New campaign calls for inquiry into undercover policing

The fight for justice by those affected by undercover police operations has been stepped up with a number of individuals and groups coming together to launch the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS), which is demanding a full-scale public inquiry into the infiltration of a whole host of campaigns and protest groups by undercover police officers.

The police and the government have so far resisted calls for a public inquiry, arguing that Operation Herne - being carried out by the police and due to issue a final report in 2015 - is sufficient, and that legal action brought by women who had relationships with undercover officers needs to be concluded. A total of 16 inquiries and investigations have so far been launched, the vast majority of which have never been made public.

At a packed-out meeting in central London on Thursday 27 February a number of speakers, all of whom have been the subject of police surveillance, infiltration, intrusion and deception, came together to tell their stories and make clear that they have no faith in current and previous investigations carried out by the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

Anti-racist campaigners

Solicitor Imran Khan read a statement on behalf of Doreen Lawrence, whose son Stephen was murdered in a racist attack in April 1993. It emerged last year that groups supporting the subsequent campaign for justice were infiltrated by undercover police officers in an attempt to "smear the dead teenager's family". [1]

A review ordered last year into allegations of corruption in the investigation of the Lawrence case appears to have been stymied by the police. Mark Ellison QC, who led the review, will reportedly recommend a second inquiry take place due to police failing to provide access to all the relevant police files. [2] The 1998 Macpherson Inquiry into Lawrence's murder and the subsequent police investigation was similarly denied documents relating to corruption in the Metropolitan Police. [3]

Khan argued on Thursday that any such inquiry should go further than allegations of corruption, taking in undercover policing as well, and should go beyond the Lawrence case. Doreen Lawrence's statement said that "a public inquiry is the only way to address mine and other people's cases."

One of the groups that supported the Lawrence campaign, Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE), was the subject of police infiltration by Special Demonstration Squad officer-turned-whistleblower Peter Francis. He was one of three officers sent to infiltrate groups supporting the Lawrence's campaign for justice. Former YRE member Lois Austin said: "I was never cautioned, I was never arrested, but there was a secret police investigation into me."

Austin argued that the scandal has brought into the open the fact that "political policing exists in this country" and that COPS is seeking to highlight "the role of the politicians in all this… Who gave the orders?"

Trade unionists

Dave Smith, a builder and member of the Blacklist Support Group, recounted the exposure of the blacklisting of trade union members after a February 2009 raid by the Information Commissioner's Office on the Consulting Association. The Consulting Association was paid by major building firms to keep files on 'troublesome' workers, and the 2009 raid uncovered 3,200 individual files. This was just a tenth of the material held in the office, but the rest was later destroyed.

Smith's own file is 36 pages long and contains amongst other things his name, address, phone number, car registration details, information on his family, and issues he raised on building sites - for example, over asbestos.

David Clancy, head of the ICO investigation into the Consulting Association and a former police officer, has said that some information contained in the blacklist files "could only be supplied by the police or the security services." [4]

Last year the IPCC told solicitor Claire Windsor, who represents some members of the Blacklist Support Group, that "it was likely that all Special Branches were involved in providing information about potential employees who were suspected of being involved in subversive activity." Special Branch is also known to have provided information to the Economic League, the predecessor to the Consulting Association.

The IPCC said that knowledge of Special Branch providing information came from "initial scoping" carried out by officers working on Operation Herne, the Metropolitan Police's multi-million pound investigation into undercover policing. The police subsequently denied the claims, saying that "to date no evidence of any police involvement in the so-called blacklist matter has been uncovered."

However, it is a fact that the Consulting Association held a meeting in November 2008 with the police's National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU, now known as the National Domestic Extremism Unit, NDEU), although the ICO has refused to release the relevant files that it obtained during the February 2009 raid. [5]

Dave Smith said: "This is a conspiracy between big business, multinationals, the state and the security services," and that "if [celebrities] can get a public inquiry for [having their phones hacked], we bloody well deserve one too."

Environmental campaigners

Helen Steel, part of the campaign group Police Spies Out of Lives, told the meeting of her own experience with undercover policing. She had a two-year relationship with John Dines, who took the cover name of John Barker. They met in the late 1980s when Dines was sent to infiltrate London Greenpeace (unaffiliated to the international organisation Greenpeace), an anti-capitalist environmental campaign group.

In 1990 they began a relationship and Steel fell "madly in love" with him. Two years later, he disappeared, claiming a nervous breakdown. Steel subsequently spent years searching for him before uncovering his real marriage certificate, which listed his occupation as "police officer". His work as an undercover officer was subsequently confirmed to her in 2011 by a woman who had recently divorced another undercover cop, 19 years after he first disappeared. [6]

She told the meeting that Dines had engaged in "a deliberate process of emotional manipulation… How could I trust my own judgment anymore?" While media reports of undercover officers forming relationships with their 'targets' had focused on sex, Steel said: "the damage to the ability to trust, that's what really messes with your mind."

Another environmental campaigner, Robbie Gillett, was convicted in 2009 for obstructing a train carrying coal to Drax power station. In January his conviction, along with those of 28 others, were overturned "after senior judges ruled that crucial evidence gathered by an undercover police officer was withheld from their original trial." [7]

The officer in question was Mark Kennedy, and Gillett said on Thursday that his role in the protest was key: "The police had known about this action in advance and facilitated it - the police drove us to it!"

He also pointed out that while it was widely reported that the Crown Prosecution Service had "invited" the convicted protesters to appeal, this give the impression that the state has been "benevolent", when in fact the invitation only came following pressure from campaigners and their lawyers.

Gillett argued that the facts uncovered so far make clear that the actions of undercover officers were not caused by them "going rogue", despite claims along these lines made by police officers and other officials. For example, an investigation by Sir Christopher Rose into the failed prosecution of protestors at the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station - one of 16 official investigations and inquiries that have so far taken place or are ongoing - stated that "failures were individual, not systemic." [8]

None of those speaking at Thursday's meeting were convinced by claims such as these. Lois Austin said claims that "rogue" individuals perpetrated abuses were "not true! It was policy." Helen Steel said of undercover officers forming relationships with their targets that: "The police cannot claim Mark Kennedy was a rogue officer: it's clear it's an institution doing this and it's a deliberate tactic."

Private investigators and diaspora communities

Members from the audience pointed out some issues not covered by the speakers. One man, who had travelled from Dundee to be at the meeting, argued that any inquiry also needs to cover private companies and private investigators that work with the police.

Helen Steel noted that following the McLibel case, in which she was one of the two defendants, legal action was taken against the police for passing information onto private investigators hired by McDonalds. "It's clear that police and multinationals put a lot of effort into undermining campaigns for social change," she said.

A representative of Campaign Against Criminalising Communities noted that there is ongoing police and MI5 intimidation and attempted infiltration of diaspora communities such as Kurds, Tamils and Somalis. "A number of people have been faced with pressure to become informers on their own communities," she said, in particular British Somalis, and any campaign for an inquiry needed to include their cases as well.

Campaign for an inquiry

The COPS campaign statement says that:

"We have no faith in Operation Herne nor any of the up to 16 often secret, internal police or prosecutor reviews. They are not sufficiently transparent, robust or independent to satisfy public concern and they do not come close to addressing all the issues raised.

"The public is entitled to know what has been going on in their name and paid for by their taxes. We therefore call for an independent public inquiry into all the revelations that undercover policing has been used against political protest and campaigns. This inquiry must have full powers to compel police officers to give evidence. Such political policing has no place in a democratic society and a mechanism must be found to ensure that such unjustified conduct does not continue in the future." [9]

One member of the audience pointed out that "a judge-led inquiry is no guarantee of getting to the truth… They'll try and buy us off with a bullshit judge first before they give us what we want." Lois Austin responded by saying that: "The way you get accountability is very difficult" but "big public campaigns" can "police the police in a way".

"We will have to campaign for a public inquiry," she said. "We're not just gonna get one by asking for it."

The Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance is asking trade and student unions, campaign groups and other organisations to affiliate to the campaign and make a donation to support ongoing costs. Contact details are available on their website: Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance

Further reading

[1] Tom Symonds,
'Police 'spied on' Stephen Lawrence family, says Guardian newspaper', BBC News, 24 June 2013
[2] Tom Pettifor, '
New Stephen Lawrence inquiry after fresh claims of police corruption', Mirror, 28 February 2014
[3] Vikram Dodd, 'Report into Stephen Lawrence officer was not shown to inquiry', The Guardian, 16 March 2012
[4] Rory, 'Police and MI5 linked to blacklist of site workers', Blacklist Blog, 8 March 2012
[5] Chloe Stothart, 'Police question evidence of blacklisting collusion', Construction News, 14 October 2013
[6] Melissa Thompson, 'My perfect boyfriend was an undercover police officer - now I want justice', Mirror, 5 November 2013
[7] Rob Evans, 'Drax protesters' convictions quashed over withheld evidence of police spy', The Guardian, 21 January 2014
[8] Christopher Rose, 'Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station Protest Inquiry into Disclosure', December 2011
[9] Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance, 'About', Autumn 2013

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