Monday, September 22, 2014

Why Use Dead Children?

The British police officer who used Rod Richardson's identity at a riot at the G8 summit in Genoa, July 2001

Beyond whether it's distasteful or dangerous for police to steal the identity of dead children, there is another question. Why would they do it?

Police self-investigation Operation Herne looked at political secret police unit the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) and reported that

As outlined in the SDS Trade Craft Manual, the practice of using a genuine deceased identity was developed to create a plausible covert identity that was capable of frustrating enquiries by activists

It later reiterates

the subject chosen had to have an 'existence' to show up in case of basic research by suspicious activists

How many times have you looked up a friend's birth certificate because you thought they were actually someone else? It is the rare act of someone with a deep distrust. A real birth certificate woulldn't allay the reasons for that suspicion. More than that, if an activist is suspicious enough to look for a birth certificate, they can find a death certificate too.

There are many reasons why someone might not have a British birth certificate. They may have been born abroad, they may have been adopted. There is, however, no reason for someone who comes round to your house to have a death certificate.

Far from making a plausible, robust cover story, using dead children's identity leaves absolute proof that it's fake waiting to be discovered in documents that are just as easily found as the birth certificate.

In the furore after the tactic was revealed, Met police chief Bernard Hogan-Howe said

At the time this method of creating identities was in use, officers felt this was the safest option.

Yet Herne quotes the SDS Trade Craft Manual describing the practice as 'unsafe'. Conversely, what was unsafe about inventing a fictitious name? By 2014, it seems most officers doing this work have used made-up names yet have not been rumbled.

SDS officers started doing the 'Jackal Run' - stealing a dead child's identity as popularised in the Day of the Jackal - around 1971, the year the book was published. In 1973 it was made into a hit movie, complete with assassin 'the Jackal' walking down the Strand going to get a dead person's certificate, just as these officers did. It put the concept into the public mind. If it ever had been a good idea for covert identity, it was now too well known.

Having found Rod Richardson's birth certificate, the next thing I did was search for and find his death certificate and I immediately knew my friend had in fact been a fraud. After Helen Steel found her partner John Barker's birth certificate, she found his death certificate. It confirmed to us that these men were police spies.

Yet the SDS did it for decades. In their book Undercover: The True Story of Britain's Secret Police, Rob Evans and Paul Lewis describe whistleblower officer Peter Francis' choice of identity. Taking a child whose father had been a Royal Marine serving abroad, Lewis and Evans describe how

the birth certificate was therefore kept in a more obscure overseas registry and would have been almost impossible to find. [Francis said,] 'I made it so hard - I could only just about find it myself afterwards'.

Choosing a child who had died overseas was the kind of ruse SDS officers liked to use. Undercover officers never wanted the birth certificates of the dead children to be too easily located.

Yet we've been repeatedly told that the whole point of using a real identity was precisely because it could be easily located. A real certificate in an unfindable registry would be the same as having no certificate at all.

Less than half a page later Francis explains that by the time someone begins looking for the officer's certificate their cover is irreparably damaged, irrespective of whether they find a certificate or not.

If someone has checked you out that much, you need to go anyway, your time is up.

This flat contradiction is acknowledged by Operation Herne, telling us that

the SDS practice of using deceased children's to construct their covert identities was phased out starting in November 1994... This was not only good for ethical reasons, but it also reduced the risk of compromise, particularly where an officer might be confronted with 'their' own death certificate


We may confidently disregard 'ethical reasons' as a motivation for the SDS. So why did they move away from it?

Herne quotes an officer - probably Roger Pearce - who was an SDS undercover officer from 1978-80 and then Head of Special Branch from 2000-04.

This was long term political infiltration which was seen as justified. It was for Queen and country and peace and democracy. It was the way it was done. A registered birth was the strongest foundation; other methods were not available at the time.

We've already established it's really not a strong foundation for identity. But that last bit is interesting - there were no other methods of creating a fake identity.

Herne asserts that

A genuine identity of a deceased person was needed, as there was no viable means of inserting a fictitious entry into the records of births.

This suggests that, since they've given up the practice, such fake entries can now be made. However, it's interesting to note that Mark Kennedy didn't have one when we looked, some nine months after he left the police.

But back to the initial reason for stealing identity, Herne says the Trade Craft Manual talks of a birth certificate 'giving access to a range of necessary documentation in support of the covert identity'.

It continues

Before the transition to computer based records, although a birth certificate was never intended to be an identification document they were regularly used to apply for other documents, such as driving licenses or passports.

In the absence of any other documentary proof, birth certificates were used as effective identification. Indeed before modern developments they might be the only proxy identity document that most members of the public would possess

In other words, it looks like they were used by police to fraudulently apply for bank accounts, passports and the like. If so, that's a few more crimes to add to their list.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Spycops Using Dead Children

Barbara Shaw with the death certificate of her son Rod Richardson

One aspect of the undercover policing scandal that has waned from public attention is the use of the identities of dead children by undercover officers. It wants looking at because the police's stated reasons for doing it don't bear scrutiny and in fact contradict one another. I'll explain more about that in tomorrow's post, but for now let's go over what happened.

In the earlier days of the political secret police unit the Special Demonstration Squad - from the late 1960s to the 1990s - officers would go on 'the Jackal Run'. Named after a technique made famous in Frederick Forsyth's 1971 novel The Day of the Jackal, they'd trawl the registers of deaths looking for someone who had a similar birth date who had died young.

They also needed the child to have the same first name in order to preserve their cover, as there's an instinctive way you respond when called out to by name. They'd look for a surname that wasn't unusual but wasn't too common either, such as Robinson, Daley or Barker.

Offiicers didn't just use the name, they resurrected the identity. They would visit the town and home of the child to familiarise themselves and so help build a backstory full of genuine details. It gave their stories an authenticity that would be crucial if they ever happened to meet someone from their supposed home town.

ENDANGERING THE BEREAVED

This isn't merely distasteful and ghoulish. As Anthony Barker - whose brother John Barker died aged 8 of leukaemia aged 8 before his identity was stolen by police officer John Dines - pointed out, it puts bereaved families at risk. After Dines ended his deployment and disappeared, his worried and bereft activist partner Helen Steel traced John Barker and went to the house listed on the birth certificate.

Now, 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 says she did.

One of my former activist mates was Rod Richardson. After we exposed Mark Kennedy, we realised Rod fitted the same mould. I went looking and found his birth certificate. Unlike Kennedy, it was in his real name. For a second I had a flash of guilt that he was real, that we'd suspected a genuine comrade of betraying us. Then I looked him up in the death register. Rod Richardson had died aged two days.

Our friend was actually a police officer. The night we'd celebrated his birthday with tequila and sledging over black ice on a tea tray to the karaoke in the pub wasn't his birthday at all. It will have been a very sombre night indeed for the real Richardsons.

ONE ROGUE OFFICER?

The police know this identity theft is morally indefensible. A few days after we published details of Rod, Pat Gallan - Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Met and, at that point, head of the police's profligate arse-covering self-investigation Operation Herne - gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Gallan said that they had found a solitary case of dead child ID theft but the combined efforts of Herne's 31 staff had failed to find any more in the subsequent five months until we came forward with the evidence of Rod.

Gobsmacking incompetence or reluctance to admit the embarrassing truth? You decide. Either way, she was removed from Operation Herne four days later.

NO, AT LEAST 42 OBEYING PROTOCOL

Showing what Operation Herne can actually do with that sort of time period, five months after Gallan's brassnecked performance, in July last year, Herne published a report on the topic of dead children's identity theft [PDF here].

Of the 106 fake identities used by SDS officers, it had found that 42 were of dead children, 45 were fictitious and 19 were unknown. It said that identities were stolen from the early 1970s and used for more or less every officer until November 1994, with instructions given in detail in the SDS Trade Craft Manual.

It is absolutely clear that the use of identities of deceased children was an established practice that new officers were ‘taught’. It was what was expected of them, and was the means by which they could establish a cover identity before they were deployed.

So much for Pat Gallan's one isolated case, then.

The SDS apparently phased it out in the mid 1990s. But it seems that when the new National Public Order Intelligence Unit was set up to do similar work in 1999, they initially used this anachronistic tactic. As he was deployed the same year the NPOIU was set up, the officer who stole Rod Richardson's identity must have been one the first NPOIU officers, if not the very first.

ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY FOR POLICE STONEWALLING

The real Rod Richardson's mother, Barbara Shaw, made a complaint to the police. It was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission in February 2013 and they handed it back to the police but said it would be a 'supervised investigation'. It was then downgraded to a straightforward police self-investigation known as Operation Riverwood.

When it was completed the police announced that no action would be taken against any officer. They are still refusing to publish the investigation's report.

Barbara Shaw's lawyer Jules Carey said

The families of the dead children whose identities have been stolen by the undercover officers deserve better than this. They deserve an explanation, a personal apology and, if appropriate, a warning of the potential risk they face, in the exceptional circumstances, that their dead child's identity was used to infiltrate serious criminal organisations.

The harvesting of dead children's identities was only one manifestation of the rot at the heart of these undercover units which had officers lie on oath, conduct smear campaigns and use sexual relationships as an evidence-gathering tool. Ms Shaw has told me that she feels her complaint has been swept under the carpet.


In March 2013 the Home Affairs Select Committee declared

Families need to hear the truth and they must receive an apology. Once families have been identified they should be notified immediately. We would expect the investigation to be concluded by the end of 2013 at the latest.

The police have ignored it.

A number of bereaved families contacted police to ask if their child's identity had been used. Police refused to answer. A Freedom of Information request was made asking for the ages of the dead children, not even the exact dates or their sexes. At least with that barest detail, many worried families would be able to rule out their children if there wasn't a match. The police refused to do even that.

Last month the Information Commissioners Office declared that the police must release the list of ages. It is not yet known if the police will appeal that decision. But, as they've shown in the legal battle with the women who were subjected to prolonged psychological and sexual abuse by the secret police units, they will take any opportunity to withhold information, avoid accountability and deny justice.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Independence Day



With any argument against Scottish independence, the simple test is to apply it to Ireland. 

Did Irish independence betray the internationalist ideal? Did Ireland manage OK with shared currency? Would it be better for Ireland if they'd stayed in the UK? Did we 'turn neighbours into foreigners'? Even UKIP don't mind Irish immigrants, calling them 'our kith and kin' earlier this year.

So it's a rich irony having an Irish UK resident like Bob Geldof calling for a No vote. In fact it's weird that Obama is too, unless both go back to their home countries and advocate rejoining Britain.

A Yes vote won't create a new border. That border is already there for many issues. It will increase its strength, but that isn't exclusionary. A country where, backed by a significant proportion of the population, the leader openly calls for greater immigration is not a place with those issues. Compare that with the main UK parties.

If we want to consider xenophobia and exclusion, imagine this: the Tories lose the next election, Cameron's out and they install a Eurosceptic. A deal is struck not to compete with UKIP. This coalition wins in 2020. Even without this nightmare scenario, if the tories win we're promised an in-out referendum on the EU. It's quite possible that in five or ten years the UK could be out of the EU whilst an independent Scotland is in.

The Labour Party talking about how Scottish independence is a bad thing because it puts up borders between people. That's the same Labour Party whose 2010 manifesto had a 'Crime & Immigration' section, like the two things belong together. The same Labour Party who sent a Home Secretary to help out nicking stowaway immigrants at Dover to show how tough they are on foreigners.

Gordon Brown says voting No is the only way to save the NHS. This is the same Gordon Brown, chancellor who presided over the marketisation of the NHS and the introduction of Private Finance Initiative where we pay private companies several times the cost of a school or hospital before we're allowed to pay any staff. PFI is credit spree timebomb, getting new buildings today by promising tomorrow's budgets.

The Labour Party, who only survive by saying "vote for us to keep the Tories out", are telling people in Scotland to vote against permanently keeping the Tories out.

A Yes vote is a vote for Scottish nationalism, but a No vote is for British nationalism. I know which one I'm more uncomfortable with. As Billy Bragg said on Tuesday

the most frustrating aspect of the debate on Scottish independence has been the failure of the English left to recognise that there is more than one type of nationalism. People who can explain in minute detail the many forms of socialism on offer at any demo or conference seem incapable of differentiating when it comes to nationalists


It's not just that both votes are nationalists, but of different kinds. It's that one of them is imperialist. Not only do most No arguments apply to Ireland, a large proportion apply to any country going independent from the British Empire. It's no surprise that a country that's consistently voted against Tories yet been ruled by them most of my lifetime feels like it's under imperial rule.

Imagine if you could have one vote on one day and banish Tory rule forever (and no, it won't mean the rUK gets permanent Tories). Anyone with compassion could only give one possible answer.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Did Spycops Commit Crimes?

The Crown Prosecution Service have decided that they won't prosecute underocver police officers who had sexual relationships with activists they targeted, nor for misconduct in public office. Additionally - a point that warrants a bit more attention - they decided not to prosecute officers who've identified colleagues to the activists that they spied on.

I've done a pair of posts about it for the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance blog:
- Did Spycops Commit Sex Crimes?
- Did Spycops Commit Other Crimes?

I also do the social media for COPS these days, so if the subject interests you then like COPS on Facebook or follow COPS on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Glastonbury 2014

Just back from Glastonbury. Well, been back two days now but it does take a while to get over. Other festivals have ‘goers’ or ‘punters’. Glastonbury has survivors. There’s something about the way it’s bigger - geographically, with more variety, 24/7, and of course longer - that wrings out all the fun you can have.

This write-up comes with the disclaimer that, like the telly coverage, it focuses on the big stages and things that are that’s easy to name and describe rather than the million little moments you find everywhere, the levity, camaraderie and absurdity. Like a toddler who plays with a box as much as the present it contained, over and over again you see people delight in the spontaneous and daft things as much as the resource-intensive prepared spectacle. The people carrying a table round site and getting people to do table wrestling always had a big enthusiastic supply of competitors and a bigger crowd of encouragers. Entertained by a table! 

There was definitely a lot more going on during Wednesday and Thursday this year. The Green Fields stages, particularly, were busy.

There is also a noticeable growth of the twisted dystopian aesthetic. Since Lost Vagueness was swapped for Shangri-La, and then the Unfair Ground and Block 9 were added, it’s taken root. But the huge spectacle of Arcadia – whose 20 foot mechanical spider that shoots fire draws people in from afar – has moved to the opposite side of the site, and with Mutoid Waste being separated too it feel like this uneasy oddness is spreading out into the whole festival. Like the Green Fields stuff, Glastonbury devotes more space to this weirdness than most festivals have for their whole event. 

But having Wednesday’s tequila-tipped overload negate much of Thursday, it was on to the main event. Blondie opened the big stages on Friday, a wonderful piece of billing. A few years back they stuck Bjorn Again on first at the Pyramid which, when you’ve had cider for breakfast, seemed equally inspired; open with a packed field singing along to songs every single person adores.

Saw Blondie on the Pyramid Stage in 1999 expecting that singalong thing and got so much more, the arcing cry in her voice was so familiar but up that loud and after all these years was unexpectedly moving.

Coming on stage last Friday in all black with some sort of full torso white strapped bondage harness with a pentagram in the middle certainly gives us all a model of post-menopausal life to aspire to. Sadly, her voice really can’t fly like it used to. But failing ability is no excuse for failing attitude, and rocking covers of Fight For Your Right To Party and the Misfits’ Hollywood Babylon gave it enough oomph to carry the day effortlessly, which was clearly a real treat for people like this teenager who got to see someone so legendary. Bringing the sunshine out helped too. And being able to belt out an hour of stormers and have us leaving the field listing ones they never played - Dreaming, Sunday Girl, Tide Is High, Union City Blue - is the mark of a rare repertoire indeed.

EARNING MY KEEP

Had to miss De La Soul to do a political performance poetry tag team at Toad Hall with the great Danny Chivers who I’ve done that with a bunch of times and Monica Hunken who Danny vouched for but I only met that day. She’s from NYC and works with Reverend Billy and The Church of Stop Shopping. As might be expected then, she combines political nouse with sparky creativity and a seam of effortless theatrical skill, mixing songs and transfixing storytelling that made me feel like such a tailcoat-rider.

Brief pause before Danny did his new one person show Arrest That Poet!, documenting his political awakening, motivation and the weird places it’s put him. He was one of the Ratcliffe 6 whose trial collapsed due to Mark Kennedy’s involvement; he was one of the 146 people nicked in Fortnum & Mason on an protest against the tax dodgers and was one of the tiny number convicted, in his case for a poem he performed in the posh shop; he was up the chimney at West Burton power station for a week; and he was also on Richard and Judy just before a segment about dancing dogs.

As he started thunder rolled in, giving uncannily timed dramatic sound effects top enhance the performance. Then the rain came, like a spray of thousands of high velocity cricket balls on the taut canvas of the marquee, drowning out in terms of noise as well as fluid. Then the overhead lightning that meant every stage on site had to shut down. He redefined ‘trouper’ by gathering the audience around him campfire style and carrying on.

To add a final challenge, the awesome New York Brass Band kicked in with Jungle Boogie and Seven Nation Army in the tent next door yet still he held them rapt to the end. Yep, I’m deffo the coat-tail rider of the trio.

Weirdly ended up seeing only a handful of bands, mostly on the massive stages and in fact the whole five days kind of zipped by. Was with a crew of mates who dragged me to Elbow. The only other time I’ve seen them I was dragged along too, the legendary Duchess of York in Leeds about 1999. I’ve never seen an unknown band who were so obviously going to make it big. Not especially the sort of thing that I want to listen to all day at home, but they had real undeniable class to them.

And so now, on the Pyramid Stage, the sweeping anthemic element suited the golden sunshine and festival vibe – most obviously in One Day Like This - and the band's almost comical unrockstarness provided an opportunity for a distinctive connection with the audience.

SATURDAY

Saturday brought a talk in the Speakers Forum with me and Green Party bod Jenny Jones about Britain’s secret police, well attended and with thoughtful, intelligent questions. It was especially good to make it clear that, despite the shorthand often used, this isn’t about environmentalists but a swathe of political groups, essentially anyone who’s active in politics outside the sliver of the spectrum represented in the House of Commons. This was underlined by the attendance of the tireless Dave Smith from the Blacklist Support Group who are demanding justice for the thousands of construction workers who - with the routine help of Special Branch - were illegally denied a living for their political or safety concerns.

Robert Plant was something truly special. He’s steadfastly refused the megabucks for a Led Zeppelin reunion yet his set had a ton of Zeppelin songs in it. It might seem like a contradiction, but in doing it this way he isn’t playing to overvast audiences who just want to hear the hits but to people who’ll take what he wants to do. Crucially - and this is where he leaves modern blues bores like The Black Keys standing in their tepid puddle of tedium - he gets to do much more interesting arrangements. He’s shed the cock rock but still hits you with his powerful British blues yawp and folky roots, mixed with a swirl of textural subtlety and shimmering dynamics. He is visibly awed by his band members. And with the weaving of this spell he’s forgiven for picking the more ornate, dappled Zeppelin songs like Going To California.

But, at the end of the day, who has ever held a Les Paul and not wanted to whack out Whole Lotta Love at a thousand squigawatts? Who knows the track and wouldn’t want to be on the business end of that same multisquigawatt onslaught? Yeeeeah. That was a proper Moment. Didn't stop him getting the audience to clap Bo Diddley rhythm whilst he sang a verse of the genius pure evil lyrics of Diddley's Who Do You Love, then put Whole Lotta Love's words over the same beat, then took it back into the ultimate riff itself.

Legged it round for the Manics who came on with Motorcycle Emptiness, making the crowd hit the sky and stay there for a hits-heavy set. If You Tolerate This was hugely emotional, with Nicky Wire saying aftewards

We've got no fireworks. We've got no glitter. We've got no floor tom at the front of the stage for me to fucking bang. But we've just sung a song together about fighting fascists in Spain. A number one record with deep-rooted politics - it can be done! And now for some dumb punk fun

And off they ripped into You Love Us. The soaring, melancholic grandeur of their sound propelled the sunset upwards, a fine prelude to Pixies who just hammered us with classic after classic, their sound undimmed by time, like being sprayed with serrated knives.

The borg of friends herded me to the second half of Metallica whose sheer heaviness might’ve rocked, but in an empathogenically enhanced state it turned my chest cavity into a sagging bag of saturated cotton wool and I sharply sloped off to regather my brain.

The South East corner – full of that the dystopian stuff – gets rammed after the main stages finish so it was a great opportunity to have a gawping bimble whilst everyone else waited for Enter Sandman.

DOLLY PARTON

Sunday morning wake up text from my friend Tom recommending a further Pyramid Stage act for breakfast, Toumani and Sidiki Diabate. Tom’s in the unfathomably brilliant Vessels, so his taste should be trusted without question, and indeed he wasn’t wrong. The Diabates are a father and son Malian cora duet, 71st and 72nd generation of their family to play the gorgeous West African harp. Here they are playing in the BBC treehouse up in The Park.

But everyone I’d spoken to all weekend, friend and randomer alike, had said they were going to Dolly Parton. And sure enough, on Sunday afternoon she drew a bigger crowd than any headliner. All the way to the back of the field. Not only that but the clapalong and armwaving normally dissipates as it gets further from the stage whereas this was total participation right the way back. 

She knows you love it for the music and for the kitsch at the same time. Her cultivated folksy persona belies a huge talent for sweeping an audience up. An absolute giant of country music, she was witty, energetic and yet still managed to stay true to the core of country, that cleverly articulated, unflinching unhurried examination of heartache depicted in ordinary settings that everyone can identify with.

But, as she was savvy enough to realise, ‘I can't do a bunch of sad, slow songs, because everyone's drunk and high’. Levity is one thing, but nothing prepared us for her doing the Benny Hill theme on a rhinestone encrusted sax, followed by a specially written song about being in the mud. Fuck the tube train smashed into a five storey block of flats in Block 9 or any of that stuff, THIS was the great unlikely thing to see at Glastonbury. It made Ritchie Sambora’s guest appearance a few minutes later seem workaday. The sense of uplift across the field was amazing, with people bobbing out like they had clouds on their boots.

It was disappointing to see the usually excellent Graham Linehan attack her for ‘mutilation’ of herself and deride feminists who like her. Firstly, a man criticising an individual woman because of her appearance is rarely the basis for a solid feminist position. Especially when it detracts from the fact that she is a woman whose talent and intelligence have been proven and respected over decades, irrespective of her appearance. It can’t help but have some little whiff of being threatened by powerful women – I don’t remember him criticising men who work out in order to fit in with male standards of muscularity.

Yes, Parton actively complies with norms about standards of female beauty. Attacking those norms is one thing but, as someone who’ll never face society’s sanctions for women who don’t comply, he should hold off with the personal criticism. 

Additionally, she has carved out her own space in culture so well that she has something of a unique position. There’s a character she’s created and she’s living it, self-defined and clever and in control. As she said, ‘it takes a lot of money to look this cheap’.

Up to The Park for an even older legend who nobody could accuse of conforming to anything, Yoko Ono. Backed by Yo La Tengo she hammered out a run of the proper noisy tracks with her distinctive challenging wauling. To me it’s like Pixies but from 20 years earlier. Utterly uncompromising, unashamedly poetic and discordant at the same time, no quarter to pop sensibilities yet with a rock basis somehow, a truly original artist. Frankly the shortish set was a blessing though, two hours of it would be like trying to down a bottle of whisky in one chug.

After days of mudwalking the prospect of legging it across to Brian Jonestown Massacre was a bit much, time for cider and a restorative stodge before the impeccably scheduled Massive Attack closed the festival, enveloping, smart and serious. 

WHAT A LOAD OF RUBBISH

On the way home I read carping on social media from people who didn’t go about how it was no good, and from older folks about how it was different back in the day. Well yes, it was coming from a different society. Certainly, it used to have more of a radical political focus and it did something else politically valuable too – it got activists in a space where they networked without the distraction of it being a proper political gathering or conference. That ended at the turn of the century. That was, in part, because the uberfence went up and stopped people bunking in, which most of the activisty folks had done. 

But it also coincided with the decline in the dole culture of the 80s and 90s that the protest movements had sprung from. The online age allows for a harassment of the unemployed that was impossible in earlier times. So three or four million people can be humiliated playing an unending game of musical chairs for half a million jobs now, whereas a generation ago people were left alone for a fortnight between signing-on days that left them free to find themselves and useful activities. 

Nonetheless, Glastonbury still devotes a huge amount of space to political campaigns amidst and even bigger square footage for other uncommercial elements that, taken together, is bigger than many entire festivals. And even though it's on a dairy farm, that includes animal liberation and vegan stuff. Additionally, there’s nowhere else I know where randomers can turn up and, say, challenge the director of Greenpeace in a Q&A, let alone do it in the buff and get taken seriously. Which may actually not be a positive endorsement, so I’ll move on.

Huffington Post did a piece on the rubbish left behind, which looks like a lot, because it is. However, I’ve also been to other major festivals and seen what they’re like at the end and believe me, Glastonbury is comparatively tidy.

Loads of people leave their tents and stuff, but this isn’t about a culture change at Glastonbury. Like the doley activists, it’s a reflection of wider change. We’ve been Argosified, conditioned into unthinking disposability on a stunning scale. When you can get a two person tent, two sleeping bags and two roll mats for 30 quid – manufactured so shitly that they’re not really fit to reuse many times – of course people treat them as use-once items. Some festivals have done deals to buy that crap online and collect at the festival.

I took this photo on the Tuesday after Leeds Festival last year, 24 hours after salvage teams moved in to take away good quality stuff. This is the leftover junk in an empty field.




I estimate about a third of tents had been left up, of which about half were blatantly brand new. Every one of them I checked had usable stuff in; clothes, bedding, beer, food, camping gear. But the need to clear the site means after two days the bulldozers move in and it gets taken to landfill.  Glastonbury, for all its apocalyptic look, is comparatively responsible and tidy.

Another way to look at it would be to go to a city of comparable size like Newcastle or Portsmouth and put all its thrown away material for five days into a field to see what it looks like. The streets of our permanent cities are clean in the same way that a spotless house is clean – because all the mess has been moved elsewhere. At the end of a festival they’re laying bare some of what we do all the time everywhere we go.

IN A FIELD OF ITS OWN

The other thing is how uncommercial Glastonbury is compared to other major festivals. They tweak it with noticeable improvements every year. Not only do they give loads of money away to the major beneficiaries Greenpeace, Oxfam and Water Aid, but they were the first festival to insist that food stalls only use compostable cutlery. This year they did away with portaloos and put up more compost ones.

Of course, there is much more that could be done, as demonstrated by the zero-advertising Beautiful Days, or Shambala’s ban on bottled water and principled avoidance of sponsorship (the psychic peace of a weekend with thousands of people yet no corporate logos is a true balm for the soul).

But still, as I walked around Glastonbury I couldn’t help but think that at T In The Park or V or Reading those flags and hanging baskets would be beer placards, those open spaces to chill would be food stalls, and those food stalls would be generic burger flippers rather than anything interesting. In so many senses, there is simply nowhere else like Glastonbury. It's not about the bands - hence tickets selling out long before the line up is announced. It's Britain's cultural barometer.



Glastonbury as an institution – as a giddy, fuck-witted, nonsensical temporary city of 200,000 people – is not built on competitive cultural indulgence, it is genuinely built on hanging out. No more, no less. The fact that it’s there at all is a monument to human excessiveness, but also to our fundamental social nature, to the ties that bind. That doesn’t make it a utopia, because it’s still a rabid, filthy, depraved hypercapitalist clusterfuck. But it does make it an absolutely staggering achievement, and some of the best fun it’s possible to have anywhere in the world.

Stone Circle field, Monday 9am


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bye Bye Blunkett


Five years since a cow tried to end David Blunkett's political career, the longtime ex-socialist has decided to do it himself.

The media has plenty of guff about how respected he is, with the only frequently mentioned blemish being his resignation when he got caught fast tracking his lover's nanny's passport application.

Fellow pro-war New Labour schmuck Hilary Benn said

His passion for justice and his determination to fight for it define his politics.

Blunkett was the Home Secretary who introduced detention without trial, which pretty much defines injustice. He dismissed the 'airy fairy' vision of people who objected.

He was the main instigator of the plan for compulsory ID cards. People forget how close we came - Blunkett had it put in the 2003 Queen's Speech and this led to the Identity Cards Act 2006. The voluntary cards were issued, contracts with incompetent IT firms were signed and a timetable was set for making them compulsory. One of the few benefits of the Tory victory in 2010 was the scrapping of that plan, their £2m compensation for cancelled contracts was loose change compared to the billions the scheme would have cost.

His belief that civil liberties are 'airy fairy' may go some way to explaining him voting against the equal age of gay consent. His prudish prejudice extended to criticising the Paedogeddon episode of Brass Eye without actually watching it.

So remember him well. Open your wallet, be thankful that it doesn't contain an ID card, and wish him good fucking riddance.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Arise, Sir Bullshitter



When the scandal of Britain's secret police broke, those in charge still thought they could pin it all on 'rogue agent' Mark Kennedy. Just one officer, far off his given mission.

Kennedy worked for the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, run by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). Back then, in January 2011, ACPO's spokesperson Jon Murphy wanted us to know Kennedy was a solitary wrong 'un and all the other officers and their remits were just dandy.

We are left to regulate it ourselves, and we think we do a good job of it

Asked about the sexual relations with people they spy on, Murphy was expansive and unequivocal.

It is absolutely not authorised. It is never acceptable for an undercover officer to behave in that way.. It is grossly unprofessional. It is a diversion from what they are there to do. It is morally wrong because people have been put there to do a particular task and people have got trust in them. It is never acceptable under any circumstances ... for them to engage in sex with any subject they come into contact with.

Since then, details of a further thirteen undercover officers have come to light. Twelve of them had sexual relations with people they spied on, most having long-term, committed life-partner relationships. Either the 'good job' of regulation was a complete shambles or else sexual relationships are an authorised tactic and Murphy is lying. Either way, he could scarcely be more wrong.

SAVE THE GRANNIES

The Kennedy case had just come to public attention after it caused the collapse of the trial of climate activits who'd intended to shut down Ratcliffe on Soar coal fired power station. Murphy said undercover policing was needed to stop people who were intent on

disabling parts of the national critical infrastructure. That has the potential to deny utilities to hospitals, schools, businesses and your granny.

He really did say 'your granny'.

As had been made clear two months earlier at the trial of another group from the same protest, if the activists had succeeded in shutting down the power station not one light bulb would have gone out. The National Grid is, well, a grid. Power stations come off and online again all the time to meet changes in demand or through faults. It's also worth noting that vulnerable places like large hospitals have their own back-up generators.

The protesters knew Ratcliffe's output would be replaced by a gas power station (these are quicker to switch on and off, so make up the slack in the system), which would result in lower carbon emissions than Ratcliffe's coal. This was the whole basis of their defence. They risked nobody's safety, except perhaps their own.

In sentencing them, Judge Jonathan Teare said

It is right to emphasise that this the planned action would have had no practical effect on the electricity supply ... It was your intention that this invasion would have been peaceable and safe. Violence was to be avoided, and the safety of the workers at the power station was paramount. You were fully equipped to carry out your roles safely.

Murphy, responsible for national security, either did not have the most basic grasp on how the National Grid works and had failed to pay any attention to the protesters he was talking about, or he was lying to exaggerate the threat and thereby deflect scrutiny and blame from himself and the others in charge of the spying. Either way, he could scarcely be less credible.

Murphy's predecessor luminaries as Chief Constable of Merseyside, Bernard Hogan-Howe and Norman Bettison, had a career path that saw them take that job, get a knighthood, then become mired in scandal. Last week Jon Murphy was was knighted for services to policing.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Nation of Obscene Publishers

Not like me to be writing in defence of a police officer, admittedly, but it's justice I'm interested in, not bigotry.

PC James Addison from the Diplomatic Protection Group shared 'extreme porn' with colleagues via Whatsapp on his phone, and last month he was convicted under the Obscene Publications Act and fined £6,000. He's also bound to lose his job.

The images

included bizarre sex acts and scenes showing defecation


Thing is, it appears to be another case of using this law to prosecute people for sharing pictures and footage of acts that are not in themselves illegal. District Judge Howard Riddle told Addison

The situation would be very different indeed if this involved children and similarly if there had been involvement of animals. I sentence you on the basis that there were no obviously unwilling participants in the films.

The images may not be to your taste. You may find them objectionable, you might even think they're morally questionable. But to treat them as illegal is another matter. If an image is of something foul but legal, it is nonsense to make it illegal - surely any judgement is about what's going on. We should be judging the picture rather than blaming the person who makes a frame for it.

THE GHOSTS OF THE PRE-ONLINE

The very concept of obscenity in the 1959 Act is anachronistic. It defines its target as material whose effect

if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.

The internet has familiarised us all with unusual sexual practices. Many of us have found new things we really like to see and do. Most of us have discovered that, after a flicker of novelty evaporates, we find the majority of niche sexuality pretty boring. Whichever way we jump, if knowledge of this stuff was going to deprave and corrupt us, it would have done so by now.

Additionally, in 1959 'publication' meant something rather different to sharing something with someone individually via phone. In 1950s terms, what Addison did is more akin to showing you a picture in a magazine than publishing and selling it. But the Act allows for a single instance of sending an item to one person to count, without any commercial element. A solitary text could get you up to five years in prison and a spell on the Sex Offenders Register.

We've run into this technological rejigging of definitions on social media time and again. If it's said on Twitter, it's no different to shouting it in the street. As such, it's right that racist tweeters get bollocked. But Addison's sending things to a few friends, all of whom had given him their phone number and none of whom appear to have complained, is not the same thing.

Also, verbal or printed racist abuse is a crime so it follows that it is still a crime sent by text or tweet. Whereas consensual sex acts between adults, even if unusual, are not a crime so it is bizarre to make depiction and knowledge of them illegal. If you went through everyone's phone and computer, a significant proportion of people would be ripe for similar charges. So why pick on James Addison?

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?

The images were found on his phone during the investigation into the Plebgate affair involving former government chief whip Andrew Mitchell and DPG officers at the gates of Downing Street, the court heard.

Aha. The government have been happy to blithely bat away outcries over a slew of indefensible police actions in recent years, as long as the victim is a Brazilian immigrant or a Millwall-supporting newspaper vendor. But at Plebgate they got a personal taste of what police do to people they don't like, and the government came out fighting.

A week after Addison was convicted, the Home Secretary stunned the Police Federation conference saying that if they didn't accept a list of dozens of reforms that cut back the body's power, then it would be forced on them by Parliament.

Could this same intense desire to take down the police around Plebgate be behind the decision to charge Addison?

HAVEN'T WE HAD ENOUGH ALREADY?

The Obscene Publications Act should have keeled over and died in 1960 after Penguin Books were acquitted in the Lady Chatterley trial. It certainly should've been binned off two years ago when Michael Peacock walked free from court.

Peacock made made DVDs of legal, consensual sex and sold them. Personally, I don't want to see someone having their inflated scrotum pummelled, but if you do then as long as the pummellee is a willing participant, go right ahead.

As Johnnie Marbles said at the time,

Michael Peacock has been severely punished for not committing a crime. The vagaries of the process itself – the soul-churning moment of arrest, the months of worry that followed, the endless meetings with lawyers... These are standard ways the process punishes people, but in Peacock’s case they were coupled with revelations about his private life which must have been excruciating. Even the most vanilla of you probably wouldn’t want your mum hearing every detail of what you do in bed, particularly not if you were telling her from the dock. 

But Peacock made a stand. He was the first person charged for this sort of material to plead not guilty. He argued that his DVDs were sought out by adults wanting exactly that material. The jury agreed and acquitted him. That really should've been the end of a law whose purpose isn't to deal with any damage caused, merely to pass moral judgement.

The legislation that made homosexuality illegal prior to 1967, and kept it decriminalised but not fully legal until 2003, was nicknamed 'the blackmailers charter'. It took otherwise law-abiding citizens and criminalised them for something that did no harm to others but would nonetheless ruin the lives of all concerned if made public. It not only led to blackmail but also to police making 'soft arrests'; raiding a gay venue and nicking punters knowing that they'll all plead guilty to avoid the publicity of a trial.

By the same token, the Obscene Publications Act threatens us with unwanted exposure. In an age where we all count as publishers, the Obscene Publications Act is a vengeant dirty tricksters' charter.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Vicky Pollard in a Police Uniform



Last week the High Court hosted a hearing where women who had long-term relationships with undercover police challenged 'Neither Confirm Nor Deny' (NCND), the police's stonewalling tactic of refusing to say whether anybody was ever an undercover police officer.

It's a transparent ploy to avoid accountability, as was made clear by BristleKRS and as I said on the COPS blog too.

The excellent report of the hearing on Law Is War further expands on the many exceptions to the NCND rule. But if you've been following the case, what catches the eye is this description of

a tense moment after the Judge repeatedly asked whether the Defendant would in fact view long-term sexual relationships in this case as appropriate or not. After a phonecall it was finally conceded by the Met that this would be inappropriate.

This is the same Metropolitan Police whose lawyers were in the same building 18 months ago. On that occasion they were trying to ensure that the human rights aspect of the womens' case was not held in court but was instead sent to a bullshit Stalinist tribunal that doesn't allow the womens' representatives to even be present for the hearing and always finds in favour of the government.

In order to win that, the police had to show that the offending relationships were covered under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act - in other words, that they were, in fact, authorised.

Paragraph 37 of that judgement has the solicitor for the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police's angle.

Authorisation was granted for Mark Kennedy's deployment as a … CHIS [Covert Human Intelligence Source; undercover cop], as defined in s.26(8) of RIPA. He established and maintained 'a personal or other relationship' with your clients which he covertly used to obtain information and he covertly disclosed information obtained 'by the use of such a relationship'

Once again it seems that the sexual relationships are authorised when it helps the police refuse accountability, and not authorised when their position needs them to be ignorant. In the same way, as the women showed at last week's hearing, NCND is an absolute rule when the police want to keep quiet and a mere idea when they want to big themselves up.

They have flip-flopped on both aspects so many times that everyone can see what's going on. By not even admitting their abuse, police extend and intensify the damage and injustice they've wrought. They stand there like Vicky Pollard in a uniform, spluttering 'yeah but no but yeah but no,' then blurt the latest implausbile excuse followed by an irrelevant decoy that insults the intelligence of everyone who hears it.

Perhaps a tad more generous, the Guardian's Rob Evans said yesterday that they have air of Canute about them, becoming ever more isolated and absurd as they command the inexorable rising tide of truth and justice to turn back.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Rik Mayall

The passing of Rik Mayall is to be mourned. He was in so many great things and, given that we're now ruled by a bunch of Alan B'Stards, his talent certainly hasn't lost its relevance. But it is the more slapstick element of his work that deservedly gets remembered best.

It's hard to convey just how genuinely anarchic the Young Ones was at the time. We still lived in a land where telly was saturated with that accent - surely the only one on Earth not based on geography - that you only really hear on the Queen these days. It was years before the likes of Viz appeared. Even the cutting edge, bubble-popping satire like Not The Nine O Clock News seemed like it was talking about the right values but in that same cosy way as everything else. No use to you if you were growing up in a northern town nobody had ever heard of.

The Young Ones didn't politely ask for anything, they took a space and fizzed with a wild energy that was at once intelligent and puerile. It wasn't just funny, it was recognisable. It was the only thing apart from music that was allowed on telly that said 'don't let them fool you into being boring, you really can stay yourself'.

This gag about the people's poet being dead has an extra resonance on this sad day. But it also tells us an eternal truth - every joke should end with the teller vigorously shitting themselves.