Monday, April 14, 2014

Bailed Out - A Police Tactic to Stifle Dissent


Five of the antifascists arrested at last June's anti-BNP demo at the Cenotaph were acquitted by Westminster magistrates this morning. It's good news for them, but joy should not be unconfined.

Many arrests at protests are not intended to secure convictions, merely to stifle political dissent. After 286 antifascists were arrested at another demo three months later, I wrote about how the use of mass arrests is a way to control dissent.

By the same token, today's freshly acquitted protesters were given bail conditions that banned them from attending any further antifascist demonstrations. Breach of police bail can get you arrested again and brought before a court who may well decide to put a disobedient bail-breacher on remand in prison until your trial. As today's antifascists illustrate, that can easily be the best part of a year even for a relatively trivial offence. This makes bail conditions a very effective behavioural control tool irrespective of your alleged crime, let alone your actual guilt.

As David Cullen has documented, the recent anti-fracking protest at Barton Moss near Manchester got exactly this treatment. Protesters, myself included, were picked off on ludicrous pretexts. My favourite is the sober pedestrian who was arrested on suspicion of drink-driving.

We were all given bail conditions not to return to the camp. As soon as we could get the terms challenged in front of a magistrate they were, without exception, completely dropped. And yet the next lot of arrestees were given the same onerous conditions that, even as they typed them, the police knew would not stand up in the courts that the police are supposed to serve.

But by doing random arrests they discourage anyone from protesting who has a fear of risking a criminal record, and then the bail conditions take out the ones who don't mind being nicked. It's a concerted counter-democratic strategy to deprive the campaign of gathering momentum.

The range of groups targeted by Britain's political secret police shows that it's not the threat of violent disorder or even peaceful criminal activity that concerns the authorities. They spy on and disrupt any groups who are active outside the sliver of the political spectrum represented at Westminster. Open, public groups and actual political parties such as the Socialist Party, Green Party and Socialist Workers Party have been spied on.

Effectively, last June the police convicted those antifascists of acting outside permitted political norms and sentenced them to silence.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Name Game

This clipping comes from the Newbury Weekly News, 22 February 1996. It was the height of the protest against the Newbury Bypass, hundreds of people were obstructing work to clear the route of 10,000 trees, living in treehouses, blockading bulldozers and much more.

There were dozens of camps along the nine miles, and around a thousand arrests were made of people defending the trees. So commonplace were arrests that court cases weren't taken seriously. Two people had similar ideas of how to make their point in court.

The forces of destruction wore different coloured hard hats to denote their role. If memory serves, white hats were the drone security guards, green hats were private detective evidence gatherers from Bray's Detective Agency hired by the Department of Transport, red hats were bailiffs and sheriff's officers and blue hats were police.

Referencing this, one arrested individual gave his name as Red Hats Green Hats White Hats And Police Hats Guard The Trolls Work Of The Chainsaw Gangs Doing Their Little Bit To Build A Wasteland Where Once Was Beauty Making Dirty Money Dirty Profits The Fat Controllers Sit Behind Their Piles Of Money Weaving Their Power Plays So In This Dinosaur They Like To Call Democracy Love And Power To The Tribe Of Eco-Warriors And Mother Earth.




At his initial hearing, Mr Earth was shown a piece of paper with his name and affirmed it was correct. When his case came for trial he was again shown a piece of paper but said that as he didn't have his glasses with him he couldn't read it to check it was correct. The clerk then apologised to the magistrate and read out the full thing.

Another protester actually changed his surname legally to (spelled as one word but broken here to make it legible for you): Oddsocks McWeirdo el tuttifrutti farto hello hippopotamus bum.

He later changed it again to: Oddsocks Mcweirdo el tuttifrutti Mr farto hello hippopotamus bum I think we can all live in co-operation as free individuals without hurting our fellow sentient beings but we will have to work on it the world is for sharing.


 

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

IPCC: Ten Years of Excusing and Ignoring

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is ten years old today. It's also the fifth anniversary of the death of Ian Tomlinson. Let's remember how they dealt with that.

The Met had already spun the story of the man who collapsed and the valiant bobbies who tried to save him.


The IPCC, a significant proportion of whom are ex-police, took the police's word that Tomlinson hadn't had contact with them. They believed the rushed, discredited first autopsy by a police-friendly pathologist who has since been struck off that said he died of a heart attack and did not mention the injuries inflicted by PC Harwood that actually killed him, nor even the bruising on his head and body.

The Guardian got pictures of Tomlinson on the ground surrounded by riot officers. The police and IPCC didn't tell the family. When the journalist made contact with the family, the IPCC accused them of doorstepping a bereaved relatives in a time of grief, and briefed other media to say there was nothing in the suggestions that Tomlinson had any altercation with police.

Nick Hardwick, chair of the IPCC, went on Channel 4 News to say that there was no CCTV in the area of the fatal attack. After it was pointed out that there were six CCTV cameras in the area including two police-owned cameras were pointing directly at the spot, this was amended to say that the cameras weren't working.

We can, perhaps, believe that the cameras weren't working on the platform or train that Jean Charles de Menezes was killed on (even though the company operating them and London Underground staff were reported to contradict that story). It was a sudden, unexpected incident. But the idea that cameras at the heart of a massive police operation with months of preparation - over a hundred officers were monitoring the camera feeds - tests the bounds of credibility.

When the Guardian published the footage of the fatal assault, the IPCC and police went round to the paper's offices the same evening and demand it be taken down. They said it would upset the Tomlinson family. The next day the IPCC and police went and met with the family and suggested that the assailant might have been a protester in a stolen uniform.

Despite witness statements from several Metropolitan officers, the IPCC took five days to decide the police shouldn't investigate Tomlinson's death themselves.

An IPCC survey showed the Police Superintendents' Association, Association of Chief Police Officers and Police Federation are all "satisfied" with it. They appear less concerned with asking how complainants or the public feel about its performance; we're not the market it is aiming to please.

All of this came after the Police Action Law Group, a body representing over a hundred lawyers who deal with claims against the police, resigned from the IPCC's advisory body citing a pattern of favouritism towards the police, complaints being turned down despite strong evidence, indifference and rudeness towards complainants and delays stretching over several years in some cases.

Put simply, the IPCC has neither the powers nor the resources that it needs to get to the truth when the integrity of the police is in doubt. Don't take my word for it; that's a quote from the anti-establishment troublemakers at the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Meanwhile, today's news from the other IPCC  - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - reminds us that if the authorities had not been so busy bribing, arresting, battering, infiltrating and sexually abusing those of us who stuck our necks out to prevent environmental devastation, we might have made the social changes needed in time to head off some of the worst effects of climate change.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Covering Up the Cover-Up of a Cover-Up

Interesting revelations in today's Times about Metropolitan Police Chief Bernard Hogan-Howe's part in the cover up of the undercover police scandal. Unfortunately it's hidden behind Rupert Murdoch's paywall here.

HOGAN-HOWE AND HILLSBOROUGH

Bernard Hogan-Howe's police career saw him rise to be an inspector by the time of the Hillsborough disaster. He was the senior officer at a venue where Adam Spearitt's family were told by a senior officer - always carefully unnamed in the press - that their dead son had in fact survived. Later the family complained and the police refused to investigate or apologise.

Hogan-Howe said he gave a statement to the 1989 Taylor Inquiry into Hillsborough and refused to change it despite being asked by another officer to do so. In real life, he made no statement to Taylor. Last December he was referred to the 'Independent' Police Complaints Commission over his Hillsborough role.

In January Hogan-Howe insisted he did nothing wrong regarding Hillsborough. On the same day the Met gave a statement refusing to discuss whether undercover officers had spied on the Hillsborough families.

we will neither confirm nor deny details of the deployment of undercover officers. This is a long-established practice

Police Spies Out Of Lives, a group representing eight women who had long term life-partner relationships with undercover police officers noted

The women launched their legal action in December 2011, but it was not until June 2012 that the police first mentioned NCND in relation to the claim. You might think if there had been such a long standing policy this would have been highlighted in the first police response.

They also point out that in 2011 Hogan-Howe himself confirmed that one of the officers who is the subject of the womens' case, Jim Boyling, was a police officer.

WHEN IS A REPORT NOT A REPORT?

In a two year break from his police career from 2009 to 2011, just before he became Met boss, Hogan-Howe worked at Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and was hired to do a major report into the undercover scandal.

When the document (PDF) finally came out in February 2012 - after two rewrites by his boss Denis O'Connor, which we'll come to later - it made clear that 'Neither Confirm Nor Deny' is not essential.

It is normal practice for the police to neither confirm nor deny the true identity of undercover officers. This is to protect both the officers themselves, and the effectiveness of the tactic. However, the case of Mark Kennedy is one of exceptional circumstances, including his own public revelations, the media interest in him, and the fact that the Court of Appeal named him on 19 July 2011.

The self-disclosure and media interest also applies to other officers like Bob Lambert and Peter Francis, yet the recent internal police report Operation Trinity (PDF) said

Despite the recent public claims of Peter Francis, this report will not breach the principle of (NCND) and therefore will not confirm or deny if Peter Francis was ever an undercover police officer.

Eighty pages on his whistleblowing revelations and yet he might never have been a cop. Riiiiiight. If that's not absurd enough, police are now refusing to confirm if Jim Boyling - the guy confirmed by Hogan-Howe himself years ago - was an undercover a police officer. They apparently admitted to court he was a police oficer though. Perhaps he was undercover for years as some sort of elaborate hobby.

But anyway, Hogan-Howe's initial HMIC report into Kennedy is what Times journalist Sean O'Neill has dug into.

The report was subjected to fundamental revision by Sir Bernard's boss, Sir Denis O'Connor, who sources say felt it focused too narrowly on Kennedy's individual case....

One source said, 'Hogan-Howe was much less keen to rock the boat than Denis O'Connor was on the issue - he didn't want to shake things up'.

The level of glossing we're talking about becomes clear when you realise that O'Connor's later, supposedly more honest version was itself a whitewash. It was dramatically pulped hours before publication after the Guardian published a report that - Captain Secret strikes again - Jim Boyling had been arrested and prosecuted under his false identity in the 1990s.

This raised questions of perjury and perverting the course of justice. More than that, Boyling's superiors will have known about it, blowing the bollocks about how Kennedy was a rogue agent and all the others are impeccably law abiding to smithereens. The required rewrite was on such a scale that it took O'Connor's team three months.

This second completed version was the only one to get published. It, too, was cobblers. It hung out Kennedy and his unit, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, to dry but nobody above or outside of them.

They were, of course, a completely different bunch to the Special Demonstration Squad who we've been promised a public inquiry about. It's not clear if the inquiry will even cover Kennedy and co.

RELEASE THE FILES

The Times spoke to Denis O'Connor yesterday who explained:

Some new information came to light which generated questions and I felt we couldn't answer that without doing further work.

A Met spokesperson is quoted as saying Hogan-Howe had supported the decision to widen the report's remit and it was

completely wrong to suggest that the revisions were in any way caused, or as a result of, initial work on the review.

Is that so? If neither Hogan-Howe's first draft nor O'Connor's finished but pulped version were withdrawn because of anything embarrassing being covered up, then there's an obvious question. Can we see them?

The journalist responsible for today's Times report, Sean O'Neill, has put in a Freedom of Information request but is not hopeful. (Incidentally, he has been really good of late on the secret police and seems to have both a real grip on what's going on alongside a commitment to breaking good stories. If the secret police scandal interests you then I recommend following him on Twitter.)

Whilst the ink was still drying on his draft of the HMIC report in 2011, Hogan-Howe was made Metropolitan Police Commissioner and Boris Johnson announced

Bernard Hogan-Howe has made it clear that this will be a new more transparent era for the Met, making the police more accountable to the public

It's clearly a view Hogan-Howe likes to appear to maintain as only a fortnight ago he said

The Metropolitan Police will not regain lost trust without honesty, openness and transparency.

As police are so fond of telling us, the innocent have nothing to fear.

What reason is there to continue to withold documents produced by a body responsible to parliament that were written for open publication? What else could it be other than a cover-up of Denis O'Connor's cover-up of Bernard Hogan-Howe's cover-up?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tony Benn

I saw Tony Benn speak a few times but beyond what he said to the mass audience I was even more struck by how he treated people individually afterwards. Every personal interaction I saw of Benn's was open minded and enthused, the exact opposite of what you'd expect from a famous, experienced and busy person. He didn't see naive idealism as a fault, rather as the first ingredient for every great historical achievement.

He saw his mission to educate and encourage, but never to lose that core of principle. Thus, whilst he dealt with many issues in detail, he could deal with others in a single short line. Asked about the proposed Graduate Tax, he simply said, 'you don't tax people because they're educated. you tax them because they're rich'. Nothing more to add.

Even it was on telly every night, MPs stayed glaringly quiet about the 1996 Newbury Bypass campaign. A rare exception was Tony Benn who didn't just speak out against the road, he backed the vilified direct action. He put us in the long tradition of English rebellion and said we would be remembered long after the bailiffs, police and spies sent to thwart us were forgotten.

His belief in the power of change outside the walls of parliament led him, even though he was still an MP, to make a formal illicit tribute to Emily Wilding Davison by putting up a plaque in the broom cupboard in which she dodged the 1911 census as part of the suffragettes' boycott campaign.


He believed in action to challenge power. He personally fought the Nazis, he backed so many struggles that have now been proven right. When he left parliament he turned the cliche about 'spending more time with family' around, saying he was retiring in order to devote more time to politics.

When the Labour Party he so adored has failed to support a single strike and the modern generation of professional politicians have never put themselves on the line for anything they believe in, it's easy to believe that they don't actually believe in anything. Tony Benn not only believed in humane principles, he believed in people and refused to fall prey to the weary cynicism of the seasoned campaigner.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Neither Truth Nor Justice

The public inquiry into policing must cover all the interlaced police spy units that did identical work, rather than being limited to one of them. But beyond the framing of the inquiry's remit, we face a bigger obstacle to the truth. The police themselves.

The current self-investigation, Operation Herne, managed to grind down some of the rubble of whatever credibility it had by publishing its Operation Trinity report last week. It looked at the allegations of the whistleblower officer Peter Francis, who was tasked to find 'dirt' with which to discredit Stephen Lawrence's family.

The Ellison report came out on the same day and said that the available evidence shows there was spying on the Lawrences and it is not reassured by the assortment of excuses, fob-offs and 'lost' files it encountered. Operation Herne - whose staff are 75% Metropolitan Police employees including serving officers - said everything's fine.

It went one better. This is an 84 page report that says nothing, to the extent that it

will not confirm or deny if Peter Francis was ever an undercover police officer.

To take the only whistleblower and, when he doesn't get intimidated by the threat of prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, rubbish him with such clammed-up absurdity is the final proof that Operation Herne is not fit for purpose, that it should be abandoned and the public inquiry brought forward.

More than that, it is another example of the 'Neither Confirm Nor Deny' (NCND) policy being used as farcical stonewalling. Last month activist John Jordan was in court to hear that his conviction would be quashed from a court case in which his co-defendant Jim Sutton was actually undercover officer Jim Boyling. However, the court could not tell him why it was quashed; the page of reasons was literally a blank sheet of paper.

Dafter still, they would not confirm Boyling's status as an officer. Jordan's barrister told the court

Everybody knows that Jim Boyling was Jim Sutton. Everybody knows that Jim Boyling was a police officer...  It is ludicrous to suggest that it's a mystery.


It's even more absurd considering the police confirmed it years ago. The Met chief Bernard Hogan-Howe openly admitted that the person known as Jim Sutton was a police officer to the Metropolitan Police Authority meeting on 27 October 2011 [PDF p22].

NEITHER CONFIRM NOR DENY - NEITHER TRUTH NOR JUSTICE

Hogan-Howe responded to the Ellison report by saying

The Metropolitan Police will not regain lost trust without honesty, openness and transparency.

But within a week of that, on Tuesday we will see NCND rolled out to obscure the truth once again. Eight women who had long-term life-partner relationships with undercover officers are back in court. The Met are trying to have the whole claim struck out. Their reasoning - brace yourself - is that because the police choose not to give details of their actions, they are denied a fair trial.

If I burgled Jim Boyling's house and refused to speak at my trial, could I too walk free on the grounds that the hearing was unfair to me?

In case you were wondering whether NCND is just a ploy to avoid accountability, the womens' campaign site notes

The women launched their legal action in December 2011, but it was not until June 2012 that the police first mentioned NCND in relation to the claim. You might think if there had been such a long standing policy this would have been highlighted in the first police response. 

The women had relationships with five officers. One of these is Mark Kennedy, admitted to be a police officer in several official reports, and of course a man who hired Max Clifford to sell his story to a Sunday tabloid. Another is Jim Boyling, also confirmed by police. A third one is Bob Lambert who has given interviews to the media about his undercover work and who was named in the Ellison report last week. The idea that they cannot be identified or confirmed is ridiculous when they've splashed themselves across the telly and police have already told tell us that they were officers.

In other words, NCND is a brazen ruse as transparent as it is galling. It is the sickening, familiar pattern of double injustice wrought by police. First there is what the police did to these people, then there are the devious tactics to avoid accountability, discredit their victims and deny justice.

An institution interested in justice would want to get corruption out into the open, distance themselves from it, examine it, learn from it. A police force that served the public would see abuses of power as a cancer to be removed. To instead close ranks around the foetid mess, absorbing it back into themselves, is the starkest evidence that the corruption is not a problem of anomalous individuals but something institutional.

IF THEY WON'T SPEAK, WE MUST SPEAK OUT

The two day hearing starts on Tuesday 18th March at the Royal Courts of Justice. The women have called for a picket 9-10am on the Tuesday (Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London, WC2 - Holborn or Temple tube - please bring placards and banners).

There's a PDF of the leaflet/poster for it here.

UPDATE 13 MARCH: Police have dropped their attempt to have the claim struck out, but it's unclear if the case is still going ahead on the same day with the police using NCND. Either way the picket is still going to happen. The police statement said:

"In light of the upcoming Public Inquiry into undercover policing, the most recent Operation Herne investigation report and the huge public interest in these issues, the Met has decided it would not be appropriate or proportionate to go ahead with the application to strike out the claims.

"The legal arguments involved in this case are novel, complicated and important and the ramifications of departing from NCND, during litigation, was likely to have far reaching implications. We are not prepared to discuss, at this stage, how we will proceed with defending these claims.

"We still maintain the principle of neither confirm nor deny, as we have a duty, as recognised by Mark Ellison QC in his report, to do all we can to protect those officers who served or currently work undercover.

"Today we have written to the Royal Courts of Justice and the claimants' solicitors to inform them of our decision."

As if the police didn't know the facts dug up by Ellison and Herne all along.

You can follow the womens' case on this page of their site, and follow their campaign on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, March 07, 2014

What I Meant To Say Was

I went on last night's Newsnight, on the day the Home Secretary announced a public inquiry into Britain's secret police. It was deeply moving - to the point of painful - to be sat by Neville Lawrence as a report showed pictures of the murderers and talked of how Stephen would be 40 today, then followed with footage of his now ex-wife welling up in parliament as she talked about their son.

After that we had the story of one of the women who had a long term life-partner relationship with a man who turned out to be an undercover police officer, Mark Jenner. As we watched it, waiting for the panel discussion to begin, presenter Kirsty Wark exclaimed when "Alison" said Jenner was married. I told her they all were - it was a matter of policy, as married parent officers had more to come back out for and were less likely to go native.

The other two on the panel were chair of the Metropolitan Police Black Association, Janet Hills, and ex-copper rentagob Peter Kirkham.

Earlier in the day Kirkham had tweeted that

most protests can't control themselves and rapidly descend into violence (or get taken over by violent thugs)


In my experience most protests are small and rapidly descend into boredom or get taken over by an urge to have a trip to the pub. But Kirkham underlines the point I made in the sliver of time I spoke - that protests of all kinds are treated as a dangerous threat to be contained by force. Dissent is, in and of itself, a problem.

The targets of secret police reflect the establishment's values, not any moral objectivity. When Stephen Lawrence was murdered it was still radical to be overtly anti-racist. Even five years ago at Climate Camp we were infiltrated by police as well as set upon by riot officers because we called for an end to the building of coal fired power stations, something that is now settled government policy.

A rich irony is the two kinds of police met at the first Climate Camp and undercover Mark Kennedy was given a proper kicking by uniformed officers that were - unknowingly - only there because of his tip-offs. Kennedy needed surgery afterwards. Still, only targeting the extremists, eh?

The stately, weary gravitas of Neville Lawrence was as crushingly sad as it was humbling. So imagine being weasel enough to tell him that his family were a legitimate target for police spying. Kirkham said it wasn't the Lawences themselves of course, but the shady people at the fringes who might have used their campaign.

Yet the main witness to the murder, Stephen's friend Duwayne Brooks, was prosecuted on trumped up charges that officers had spent hours trawling footage of him to try to get to court. He was so hounded and the charges so ridiculous that he won record compensation and - a much rarer event - an apology from the police. Police bugged a meeting with Brooks and his lawyer long after the MacPherson Inquiry.

ANY THREAT IS EVERY THREAT

I said that it isn't a rogue officer or rogue unit, in fact as the fracking protesters at Barton Moss can testify, the casual beating up, fitting up and harrassing of people who dare to voice dissent is the clear task of uniformed officers. It's not just the secret police, it's a policing culture that cannot distinguish between a threat to national security, a threat to corporate profit, a threat to government policy and a threat to police credibility. In their eyes Neville Lawrence is practically the same as Al Qaeda.

Victims of police wrongdoing are a threat so must be legally obstructed and pre-emptively smeared. Remember how Jean Charles de Menezes was suddenly a rape suspect? Remember the drunken ticketless Liverpool fans who forced the gates open at Hillsborough before robbing bodies and pissing on valiant cops? You know, the kind of valiant cops who suffered a hail of bottles as they tried to rescue heart attack victim Ian Tomlinson. A poll in January showed the majority of people in Britain think the police have a culture of cover-ups. This week's revelations aren't changing peoples' opinion of the police, they're confirming it.

The Newsnight report's factual errors were annoying too - saying that officers like Kennedy were in the Special Demonstration Squad when they were in a different unit, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, set up in 1999 by New Labour. They also said the Drax 29 case collapsed when a police officer lied in court, but in fact no officer was in court and all 29 were given convictions that were only quashed five years later.

More to the point was the implication this was a historical piece, whereas the secret police units have morphed and amalgamated and are still very much with us as the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit, and today's political secret policing is now run by Counter Terrorism Units who we've no reason to think aren't using the same methods to target the same kinds of groups.

I thought it'd be short so tried to slim what I wanted to say down. As Woodrow Wilson said,

If I am to speak for ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.

But all I got was a ten second point and an interjection on the copper.  So here's a blogpost brainpurge of all the stuff I was thinking. It repeats a little of what I've said in the last couple of days, but hey.

...AND JUSTICE FOR ALL

The Lawrence family were not the only black justice campaign targeted by the secret police. The partner of 'Alison', Mark Jenner, infiltrated several. They need the truth.

Justice is needed for the women like 'Alison' who suffered the most complete invasion of privacy that it is possible for the state to enact. Several of the officers had children with women they targeted. Had Bob Lambert not been exposed by activists his son would still be on a fruitless search for his dad Bob Robinson.

In Germany it's illegal for spies to have sexual relations with targets. What threats to national security do we have that they don't? What does our policy - something described by a policing minister as 'important' that officers be allowed to do in a statement still not withdrawn by the government - protect us from that Germans suffer? 

We need justice for the bereaved families who whose dead children's identity was stolen. The Home Affairs Select Committee has demanded that the families be told. The police are flatly refusing.

We need justice too for the thousands of blacklisted construction workers denied a living because they raised health and safety concerns or wanted to join a union.

ALL THE COPS

You didn't even need to be a construction worker to be on it - one person was a teacher who was included because they had been involved with an anti-BNP demo. Around 200 environmentalists including me were on it. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has said it was a routine Special Branch task to illegally supply the blacklist with information. Officers from yet another secret police unit, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, met with the blacklisters.

Add to this the court cases like Drax and Ratcliffe where police and prosecutors withheld evidence that exonerated defendants and it's clear that this was not police officers upholding the law. It was police officers breaking the law to uphold something else - a policing vision that cannot differentiate between a threat to national security, a threat to government policy, a threat to corporate profit and a threat to police credibility.

So we need the inquiry to cover all secret police units, not just the SDS. The only reason we've got this far is because of events following from the exposure of Mark Kennedy. He worked for a different unit, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, doing identical work by identical methods. It's absurd to say the SDs warrant an inquiry but the other units don't. The people violated don't give a damn what acronym it was done under.

NOT JUST ALL THE COPS - CORRUPTED COURTS

Beyond the police, we need to look at satellite bodies like the Independent Police Complaints Commission - largely staffed by ex-coppers and who see police as their main customers to please - and the Crown Prosecution Service. We've already had one judge's inquiry, Sir Christopher Rose's report into the collapsed trial that catapulted the Kennedy case into public view. Rose said the police and CPS prosecutors withheld evidence accidentally, not realising that the eyewitness testimony and recordings made by the only police officer present might be useful. Failings were 'individual, not systemic'. But tally it with the findings of the IPCC report into the same issue and there's a clear picture of police and CPS collusion.

Furthermore, in January another 29 convictions were quashed in a very similar case. The only things they had in common were the officer - Kennedy - and the overseer from the CPS, Nick Paul (who the Rose inquiry didn't even talk to). That means it wasn't a one-off. That means it was systemic.

That's 55 wrongful prosecutions and convictions from Kennedy alone, and that in turn is just the ones we know he was responsible for. If the other secret police officers did the same number, it's around 8,000 miscarriages of justice since the secret police began in 1968. Even if we are very conservative and say one per officer per year, it's about 600. In terms of sheer numbers, this would be the biggest nobbling of the judicial system in British history.

This is before we come to the officers who were prosecuted under their false identities, attending defendants' meetings with lawyers and lying in court. Again, this is not officers upholding the law, it's officers breaking the law to uphold something else.


WHAT GOES ON IN PRIVATE

We need to investigate the private spying companies, largely set up and staffed by ex police officers. At the time of the McLibel trial, every member of McDonald's security department was ex-police. The head said that his staff got information from friends still on the force. It was also revealed that there was a two-way illegal exchange between them, including police giving the personal details to McDonald's of people who ended up being named on the McLibel writs. Just as construction won't be the only industry iwth a blacklist, just the only one caught, we know for certain that Mcdonald's aren't the only company to act like this.

Mark Kennedy was caught because he came back to the same activists after he left the police and they found documents in his real name. He worked for a company called Global Open, set up by ex Special Branch officer Rod Leeming, who hired Kennedy even before his police contract ended. How close must contacts have been for that to happen? How many other officers have done that?


We also need to not limit it to historical units. What reason have we got to think any of it has stopped?


THE BIG QUESTIONS

All of this is what, when the big questions are who and why. Who invented our counter democratic secret police? Why were they given free rein to conduct illegal activity? Why was such a long operation above the law? Its higher purpose should be named.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

What Kind of Public Inquiry?

Well that was quick. The Home Secretary has ordered a public inquiry into undercover policing.

Responding to today's publication of the Ellison report that found that the Special Demonstration Squad secret police unit spied on Stephen Lawrence's family, she is as shocked as Captain Renault and has ordered a judge-led inquiry. It is to cover the work of the Special Demonstration Squad, though it's not clear how full a review it is, nor if it covers allied units.

Ellison said

Whilst a Public Inquiry would have the power to order the production of documents, require the attendance of witnesses and examine witnesses in a public forum, the potential for it to discover more than we have may well be limited. Fundamentally this is because of the chaotic state of the historical records held by the MPS. There are incomplete records of the moment; files have been destroyed; and the MPS uses a multitude of file-logging systems. In addition, a natural depletion of records will have occurred over time

But it's more than that. Intelligence work, by its nature, is averse to paper trails. It does not have the meticulous ordering of evidence-gathering, and much of it will never have been written down. This is why any inquiry that aims to uncover the truth must have the power to compel those involved to testify under oath, and be able to offer immunity from prosecution.

WHY THIS BURST THE BUBBLE


The Stephen Lawrence case is perhaps the Metropolitan Police's most vulnerable point. There is simply no defending what happened, no blaming individuals or errors. At the 1998 MacPherson Inquiry they had to concede that they were institutionally racist and show that they had come clean and moved on.

Secret police whistleblower Peter Francis, who was tasked to find dirt to smear the Lawrence family in an operation overseen by undercover godfather Bob Lambert, says he argued that the Special Demonstration Squad should have told the MacPherson Inquiry what they did. He was overruled as the secret police were desperate to hide their methods - their very existence - from the public eye.

So on this most clear cut and sensitive of cases, to find that the police had behaved in an even worse manner than the one that led to all the outrage is truly damning.

When the Undercover book exposed the workings of Britain's secret police last summer Bob Lambert, the officer most implicated, did some desperate firefighting. He went on Channel 4 News and admitted to lying in court and some of his sexual relationships (in the 1980s Lambert lived with an activist for several years and had a planned child with her - he kept this family and his existing wife and children ignorant of one another until he was exposed by activists in 2011).

Lambert carefully chose his words to deny the smear campaign in a specific timeframe, and said he had no knowledge of evidence being gathered on the Lawrences.  To leave it there was, at best, misleading of him. It was later established that the secret police did keep files on the Lawrences, and today's report proves even more.

On page 23 of the Ellison report we're told that the SDS officer who had been spying on the Lawrence family had a meeting with one of the team who were drafting the Met Commissioner's response to the devastating MacPherson Inquiry. Ellison condemns this attempt to get one over on the Lawrences as 'wrong-headed and inappropriate'. And who did Ellison find set the meeting up? Bob Lambert.

For all the clever tricks of the secret police, Lambert seems unaware of the obvious fact that the lies are unravelling, and as truths contradict his excuses he becomes ever more discredited, pulling more attention on to his role rather than less. If he's shown to have lied about some things, what else is there?

He was part of a cell of three animal rights activists who simultaneously planted incendiary devices in three branches of Debenhams in protest at selling fur. Lambert says he didn't do it. Either he did, or else there was a fourth bomber that neither he, nor the others, nor the courts have mentioned, who Lambert failed to have arrested.

WHAT COMES NEXT

Any public inquiry needs to have the entire anti-democratic remit of the secret police put squarely in the limelight. In 1999 the Labour government set up the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU). They deployed Mark Kennedy, Rod Richardson and Lynn Watson. Thier work was identitcal to the SDS.

In mid 2011 the NPOIU, along with two other secret police units (the National Domestic Extremism Team  and the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit) were amalgamated. They are now called the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit. The undercover activities were taken over by four Special Project Teams. This work, and its methods, are still going on, just under different acronyms. 

Any parcelling off of the inquiry into just the SDS is a denial of justice. It needs to be the whole of our political secret police, past and present.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance



The scandal of Britain's political secret police keeps widening, and those affected are banding together to maximise pressure for truth and justice. Last Thursday there was the launch meeting of the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance in London. It was oversubscribed (I'd guess about 150 people were in the room). For those who couldn't be there, I''ll summarise what was said by the main speakers.

A panel of six people spoke about their experiences, and hearing them in succession, talking about different groups and issues affected over such a long period of time, really hammered home the scale of what has been happening.

Liz Davies, chair of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers chaired the meeting. What was clear was that even full answers about what happened to one person or group is not enough. There needs to be a single, overarching, independent inquiry with the power to compel witnesses.

IMRAN KHAN - LAWYER FOR STEPHEN LAWRENCE'S FAMILY

Imran Khan, long-term lawyer for murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence's family who were spied on, spoke first. He read a statement of support from Stephen's mother Doreen and said that the current raft of police self-investigations aren't convincing anyone. Even if we maximise our benefit of the doubt and say they'll be objective and fair, they will still not be credible because they're not independent.

He spoke of the obvious first questions of accountability - Who was in charge of the secret police units? What was the chain of command? Did it go to the very top? Whistleblowing officer Peter Francis has recounted a personal visit and thanks from the Commissioner - complete with a gift of a bottle of whisky - for their work. How long were they deployed for? Who saw the information that was gathered? Who decided not to tell the supposedly air-clearing MacPherson Inquiry into policing around the Lawrence case?

We know that at least three officers including Peter Francis were deployed around the Lawrences and other black justice campaigns. Unfortunately, the brief of the secret police is not to gather evidence but intelligence. This means things were not meticulously logged for verification. Quite the opposite, information was sanitised to remove clues of its provenance before being passed on. So a look at the files will never be enough, we need the testimony of those involved.

Yet Chief Constable Mick Creedon, the man running the biggest investigation into the secret police, has threatened the one whistleblower with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. This is, of course, done to discourage others from coming forward.

Everyone deserves answers. Not just the Lawrences and the bereaved families put at risk when officers stole their dead child's identity, but all those involved including the people who were less likely to get unalloyed public sympathy such as the political activists and the lawyers.

DAVE SMITH - BLACKLISTED CONSTRUCTION WORKER

Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group got up to speak next, pointing out that as an old school trade unionist he stands to speak at meetings.

In the five years since the Information Commissioner's Office raided the Consulting Association - the company that ran the illegal construction industry blacklist - we've seen no prosecutions and no justice. 3,200 files were found. Smith's own was ten pages and included details of his family, his car registration, and ten years of his employment history.

The blacklist was used by many of the biggest names in construction - Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, McAlpine, Skanska - and only employees at director level were invited to attend blacklisting meetings. Workers appear on it for trying to unionise, but also for raising health and safety concerns. Some people weren't even construction workers - one was a teacher who was listed because they had been involved in an anti-BNP campaign. Several hundred environmental campaigners (me included) were on it. It cost the companies about £2 per search, and invoices were found for £28,000 for one firm in one year.

There was information that can only have come from secret police. Indeed, late last year the Independent Police Complaints Commission confirmed that illegally supplying the information for this illegal work was a routine part of Special Branch work across the country. Another police unit that spied on protesters, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, had meetings with the Consulting Association even though the CA's activities were wholly illegal.

It's not just the same units, it's the same officers. Peter Francis believes his intelligence was used for it. Yet again, the secret police show that corporate profit is more important than the law and that their remit was actively counter-democratic.

Mark Jenner - who was undercover as Mark Cassidy - told the partner he lived with for five years that he was a construction worker. He even turned up on pickets alongside Smith and chaired meetings. (In reality he spent his 'working' days with his wife and family or with police). He also infiltrated black justice campaigns and so, like Francis, is another crossover officer.

The blacklisting campaign started out as an industrial relations dispute, straightforward labour versus capital. But what has been revealed is far more than that. This is a conspiracy between big business, government and the secret services to trample fundamental human rights. Like the undermining of social justice activists, it is not over. Blacklisting was used on projects for the 2012 London Olympics.

Furthermore, if celebrities get a public inquiry for having their phones hacked then what possible excuse is there for not having such an inquiry for this far greater and graver invasion of lives?

I would also add a question - does anyone think construction is the only industry with a blacklist, or just the only one exposed?

HELEN STEEL - SOCIAL JUSTICE CAMPAIGNER

Helen Steel made the next contribution. A lifelong campaigner for environmental and social justice, she is perhaps best known as one of the McLibel Two who defended themselves in the longest trial in English history. Their group, London Greenpeace (nothing to do with the massive Greenpeace) distributed a leaflet called What's Wrong With McDonald's - co-written by a member who was in fact undercover police officer Bob Lambert.

She had a long-term relationship with an undercover officer called John Dines, who had stolen the identity of a dead child called John Barker, and is part of a group of women suing the police.

He had confided in her about the death of his mother, his isolation as an only child, and how he dreamed to have children one day. All of this was untrue - it was policy to only send in officers who were married with children - but he successfully manipulated her feelings over several years. She fell in love with him.

Shortly before the McLibel writ was served they began a relationship that lasted several years. During the last six months he appeared to have a breakdown, which was very stressful and draining for Steel to handle. He left and she received two letters from South Africa, saying once he sorted his head out they may get back together.

After years of searching, one day on the way home from court at McLibel she impulsively went into St Catherine's House and searched the death records, finding the real John Barker's, proving her partner had been someone else. All those years and shared experiences and plans, and she didn't even know his name. So began her uncovering of the truth. She travelled to New Zealand, but the police were aware of her search and had got there first, paying Dines to get out of the country to frustrate her enquiries.

Police have given conflicting responses, saying it is never acceptable to have these relationships yet also saying it is inevitable and even essential. They acknowledge deceit but say that other people lie to partners too. Firstly, police abuse cannot be justified with the line 'but other people do it'. Secondly, this isn't a lie. This is a false identity, false marital status, false job, false politics. If this happened to anyone - police officers included - they would feel violated and traumatised.

Police also suggested that Mark Kennedy's relationships were the actions of a rogue officer. John Dines proves otherwise. Steel's legal action involves eight women who had relationships with five officers over 25 years. And there are others taking legal action, and still more that can't face the gruelling fight.

This was deliberate, repeated strategy. This is institutional sexism, derailing women's lives in order to shore up secret police operations with no oversight.

To search your home there needs to be a warrant, gained from a judge who has seen evidence of the need. Yet a secret police officer can live in your home for years with no scrutiny, nor any need for evidence against you. A suspect in custody is cautioned and may have a lawyer present, yet these officers question you without you even knowing. It's this depth of intimacy, of emotional entanglement, that causes the trauma rather than the sexual element that is the media's preoccupation.

The recent response - to 'neither confirm nor deny' anyone was an officer, the new 'tougher guidelines' that make no mention of sexual relationships - prove that they want to keep this as an option, that it is still going on.

HARRIET WISTRICH - LAWYER

Harriet Wistrich represents the eight women in Steel's case. Having all had their sense of trust shattered by their experiences, it's not been easy for them to work as a group and yet they have made great efforts to support one another. It's clear that what was done was textbook, the pattern of the relationships - the troubled early life, the devoted correspondence, through to the prolonged 'breakdown' when they're about to leave - is strikingly similar in all the cases.

Wistrich expected that, faced with such starkly immoral and operationally indefensible deeds, the police would have held their hands up and said it was wrong but have claimed to have learned lessons and moved on since then. It's been a surprise to see them defend it and obstruct justice. Their main tactic is 'neither confirm nor deny' (NCND), which they pretend is a long-held inviolate principle.

They are also trying to get cases struck out because 'this has no basis in law'. What happened to these women is very rare, and its exposure rarer still, so of course there is no list of similar historic cases.

The Metropolitan Police officers doing the self-investigations met with Mark Jenner/Cassidy's partner, asking for details, letters, photos, diaries. They were from the Professional Standards department, an internal body. Yet still they held the line that they would not confirm that Jenner was a police officer.

I'd also point out that the Met is defending legal action by Jenner's ex-partner, so there's a conflict of interest in them investigating on the one hand whilst trying to stifle investigations on the other.

The three women who had relationships with Mark Kennedy did so after the Human Rights Act came into force, so had a claim there. It has been thrown out of real court and sent to an Investigatory Powers Tribunal, a secret court where the women and their lawyers are barred from being there or seeing what evidence the police provide (or omit), then the judge makes a decision without giving any reasons and there is no right of appeal. Historically, all cases at IPTs find in favour of the state.

All the women have claims under common law for deceit, assault and misfeasance in public office. The police are trying to have these struck out, saying that as their refusal to give evidence about their officers means they won't get a fair trial.

I find thehe idea that someone caught committing a crime can say their own choice not to speak up in court is the denial of a fair trial an amazing, bold obstruction to justice. Try doing that if you're nicked for burglary, see how far you get.

ROBBIE GILLETT - CLIMATE CAMPAIGNER

Robbie Gillett was one of the Drax 29 who stopped a coal train going into Drax power station in 2008 and whose convictions were recently quashed because the prosecution had withheld evidence from the activists' driver, undercover officer Mark Kennedy.

He corrected the common phrase that the Director of Public Prosecutions "invited them to appeal" against their wrongful convictions. This was not benevolence from diligent investigators at the Crown Prosecution Service, it was giving in to pressure about an embarrassment that was ballooning. The 'invitation' came in July 2012, 18 months after the collapse of the Ratcliffe power station trial, also due to Kennedy's involvement. It is the exposure of the secret police and the work to keep it in the public eye that is yielding results.

Sir Christopher Rose's report said that the failings of police and prosecutors at Ratcliffe were 'individual, not systemic,' yet the Drax case had already happened with different police forces and prosecutors. Add to this John Jordan's prosecution a decade earlier alongside an officer who never broke cover, and undercover officer Bob Lambert's admission that he was prosecuted as activist Bob Robinson a decade before that, and systemic is the only word for these miscarriages of justice.

With such wide-ranging, long term infiltration using the maximum possible invasion of citizens' lives, it's easy to get acclimatised and stop being shocked at new revelations. We get normalised to police misconduct. But just because something is normal doesn't mean it is acceptable and we must maintain our outrage and our thirst for justice.

LOIS AUSTIN - SOCIALIST PARTY

Lois Austin is a trade unionist who works for the public services union PCS and is a member of the Socialist Party. She was a member of the Socialist Party's forerunner, Militant Labour, and was chair of its anti-racist campaign Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE) at the time they were infiltrated by Peter Francis.

When they used a bug detector to sweep the YRE office at the time it lit up like a beacon. People forget how controversial the now lauded anti-racist and anti-apartheid campaigns were in the 1980s and 1990s.

I'd note that the anti-apartheid campaign was focused on economic sanctions, and threats to corporate profit are one of the main targets of the secret police.

Many campaigners who'd never been arrested for anything were spied on and had extensive Special Branch files. Peter Francis says there were already files on around a hundred Militant and YRE members when he was deployed, and he opened 25 more. This is political policing to prevent protest, colluding with big business and state bodies, seemingly without any boundaries on the methods used. Illegal action, such as supplying the blacklist, perjury or being an agent provocatuer, were accepted practices for these officers of the law.

This is not a rogue officer or rogue unit overstepping their brief. These methods were so widespread, sustained and interlaced with other agencies that it can only be seen as the accepted, organised strategy. When we've heard Helen Steel's story, it makes you wonder what else there could be.

So this campaign needs to be broad. The initial central demand is an independent inquiry with testimony from all known victims and the power to compel witnesses. We especially welcome Doreen Lawrence's statement that she doesn't just regard her family's case as the boundary but as part of something much bigger. We've seen the recent Hillsborough Independent Panel and Bloody Sunday inquiries reveal much truth but stop short of fully attributing blame.

It is inconceivable that the Commissioner of the Met and the politicians above him didn't know about this. The police are on the back foot with this issue, hence the threatening and smearing of Peter Francis. Pretty much everyone has sympathy with some people who were targeted, so we need to build and popularise this campaign. There is a statement to get union branches and organisations to sign up to. Let's take this beyond the groups affected and out into wider society.

JUST THE BEGINNING

So, that was the six speakers. Even though I already knew much of what was said, hearing it from those affected one after another was intensely moving and made a very coherent picture come into focus. And, although there were people from so many disparate groups, this was by no means the full story. There was nobody there from the Hillsborough families who were spied on. There was no mention of the Muslim groups that were the focus of the final few years of pivotal undercover officer Bob Lambert's final few years in the police.

Beyond the list of known targets, we should remember that all this comes from the unmasking of about a dozen undercover officers. More than 90% of them remain totally unknown to us. How many more court cases were nobbled? How many more children were born to briefly bolster an officer's cover then abandoned? How many outrages were committed the like of which we haven't even thought of yet?

The chief thrust of COPS is to push for a judge-led inquiry. Whilst, as Lois Austin pointed out, it has led to a fuller public understanding of things like Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday - though no convictions - we do also need to be cautious about seeing that as a final goal. Bloody Sunday had an initial judge-led inquiry that was a whitewash, and the Taylor report into Hillsborough, though sympathetic to victims and critical of police, was also unable to marshal all the facts or address the cover-up. It was only after decades of sustained campaigning that the more recent, more accurate judge-led inquiries were held into those events.

With Hillsborough we saw a new model of inquiry, a panel outside of arms of the state, trusted by all sides. It succeeded where judges failed. Enforcers of state power are not the best placed people to objectively investigate large scale abuses of state power.

But, as the Lawrence and Hillsborough campaigns have shown, no single inquiry will provide the complete answer. We must go for what will bring forth the next nugget of truth, and once we've got that out into the light, go for the one beyond it. The case for a proper independent inquiry is so strong, and will be supported by such a broad spectrum of society, that it is the obvious next step.

COPS has been founded to make that happen. They're also on Facebook if you want to give them a Like and stay up to date that way.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Taxing Question of Proportion

Today's front page of The S*n: Main story with emotional response instructions in red block capitals: Person claims £120 in benefits.

Single column side story: Millionaire state employee fraudulently evades £1,000,000 tax.

Small third story: Millionaire trousers a further £70,000,000 - his annual dodging of £600,000 tax unmentioned.




Brought to you by a billionaire proprietor who has dodged billions of pounds in tax over decades.