Friday, 21 September 2018
(SDS) had been set up by the Metropolitan Police in March 1968 to infiltrate and monitor groups that it considered were involved in violent protests, and to feed intelligence back to Special Branch in advance of any activity. The Squad was initially known as the Special Operations Squad (SOS) when it was formed to gather information on that were targeting the in London's Grosvenor Square. It was renamed the Special Demonstration Squad in 1972/73 and, as the Special Duties Section, from around 1997. Under its different monikers, the squad was operational for 40-years until 2008 and was initially said to have had ten undercover officers, and two senior officers, in charge of operations. The unit was tasked to gather intelligence on the extreme right and left-wing groups known for violent disorder. Due to the sensitivity of its role, under Home Office insistence, the squad performed in the strictest secrecy. In recent years, however, it became the subject of heavy criticism for its methods after a series of stories appeared in The Observer newspaper that blew open the activities of an undercover operative known only as 'Officer A'. This was followed by an article in on 22 January 2011, that told the story of an undercover police officer, with the covert name of Rod Richardson, that exposed the methods used to gather evidence against protest groups. On 24 June 2013, the Dispatches programme (see above) opened a can of worms after Peter Francis had 'gone public' by describing his role in the squad. In the Channel 4 programme, he explained how, once an officer became part of the SDS he, by all intents and purpose, ceased being a normal police officer. Undercover operatives would, he explained, have their warrant cards taken away and their records removed from police files. To enter, and blend in with, the underground world of those they were targeting, undercover officers adopted a dishevelled appearance, grew beards, had long hair and often wore earrings. To be successful, it was vital for those working undercover to gain the total trust of those that came under surveillance, and to try and weave their way into a respected position within the targeted organisations. After the death of Stephen Lawrence, Peter Francis (as Peter Black) told how he had infiltrated anti-racist groups and became branch secretary of to gather intelligence on its members. It was a precarious and unnerving existence that left several officers in need of psychiatric treatment. Francis claimed he suffered from post-traumatic stress and an identity disorder.
To go undercover, officers attached to the SDS, the (NPOIU) (formed in 1999) and the (NDEU)) took the identities of dead children. In 1968, when the SDS came into being, children that had died between the ages of four and eight years of age and were born around the same time as the youngest officers were chosen, but later, those that had died between eight and fourteen years old were selected. The birth certificates of these children were used to obtain passports, driving licenses and other documents to create plausible identities that would stand up under scrutiny. It was never a case of an officer picking an identity at random; hours were spent at the public records office at searching for suitable subjects whose family backgrounds could be thoroughly researched before an identity was chosen. Names that were too common, or too unusual, were dismissed. An operating manual, the , outlined how squad members should create new identities. Despite pressure and requests, the Metropolitan Police was only prepared to release a highly redacted version of this manual to the public domain. However, after the ethics of using the identities of dead children was exposed, the practice is thought to have been discontinued in June 1995. Two undercover officers, Bob Lambert (as Bob Robinson) and Jim Boyling (as Jim Sutton), both appeared in court as political activists using their fake identities. Boyling was said to have lied under oath about his identity and, because of this activity, the Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner was subsequently questioned by a Home Affairs Select Committee (HCAS) on 5 February 2013. Of 147 individuals believed to have been attached to SDS in all ranks, as many as 106 were considered by to have used secret identities. Some, or most of these, were believed to have used the identities of dead children. To maintain the safety of undercover officers, as mentioned above, it became policy to ..."neither confirm or deny" the use of a false identity.
In December 2011, eight women announced their intention to sue the Metropolitan Police and the (ACPO) for the deception by five SDS undercover officers. The woman claimed that officers had abused their trust by infiltrating their lives and establishing intimate long-term relationships that, on occasions, lasted for several years. Although there were other undercover police officers involved in alleged intimate relationships, five were named: Bob Lambert, John Dines, Mark Jenner, Jim Boyling and Mark Kennedy. Some of this group fathered children with the women they targeted while continuing to live secret lives. The five had all worked undercover to infiltrate social and environmental justice campaign groups. The intricate stories of their double lives are briefly outlined below.
Former Detective Inspector, , worked with Special Branch between 1980 and 2006. He later became an academic and is now regarded as an expert of . From 2002 until 2007 Lambert ran the at Scotland Yard that attempted to foster partnerships between Muslim groups to prevent Islamist terror attacks. Lambert also ran operations at SDS, but while undercover he was known as and infiltrated from 1984 to 1988 posing as an activist. He was also involved with , actions against and anti-fascist protests. He also successfully infiltrated the inner recesses of and was able to identify members that had planted incendiary bombs in that sold fur items at Harrow, Luton and Romford. After millions of pounds of damage had been caused by fires at the stores, Robinson (Lambert) identified the culprits to his handlers, and they were apprehended in a raid on a flat in Tottenham. Thus, 25-year-old (aged 31) were jailed for four years. Robinson managed to avoid raising suspicion within the group while acting as a mole, and even visited one of the suspects in jail while he was awaiting trial. However, it was later alleged by Parliament that the actual was more likely to have been Robinson. While undercover, he established a long-term relationship with a girl known as 'Jenny' who, although not a political activist, was introduced to Robinson's wide circle of friends. More recently 'Jenny' has been identified as 'Belinda' but, to add to the confusion, at other times has also been referred to as 'Karen'. However, in the 2013 book by Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, she is named as 'Charlotte'. To try and keep things more straightforward, from here on I will refer to the woman as 'Belinda'.
As the relationship progressed, Belinda genuinely believed Robinson wanted to marry her and to father children with her. Eventually, following an orchestrated raid to maintain his cover by Special Branch on the house where they were living, Robinson disappeared and went on the run. Belinda had no idea where he was, but later received a letter from him postmarked that told her he was escaping arrest. His days working undercover were terminated, but not before he had fathered a son with Belinda. Yet, despite having set up appointments to register the baby's birth, he avoided all attempts to do so and never turned up. Eventually, with the deadline for the registration arriving, Belinda was left to register the child solely in her name. During their relationship, Robinson would disappear for several days, claiming he was either working away as a gardener or was visiting his father in Cumbria who was suffering from dementia. His father neither had dementia nor was living in Cumbria and, during these absences, usually lasting for up to five days a week, Robinson was living a normal life at home in Herefordshire with his real wife and children.
was a police sergeant called John Dines who had gone undercover and had lived in at least two squats in east London. Like Lambert (Robinson), between 1987 and 1992, he had infiltrated London Greenpeace. Barker was alleged to have deceived a woman protestor who became his girlfriend. Known at first as 'Clare', the girl was later revealed to be Helen Steel who had shared a close intimate relationship with Barker for two-years. When he left, on the pretence of going to South Africa, Helen was devastated but was convinced John was having a nervous breakdown. In reality, he had been working back at Scotland Yard and was living just a few miles away from her. In the meantime, Clare (Helen) checked into his background, and when all efforts to trace his relatives failed, she discovered that John had been living under the identity of an eight-year-old boy, Philip John Barker, who had died of leukaemia. To further protect his identity, he had dropped the child's first name from his newly acquired undercover name and used the dead boy's middle name 'John', to try and make it more difficult to trace should his fake identity be blown. Helen managed to locate a woman in New Zealand who John had said was his aunt. She turned out to be the mother of his real wife who he had married in 1977. Shocked after discovering this information, Helen then searched for John's marriage certificate and discovered from it, that he was a police officer named John Dines. Quite naturally she said the deception had left her feeling "utterly sick and violated", and it ripped her apart just by reading her lover's marriage certificate.
had been living for four years with a school teacher, who preferred to be called 'Alison' until he disappeared after she started to discuss their future together. The relationship she shared with Cassidy, whose real name was Mark Jenner, had she said ... "distorted my perceptions of love and my perceptions of sex". Living with the undercover 'spy', she said, had had an "enormous impact on my life". Alison wanted Mark's child, but she found it strange that he kept putting the idea off, and they had even been to counselling to try and work out why he did not want children. Unbeknown to her at the time, he was already married with three young children. Shortly before he left, she recalled that he began acting strangely, and had taken to sleeping on the couch. Around that time, she found a credit card in his pocket that was embossed with his real name of 'M Jenner'. He denied it was his, and excused it by saying he had bought the card from a man he had met in a pub. Mark had infiltrated a group and had acted as an agent provocateur by conspiring with them to sabotage the coal-fired , Nottinghamshire. According to Mark Metcalf, who penned an article that appeared on 11 March 2013 in , Mark Cassidy also became involved with the Centre (CRC) in Hackney, named after a 21-year-old black British man who (see below) had died of shotgun wounds inside the entrance of police station on 12 January 1983. The CRC was part of a local group of unfunded radical organisations that included that had uncovered serious corruption at Stoke Newington police station. During the 1980s and 1990s racism, allegations of suspects being 'fitted up' and drug dealing had been rife at the north London police station. On 30 August 2002, , a 23-year-old student, died in mysterious circumstances after being arrested by police from Stoke Newington, and in December 1994, , a Nigerian asylum seeker, had died while being held in a Stoke Newington police van. A good deal of the activities that had occurred at Stoke Newington Police Station have been written about in two excellent and revealing books; by and ; and by . From the information that is available, it appears that Mark Cassidy (possibly at that time using his real name) had been working undercover at CRC. His role was to spy on law-abiding citizens who were involved in legal proceedings against the police. Mark was also alleged to have worked as a building worker to infiltrate the militant (BWG) that picketed construction sites where workmen had been killed.
Drug dealing and corruption by police officers from Stoke Newington was also the subject of by the respected investigative journalist, in 1992. Although no officers were named, the newspaper was subsequently sued by the for libel, but it lost and wasted an estimated £60,000 of public money bringing the case. The events that had occurred at Stoke Newington had, in 1994, led to the setting up of the Ghost Squad by Scotland Yard to secretly investigate allegations of corruption against the police. Chief Superintendent , was in charge at the Stoke Newington when drug dealing was uncovered, though he was unconnected with any wrongdoing that occurred on his watch, and had been shocked by the revelations. As a consequence, he became one of the leading exponents in the fight against corruption, joining in 1993 to run what was then known as the or SO11.
As mentioned above, when undercover officer was prosecuted as part of a group of protestors for occupying a building during a demonstration, he appeared in court charged under his covert name, Jim Sutton. So as not to blow his cover, it was vital for him to be treated like the other suspects arrested with him. This however created problems, as it meant he had to commit deception. His, and similar cases, caused a furore when Metropolitan Police chiefs were accused of allowing undercover officers embedded in protest groups to knowingly commit Lying became necessary to protect them If they were charged with breaking the law during a protest under a false identity, and subsequently had to give evidence . Looking at this logically; Sutton, or any other undercover operatives, were treading a fine line. They risked serious personal danger almost daily. If their covers were blown, months or even years of working covertly could, along with an entire operation, would be exposed if they if they gave their real names in court.
Similarly, if an officer was arrested and charged, and the case was suddenly dropped, if the true identity of an undercover officer were secretly made known to the prosecution, this immediately would arouse the suspicions of those being targeted. On occasions, this did happen, usually due to a breakdown in communications, and the officer concerned had to suddenly 'disappear' from the group he had painstakingly infiltrated. Often, a handler (usually his SDS boss) would make every effort to avoid an undercover officer from being arrested. Secrecy was of prime concern, but there was always a danger of things going badly wrong if arresting officers were unaware that their suspect was a colleague working undercover. Working covertly was like walking on glass. Although officers would, at times, commit minor offences to maintain their credibility with the members of an infiltrated group, they also ran the risk of a chance encounter with a police officer they knew from their 'normal' life which they might come up against during a demonstration. Several SDS officers received quite heavy beatings from police that they opposed while participating in protests that turned violent; it was all part of the risks of the job.
In August 1996, Boyling, as Jim Sutton, had infiltrated the non-violent organisation and was part of a splinter group that entered the headquarters of London Transport at with John Jordan, a leading activist. They intended to unfurl banners from the window of the chairman's office on the seventh floor in support of striking tube drivers. But, as they entered the ground floor of the building, they were suddenly surrounded by police. Jordan was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer, though he has always protested his innocence, and had done no more during the scuffle than pick up a policeman's helmet and tuck it under his jacket. Sutton was charged alongside Jordan and other protestors and was duly 'processed' and therefore entered the legal system under a false identity. Although Sutton had only been charged with a minor offence, the arresting officers and the demonstrator's lawyers, , were unaware that Sutton was an undercover cop. Fortunately, he was acquitted, but had he been sent to prison under a false identity this would have created all manner of difficulties for the legal system. Sutton had been involved as a defendant in confidential discussions that included without anyone knowing his real identity. As an SDS officer, this had put him in possession of confidential information that could have been of benefit in the case of the defence that would have made a fair trial impossible. Jordan was found guilty, but later discovered that Sutton was undercover, has since regarded his conviction as a miscarriage of justice and therefore he regarded the verdict as 'unsafe'. The hierarchy of the Metropolitan Police, justifiably, were subjected to severe criticism for allowing the situation to get out of hand. Clearly, as soon as a serving officer breaks the law as part of his undercover role, this challenges whether the police had gone beyond their legal remit, primarily when the officer concerned later appears in court under a false identity.
Sutton was another former SDS undercover officer that is known to have formed an intimate long-term relationship with a woman within a group he was targeting. Referred to as 'Laura', the woman moved into his Dulwich flat and, by her own admission, fell in love with him. According to 'Undercover...The True Story of Britain's Secret Police", the romance was almost "overwhelming”, and she described how... "In the beginning, I nearly broke it off because it felt too strong. It was as if he was the perfect blueprint of something I didn't even know I was looking for". In September 2000, Sutton suddenly took off and left her after experiencing what she believed to be a breakdown. He told her that he was going to travel to Turkey, Syria and South Africa. After hearing nothing more from him, she contacted the and she was told he was in Istanbul. She became confused, increasingly distressed and told the book's authors that she needed counselling for depression and panic attacks. Out of the blue, she received an email from Sutton that said he was working in a South African vineyard. She boarded a plane and tried to track him down but drew a blank. Back in London and with no money, she lodged in a hostel but discovered a list of telephone numbers that he had left behind at their flat. She rang two numbers that she did not recognise, and both turned out to be SDS safe houses. With the help of a private investigator, the numbers were traced to an office block in south London, where she mounted a surveillance to see who came and went. The building turned out to be the headquarters of SDS where its operatives would meet to exchange information. Laura stumbled on part of Sutton's true identity and discovered he was living in Kingston. She took a job in a bookshop hoping she would bump into him and, by chance, on the first day he walked in. By then she suspected who he really was, and began probing him about his true identity, claiming he admitted he was a police spy, and that the job had changed him. After resuming life together, she became pregnant but said Sutton had become more paranoid. She claimed he tried to conceal their relationship and wanted her to change her name by deed poll, to avoid any danger to themselves and their hitherto unborn child. Soon after, Sutton transferred to the Metropolitan Police that was under the command of Bob Lambert. By 2005 Sutton and Laura had two children and had got married, but she said the relationship turned sour as Sutton became: "controlling, erratic and abusive". She took refuge in a women's hostel, and in 2008 they divorced. For the most part, interviews with the authors of 'Undercover ....' reveal Sutton had denied most of Laura's claims.
Between 2003 and 2010, Kate had spent almost two years in a relationship with Stone. While being part of a protest at he was badly beaten-up by five uniformed police who, he claimed ( ) kicked and beat him as he tried to protect a female protestor. In scenes reminiscent of the coal miners' strike of 1984, Kennedy told the newspaper: "They had batons and pummelled my head. One officer repeatedly stamped on my back. I had my finger broken, a big cut on my head and a prolapsed disc". He continued: "I experienced a lot of unjust policing. At times, I was appalled at being a police officer". He fell in with a crowd of activists at in Nottingham, but he was said to have found them insufficiently radical. During this time, Stone became involved in a deep sexual relationship with a 23-year-old member of the group known as 'Lily' who was around ten-years his junior. 'Lily' believed in open relationships, and she was aware that Stone was involved in a second relationship with a girl known as 'Anna', and was also believed to have been in a relationship with a third woman named only as 'Megan', referred to by Rob Evans and Paul Lewis in . As the names of the girlfriends of undercover officers portrayed in the book were changed over time, 'Lily' is believed to be Lisa Jones (although this may not be her real name) who, on told her story to The Guardian. worked for the (NPOIU) under the covert name of Mark Stone (also known as 'Flash') to infiltrate several protest groups. He had previously worked undercover in an anti-drug operation that carried out a sting on drug dealers in the area. Mark, the son of a traffic policeman, was the first undercover police officer to be 'unmasked' in public as a spy working within activist groups. Married with two children, in his normal life, Kennedy was the opposite of his alter ego, Mark Stone. In his undercover role, Mark was described as a tattooed adventure seeking activist, who travelled across Europe to join anti-capitalist and environmental protests. It was claimed Stone worked for the police in undercover operations in 22 countries, using a fake passport as part of his secret identity. He was said to have been responsible for the closure of the that served as a meeting point for activists, and groups. He was alleged to have committed two crimes, including arson, while working undercover for the German Police between 2004 and 2009 by infiltrating the Berlin protest movement. His work raised questions in the , though the refused to deny or admit his involvement. While undercover, Stone was said to have had two regular girlfriends within the activist movement but slept with numerous other women. One of these was Kate Wilson, who much later became an active member of the Police Spies Out of Lives organisation (see below).
In 2009, Stone went undercover with a group of activists that planned to break into the power station at . As an experienced climber, the group wanted him to climb the outside of the power plant, but he refused. He had already tipped off his handlers, and on 14 April, the day before the planned break-in, he and 113 protestors were arrested. However, while the remainder were represented by the law firm, Bindmans, he was excluded from the charging process by his handlers. Thus, as the only member of the group that was not legally represented, it looked as if Stone's cover would be blown. However, Nottinghamshire Police remained unaware of his identity, and he was bailed. After waiting for three months to be charged, the case against him was dropped while charges were brought against twenty-six other demonstrators. Knowing it had been a mistake that would compromise him if remained the only member not to be charged, he pleaded with his handlers to protect him by dropping the actions against the others, but they refused. To protect him, Stone was withdrawn from the undercover operation, and he returned to normal policing duties in October 2009. Having spent seven-years undercover, he found this difficult. He was out of touch and his efforts to be employed as a detective failed when he was told he would need to apply like anyone else. He told The Guardian: "I was not looked after at all. I didn't think there was anything left for me in the police, so I left".
He returned to his girlfriend in Nottingham in 2010, but while they were holidaying together in Italy she discovered his passport in his real name of Mark Kennedy; his mobile phone also revealed emails from two children. Two days later she confronted him over the discovery, but he lied to her saying that he was a former drug runner whose friend has been murdered and he had promised to look after the dead man's children. The explanation worried 'Lily', and she asked a friend to search family records. Nothing came up under 'Stone’, but it certainly did when they searched under the name of Kennedy. They located a birth certificate for his son that contained the father's identity as a police officer. This led to Mark being quizzed for four hours by the other activists. They told him they were aware he was a cop and had found out that he was married with children and knew several other things about his real identity. In the process of coming clean about who he was, Stone was alleged to have compromised a female police spy who had gone undercover as a bogus care home worker in Leeds. When his story began breaking in the press, fearing his safety, he fled to America but was certain that his SDS handlers were looking for him and that his former activist friends also wanted to get revenge. Kennedy was alleged to have told an American psychiatrist that he was suicidal. When he returned to England with no fixed abode after his marriage had broken up, he claimed he was given no assistance by way of counselling by the Metropolitan Police. "I felt hugely alone", he said. After seeking the assistance of the disgraced former publicist, the late , stories began circulating in the world's media about police covert officers. Although Kennedy has been accused of whistleblowing; much of what has been written about the squad was right, though some of the revelations have been glamorised and appear to suggest that he had entered the James Bond world of fantasy.
A support group, (PSOOL), was set up by the eight women victims (five of whom were granted anonymity by the courts) who claimed the police were in breach of their human rights; had subjected them to inhumane and degrading treatment; disrespect of their private and family lives; and denied them the right to form relationships without unjustified interference by the state. The women are also bringing claims for "deceit, assault, and negligence. They seek to highlight and prevent the continuation of psychological, emotional and sexual abuse of campaigners and others by undercover police officers".
Although police chiefs claim undercover police officers were forbidden to have sex with their targets "under any circumstances" as they regarded this as "unacceptable and unprofessional", a former SDS operative has described how, during the 1990s sex was widely used as a technique for covert officers to blend with antagonists and to gather intelligence. Although morally despicable, it seems quite improbable for officers that worked undercover and successfully gained the trust of activist group members not to have been tempted to establish intimate relationships with their targets of the opposite sex. Indeed, it can be argued, that had they not slept with the woman they were spying on, then this might have given rise to suspicion. A covert officer could hardly broadcast the fact that he was leading two lives; the other with a home, wife and children. I am in no way attempting to defend the actions of those that went undercover but merely trying to provide a balanced argument as a debating point for why it occurred. It also seems possible that the motives of at least some of the undercover police officers in forging relationships with their targets, may have been genuine, and not solely as a means of exploiting the women they had targeted. There is no clear-cut answer to whether this is so, but the morality of their actions has become the overriding issue, and there can be no doubt that the women involved now are entirely genuine in their beliefs that they were deliberately deceived.
In December 2011 the eight women that had set up Police Spies Out of Our Lives lodged legal action against the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and This is related to the long-term deceit and intimate relationships by five police officers who had infiltrated social and environmental justice campaigns. In a case that included common law claims, as well as human rights claims, the women were represented by . Despite the severe nature of the claims, the MPS, ungraciously, refused to accept the group of women had been wronged and proceeded to put every obstacle in their path to prevent the progress of their actions. The police attempted to have the legal claims struck out, and then applied, and succeeded, in having some of the cases referred to a . The police authorities also made every effort to hide behind the principle of its ' (NCND) policy.
were being pursued under both the and . In November 2012, , presiding at the agreed with the police and ruled that the proceedings should be heard in secret by the (IPT). , the Judge granted the police leave to have the cases of three of the women, being brought under the Human Right Act, to be held in secret. He ruled that the remaining common law cases could be held in open court, although he put those cases on hold. In November, the Court of Appeal upheld the former judgement that the Human Rights cases must be held in private, but it lifted the delay on the common-law claims. In March 2014, the police dropped their original attempt to have the five common law cases struck out, thus avoiding public scrutiny of its NCND policy. But, this did not stop them from continuing to be obstructive by their failure to file a proper defence in response to the women's actions. In November 2015 reported that the police had finally relented, by conceding that they . The MPS made to seven of the eight women involved and awarded them substantial (but undisclosed) compensation. This was seen by many to be an exercise in damage limitation by the police, to avoid creating further embarrassment during a time when criticism against the MPS was still firmly in the minds of the public and the media. The seven women were therefore denied their day (or, potentially weeks or months) in court. However, they pledged to remain firmly supportive of the action of the eighth member of their group, and at the time of writing (May 2016), the hitherto unnamed woman is still fighting her case.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May announced on 12 March 2015 that there was to be an Inquiry within the terms of the into undercover policing. was appointed Chairman of the Inquiry. On 9 February 2016, the women that had been affected by clandestine relationships were among those calling on the to release the cover names of officers. A letter sent to the was signed by 133 core participants. These included many women who were taking legal actions over the damage caused to their lives they allege was caused by undercover police relationships. The letter expressed grave concerns that only a fraction of those women affected has so far come forward. The Metropolitan Police continues in its failure to release the names of covert officers. The destruction of files that could be used as evidence has drawn a parallel with the activities of the East German during the .