergeant climbing into the bag and locking it from the inside.
Hewitt said it was now established that it was theoretically possible for a person to climb into the bag and that it was “more probable” that Williams did this before suffocating as a result of the accident. It emerged during the inquest that Williams had an interest in escapology, but the police said it would be speculation to link his death to a failed attempt to escape from the locked holdall.
Wednesday 13 November 2013 14.44 GMT Last modified on Thursday 22 May 2014 09.11 BST
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© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
MI6 and Met condemned over Gareth Williams’ death (2012)
October 23, 2015
Coroner criticises intelligence agency for failing to report missing MI6 officer and rules he was probably killed unlawfully
The coroner in the Gareth Williams case delivered a damning verdict that was highly critical of the Metropolitan police’s counter-terrorism branch and MI6 as she ruled that the officer had probably been killed unlawfully.
The cause of death of Williams, 31, who was found padlocked in a holdall in the bath at his flat in Pimlico, central London, was “unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated”, said Dr Fiona Wilcox.
Passing a narrative verdict, she said she was satisfied that “a third party placed the bag in the bath and on the balance of probabilities locked the bag”.
She was, therefore, “satisfied that on the balance of probabilities that Gareth was killed unlawfully”.
Wilcox levelled devastating criticism at Williams’s employers at MI6 who failed to report him missing for seven days when he did not turn up for work. The explanation from his line manager lacked credibility, she said, and she could “only speculate as to what effect this [delay] had on the investigation”.
The lawyer for the Secret Intelligence Service, Andrew O’Connor, delivered deep regrets and an unprecedented apology to the family from Sir John Sawers, chief of the SIS, who recognised that “failure to act more swiftly” when Williams was absent had contributed to their “anguish and suffering”.
Officers in the Met’s counter-terrorism branch, SO15, whose role was to interview SIS witnesses, were also strongly criticised. SO15 failed to inform DCI Jackie Sebire, senior investigating officer, of the existence of nine memory sticks and a black holdall found at Williams’ MI6 office until two days before the inquest ended, the coroner said. On discovering this, Wilcox said she had seriously questioned whether she should adjourn the inquest at that point.
No formal statements were taken by S015 officers who interviewed Williams’ colleagues, “and I find this did affect the quality of evidence heard in this court,” she said.
She also criticised the handling of an iPhone belonging to Williams and found in his work locker, which contained deleted images of him naked in a pair of boots. The officer involved kept it in his possession before handing it to homicide detectives the following day, “demonstrating disregard for the rules governing continuity of evidence”, she said.
Many agencies “fell short of the ideal”, she said, including LGC Forensics in relation to DNA contamination, and the coroner’s office for failing to inform police officers of a second postmortem.
Williams, a fitness fanatic from Anglesey, north Wales, was probably alive when put in the bag but probably suffocated very soon afterwards either from CO2 poisoning, hypercapnia, or the effects of a short-acting poison, she said.
Scotland Yard has always treated the death as suspicious and unexplained, but held back from describing it as murder or manslaughter. Recording her verdict, Wilcox stated her belief that a criminal hand was involved, although police said afterwards that there was no evidence of this. The Guardian understands police inquiries have focused on the theory that Williams died accidentally in a private sexual liaison that went wrong.
The coroner, however, ruled out bondage or auto-erotic activity as explanations.
The dead man’s family said in a statement that their grief had been exacerbated by the failure of his employers at MI6 to make “even the most basic inquiries of his whereabouts and welfare” when he was absent from work for seven days.
They were “extremely disappointed at the failure and reluctance of MI6” to provide relevant information and called on the Metropolitan police commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, to conduct a review of how the investigation would proceed “in the light of the total inadequacy of S015’s investigations into MI6”.
Wilcox said there was no evidence to suggest that any SIS colleague had been involved, but it remained a legitimate line of inquiry given Williams socialised with so few people, and never let anyone he didn’t know into his flat. So any third party would be “someone he knew or someone there without invitation”.
An SIS spokesman said: “We fully co-operated with the police and will continue to do so during the ongoing investigation. We gave all the evidence to the police when they wanted it; at no time did we withhold any evidence.”
An iPhone found in his living room had recently been wiped and restored to factory settings, and it could not be ruled out that contact with a third party had been made via the internet on that phone, she said.
Wilcox was “sure that a third party moved the bag containing Gareth into the bath”. There were two possibilities: either he entered the bag outside the bathroom and it was carried in by a third party, or he was locked in the bag by a third party and lifted into the bath.
She dismissed an interest in bondage, and female clothing, as being irrelevant, condemning leaks to the media about him cross-dressing as a possible attempt “by some third party to manipulate a section of the evidence”.
She said: “Gareth was naked in a bag, not cross-dressed, not in high-heeled shoes.” If his interest was bondage, she would have expected much more internet activity on such websites, when his visits made up a tiny percentage of his browsing. His interest was in fashion, she said. Dismissing any auto-erotic activity, she said he was a “scrupulous risk assessor” and if he had locked himself into the bag would have taken a knife in with him to escape.
She said that despite a 21-month police inquiry: “Most of the fundamental questions in relation to how Gareth died remained unanswered.”
Detectives believe scientific tests on a crumpled green hand towel found in his flat may yet yield crucial DNA evidence, as the Metropolitan police launched a review into the case.
The towel was originally in the bathroom, and moved to the kitchen, police believe, by the “third party”. More tests are being conducted on the bag. The memory sticks, which have now been examined by police, are said not to have produced any significant evidence, but will be examined more closely.
Martin Hewitt, deputy assistant commissioner of the Met, said the circumstances of the death were particularly complex and continued to be the subject of a thorough investigation.
He added: “We have listened to the detailed ruling by the coroner and the concerns raised by Gareth’s family. We are giving both very careful consideration.”
Detectives were “currently undertaking actions in order to develop existing DNA profiles, to trace unidentified individuals who may have information about Gareth’s death, and to further develop analysis of telephone communications”.
Caroline Davies and Sandra Laville
Wednesday 2 May 2012 20.31 BST Last modified on Wednesday 21 May 2014 02.01 BST
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© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
Police continued spying on Labour activists after their election as MPs
June 26, 2015
Ex-minister Peter Hain says whistleblower’s disclosure of spying operations during 1990s raises questions about parliamentary sovereignty
Police conducted spying operations on a string of Labour politicians during the 1990s, covertly monitoring them even after they had been elected to the House of Commons, a whistleblower has revealed.
Peter Francis, a former undercover police officer, said he read secret files on 10 MPs during his 11 years working for the Metropolitan police’s special branch. They include Labour’s current deputy leader, Harriet Harman, the former cabinet minister Peter Hain and the former home secretary Jack Straw.
Francis said he personally collected information on three MPs – Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn and the late Bernie Grant – while he was deployed undercover infiltrating anti-racist groups. He also named Ken Livingstone, the late Tony Benn, Joan Ruddock and Dennis Skinner as having been subjected to special branch intelligence-gathering. The files on all 10 were held by Scotland Yard.
The whistleblower said special branch files were often “very extensive” and typically described the subject’s political beliefs, personal background such as parents, school and finances, and demonstrations they attended. Some contained “some personal and private matters”, Francis added.
Hain called for the home secretary, Theresa May, to ensure that an existing judge-led public inquiry into undercover policing examines the extent of the surveillance of members of parliament.
Why were special branch watching me even when I was an MP?
In an article for the Guardian, he wrote: “That the special branch had a file on me dating back 40 years ago to anti-apartheid and anti-Nazi League activist days is hardly revelatory. That these files were still active for at least 10 years while I was an MP certainly is and raises fundamental questions about parliamentary sovereignty.”
The Met’s special branch has been responsible for monitoring political groups considered to pose a threat to public order. Francis worked for special branch between 1990 and 2001. For four of those years he went undercover to spy on anti-racist groups as part of a covert unit, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), which was controlled by special branch.
In recent years Francis has publicly detailed many aspects of this covert work, disclosing, for instance, that the SDS collected information on the relatives of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence and other families seeking justice over alleged police misconduct.
Francis approached Hain and described how he had read the pink special branch files – known as personal registry files – on the MPs while he was working for the police. He said some of the information in the files dated from the subjects’ days as political campaigners before they entered parliament, but special branch continued to store details of their political activities after they were elected to the Commons. “When you become an MP, the files don’t stop,” he said.
He said that while he was undercover pretending to be an anti-racist campaigner in north-east London, Abbott, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, often talked at meetings and demonstrations he attended. He reported back details of her activities to his special branch superiors.
To a lesser extent he collected information about Corbyn, the Islington North MP, and Grant, who represented Tottenham from 1987 until his death in 2000. “They were in meetings and I was there and they were talking about things and that is what I reported on,” he said. His superiors were “certainly very grateful” if he passed on information involving MPs, he added.
Last year the Metropolitan police said it did not know how many elected politicians it was currently monitoring, after it was revealed that it had logged the political activities of Jenny Jones, the Green party’s sole peer, and a Green party councillor in Kent on a secretive database.
May ordered the public inquiry after a string of revelations about the conduct of undercover officers who infiltrated political groups for more than 40 years. The officers routinely formed sexual relationships with women they had been sent to spy on. The remit of the inquiry, which is to be led by Lord Justice Pitchford, has yet to be defined.
Livingstone, former MP for Brent East and former mayor of London, said he backed the idea of an inquiry covering surveillance of MPs but said this would probably only be serious under an Ed Miliband government.
He said: “I wish I could have been a threat when I was an MP but I was completely powerless. My phone was being bugged in the 80s when I was on the Greater London Council. MI5 always denied it was them. So this was done by special branch?
“Did they think we were a threat to the western system? If only this were true. What a load of crap. What’s so ridiculous is that we were being subjected to IRA bombings right the way through that period and they were wasting officers spying on me and Tony Benn. It’s a complete waste of police resources. People like me and Tony Benn were sadly never a threat to capitalism because we never had the powers. I’d love to see the files. My kids would love to see the files. They’re most likely full of rubbish.”
Hain said the public should know whether covert surveillance hindered the MPs’ ability to represent their constituents and speak confidentially with them.
He said that when he was Northern Ireland secretary between 2005 and 2007, undercover operations to defeat terrorism and serious crime were vital. “But conflating serious crime with political dissent unpopular with the state at the time means travelling down a road that endangers the liberty of us all.”
Ruddock, the MP for Lewisham Deptford, described the news as “utterly appalling” and and “affront to parliament”.
She said: “It is a surprise and I think it is absolutely outrageous. The MI5 surveillance of me in the 80s had no justification whatsoever, was found to be illegal. The idea that it could carry on without even the pretext that I was involved in CND when I was a member of parliament is completely and utterly outrageous.”
Ruddock said she has written to May today demanding answers and would write again to whoever was the new home secretary after the election. She has also submitted a request to the police to see the file held on her and wants to know whether the Conservative political leadership of the day authorised the operation.
May has promised that the remit of the public inquiry will be drawn up in consultation with people who were spied upon.
Francis said: “My question is: how can people help formulate this public inquiry if they didn’t actually know they were spied upon? By me revealing that these MPs were also spied upon the same as many trade union members, countless law-abiding political activists and demonstrators also were, they can all demand to be included in the inquiry.”
A Met police spokesman said an internal police inquiry, Operation Herne, was unable to fully investigate claims by Francis as he has been unwilling to speak to the inquiry.
The spokesman said the Met had not shied away from issues raised by Operation Herne and another inquiry. “Whilst talking openly about undercover policing is challenging because of its very nature, the upcoming inquiry represents a real opportunity to provide the public with as complete a picture as possible of what has taken place,” he added.
Two SDS undercover officers previously spied on Hain in the 1960s and 1970s when he campaigned against apartheid and racism before becoming the MP for Neath in 1991.
Rob Evans and Rowena Mason
Wednesday 25 March 2015 18.13 GMT Last modified on Thursday 26 March 2015 00.40 GMT
Find this story at 25 March 2015
© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
Police from several UK forces seek details of Charlie Hebdo readers
May 28, 2015
Newsagents in three counties questioned about sales of the French magazine’s special issue
Several British police forces have questioned newsagents in an attempt to monitor sales of a special edition of Charlie Hebdo magazine following the Paris attacks, the Guardian has learned.
Officers in Wiltshire, Wales and Cheshire have approached retailers of the magazine, it has emerged, as concerns grew about why police were attempting to trace UK-based readers of the French satirical magazine.
Wiltshire police apologised on Monday after admitting that one of its officers had asked a newsagent to hand over the names of readers who bought a special “survivors’ issue” of the magazine published after its top staff were massacred in Paris last month.
UK police force apologises for taking details of Charlie Hebdo readers
The case in Corsham, Wiltshire, was thought to be an isolated incident but it has since emerged that Cheshire constabulary and Dyfed-Powys police have also approached newsagents over the sale of Charlie Hebdo.
In at least two cases – in Wiltshire and in Presteigne, Wales – officers have requested that newsagents hand over the names of customers who bought the magazine.
“This is so ridiculous as to be almost laughable. And it would be funny if it didn’t reflect a more general worrying increase in abuse of police powers in invading privacy and stifling free speech in Britain,” said Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of free expression campaign group Index on Censorship.
“Does possessing a legally published satirical magazine make people criminal suspects now? If so, I better confess that I too have a copy of Charlie Hebdo.”
Paul Merrett, 57, the owner of a newsagent in Presteigne, Wales, said a detective and a police community support officer from Dyfed-Powys police spent half an hour asking his wife Deborah, 53, about the magazine.
“They wanted to know about Charlie Hebdo. They came in unannounced and we had customers,” he said. “There were questions asking where we got the Charlie Hebdo copies from, did we know who we sold them to – which we didn’t say. We were a bit bemused because it was out of the blue.”
“My wife said, ‘Am I in trouble?’ because she thought she was in trouble for selling them. They said, ‘No, you’re not in trouble’ but just continued with their questioning for half an hour.”
Merrett added: “It was all about Charlie Hebdo. I guess they wanted names and addresses of people we sold them to, which we didn’t tell them anything like that. We sold 30 copies.
“My wife was a bit worried with the questioning but she certainly wouldn’t have given any names to the police. I’m shocked they asked. They wanted to know where we got the copies from, how did we let the customers know that we had them.”
A Dyfed-Powys police spokeswoman declined to say why officers sought the names of Charlie Hebdo readers but said: “Following the recent terrorism incidents, Dyfed Powys police have been undertaking an assessment of community tensions across the force area.
“Visits were made to newsagents who were maybe distributing the Charlie Hebdo magazine to encourage the newsagent owners to be vigilant. We can confirm the visits were only made to enhance public safety and to provide community reassurance.”
In Warrington, Cheshire, a police officer telephoned a newsagent that had ordered one issue of the magazine for a customer, who asked to remain anonymous. She said: “My husband ordered a copy of the special edition of Charlie Hebdo from our local newsagent in North Cheshire.
“Several days later the latter had a phone call from the police, saying they’d been told that he had been selling and advertising Charlie Hebdo in his shop. He replied that this was untrue: he had supplied in total one copy, concealed, to a customer who was a French lecturer. I find the police action quite disturbing.”
Charlie Hebdo buyers attract police interest
Letter: A member of Her Majesty’s police service visited the newsagent, requesting the names of the four customers who had purchased Charlie Hebdo
DCI Paul Taylor, of Cheshire constabulary, said he was not aware of any officer contacting newsagents by telephone but added: “We were aware of the potential for heightened tensions following the attacks in Paris. Therefore where it was felt appropriate officers visited newsagents to provide reassurance advice around the time of its publication.”
In a later statement, a Cheshire police spokeswoman said: “Officers were asked to call into local newsagents in their area to provide visible reassurance around the time of publication and were not asked under any circumstances to make inquiries as to who was purchasing or preordering the Charlie Hebdo magazine. Each area endeavoured to visit as many newsagents as possible however we cannot provide an exact figure.”
The MP and former Conservative shadow home secretary David Davis said he thought the police action was more “stupid than sinister” but disquieting nonetheless.
“Quite what they think they’re doing and why they are wasting police time tracking down individual readers of Charlie Hebdo, really makes you wonder what sort of counter-terrorism and security policy those police forces are pursuing.
“It also has to be said that when police forces check up on what you are reading it’s unsettling in a democracy. I’m quite sure it’s not intentionally so, but it is unsettling and not something you should do lightly.”
The Metropolitan police said they were unaware of any such investigations by their officers in London.
A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said there had been no national guidance issued to forces about approaching newsagents that stocked copies of Charlie Hebdo.
However, counter-terrorism officers are known to have shared intelligence nationally following an assessment of potentially vulnerable communities after 17 people were killed in three days of violence in Paris.
The attacks began with two gunmen bursting into Charlie Hebdo’s Paris offices and opening fire in revenge for its publication of satirical images of the prophet.
In the UK, counter-terrorism officers have stepped up protection of police officers and the Jewish community over concerns that they may be targeted by Islamist militants.
Five million copies of the magazine – which has a usual print run of around 60,000 – were published in a special edition, with about 2,000 of them reportedly distributed in the UK.
Josh Halliday and Shiv Malik
Tuesday 10 February 2015 19.03 GMT Last modified on Wednesday 11 February 2015 12.09 GMT
Find this story at 10 February 2015
© 2015 Guardian News
Revealed: how energy firms spy on environmental activists
April 8, 2015
Leaked documents show how three large British companies have been paying private security firm to monitor activists
Three large energy companies have been carrying out covert intelligence-gathering operations on environmental activists, the Guardian can reveal.
The energy giant E.ON, Britain’s second-biggest coal producer Scottish Resources Group and Scottish Power, one of the UK’s largest electricity-generators, have been paying for the services of a private security firm that has been secretly monitoring activists.
Leaked documents show how the security firm’s owner, Rebecca Todd, tipped off company executives about environmentalists’ plans after snooping on their emails. She is also shown instructing an agent to attend campaign meetings and coaching him on how to ingratiate himself with activists. The disclosures come as police chiefs, on the defensive over damaging revelations of undercover police officers in the protest movement, privately claim that there are more corporate spies in protest groups than undercover police officers.
Senior police officers complain that spies hired by commercial firms are – unlike their own agents – barely regulated.
Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, which until recently ran the secretive national unit of undercover police officers deployed in protest groups, said in a speech last week that “the deployment by completely uncontrolled and unrestrained players in the private sector” constituted a “massive area of concern”.
Revelations about Mark Kennedy and three other undercover police officers in protest groups caused a furore last month and led to four official inquiries into their activities.
Now a Guardian investigation has shed new light on the surveillance of green campaigners by private security firms whose intrusive operations include posing as activists on mailing lists and infiltrating full-time agents into campaign groups over many years.
Multinational companies, ranging from power producers to arms sellers, hire these firms to try to prevent activists running campaigns against them or breaking into their sites.
The leaked documents lay bare the methods of one firm, Vericola, run by 33-year-old Todd. Based in Canterbury, Vericola, according to Todd, is a “business risk management company” offering a “bespoke” service to clients “regarding potential threats” to their businesses.
Over the past three years, Todd, using different email addresses, has signed up to the mailing lists of a series of environ-mental groups organising major demonstrations such as the G20 rallies in London, demonstrations against E.ON’s Kingsnorth power station and the expansion of Heathrow airport, giving her access to communications and advanced notice of demonstrations.
Last July, she forwarded details about Climate Camp campaigners to two company directors she called “the usual suspects”.
One was Gordon Irving, the security director of Scottish Power since 2001 after spending 30 years in Strathclyde police force. The other was Alan Somerville, then a director of Scottish Resources Group which produces a large amount of Britain’s coal.
Todd highlighted a call from campaigners to submit more objections to coal-producing developments which needed planning permission.
Activists say she regularly attended meetings of an environmental group, known as Rising Tide, for around a year in 2007/08.
The documents also show her advising a colleague on how to fit in with the other activists at meetings held to organise future protests. One tip was that he should not mention he was flying to Germany as “obviously” the environmentalists “hate short-haul flights”.
Todd, who says she is not a corporate spy, told the Guardian that all the information she acquires comes from public sources such as subscribing to emailing lists through the websites of the environmental groups.
Despite emails revealing how she repeatedly tried to find ways for her agents to access protest gatherings, Todd denied her company “infiltrates” meetings of protest groups as they are open to any member of the public.
The environmental activists are angry that, by posing as a supporter, she has gained access to emails and meetings where tactics and strategies are discussed. Eli Wilton, a Climate Camp organiser, said: “It’s frightening that in a meeting about how to stop the fossil fuel industry, the person sitting next to you might be a spy paid for by the energy giants themselves.”
He said Todd and her colleagues “couldn’t have gotten subscribed without attending our meetings. These were internal lists where, for example, we strategised about how to stop new coal-fired power stations being built by E.ON.”
E.ON said it had hired Vericola and another security firm, Global Open, on an “ad hoc” basis as its executives wanted to know when environmentalists were going to demonstrate at or invade its power stations and other premises, as they had done in the past.
The E.ON spokesman said it asked Vericola only for publicly available information and if Todd and her colleagues had obtained private information, they had done so “under their own steam”.
SRG and Scottish Power did not comment.
Rob Evans and Paul Lewis
Monday 14 February 2011 21.00 GMT Last modified on Tuesday 20 May 2014 07.51 BST
Find this story at 14 February 2011
© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
Undercover, The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police
April 8, 2015
Undercover (Guardian Books, 2013) tells the story of the London Metropolitan Police Special Demonstration Squad and its mission to monitor activists and protest movements. Authors Rob Evans and Paul Lewis present an enthralling and disturbing account of police infiltrations in the UK by chronicling nine people who worked as undercover agents in the activist scene from 1983 through 2010. These police spies took on false identities in order to live among activists for years at a time. They did not only keep tabs on activists, they were active participants in groups and often incited others to take radical – and at times illegal – action. Additional police spies have been unmasked since the book was published, yet the practice of surveillance of activist groups continues.
As current debates weigh the merits and rights-infringements of widespread surveillance to combat terrorism, Undercover reminds readers that spying on people who are considered to be subversive is a centuries-old state policy, even when the definition of “subversion” has always been nebulous. “Over the years, Special Branch had spied on suffragettes, pacifists, unemployed workers, striking trade unionists, anti-nuclear activists, anti-war campaigners, fascists, anarchists, and communists.” (p.22) The Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) at the centre of the book was created in 1968 with the stated purpose of providing intelligence in order to prepare an “appropriate” police response to public demonstrations, yet its mission quickly drifted into building files on activists in case they have contact with “individuals police deem to be extremists – or even, perhaps, one day become extremists themselves.” (p.205) Similar tactics have been documented in the United States, where “virtually every movement has been the target of police surveillance and disruption activities.”
Evans and Lewis expose the policies and behaviours of police infiltrators that violate civil rights, are often illegal, and demonstrate patterns of targeting and exploiting women activists. Reading the book from the perspective of a long-time activist has raised several questions about how I view my own activism and contact with the state. While I have been increasingly troubled by the possibility that my email and social media are being tracked by the state, it is much more confronting to consider that I might have direct contact with a police spy. Although Evans and Lewis focus on the UK’s SDS, infiltrations by the police and secret services are common throughout the world. Many organizations and movements in the US have been infiltrated and seeded with informants, and in fact one of the main spies profiled in Undercover, Mark Kennedy, was sent to 11 countries on 40 occasions (including the US), coordinating with secret services and police forces while “infiltrating almost every major anti-capitalist and environmental protest” in Europe (p.4) For this reason, Undercover is essential reading for activists worldwide; learning how infiltrators operate and how they have been unmasked can be helpful in protecting our sisters and brothers, our organizations, and our movements.
Gateway activists and organizations
What struck me most from reading Undercover was the infiltrators’ use of non-threatening groups as entry points to get closer to those they consider to be more radical targets. For example, in order to infiltrate the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) in the mid-1980s, police spy Bob Lambert first infiltrated groups and joined protests that were not particularly hard-core. “After establishing himself among more moderate activists, Lambert set out befriending campaigners suspected of being in the ALF.” (p.34) This tactic was used by most of the agents described in the book and has been similarly used by infiltrators in the United States. FBI informant “Anna” made her way into the Earth Liberation Front by attending mass public demonstrations during a 2004 G8 meeting in Atlanta and was eventually responsible for the 2007 conviction of activist Eric McDavid, who was sentenced to almost 20 years on domestic terrorism charges.
I have always assumed that my activism would not be very interesting to the police or the secret service, and I have at times dismissed fellow activists who raised questions about possible infiltrations. It felt like over-stating the significance of our actions to consider the possibility of having police spies in our midst. Now, however, I am re-thinking my attitudes – that I have nothing to hide, that what I do is harmless anyway, and that anyone who shows up for the cause is worthy of trust. Not so much because I believe I am a target for my activism but rather that I can be a target for my contacts, that I can be a pawn in the spy game. I’ve had a similar change of heart about social media, its potential for mapping relationships and the possibility that my posts can put my contacts at risk. While I could not imagine that mapping my moves could be at all of interest to the police, I now wonder whether mapping my friends through my moves (in combination with other maps) could put them in danger. The current concerns about mass surveillance have much in common with the SDS mission exposed in Undercover: the state seeks to gather information about as many activists as possible, map out who’s connected to whom, and identify the weak links that can be manipulated. All this in the name of uncovering extremists, even though the results are highly questionable, particularly when infiltrators are agitating (entrapping?) seemingly moderate activists into taking radical action.
Exploiting romantic relationships with activists
A key chapter in Undercover begins with this sentence: “If there was one tactic that was the signature of the Special Demonstration Squad, it was the use of long-term relationships with women activists who could help give undercover operatives the credibility they needed.” (p. 176) Most of the police spies profiled in the book became romantically involved with women activists. Mark Kennedy, whose unmasking in 2010 caused the scandal that led to the book, had multiple sexual encounters as well as 2 long-term relationships with women activists, one of which lasted 6 years. Bob Lambert had four sexual relationships while undercover; he fathered a baby with one woman and used another as his exit strategy to abandon mother and child.
“Alison”, described in Undercover as a “peaceful anti-racist campaigner”, spent years searching for her boyfriend who had disappeared. She eventually concluded that he was an undercover agent, receiving confirmation 10 years later by Evans and Lewis. When thinking about the police spy’s motives, “Alison” felt that she had “inadvertently provided him with ‘an excellent cover story… The level to which he was integrated into my family life meant that people trusted me, people knew that I was who I said I was, and people believed, therefore, that he must be who he said he was…’” (p. 186) She and other women who were caught up in these situations have justifiably suffered greatly from the emotional toll of learning that their intimate relationships were a lie, and that they had been used as a prop in the make-believe activist play.
Although the only woman police spy profiled in Undercover did not become romantically involved with any of the activists, it is not a method used exclusively by men. As was recently reported by The Guardian, “Anna” in the United States seduced her target Eric McDavid and “might have entrapped her prey by encouraging him to behave conspiratorially in the hope of romantic fulfilment.”
The actions of the SDS agents, however, went beyond flirting with women activists. Most concerning is the long-term nature of the relationships they engaged in, the level of intimacy and the depth of the lies. There are 2 cases of police spies having children with women activists named in Undercover. The men did not legally recognize the babies, and indeed they could not since they were living under false identities and had wives and children in their real lives. Neither spy faced any consequences for their actions, and in fact both officers were promoted and continued highly praised careers in the police. In a chapter called “Fatherhood” Evans and Lewis detail how Bob Lambert abandoned his 3-year old son and his activist girlfriend, who only learned the real identity of her son’s father 25 years later. The police spy that seduced “Alison” was simultaneously going to couples’ therapy with his wife to resolve marital problems while at the same time his undercover persona was going to couples’ therapy with “Alison” to reconcile their disagreement about wanting children (he didn’t want them, she did). “The SDS officer had two separate, and totally different lives, with two strained relationships, and two counsellors.” (p. 184)
The police spies’ exit strategy of suddenly disappearing and never being heard from again was heart-breaking for the women with whom they had become involved. Helen Steel describes her reaction to finding out the man she had been in love with did not actually exist: “This was a man I had known for five years, who I had lived with for two years. How could I trust anybody again? I don’t even know the name of the person I had been in a relationship with.” (p. 179) In 2011, eight women deceived into long term intimate relationships with undercover police officers who were infiltrating environmental and social justice campaign groups took legal action against the Metropolitan Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers, “assert[ing] that the actions of the undercover officers breached their rights as protected by the European Convention on Human Rights…”
The pattern of using women activists that is exposed in Undercover shows a systemic misogynist attitude by the police. It is part of the macho personas that the infiltrators take on as a way of demonstrating they are “serious” about hard-core action, in order to gain entry into the supposedly radical scene or, as has been demonstrated, to agitate activists towards radical (illegal) action. An example from the US is FBI informant Brandon Darby, who is responsible for the conviction of David McKay and Bradley Crowder, two activists accused of being in possession of Molotov cocktails at the 2008 Republican National Convention. Darby had made contact with the activists in Texas months prior to traveling with them to Minnesota for the Convention. During early encounters, Darby met the activists to discuss actions at the Convention and later reported to his FBI handlers: “I stated that they all looked like they ate too much tofu and that they should eat beef so that they could put on muscle mass. I stated that they weren’t going to be able to fight anybody until they did so.” The film Better This World presents court transcripts and FBI documents including Darby’s emails to make the case for Darby’s role as an agitator who goaded the activists into acts that would be considered as domestic terrorism. This was Darby’s response when questioned about the incident during a Mother Jones interview: “Entrapment? Darby scoffs at the suggestion. He pulls up his shirt, showing me his chest hair and tattoos, as though his macho physique had somehow seduced Crowder and McKay into mixing their firebombs.”
An essay published by Make/Shift magazine in the US uses the example of Darby to explore the link between gender violence and police infiltration. Author Courtney Desiree Morris discusses the surprise among long-time activists to learn that Darby was an informant, particularly since he was a well-known and trusted activist in Austin Texas and New Orleans. However, Darby was also well-known for his aggressive organizing style that drove away women activists. “There were even claims of Darby sexually assaulting female organizers at Common Ground [in New Orleans] and in general being dismissive of women working in the organization.” The argument made in the Make/Shift article centres on infiltrators’ conscious use of power dynamics to destabilize radical movements, proposing that “[m]aybe if organizers made collective accountability around gender violence a central part of our practices we could neutralize people who are working on behalf of the state to undermine our struggles.” This certainly sounds applicable for several of the police spies featured in Undercover.
Coordination and collusion with corporate targets
Another troubling and important issue raised in Undercover is the coordination between the police and the corporations against which activists campaign. Many of the undercover agents profiled by Evans and Lewis infiltrated groups denouncing corporate power – from the military industrial complex to corporate-led globalization. This raises the question of which interests were the police truly protecting – those of public safety or corporate control? Most notably, the McLibel case demonstrates the unified interests between corporations and the state, particularly when it came to surveillance of activists.
The McLibel case was a legal battle between McDonald’s and activists in the UK that began in the mid-1980’s when an activist group named London Greenpeace produced a flyer exposing McDonald’s practices in relation to the environment, worker justice, and animal rights. The company took legal action claiming libel; under the UK’s defamation laws it was up to the defendants to prove that they had not committed libel. Several groups and media outlets decided to settle out of court, apologizing for having criticized McDonalds. Five activists from London Greenpeace were singled out in 1990; three eventually apologized but two refused to give in. A court case lasted from 1994 to 1996, with McDonalds spending £10 million on lawyers while the activists sold t-shirts and took up donations to cover their legal costs, raising £35,000. I’ve had my red “McLibel” t-shirt for 20 years, the yellow letters fading but still clearly read “McHunger, McMurder, McGarbage…” Although I was familiar with the campaign, it was only when reading Undercover that I learned how deeply infiltrated the group responsible for the “libellous” flyer was.
As described in Undercover, London Greenpeace “was one of the most spied-upon political groups in modern history.” (p. 66) State infiltrators met agents from 2 different detective agencies hired by McDonald’s (who, by the way, didn’t know about each other). “On at least two occasions, there were as many corporate spies at meetings for the small group as genuine activists.” (p. 71) On the SDS front, Bob Lambert had infiltrated the group in the 1980s and was photographed handing out flyers in front of a McDonald’s store. It is plausible that he would have been involved in drafting the infamous flyer. Later on, John Dines infiltrated the group, becoming its treasurer and engaging in a romantic relationship with Helen Steel. When Helen Steel was named as a co-defendant in the McLibel case, John Dines was perfectly positioned to gather intelligence on the activists’ legal strategy. “It is not known whether intelligence picked up by Dines… was passed on to McDonald’s. However, that seems highly probable. The McLibel trial revealed that Special Branch and McDonald’s were at various points colluding and exchanging information about London Greenpeace.” (p. 76)
While police infiltration and surveillance of activist groups is already alarming, sharing information with corporations (in effect going way beyond their stated mandate to ensure public safety) is even more concerning. Unfortunately the McLibel case is far from an isolated incident, but rather one example in a long history of collaboration between state policing and intelligence agencies and private companies. Current debates about mass surveillance conducted by the US National Security Agency has included concerns about the state agency’s relationship with private companies like Google. While these concerns relate to companies giving state spies access to users’ information, surveillance of the Occupy movement show that it is a two-way relationship; here the state was providing information to private companies in order to help them prepare for the demonstrations against them.
In December 2012, the US-based Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) exposed the surveillance of Occupy Wall Street by the FBI, Homeland Security, and other US government agencies. The documents released as a result of a Freedom Of Information request expose the coordination between government agencies and private companies, including proof that the FBI was meeting with the New York Stock Exchange to discuss the Occupy protests as early as August 2011, one month prior to the initial action.
Among the documents released by the FBI was report by the Domestic Security Alliance Council – self-described as a “strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector” – that examined the Occupy protests at the West Coast ports. As summarized by PCJF, the “DSAC report shows the nature of secret collaboration between American intelligence agencies and their corporate clients – the document contains a ‘handling notice’ that the information is ‘meant for use primarily within the corporate security community. Such messages shall not be released in either written or oral form to the media, the general public or other personnel…”
PCJF Executive director Mara Verheyden-Hilliard was quoted on Democracy Now! that “throughout the materials [released by the FBI], there is repeated evidence of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, American intelligence agencies really working as a private intelligence arm for corporations, for Wall Street, for the banks, for the very entities that people were rising up to protest against.” In that same interview, it is remarked that “you can see the FBI using at least private entities as a proxy force for what appears to be infiltration. … [T]he Federal Reserve in Richmond was reporting to the FBI, working with the Capitol Police in Virginia, and reporting and giving updates on planning meetings and discussions within the Occupy movement. That would appear, minimally, that they were sending undercovers, if not infiltrators, into those meetings.”
Despite acknowledgment that Occupy was a non-violent movement, FBI field offices tracked the protests as they spread through the US and shared information with the protester’s targets. Further research by DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy “demonstrate that law enforcement agencies may be attempting to criminalize thousands of American citizens for simply voicing their disapproval of corporate dominance over our economic and political system.” Writing in the Progressive, Matthew Rothschild states that “the work [the US government’s anti-terrorist apparatus does] in the name of national security advances the interests of some of the largest corporations in America rather than focusing on protecting the United States from actual threats or attacks…” In Arizona, police conducted coordinated online surveillance and infiltration of activist groups including Occupy Phoenix in order to provide intelligence to JP Morgan Chase and other corporations targeted by the activists. One police spy was seen at activists’ meeting spaces as early as July 2011, well before Occupy Phoenix was launched.
Back in the UK, the SDS continued to run into corporate spies long after the McLibel case was over. The landmark case that broke open the story of police infiltrators involved not only SDS officer Mark Kennedy but also private security companies hired by energy company E.ON in order to thwart planned protests at Britain’s biggest coal-fired power stations at Ratcliffe-on-Soar. As reported in The Guardian, leaked documents regarding private surveillance of climate justice activists “come as police chiefs, on the defensive over damaging revelations of undercover police officers in the protest movement, privately claim that there are more corporate spies in protest groups than undercover police officers.”
“They steal identities. They break the law. They sleep with the enemy.” These are the police spies and their systematic violations of rights as documented by Evans and Lewis in Undercover. The book is written by two journalists with great skill at presenting information to the general public. Importantly, it breaks the false dichotomy between “us” and “them” – us activists who are not of interest to the intelligence apparatus and them whose “hard-core behaviour” placed them on police radars. We are all at risk of surveillance for multiple motives: to gain entry into the activist scene, to legitimize their mission, to build as comprehensive a map as possible in order to provide corporations intelligence on the breadth and depth of their adversaries.
While the SDS formally disbanded, state monitoring of activists continues through agencies such as the National Domestic Extremism Unit. As in the US, intelligence-gathering of activists in the UK has evolved into a hybrid of online and offline surveillance. The stories documented in Undercover peaked with Mark Kennedy’s 2010 revelations and the book’s publishing in 2013. However, they remain relevant not only for the repercussions on the people and groups that the SDS manipulated but also because the policy of treating dissent like a crime – and increasingly like terrorism – continues in present day. In order to protect ourselves from police spies, we must understand how they operate and where they come from. This is crucial for all activists, regardless of whether we consider our beliefs and actions to be of interest to the state. For myself, I will be paying closer attention to avoid being a weak link in the surveillance and information chain – to protect myself and those with whom I have contact.
25 maart 2015
Buro Jansen & Janssen
Find this story at 25 March 2015
article in pdf
Cross-border undercover networks are a ‘global puzzle’
April 8, 2015
Exposure of police spy Mark Kennedy revealed a little about international espionage, but much remains hidden
More light has been shed recently on a particularly hidden area of undercover policing. The Mark Kennedy controversy helped to provide a little glimpse of this, but much remains unknown.
During his seven years infiltrating the environmental movement, Kennedy spent quite a lot of time spying on, and disrupting, activists in other countries.
The Channel Four documentary on him called him ‘the go-to cop for foreign governments who needed information about their own activists’.
He was deployed in 11 countries on 40 occasions, according to one official report. These countries included Germany, Denmark and Iceland. In Denmark, for instance, he says that he infiltrated a Danish community centre that had housed progressive causes for more than a century, obtaining intelligence to help police storm it and close it down in violent raids.
Mark Jacobs was another of the undercover officers who appears to have engaged in frequent Euro-travel to monitor campaigners.
What has emerged is a highly secretive official apparatus among governments for organising and co-ordinating this cross-border espionage. There appears to be a network of clandestine bodies in which police and governments manage the infiltration and surveillance of political as well as criminal groups.
We would of course be interested in any information on this subject.
Statewatch, which monitors civil liberties in Europe, has recently published this here, noting :”Information currently in the public domain makes up only a small piece of a global puzzle of police working groups and networks dealing with infiltration, intrusion and surveillance not just of criminal groups, but political activists”.
One politician who has pursued this with some vigour is German MP Andrej Hunko. He has recently published a detailed document collating information about these official networks, mainly from official answers in the German Parliament. It can be found here at the end of this document.
Hunko said :”When police forces and intelligence services engage in international cooperation, parliamentary oversight is the loser. The increasing significance of undercover police networks is making this situation far more critical.”
He added that Kennedy’s “infiltration of European leftist movements exemplifies police cooperation conducted beyond the bounds of parliamentary oversight. It remains unclear under whose orders the undercover investigator was operating during the years of his activity.”
He added :”The Icelandic police are stubbornly rejecting requests from the Minister of Justice to release full details of his activity into the public domain, claiming that disclosure would prejudice British security interests. Even though Members of the Icelandic Parliament have a right to ask questions on police matters, they are not being given any information.”
The British government has not disclosed much about these confidential networks either.
Friday 31 August 2012 15.33 BST Last modified on Wednesday 21 May 2014 08.01 BST
Find this story at 31 August 2012
© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
Political secret police units
April 8, 2015
Don’t let the police self-investigations like Operation Herne fool you with their focus on the disbanded Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) – this is not a historic problem. The political secret police are still with us says Merrick Godhaven.
The shift from different units leaves us whirling in acronyms. Here, as far as I’m able to tell, is what’s what (corrections welcome!). It’s an alphabet soup of acronyms that swirl before the eyes, so thanks to Jane Lawson for designing the diagram below to make it easier to grasp.
In the beginning
The SDS was a secret unit within Special Branch from 1968 to 2008. Formed as the Special Operations Squad after a demonstration against the Vietnam War kicked off in March 1968, its temporary infiltration was decided to be useful and made permanent at the end of the year. Somewhere in late 1972 or early 1973 it was renamed the Special Demonstration Squad, a moniker it kept until around 1997 when it was renamed the Special Duties Section.
There were other units who amassed and collated intelligence from the SDS and other sources.
The Animal Rights National Index (ARNI), had been set up in 1986. It seems that it may have expanded to include activists from other movements. Around the same time the Southern Intelligence Unit (SIU) was based in Wiltshire and, with its Cumbrian sister team the Northern Intelligence Unit (NIU), ran a database of eco protesters, ravers, travellers and free party types. There is some indication of a third unit that focused on hunt saboteurs. These units had no ‘operational role’ of fake-identity spies in the field, they just gathered information and advised police forces.
Now comes the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). Sounds like a cosy staff body, and indeed it was more like that when it was formed in 1948. But in 1997 it became a private company and got itself funding to flog police information. Then it took on running the spy stuff by establishing the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU).
National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU)
Established in March 1999 the NPOIU was, along with the Terrorism Act 2000, ID cards and detention without trial, part of a raft of New Labour attacks on civil liberties (those who think of state repression as being a right wing tendency should note that the SDS was also founded by a Labour government). Operation Herne, the police’s self-investigation into secret political policing, says that the NPOIU was formed as a reaction to the large 1995 protests against the export of live animals from Shoreham in Sussex.
The running of the NPOIU was given to the Met, and so it was, to all intents and purposes, a unit within the Met’s Special Branch. Although it used serving Met officers for NPOIU spies, because ACPO was (and still is) a private company it was exempt from Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation and so protected even further from public scrutiny.
Like the SDS, the NPOIU was directly funded by the Home Office, which hints at an answer to the big question – who ordered all this spying and authorised its methods?
The NPOIU absorbed SIU/NIU and effectively replaced ARNI running a database of political activists. It also had an ‘operational role,’ that is to say they deployed undercover agents in target groups under the aegis of its Confidential Intelligence Unit (CIU). Whilst the SDS was London-based, the CIU officers from the NPOIU went national. The NPOIU was granted a huge budget and began by putting an officer using the stolen identity ‘Rod Richardson’ into a group of anti-capitalist activists in Nottingham.
Within a couple of months of Richardson’s departure in 2003, those activists were joined by Mark Kennedy, aka Mark Stone. It was his exposure by activists in late 2010 that alerted the world to the existence of the political secret police.
For Operation Herne and other inquiries to focus on the long-defunct SDS but leave out the most notorious undercover officer of them all shows how incomplete an SDS-only picture is. Some managers worked for both the SDS and NPOIU, and officers from both units knowingly overlapped in deployments. Whilst SDS and NPOIU officers knew each other, nonetheless there may well have been some rivalry. As the case of ‘Rod Richardson’ shows, the NPOIU wasn’t initially warned against using the woefully anachronistic practice of stealing the identities of dead children.
As an aside, in 2001 the former ARNI boss Rod Leeming left Special Branch to set up a private spy firm Global Open. In early 2010 he head-hunted Mark Kennedy before his police contract had even finished. This indicates that that it’s a fairly standard career path, and suggests such firms are tipped off about officers who are leaving and cold-call them. It seems unlikely that Kennedy was the first one they got. With virtually no oversight or firm rules, private spies can stay in the field indefinitely. Indeed, had Kennedy been smart enough to change his name by deed poll to Mark Stone, he’d have had ID in the right name and would probably still be spying today.Undercover units chart
(Click to enlarge the chart)
The unholy trinity – NPOIU, NETCU and NDET
In 2004 ACPO created a new post, the National Co-ordinator Domestic Extremism, which oversaw both the NPOIU and a new unit, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU). NETCU was established during the drafting of the 2005 amendment Serious Organised Crime and Police Act which made it illegal to ‘interfere with the contractual relations of an animal research organisation’ or to ‘intimidate’ employees of an animal research organisation. Run from Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, NETCU’s remit was defined as ‘prevention’ and it was tasked with helping companies such as Huntingdon Life Sciences frustrate campaigns waged against them by animal rights activists.
NETCU didn’t just advise corporations about threats to their profits from campaigns, it took a proactive political role in discrediting and undermining those campaigns. Its website linked to the pro-vivisection Research Defence Society, and the unit issued several press releases boasting of activists being prevented from doing street collections.
NETCU’s ‘mission-creep’ saw it move to encompass environmental and climate activists. It also helped the illegal construction blacklisting company the Consulting Association (as documentation from a November 2008 meeting between NETCU and the Consulting Association obtained through an FoI request confirms). Additionally, the Independent Police Complaints Commission says it was likely that every constabulary’s Special Branch will have supplied information about citizens to the construction blacklist.
A third ACPO unit, the National Domestic Extremism Team, was set up in 2005. It was intended to provide an investigatory function, drawing on intelligence gathered through NPOIU spies as well as Forward Intelligence Teams and Evidence Gatherers, for use by forces across the country. All three ACPO units – the NPOIU, NETCU and the NDET – were overseen by the National Co-ordinator Domestic Extremism, or NCDE. Around the same time, direct management of the NPOIU (and presumably the two allied units) passed to ACPO.
Goodbye SDS, hello NDEU
In 2006 the Metropolitan Police’s merged its intelligence-oriented Special Branch (aka SO12) with the investigatory Anti-Terrorist Branch (SO13) to form Counter Terrorism Command (known as SO15). It was headed by Richard Walton, until he was moved from his post following revelations about his key role in the SDS’ spying on Stephen Lawrence’s family in the Ellison report earlier this year.
With Special Branch, the SDS’ parent unit, now part of Counter Terrorism Command and much of the SDS’s work superseded by the NPOIU, the SDS faded. It has been suggested that when Counter Terrorism Command officers took over the SDS they were alarmed at its targets and methods and moved to close it down. The unit is described as ‘having lost its moral compass’ by the time of its closure in 2008 – as if it ever had one in the first place.
The three ACPO units (the NPOIU, NETCU and the NDET) were merged into the National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU) in early 2011. At that time they had a combined budget of around £9m per year.
At the same time as the name change, management of the unit was then passed from the FoI scrutiny-shielded ‘private company’ ACPO to the (not exactly accountable themselves) Metropolitan Police under the ‘lead force’ model. There had been several reviews pushing for this, including Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s report ‘Counter Terrorism Value For Money’.
Certainly, it will have taken a lot of discussion and planning so it seems very unlikely that the exposure of Kennedy in October 2010 played a part. This didn’t stop government ministers trying to portray it as a response a mere week after the Kennedy story hit the media.
The NDEU was brought to operate under the umbrella of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command.
As happened when they were three separate units, all the ACPO political police operations under the NDEU were overseen by the National Co-ordinator Domestic Extremism, though the rank for the post was downgraded from Assistant Chief Constable to Chief Superintendent, the first holder of the post being Detective Chief Superintendent Adrian Tudway.
Despite the budget for political spy units being public when they were run by ACPO, in 2012 the Met refused to follow suit, and with its gift for exaggerated flourishes it cited text from an Al-Qaeda training manual by way of a reason.
Modern times: mergers and yet another acronym
The unit’s remit changed at the same time as its restructure and it no longer carries out undercover operations. It has taken on the ‘prevention and detection’ tracks previously associated with NETCU and NDET, maintaining a database of activists and working with companies and organisations that activists campaign against. Kennedy-style deployments of undercover officers are now run either by the Special Project Team (SPT) of the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, or one of the regional SPTs run by North West, North East and West Midlands Counter Terrorism Units.
Official reports say that this change is, indeed, a result of the exposure of undercover officers as the established anti-terrorism units were felt to have ‘more robust procedures for the deployment of undercover officers’ than their NPOIU/SDS-derived police equivalents.
In April 2011 Tudway sent a private email confirming that the English Defence League were not domestic extremists. Organising racist violence on the streets is fine because it’s understood and safe, whereas fluffy but explicitly anti-capitalist things like Climate Camp get multiple officers like Mark Kennedy and Lynn Watson. This isn’t key to the story, it just illustrates the fact that it’s not threat of political public disorder, damage to property or violence to citizens that concerns the secret police – it’s threats to the present parliamentary political norm and police credibility.
In 2012 the NDEU split its work into two sub-units. The Protest and Disorder Intelligence Unit (PDIU) collates and provides strategic analysis relating to protest and disorder across the UK, whilst the Domestic Extremism Intelligence Unit (DEIU) provides strategic analysis of domestic extremism intelligence within the UK and overseas.
Quite how they define ‘protesters’ as separate from ‘domestic extremists’ isn’t clear. Given their very wide and loose use of ‘domestic extremism’ in the past, it is worrying that they feel the need to spy on even less dangerous campaigners. But it was ever thus. As Merlyn Rees, Home Secretary in the Labour government 1976-79, said, the role of Special Branch is “to collect information on those who I think cause problems for the state”. Although the two subunits are physically separate, they share an intelligence database, the National Special Branch Intelligence System (NSBIS), implying that there is no clear boundary between protesters and domestic extremists.
As if in an attempt to close the book on an embarrassing subject, in May 2013 the NDEU was renamed the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit (NDEDIU).
But there is no reason to believe that the outrages perpetrated by the SDS, NPOIU and associated units have stopped, despite the musical chairs and name changes. When political campaigns are counter-democratically undermined by the state, and participants subjected to sustained psychological and sexual abuse, changing the acronym doesn’t change the immorality and injustice.
Thursday, 05 February 2015 04:54
By Merrick Godhaven
Find this story at 5 February 2015
How Special Branch Spied on Animal Rights Movement
April 8, 2015
Since 2010 there have been revelations about police infiltration of protest groups. For over 40 years the state sanctioned the use of undercover police to gain intelligence on political activists, including animal rights campaigners.
Though it was widely assumed that groups were under surveillance, no-one would have imagined the extent to which the secret state burrowed deep into organisations, established close friendships and sexual relationships with activists, and broke the law to further its objectives. This article will explain how it happened and what can be learnt from it.
The Special Demonstrations Squad
The story begins in 1968, when tens of thousands of people marched against the Vietnam War. In March there was rioting as protesters fought with police outside the American Embassy in London and the government was so alarmed that it set up of the Special Demonstrations Squad (SDS).
Although the police had used undercover officers before to catch criminals, this was as Rob Evans and Paul Lewis say in their book ‘Undercover’, ‘a new concept in policing.’ Special Branch officers transformed themselves into activists and lived amongst their targets for several years. They changed their appearance and used fake identities to penetrate political groups to the highest levels to gain intelligence and to enable the police to maintain public order. The nickname for the SDS was ‘the hairies’ because – in the early days at least – their operatives had to grow their hair long in order in order to blend into the milieu of radical politics.
The job of the SDS was to infiltrate groups considered subversive which meant those that ‘threatened the safety or well-being of the state or undermined parliamentary democracy’. Initially this meant mainly Marxist or Trotskyist groups, as well as the anti-apartheid movement in the seventies.
The eighties: Robert Lambert
By the early eighties, however, the animal rights movement had become established. It was attracting thousands of people on protest marches against vivisection and groups like the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) were rescuing animals and damaging property. To the state this was a dangerous and subversive threat.
Evans and Lewis say Special Branch first became involved when one of its operatives was deployed at the World Day for Lab Animals march in April 1983. Shortly afterwards a second spy was sent in. His name was Robert Lambert and he became an almost legendary figure amongst his colleagues. For the activists who knew him he was equally unforgettable, though nowadays it is for all the wrong reasons.
Lambert called himself Bob Robinson. Like all SDS agents he stole the identity of a dead child. Mark Robert Robinson died aged seven in 1959, only to be quietly resurrected 24 years later by Lambert who would have found his birth and death certificates. He was then given a forged driving licence, passport and other documents. This procedure was known in SDS circles as the ‘Jackal Run’ because it was based on the book, ‘The Day of the Jackal’.
Lambert quickly immersed himself in the world of animal rights by going to protests and meetings. At a demo outside Hackney Town Hall he met Jackie, 12 years younger than him, and they soon started a relationship and their son was born in 1985. Lambert was already married with two children but knew an activist girlfriend would give his cover an added dimension, making him appear a fully rounded, genuine person.
London Greenpeace and the ALF
In 1984 Lambert became involved in London Greenpeace (LG). This wasn’t an AR group as such but a radical organisation (not to be confused with the much larger Greenpeace International) that embraced anarchism and direct action. Up to then it had been mainly concerned with anti-nuclear and environmental issues but in the mid-eighties it adopted much more of an animal liberation stance.
The first LG meeting I attended was a public meeting with a speaker from the ALF in 1985. Lambert chaired the discussion and obviously had a prominent role in the group. He soon became a close friend. Like all the spies that followed him, Lambert had a van that was used to take people to demos. He said he was a gardener and needed a vehicle for his job.
Lambert’s mission was to infiltrate the ALF and he made it clear he was a strong supporter of illegal actions. In 1986 he organised a benefit gig for the ALF Supporters Group but kept back some of the takings to buy glass etching fluid, used to damage windows. Soon afterwards he confided to friends that he had dressed as a jogger and thrown paint stripper over a car belonging to the director of an animal laboratory.
He also wrote two notable publications. One was a simple A5 leaflet titled ‘You are the ALF!’ which exhorted people to do direct action themselves, not ask others to do so on their behalf. The other was a booklet called ‘London ALF News’ which had articles on the ALF and a diary of actions, including attacks he had carried out.
In July 1987 the ALF targeted three Debenhams’ department stores with incendiary devices because they sold fur. In two, water from the sprinklers caused hundreds of thousands of pounds in losses, but at the Luton branch they had been switched off and fire gutted the store, causing over £6m in damage.
Two months later, Andrew Clarke and Geoff Sheppard were caught at the latter’s bedsit in Tottenham in the act of making incendiary devices as the police burst in. In June 1988 at the Old Bailey Sheppard received 4 years and 4 months and Clarke 3 ½ years. Obviously the police had been tipped off but neither activist knew who it was until nearly 24 years later when Lambert was uncovered as a spy.
Lambert, according to Sheppard, was the third member of this cell. Neither activist suspected him but then they had good reason not to – as far as they were concerned he had planted the device in the Harrow store that caused £340,000 in damage.
The last time I saw Lambert was in a pub near the LG office in Kings Cross in November 1988. He was unusually downbeat as he told me his father who had dementia had just died and the values he fought for in World War II were dying too under Thatcherism. He also said Jackie had started a relationship with a fascist and he was no longer allowed to see his son. Both stories were lies and I now know he was preparing for his exit.
All undercover spies have an exit strategy, usually prepared months if not years in advance. Lamberts would have been devised around the time of the Debenhams action but departing too soon would have appeared suspicious. He waited for over a year, until he left allegedly on the run from Special Branch, which was in fact his employer. They even staged a fake raid at the flat where he was staying.
By the beginning of 1989 Bob Robinson was just a memory but LG already had another spy in its ranks. John Dines, using the surname Barker, had joined the group in October 1987. During the next year as he rose to prominence, Lambert was on the wane – going to fewer meetings and demos. This was a pattern that would be repeated time and time again.
Like his mentor, Lambert, Dines had van which he used for demos. He twice drove activists all the way to Yorkshire to sab grouse shoots and he also took them to a protest against Sun Valley Chickens in Herefordshire. While there he was apparently arrested but released without charge. He too produced an anonymous publication called ‘Business as Usual’, which comprised a diary of actions, and he also organised two benefit gigs for London Greenpeace in late 1989.
John Dines and McLibel
While LG was well known in activist circles – mainly for the anti-McDonald’s campaign it had started several years earlier – it hardly registered to the outside world. Most people confused it with Greenpeace International. All that began to change, however, when five of its supporters were sued for libel by McDonald’s in September 1990.
None of the defendants had written the pamphlet that was the subject of the writ; in fact three of them weren’t even part of the group at that time. Ironically Lambert had been one of the architects of the ‘What’s Wrong with McDonald’s’ factsheet but he was long gone.
McDonald’s placed several infiltrators of its own in the group from the autumn of 1989 onwards with the result that it became infested with spies. At some meetings there were more of them than genuine activists. These new corporate spies aroused suspicion – they didn’t quite fit in – and some of them were followed. One of those doing the following was Dines, together with Helen Steel, who would later be sued and become Dines’ girlfriend..
In January 1991 I and two others decided to cut our losses and apologise. Helen and Dave Morris carried on fighting the case as the McLibel 2. By their side was Dines who was the group’s treasurer and a key player. He relayed the legal advice they received and the tactical discussions they had with other group members back to his bosses in the SDS who then passed it on to McDonald’s. Several years later the McLibel trial revealed that Special Branch and McDonald’s had exchanged information about London Greenpeace. Morris and Steel sued the Metropolitan Police over this and received £10,000 in an out of court settlement and an apology.
London Boots Action Group: Andy Davey and Matt Rayner
By the early nineties the animal rights movement was on a roll again and three activists decided to set up a new London-wide organisation called London Boots Action Group (LBAG), to target Boots plc, which at that time did animal testing. LBAG was unashamedly pro-direct action so it is no surprise that it became a target for the SDS. The group was launched in November 1991 with a public meeting that attracted nearly 100 people, two of whom were spies.
Andy Davey and Matt Rayner were two of the many new people to join the fledgling group. But they were slightly different – they had vans, which made them both unusual and useful, and they got quickly involved. Both also had jobs (quite rare in those days as many activists were either unemployed or students). Davey was a ‘man with a van’ removal service – his nickname was ‘Andy Van’ – while Rayner said he worked for a company that delivered musical instruments.
Each lived in a bedsit, Davey in Streatham, south London, Rayner in north London. They even looked similar – tall, dark haired and with glasses, and spoke with Home Counties accents. What set Davey apart from other agents was his dog, named Lucy who came from an animal rescue person that lived locally. His bosses probably decided he would appear a more authentic activist if he had a companion animal.
Personality-wise they differed though. While Rayner was easy going and friendly, enjoying social situations, Davey had a somewhat hesitant and nervous manner and could at times appear too eager to please. Initially there were suspicions about both but they quickly assimilated into the protest scene. They would have known who each other were, as their unit had only about a dozen operatives at any time, but they weren’t close. This meant that if one spy was uncovered, the other wouldn’t fall under suspicion.
It was not common practice for two spies to be placed in the same group. In the book Undercover, the whistleblower Peter Francis says the SDS had two animal rights spies when he joined it in January 1993. This was indicative of the threat posed by animal rights in general and LBAG in particular.
Davey was so well entrenched that he begun to produce the group’s newsletter. Shortly afterwards he also transferred the mailing list onto a computer. We were in the era when some organisations still did not have their own PC or internet access and his IT expertise was considered invaluable. Spies are trained to exploit skills shortages like this, to ensure they become trusted and above suspicion.
Rayner, too, was a fixture in the London scene. He would usually be the one to drive activists to demos outside London. A notable example was the 1993 Grand National when he took a vanload of people to Aintree. This was the year the race had to be abandoned because the course was invaded, costing the betting industry over £60m.
In 1995 – following former spy Dines’ example – he drove a carload of saboteurs to the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ to sab a grouse shoot. While there he was arrested and taken into police custody, only to be released a few hours later. He wasn’t charged but this brush with the law only served to improve his standing.
London Animal Action: Davey’s exit
Rayner had a long term relationship with a female activist. Davey never managed this though it wasn’t for want of trying and he gained a reputation as a lecher. This no doubt undermined his status – some saw him as a bit sad, others didn’t really take to him – and it probably played a part in the decision to take him out of the group. This happened quickly as he announced he was ‘stressed’ and was going to Eastern Europe. The double life he was leading was probably taking its toll as well. He left in February 1995 with a farewell social to which only a few people came. Shortly afterwards a hunt sab whom he knew received a couple of letters postmarked abroad.
As Davey’s exit was hasty, the spy who replaced him joined London Animal Action – as LBAG was now called – around the same time he left. Unusually the new agent was female and her name was Christine Green. As she set about inveigling herself into the group, Rayner’s deployment was reaching its climax. In May 1995 Geoff Sheppard’s flat was raided again by the police where they found materials for making an incendiary device and a sawn-off shotgun. In October he was sentenced to seven years in prison.
After Geoff’s release we speculated on why the police had chosen him. Devices were being placed in various targets and it appeared to have been simply a chance raid due to his arrest in the eighties. However, it is now clear that Rayner set Geoff up just as Lambert had done years earlier. No-one suspected him of the sting because he was, like his boss had been, an established and trusted of the group: by 1995 he was LAA treasurer.
Lambert the spymaster
By the mid-nineties Lambert was the operational manager of the SDS thanks to his ‘legendary tour of duty’ a decade earlier. According to Evans and Lewis he was ‘the gaffer…pulling the strings like a puppet-master’ and he used his experience to guide a new generation of infiltrators who were in some cases spying on the same activists as he had. Geoff was one of those and he describes Rayner as being ‘up to his neck’ in direct action. The final proof came in April 2013 when it was discovered the real Matthew Rayner died aged four in 1972. We still don’t know his true identity.
One of Lambert’s first duties when he re-joined the SDS was to write a report on a spy who had ‘gone rogue’ named Mike Chitty. Chitty – known as Mike Blake – had penetrated the animal rights movement in London at the same time as Lambert but in comparison his deployment had been a failure. It resulted in no high-profile ALF arrests and it seems he enjoyed socialising more than targeting subversives. Even worse, when his deployment finished he returned to his activist comrades, leading a double life unbeknownst to his employers or his wife. He was eventually pensioned off after he began legal action against the Met for the stress he suffered due to his covert role.
Rayner’s exit strategy
Clearly not everybody could cope with the demands of undercover work. Davey may have been one of those but Rayner made of different stuff. His exit strategy was masterly in execution, bearing the hallmark of his mentor and manager, Lambert, who had written a report highlighting the importance of ‘carefully crafted withdrawal plans’ to convince ‘increasingly security-conscious target groups of the authenticity of a manufactured departure…inevitably this entails travel to a foreign country.’
In November1996 Rayner apparently went to work in France for a wine company. He had always liked France and could speak the language fluently. To a few close friends he mentioned his unease with activism after being raided by the police and the breakdown of the relationship with his girlfriend. Very well liked, he was given a big going away party, presented with a camera from the group and a speech wishing him well in his new life.
The next day he drove to France in his van and with him were two activist friends. At the port they were questioned by a police officer who said he was from Special Branch before letting them go on their way. This plan was concocted for the activists’ benefit in the knowledge they would tell others about it, lending further credibility to Rayner’s exit. A few weeks later he briefly came back to London and met up with friends before supposedly returning to France for good. Then over a period of about a year letters were sent and phone messages were left saying he had moved to Argentina, and after that he was never heard from again.
By 1997 Green was occupying a key part of the group, driving activists to demos, going to meetings and mailouts and taking part in protests, as her predecessors had done. She had even taken over Rayner’s role of group treasurer. The same pattern repeating itself but no-one was aware of it. For the next two years Green appears to have been the only spy in LAA. Perhaps there was another who remains unexposed – though this seems unlikely – or the SDS may have deployed another spy elsewhere.
To enhance her cover, Green began a relationship with a well-known hunt saboteur whose job was a coach driver and they took coach loads of protesters to some of the high profile demos of the time, for example at Hillgrove Farm. There is no suggestion that the sab was a spy. There was speculation surrounding her, however: she was not always easy to get along with – though she did make some friends -and she always carried the same bag around with her, which inevitably drew suspicion.
Towards the end of 1999 Green let it be known she was tired with activism. Early in 2000 she said she was departing to Australia for a relative’s funeral and would stay there travelling. About a year later, though, she reappeared and made contact with a few activist friends. Several years later in 2010 she cropped up once more, this time in Cornwall where she was spotted with the same boyfriend in a veggie café. Someone who knew them from LAA tried to have a chat and was all but ignored.
Green’s replacement in and the last known SDS spy was Dave Evans. Like Dines he appeared to be from New Zealand and he had the same rugged appearance. He had a van and was a gardener too, so very much in the Lambert mould, except his personality couldn’t have been more different. While his boss was amiable, even charming, Evans could be a bit peevish and erratic: once he turned up at a demo then left after only a few minutes saying his flatmate was locked out. Typically spies spent five or six days in the field, only returning to their families for one night per week, but on one occasion he went missing for so long that people became concerned and went round to his flat.
A lot of the time he gave the impression of not being very committed and more interested in the social side of the group. LAA had a big drinking culture which he took to like a duck to water and he often took part in fundraising at festivals by working in bars. In SDS parlance he was a ‘shallow paddler’, not a ‘deep swimmer’.
In the last year or so of his deployment, Evans’ involvement in animal rights tapered off somewhat and it was recently revealed that his flatmate was Jason Bishop, a spy active in anti-capitalist groups. The pair drove minibuses to the G8 protests in Scotland in 2005. Both were arrested with other activists for conspiracy to commit a breach of the peace but the charges were dropped.
Evans’ exit and the end of the SDS
Evans was last seen at the AR Gathering in 2005. While sitting around a bonfire he began asking other activists questions about LAA, which had just folded after its bank account containing thousands of pounds was seized by Huntingdon Life Sciences. The mask slipped and it became obvious that he was a cop. He must have realised this because he left the next morning and was never seen again. Evans was the last known SDS spy in London animal rights circles. There were also at least two corporate infiltrators during this period, one of whom worked her way up to be group treasurer before she was uncovered.
In 2008 the SDS was disbanded, its functions supplanted by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) set up a few years earlier. This was one of three pillars of a new secret state established by the Labour government to combat ‘domestic extremism’, a term which encompassed anyone who wanted to ‘prevent something happening or to change legislation or domestic policy outside of the normal democratic process.’ The others were the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU) and the National Domestic Extremism Team.
There is no reason to believe that intelligence gathering has diminished in the last few years. The animal rights movement has been perceived as less of a threat, mainly due to the imprisonment of certain activists, but the emergence of the anti-badger cull campaign will undoubtedly lead to an increase in surveillance and spying. The ‘Undercover’ book also mentions a recent spy in the Welsh animal rights scene but does not go into detail.
Conclusion: (1) How were we duped?
With the benefit of hindsight it appears obvious that animal rights groups in London were targeted by undercover police who followed the same pattern over a period of at least two decades. In that case why did no-one find out what was going on?
The answer lies in Lambert, the spymaster, who established the template the rest followed. For 23 years ‘Bob’ as he was known was held in such high esteem and affection that his authenticity wasn’t doubted. He was one of us, an anarchist and animal liberationist, who had fled overseas to build a new life. Nobody guessed he was working just a few miles away at Scotland Yard.
The agents that followed – Dines, Davey, Rayner, Green and Evans – did attract suspicion but only individually, not as a sequence. The people they spied upon were activists fighting for animal rights and a better world, welcoming of outsiders into their groups, not spycatchers. Moreover the suspicions were usually no more than of the ‘they are a bit dodgy’ variety, with little or no concrete evidence. Many people have been falsely accused in this way over the years.
The whole thing finally fell apart thanks to the determination of two women: Helen Steel and Laura, the girlfriend of a spy called Jim Boyling, whom she met in Reclaim the Streets in 1999. She managed to track him down after he left her and he confessed about Lambert and Dines. Helen had spent years searching for the latter after he supposedly ran off abroad in 1992. By 2010 she knew he had been a cop but it was Laura who confirmed that he was also a spy. At the same time Mark Kennedy, who worked for the NPOIU, was unmasked.
Conclusion: (2) What difference does it make?
The next important question is what difference does it make? Isn’t this just history? While a lot of this happened a long time ago it does stretch up almost to the present. Those who experienced this also have to show what the state is capable of doing to other, newer activists. Should we should trust politicians and believe the promises made by political parties or is the state fundamentally a force for repression? Can we cooperate with a system that tries to disrupt and undermine groups and individuals in this way?
What went on still matters because when we sweep away all the intrigue and scandal, we are left with a very simple fact: the spies were there to prevent animals being saved. This article has concentrated on what occurred in London because that’s where the writer has mainly been active but there is no question that infiltration went on elsewhere. We know, for instance, that there was a spy active inside SHAC before the mass arrests of 2007.
Many people have been arrested, convicted and even imprisoned during the struggle for animal rights and if it can be proved that a spy was involved, then those convictions are possibly unsafe. Even if their role was only driving activists to a demo where they were arrested, then there could be good grounds for an appeal. This is especially true if those nicked discussed their case with the spy, because this information would have been passed on to the police.
So far a total of 56 convictions or attempted prosecutions of environmental protesters have been overturned, abandoned or called into question over the past two years following disclosures surrounding the activities of undercover police officers. Most of these relate to Mark Kennedy and two climate change actions against power stations in 2008 and 2009.
Most defendants are being represented by Mike Schwarz from Bindmans and he has said he is keen to act for animal rights campaigners who want to try to overturn their convictions. But in order to do that we first have to find out who the spies were.
Conclusion: (3) Learning the lessons
There are no fewer than 15 investigations taking police into the role of undercover police. The main one is Operation Herne which is an internal Metropolitan Police enquiry This will last up to three years and cost millions of pounds but many of the victims of the SDS, including women who had relationships with spies, are boycotting it. They have instead called for an independent public enquiry as when the police investigate themselves the result is inevitably a whitewash.
What can activists themselves learn? Well firstly we should not succumb to paranoia. This may sound strange after what we know now but it is important to realise that the spies were in a small minority. Yes there were several in LBAG/LAA over the years but the group was large and regularly attracted over 50 people to its meetings.
There are, however, commonsense precautions that can be taken. The modus operandi of Special Branch agents – such as using dead children’s’ identities and driving vans – will not be replicated by current spies but if there are certain aspects of a person’s behaviour that don’t make sense or appear suspicious , then it is entirely reasonable to find out the truth. If that means questioning the person to ascertain whether they are a bone fide activist, then so be it. A genuine person would not object to this line of enquiry if the reason for it were explained to them.
Finally the lesson to take from all this is that we are making a difference. The state would not have invested such huge resources in trying to undermine the animal rights movement if it did not fear what we stand for. This is something we should be proud of.
If you have any further information or would like to join an email distribution list called ARspycatcher please contact: ARspycatcher@riseup.net
Buro Jansen & Janssen
Find this story at 26 February 2014
On the trail of Britain’s undercover police<< oudere artikelen
April 8, 2015
Recent revelations have exposed the routine embedding of undercover police officers within environmental and social justice campaigns. But piecing together the public evidence on undercover police tactics brings as many questions as answers.
When activists exposed their long-term comrade Mark Stone as police officer Mark Kennedy in 2010, the British public was stunned. On the surface he appeared indistinguishable from his ‘targets’. The long-haired, pierced and tattooed man had lived among environmental and social justice groups for seven years. Perhaps most shockingly, he had long-term sexual relationships with activists, including a woman he lived with as a committed partner for six years.
Senior police initially portrayed Mark Kennedy as a rogue officer who had strayed off mission. But a swift flurry of further unmaskings have shown his tactics to be textbook methods, endemic in Britain’s secret police.
Since they were formed amidst the political upheaval of 1968, around 150 officers of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) – later the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, and nowadays the National Domestic Extremism Unit – have infiltrated political groups this way. Behaving in a similar manner to the earlier COINTELPRO operation in the USA, their secret, counter-democratic remit finds them deeply and seriously involved in far left, animal rights, environmental, peace, anti-racist, and far right groups.
The secret police do not gather evidence to be used in court. Instead, they infiltrate groups, collecting information on individual campaigners. The aim is to preemptively disrupt a threat before it begins. Sometimes it is a threat of violence on the streets but much more often it is a threat to corporate profits, to police credibility or to the dominance of capitalist ideology. Being critical of corporations and government policies, being the victim of police corruption, or holding anti-capitalist views, is deemed ‘subversive’ in itself.
Their work has included undermining numerous justice and anti-racism campaigns for people who either died in police custody or whose deaths were under-investigated by police. The undercovers would get actively involved in the campaigns, even holding official positions, looking for personal information with which to discredit the participants – including the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.
In going so deep undercover with so little oversight, officers have sometimes crossed the line to become agent provocateurs, instigating the very activities they are there to prevent.
Twelve officers have now been exposed. Almost all of them had sexual relations with the citizens they targeted, most of them having serious relationships that integrated them into activists’ lives, work and families. Sexual relationships with targets provided a fast track into the social circle and staved off potential suspicions. One woman explained how she had been used to get social credibility: ‘people trusted me, people knew that I was who I said I was, and people believed, therefore, that he must be who he said he was because he was so welcomed into my family’.
Three of the exposed officers fathered children. This included the man who would go on to be in charge of SDS operations, Bob Lambert, who had a planned pregnancy with one of his activist girlfriends, being present at the birth before disappearing from their lives three years later. The mother of his child only found out the truth by reading a newspaper article 25 years later in June 2012.
The police need a warrant from a judge to search your home once. Yet the secret police decided for themselves to send these men to move in and stay for years, sharing an activist’s innermost feelings and of course the details of their political plans and legal cases. It is the most complete invasion of privacy that it is possible for the state to enact.
The women would think they were meeting The One when it wasn’t even a person – it was a mask, a set of techniques. The whole relationship was controlled, monitored and quite possibly directed by an unseen group of analyst officers. The lasting trauma visited on the women was seen as just collateral damage.
The women were not giving informed consent to the relationships. Had they known the men’s true identities, they would not have allowed them close. One of them has said it feels ‘like being repeatedly raped by the state’. They have been left psychologically devastated, their judgment and trust shattered, unable to form new relationships as they used to.
To create false identities that have official documentation such as passports and driving licenses, a large proportion of officers stole the identity of someone who died as a child. A recent internal police report concedes it was ‘an established practice that new officers were taught’. It is believed that around a hundred secret police officers did it between 1973 and around 2005.
This is not merely in poor taste. Social justice campaigner Helen Steel tried to track down John Barker, a boyfriend who had disappeared. She got the birth certificate and went to the address on it, discovering that ‘John Barker’ was a boy who died of leukemia aged eight. Her boyfriend was police officer John Dines, who had passed off Barker’s identity as his own.
The real John Barker’s brother Anthony spoke of the danger that the police put unwitting bereaved families in: “Imagine that policeman had infiltrated a violent gang or made friends with a volatile person, then disappeared, just like this man did. Someone wanting revenge would have tracked us down to our front door – but they wouldn’t have wanted a cup of tea and a chat, like this woman.”
Miscarriages of justice
Undercover officers have been arrested and prosecuted under their false identities, committing perjury whilst bolstering their undercover identities. In the case of undercover police officer Jim Boyling, prosecution under his false identity granted him access to confidential meetings with lawyers as one of the ‘defendants’.
The judicial process has been undermined in other ways by the presence of undercover police: most shockingly through the withholding of evidence that exonerated accused activists.
In April 2009, Mark Kennedy was part of a group of 114 climate activists preemptively arrested at a meeting for conspiring to shut down a coal-fired power station. Kennedy was the intelligence source for this police action, and had secretly recorded the gathering prior to the police raid. Despite the fact that Kennedy’s surveillance tapes exonerated many of the arrested activists, it was not disclosed to the defence at the subsequent trial, and 20 people were convicted of conspiracy.
A later trial of six others charged with conspiracy occurred following the exposure of Kennedy as a police spy. Prosecutors were forced to disclose the previously withheld evidence – and the case collapsed.
This wasn’t just a police cover-up. Senior members of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) knew of the planned action, and of police plans to preemptively arrest, before it even happened – including the use of an undercover officer. It seems clear that between the arrests and trials senior officials in the CPS worked with police to ensure that Kennedy’s crucial evidence did not come to light.
The original 20 activists had their convictions quashed, with the appeal judges saying that Kennedy had arguably been an agent provocateur and a juror at the original trial lambasting the ‘prolonged entrapment’ of the police operation. 29 convictions from another action that Kennedy was involved in are due to be overturned as well.
These miscarriages of justice were prevented or overturned only because Kennedy was exposed as an undercover police officer. If this one officer can set up at least 55 wrongful convictions, how many thousands can the secret police be responsible for? Even now, police policy to ‘neither confirm nor deny’ whether someone is an undercover police officer, is keeping similar cases in limbo.
A group of women who were in relationships with undercover officers are suing police – the managers who orchestrated it, not the individual officers – for assault as well as an assortment of crimes of deceit. They are suffering a double injustice. Firstly there was what was done to them, and now – just like with the wrongful convictions – there are the legion legal obstructions, delays and other tricks the police perform in order to avoid accountability and justice.
The human rights claims – infringement of the right to privacy and a family life – are to be heard in a bizarre secret tribunal. They do not get to be in court, to see what evidence the police present (or omit), do not get given the reasons for the judge’s verdict, and have no right to appeal.
So much for the right to a fair trial. The given reason is the protection of security around the secret police. But Mark Kennedy could scarcely be less secret: he hired the notorious press agent Max Clifford and sold his story to tabloid newspapers years ago.
As this scandal rolls on the authorities are forced to respond to the outcry. There have been 17 inquiries commissioned, largely just the police investigating themselves. Others have been given to satellite bodies, such as the Independent Police Complaints Commission or Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, who have an established record of obediently waving through the police’s requirements. Many will not be publishing their findings. All but one have been given very narrow remits that cannot join the dots to create a picture of any systemic problem.
The one inquiry taking a broader view is Operation Herne. It consists of 44 staff, the vast majority of whom are from the same Metropolitan Police force under investigation. They include serving officers who have their future careers to think of before flagging up anything that embarrasses their superiors. It is not due to report for several years and there is no promise to publish the findings. The overseeing officer, Chief Constable Mick Creedon, claims police will do a better job than the independent public inquiry that many people are calling for.
But with secrecy comes impunity. The very fact that the allegations involve secret police covering up the actions of other police who unarguably acted wrongly undermines the credibility of any police self-investigation. Some victims, like the Lawrence family, have much of their grievance based on the consistent failure of police self-investigation.
The smattering of reports out so far show that the truth is not being searched for. Worse than that, there is no redress for victims, nor believable assurances that the same disruption of justice, stifling of protesters and persecution of individuals has ended. The promised tightening up of rules about undercover policing merely requires authorisation from higher ranks and a bit more involvement of the compliant rubber-stamp body of Surveillance Commissioners.
Exporting police spies
After two years among British activists Mark Kennedy was hired out to other states, working in 14 different countries. Whilst under contract to the German police, Kennedy had sexual relationships with activists and, upon arrest for arson, disclosed only his false identity to the public prosecutor, all of which is illegal under German law. Questions abound over the German police’s hiring of this British police spy.
Tenacious research by German parliamentarian Andrej Hunko has revealed that such contracts are not piecemeal: shining light on the hitherto unknown European Co-ordination Group on Undercover Activities that organises and focuses undercover work.
Established in the 1980s, it is comprised of all EU member states and other countries such as the USA, Israel, South Africa and New Zealand, plus selected private companies. It meets irregularly and says it doesn’t keep minutes. According to the German government, the UK and Germany are the trailblazers in the group. Far from the undercover scandal being centred on a rogue officer or a rogue unit, the UK’s tactics seem to be part of a concerted effort in which governments and corporations act together across borders.
The big question
Three years on from Kennedy’s exposure, the flow of facts is not abating. As more activists uncover old spies and former officers come forward out of conscience, it seems that we have still barely begun to get the full story of Britain’s political secret police. It is also becoming clear that Britain is by no means unique in this.
Beyond the ‘who and what’ lies a bigger question – ‘why?’ Where do these monstrously intrusive, anti-democratic, ill-defined, open-ended missions come from? Do the police make them up for themselves? Or are they ordered from higher up? The stoic silence from British politicians seems telling.
We know that these activities, like the individual officers themselves, cross borders. Answers will not come from the UK police investigating themselves. Rather the police forces and governments involved across Europe must be compelled to reveal the truth.
MERRICK BADGER 13 August 2013
Find this story at 13 August 2013