Sunday, March 15, 2015

Hillsborough: Why The Lie?

Former Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield
It's been an extraordinary week at the Hillsborough Inquests. The police officer in charge on the day of the disaster, David Duckenfield, gave evidence for four days.

Duckenfield was woefully inexperienced in 1989. With a poorly organised flow of fans arriving, there was a late build up of people outside the ground. Duckenfield ordered an exit gate open to give them access and that, combined with poor signage inside, led to the crush that killed 96 people.

Even as the disaster was unfolding, Duckenfield started lying. With their view from the press box down on to the terrace, Graham Kelly of the Football Association asked him what had gone wrong. Duckenfield said fans had forced the exit gate open.

In the hours that followed, he did not correct that. In the days after, he was part of the South Yorkshire Police's narrative that drunken, ticketless fans had caused the crush, an assertion that has since been comprehensively disproven.

There was a concerted effort to protect Duckenfield and the other senior officers. Officers were told not to write in their official pocketbooks and not to have clear memories before writing notes. Hundreds of police witness statements were altered to remove phrasing critical of the police.

When West Midlands Police were brought in to examine the South Yorkshire investigation, they harassed and threatened fans into retracting criticisms of the police. One fan who persisted had an officer question if he'd even been at Hillsborough, saying he could have got his bruised ribs anywhere.

All this stood for 24 years until the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report established a clear picture in 2012. There was no drunken mob of ticketless fans - the size of the crowd matched the number of tickets issued. The original inquests' assertion that everyone was dead of traumatic asphyxia by 3.15pm (thus preventing examination of anything that happened after that time) was nonsense. Many fans could have been saved.


The Panel's titanic work is not the end of the story. The new inquests are part of the ongoing process of uncovering the truth. To the surprise of many, this week David Duckenfield gave an unreserved apology to the families of those who died. Michael Mansfield QC, representing 75 families whose relatives were killed, asked why he had remained silent for 26 years.

Duckenfield said that he had been prompted to finally tell the whole truth after the publication of the report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel in 2012 and a television programme he had seen about the disaster’s effect on the families.

He said he had post traumatic stress disorder, and “hid myself away and could not bear the word Hillsborough” after the report was published, but then said he had begun to face the truth two years ago, with the help of doctors.

Whilst we must reserve our strongest sympathy for the victims and their families, whose pain has been prolonged by Duckenfield's silence, nonetheless it's obvious that anyone in his position would be highly traumatised and cannot be blamed for the impulse to hide from their actions.

But if he accepts responsibility he lays himself open to prosecution. So even now, after his appeal for sympathy and declaration that he's ready to tell the truth, he is avoiding basic admissions.

Coroner Sir John Goldring asked: “You are saying, are you, that a reasonably competent match commander would have foreseen where fans should go?

Mr Duckenfield said: “Yes.”

The coroner asked: “You are saying that a reasonably competent match commander would have closed the tunnel?”

Mr Duckenfield said yes.

The coroner asked: “Does it therefore follow - tell me if I have misunderstood - that on the day you did not act as a reasonably competent match commander?”

Mr Duckenfield said yes.

From this bald admission Rajiv Menon, lawyer for 75 families, tried to get an admission of gross negligence. Duckenfield, aware of his legal position, prefers trivialising terms for the 96 deaths that he is primarily responsible for.

Sir, my view is, it was an oversight, a mistake. I don't view it as negligence, and certainly never gross negligence.

An oversight. A mistake.


He went on to explain that fans were partly to blame for their own deaths. What evidence does he have?

I cannot say from first hand evidence that drunken and ticketless fans attended at the stadium. What I can say is I have heard various stories and I have picked up things as things have gone along, but my first hand experience is, I did not see any drunken ticketless fans... I hold the view that football fans played a part.

This unquoted, unattributed, unspecified assertion of stories and 'picked up things' is apparently enough to convince him that he's not to blame. It is a slap in the face for the people to whom he has said he will speak frankly and honestly. He still can't tell the truth.

Going back to the start of this, why did he lie on the day of the disaster? He told the inquests

I said something rather hurriedly, without considering the position, without thinking of the consequences

We all say wrong things in moments of panic. But that's not what Duckenfield did. He lied, then he repeated the lie.

After lying to Kelly, Duckenfield acknowledged he went to the boardroom at Hillsborough, where Tony Ensor, Liverpool football club’s solicitor at the time, has testified Duckenfield told him and others that Liverpool fans “forced open a gate”.

Duckenfield said he could not recall saying that, but agreed with [counsel to the inquests Christina] Lambert that he missed a “golden opportunity” at that meeting to correct the lie he had told Kelly. He said it was “a terrible fall from the standards that one would expect”.

But instead of any climb back up to decent standards, he chose to accelerate the fall. He actively, persistently wove the lie into a narrative that blamed his victims.

Last week he said

I’m an honest person, I don’t lie, I set high standards. Nobody can understand my behaviour least of all me.


Many of us really can understand his behaviour. The more power we hold, the more we have to lose. The first job of authorised power is to protect its position. There are few places that illustrate it more starkly than the police.

Even without Duckenfield's distraction from honesty and civic duty due to his personal position and loyalties (he was promoted to the masonic position of Worshipful Master the year after Hillsborough), this deflection of blame is second nature to police. We see it in routinely colluded statements that all give the same false story of an event, that exaggerate the threats they face.

Ian Tomlinson was killed by a police baton strike whilst standing in as unthreatening a position as humanly possible, yet the immediate police story was a complete lie claiming he had a heart attack whilst brave bobbies tried to save him under a hail of bricks and bottles.

Even after the footage came out showing the lethal attack, police refused to admit responsibility or even basic facts. The officer leading the investigation, Detective Superintendent Anthony Crampton, suggested to Tomlinson's family that the assailant was an anti-capitalist protester in a stolen police uniform. The Independent Police Complaints Commission said the idea was credible.

Imagine the gall, the overconfidence and the level of personal denial it takes to do that. Imagine how marrow-deep they must be. This isn't a family liaison numpty saying something off the top of their head. This is a high ranking officer with machinery and accomplices around him to fortify the lies that armour his - and, by extension, the police's - near-impregnable power.

It's exactly the same as Duckenfield and the officers of all ranks who collaborated in the lies, intimidation and destruction of evidence that formed the Hillsborough cover-up.

This is the inevitable result of a default tendency in the power of authority. Until that is consciously understood and addressed, automatic lies will continue.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Bob Lambert Controversy Intensifies

Despite the colossal array of corrupt misdeeds committed by Bob Lambert and his disgraced political secret police unit the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), a professional associate in his new academic career, Stefano Bonino, has been moved to write in his defence in Times Higher Education.

Somewhat melodramatically it starts with a reminder of the recent politically motivated killings in France and then says

the SDS maintained a central and defining focus on political violence – most notably street violence conducted by and between far-Left and far-Right groups – and helped to save lives

A central and defining focus should leave plenty of evidence behind it. Yet among the exposed spycops is a central focus on groups who presented little or no threat to life.

As well as targeting trade unionists brandishing lethal leaflets and environmental groups with their deadly sitting in roads, the SDS spied on a swathe of justice campaigns, perhaps the most well known being the Stephen Lawrence campaign. This is now regarded as one of the most shameful acts in the history of the Metropolitan Police.


Lambert said in 2013 - just 18 months ago, well into his academic career, when he's supposedly seen the light and come clean about his past - that

at no time in my tenure as an SDS manager - which is from November 1993 until when I left in 1998, which was roundabout the time of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry - at no time was the Special Demonstration Squad concerned in smearing their family or their campaign.

It appears that he carefully phased it to imply denial of allegations that his unit targeted the Lawrence family, and indeed the piece was headlined

'We did not target Stephen's family', says undercover boss

However, the findings of last year's comprehensive report by Mark Ellison QC are quite clear. They did target Stephen's family. Bob Lambert was overseeing spying on the Lawrences, with nine officers gathering intelligence on the family.

If that wasn't unethical enough in itself, Ellison says

The reality was that [officer deployed by Lambert codenamed] N81 was, at the time, an MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] spy in the Lawrence family camp during the course of judicial proceedings in which the family was the primary party in opposition to the MPS

The time they are talking about is not the immediate aftermath of Stephen Lawrence's murder. It is five years later, as the Met was preparing for final submissions to the MacPherson Inquiry into the killing and the police response.

Lambert brokered a meeting between his Lawrence spy N81 and the team formulating the Met commissioner's public response. The Ellison report's findings were pretty blunt about Lambert's actions.

We find the opening of such a channel of communication at that time to have been ‘wrongheaded’and inappropriate... a completely improper use of the knowledge the MPS had gained by the deployment of this officer

Bonino talks of

potentially violent protest groups that were attempting to attach themselves to the Stephen Lawrence campaign

Take a moment to think about the phrase 'potentially violent'. Consider how it is being used, and how it could be used to justify spying on absolutely anyone and everyone.

But even before we need to address such blanket policing, Bonino's assertion - that the concern wasn't the Lawrence family themselves - has been discredited since the Ellison report's revelation of the meeting Lambert organised. Why else would that meeting take place, except to undermine the position of the family and their campaign? Where exactly was the public order threat, five years after the murder, from the family's submission to the MacPherson Inquiry?


Bonino has no choice but to concede that much of what Lambert did for years is indefensible, but then mentions the final phase of his police career. 

If his progressive calls for more participatory and transparent approaches to counterterrorism appear largely inconsistent with the activities of the SDS, the achievements of the Muslim Contact Unit are unquestioned.

Really? The Muslim Contact Unit has an untarnished reputation, as you would expect from an organisation run by a secret unit and which has never been critically examined. We should remember that Lambert's animal rights work sounded fine from his own account, but subsequent revelations indicate that it was something else entirely.

The Muslim Contact Unit was set up by Lambert and his favoured protege Jim Boyling after the 9/11 attacks. It was ostensibly an outreach unit to foster good links between police and Muslim communities, and to acknowledge that devout Islam is not a threat to the wider society. And maybe that's all it was. I have no evidence to the contrary.

But one has to wonder why Special Branch, the secret intelligence gathering wing of the police, would fund a unit if it wasn't there to gather intelligence. If you're not spying why use your most skilled spies who have little experience of anything else?


With all this, it's east to see why there's a furore about Lambert lecturing in criminology to tomorrow's police managers. Bonino grasps for a philosophical assault on the criticism, saying

the campaign urging Lambert’s dismissal is undermined by its own hubris. Not only does it fail to differentiate between academic expertise and morality (are all lecturers made fully accountable for their non-academic past?), it also elevates morality to an absolute virtue floating outside the realm of a complex political world.

A group of academics have responded to Bonino in this week's Times Higher Education, saying

The growing clamour from politicians, opinion formers and the wider public for Lambert to be sacked comes precisely because morality is not divorced from the political world.

Ethics must be integral to teaching, and nowhere more so than in the tutoring of those who will have privileged power over the lives of citizens and the political movements essential to democratic society.

Should lecturers made accountable for their non-academic past? Yes, if it is a profoundly unethical past that seriously undermines their suitability for the academic post. If lecturer in medicine were revealed to have performed secret, grossly unprofessional experiments on citizens, including sexual deception, that led to record compensation payouts to their victims, they could not expect to retain their post.

Likewise, when a criminology lecturer devoted decades to abuse of citizens and the counter-democratic undermining of campaigns for seemingly no reason other than they threaten established power, it demolishes their credibility and legitimacy.


Bonino says

The campaigners disregard the authority and competence of universities to assess and monitor the fitness of their employees.

One of two things happened:

1) Lambert disclosed the full detail of his relevant past when he applied for the job - information that official reports have spent years ferreting out and are still not at the bottom of, matters that Lambert has flatly refused to answer questions about, details that he says he even kept secret from his wife and family - and the institution gave him the nod nonetheless; or

2) Lambert failed to disclose a swathe of information relevant to his post that is now embarrassing the universities and damaging their standing, deceiving them as he deceived the campaigners he infiltrated and the women he abused.

Either way, the universities that employ him have questions to answer. But it doesn't stretch credulity to imagine a state-trained liar with decades of experience being able to deceive a university's recruitment staff.

Bonino thinks the campaign against Lambert

ignores the specific context in which Lambert acted and the morass of moral ambiguities inherent in covert policing.

Even in that world, Lambert and the SDS were exceptionally corrupt and depraved. The way he and his charges behaved was, in the words of people with a higher level of policing authority than Lambert ever achieved, 'grossly unprofessional' and an 'abject failure'.

He did not merely make a personal mistake but developed a methodology using tactics that have shocked the public and been unequivocally slammed by senior police officers. Under his management, that methodology was emulated by those he was in charge of.

This is neither intrinsic to covert policing as Bonino asserts, nor is it the 'extremely rich experience in professional practice' that London Metropolitan University's spokesperson claims.


The question should really be approached from the other side - if all this is not enough to render him unfit to teach in this field, what is?

Unlike someone contrite, he has not readily admitted his wrongdoings until they have been revealed by others. This is the measure of the man today.

Even after he was exposed he did not make contact with his activist ex-partner and their son despite knowing of the risk to the child's health from a genetic condition. Instead she found out the truth by seeing it in a newspaper in 2012. She has said that, had she not done so, Lambert would have taken the secret to his grave.

So one wonders what else the range of ongoing official inquiries, criminal investigations and court cases will add to the already appalling list.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Political Secret Police Units

Don't let the police self-investigations like Operation Herne fool you with their focus on the disbanded Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) - this is not a historic problem. The political secret police are still with us.

The shifting names and different units leave us awash in acronyms. Here, as far as I'm able to tell, is what's what (corrections welcome!). It's an alphabet soup that swirls before the eyes, so thanks to Jane Lawson for designing the diagram to make it easier to grasp (click to enlarge; right click and open in new tab to have it alongside as you read the post).


The SDS was a secret unit within Special Branch from 1968 to 2008. Formed as the Special Operations Squad after an demonstration against the Vietnam War kicked off in March 1968, its temporary infiltration was decided to be useful and made permanent at the end of the year. Somewhere in late 1972 or early 1973 it was renamed the Special Demonstration Squad, a moniker it kept until 1997 when it was renamed the Special Duties Section.

There were other units who amassed and collated intelligence from the SDS and other sources.

The Animal Rights National Index (ARNI), had been set up in 1985 as 'the ALF squad' before changing its name a year later. It seems that it may have expanded to include activists from other movements. From the early 1990s the Southern Intelligence Unit (SIU) was based in Wiltshire and, with its Cumbrian sister team the Northern Intelligence Unit (NIU), ran a database of eco protesters, ravers, travellers and free party types. There is some indication of a third unit that focused on hunt saboteurs. These units had no 'operational role' of fake-identity spies in the field, they just gathered information and advised police forces.

Now comes the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). Sounds like a cosy staff body, and indeed it was more like that when it was formed in 1948. But in 1997 it became a private company and got itself funding to flog police information. Then it took on running the spy stuff by establishing the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU).


Established in March 1999 the NPOIU was, along with the Terrorism Act 2000, ID cards and detention without trial, part of a raft of New Labour attacks on civil liberties (those who think of state repression as being a right wing tendency should note that the SDS was also founded by a Labour government). Operation Herne, the police's self-investigation into secret political policing, says that the NPOIU was formed as a reaction to the large 1995 protests against the export of live animals from Shoreham in Sussex.

The running of the NPOIU was given the the Met, and so it was, to all intents and puposes, a unit within the Met's Special Branch. Although it used serving Met officers for NPOIU spies, because ACPO was (and still is) a private company it was exempt from Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation and so protected even further from public scrutiny.

Like the SDS, the NPOIU was directly funded by the Home Office, which hints at an answer to the big question - who ordered all this spying and authorised its methods?

The NPOIU absorbed SIU/NIU and effectively replaced ARNI running a database of political activists. It also had an 'operational role,' that is to say they deployed undercover agents in target groups under the aegis of its Confidential Intelligence Unit (CIU). Whilst the SDS was London-based, the CIU officers from the NPOIU went national. The NPOIU was granted a huge budget and began by putting an officer using the stolen identity 'Rod Richardson' into a group of anti-capitalist activists in Nottingham.

Within a couple of months of Richardson's departure in 2003, those activists were joined by Mark Kennedy, aka Mark Stone. It was his exposure by activists in late 2010 that alerted the world to the existence of the political secret police.

For Operation Herne and other inquiries to focus on the long-defunct SDS but leave out the most notorious undercover officer of them all shows how incomplete an SDS-only picture is. Some managers worked for both the SDS and NPOIU, and officers from both units knowingly overlapped in deployments. Whilst SDS and NPOIU officers knew each other, nonetheless there may well have been some rivalry. As the case of 'Rod Richardson' shows, the NPOIU wasn't initially warned against using the woefully anachronistic practice of stealing the identities of dead children.

As an aside, in 2001 the former ARNI boss Rod Leeming left Special Branch to set up a private spy firm Global Open. In early 2010 he head-hunted Mark Kennedy before his police contract had even finished. This indicates that that it's a fairly standard career path, and suggests such firms are tipped off about officers who are leaving and cold-call them. It seems unlikely that Kennedy was the first one they got. With virtually no oversight or firm rules, private spies can stay in the field indefinitely. Indeed, had Kennedy been smart enough to change his name by deed poll to Mark Stone, he'd have had ID in the right name and would probably still be spying today.


In 2004 ACPO created a new post, the National Co-ordinator Domestic Extremism, which oversaw both the NPOIU and a new unit, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU). NETCU was established during the drafting of the 2005 amendment Serious Organised Crime and Police Act which made it illegal to 'interfere with the contractual relations of an animal research organisation' or to 'intimidate' employees of an animal research organisation. Run from Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, NETCU's remit was defined as 'prevention' and it was tasked with helping companies such as Huntingdon Life Sciences frustrate campaigns waged against them by animal rights activists.

NETCU didn't just advise corporations about threats to their profits from campaigns, it took a proactive political role in discrediting and undermining those campaigns. Its website linked to the pro-vivisection Research Defence Society, and the unit issued several press releases boasting of activists being prevented from doing street collections.

NETCU's 'mission-creep' saw it move to encompass environmental and climate activists. It also helped the illegal construction blacklisting company the Consulting Association (as documentation from a November 2008 meeting between NETCU and the Consulting Association obtained through an FoI request confirms). Additionally, the Independent Police Complaints Commission says it was likely that every constabulary's Special Branch will have supplied information about citizens to the construction blacklist.

A third ACPO unit, the National Domestic Extremism Team, was set up in 2005. It was intended to provide an investigatory function, drawing on intelligence gathered through NPOIU spies as well as Forward Intelligence Teams and Evidence Gatherers, for use by forces across the country. All three ACPO units - the NPOIU, NETCU and the NDET - were overseen by the National Co-ordinator Domestic Extremism, or NCDE. Around the same time, direct management of the NPOIU (and presumably the two allied units) passed to ACPO.


In 2006 the Metropolitan Police's merged its intelligence-oriented Special Branch (aka SO12) with the investigatory Anti-Terrorist Branch (SO13) to form Counter Terrorism Command (known as SO15).

SO15 is currently headed by Richard Walton. He was moved from his post following revelations about his key role in the SDS' spying on Stephen Lawrence's family in the Ellison report last year. He was quietly reinstated in December even though he is still under investigation.

With Special Branch, the SDS' parent unit, now part of Counter Terrorism Command and much of the SDS's work superseded by the NPOIU, the SDS faded. It has been suggested that when Counter Terrorism Command officers took over the SDS they were alarmed at its targets and methods and moved to close it down. The unit is described as 'having lost its moral compass' by the time of its closure in 2008 - as if it ever had one in the first place.

The three ACPO units (the NPOIU, NETCU and the NDET) were merged into the National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU) in early 2011. At that time they had a combined budget of around £9m per year.

At the same time as the name change, management of the unit was then passed from the FoI scrutiny-shielded ‘private company’ ACPO to the (not exactly accountable themselves) Metropolitan Police under the ‘lead force’ model. There had been several reviews pushing for this, including Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary's report 'Counter Terrorism Value For Money'.

Certainly, it will have taken a lot of discussion and planning so it seems very unlikely that the exposure of Kennedy in October 2010 played a part. This didn't stop government ministers trying to portray it as a response a mere week after the Kennedy story hit the media.

The NDEU was brought to operate under the umbrella of the Met's Counter Terrorism Command.

As happened when they were three separate units, all the ACPO political police operations under the NDEU were overseen by the National Co-ordinator Domestic Extremism, though the rank for the post was downgraded from Assistant Chief Constable to Chief Superintendent, the first holder of the post being Detective Chief Superintendent Adrian Tudway.

Despite the budget for political spy units being public when they were run by ACPO, in 2012 the Met refused to follow suit, and with its gift for exaggerated flourishes it cited text from an Al-Qaeda training manual by way of a reason.


The unit's remit changed at the same time as its restructure and it no longer carries out undercover operations. It has taken on the 'prevention and detection' tracks previously associated with NETCU and NDET, maintaining a database of activists and working with companies and organisations that activists campaign against. Kennedy-style deployments of undercover officers are now run either by the Special Project Team (SPT) of the Metropolitan Police's Counter Terrorism Command, or one of the regional SPTs run by North West, North East and West Midlands Counter Terrorism Units.

Official reports say that this change is, indeed, a result of the exposure of undercover officers as the established anti-terrorism units were felt to have 'more robust procedures for the deployment of undercover officers' than their NPOIU/SDS-derived police equivalents.

In April 2011 Tudway sent a private email confirming that the English Defence League were not domestic extremists. Organising racist violence on the streets is fine because it's understood and safe, whereas fluffy but explicitly anti-capitalist things like Climate Camp get multiple officers like Mark Kennedy and Lynn Watson. This isn't key to the story, it just illustrates the fact that it's not threat of political public disorder, damage to property or violence to citizens that concerns the secret police - it's threats to the present parliamentary political norm and police credibility.

In 2012 the NDEU split its work into two subunits. The Protest and Disorder Intelligence Unit (PDIU) collates and provides strategic analysis relating to protest and disorder across the UK, whilst the Domestic Extremism Intelligence Unit (DEIU) provides strategic analysis of domestic extremism intelligence within the UK and overseas.

Quite how they define 'protesters' as separate from 'domestic extremists' isn't clear. Given their very wide and loose use of 'domestic extremism' in the past, it is worrying that they feel the need to spy on even less dangerous campaigners. But it was ever thus. As Merlyn Rees, Home Secretary in the Labour government 1976-79, said, the role of Special Branch is "to collect information on those who I think cause problems for the state".  Although the two subunits are physically separate, they share an intelligence database, the National Special Branch Intelligence System (NSBIS), implying that there is no clear boundary between protesters and domestic extremists.

As if in an attempt to close the book on an embarrassing subject, in May 2013 the NDEU was renamed the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit (NDEDIU).

But there is no reason to believe that the outrages perpetrated by the SDS, NPOIU and associated units have stopped, despite the musical chairs and name changes. When political campaigns are counter-democratically undermined by the state, and participants subjected to sustained psychological and sexual abuse, changing the acronym doesn't change the immorality and injustice.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Book Review: One Blood by Chris Penhaligon

This is one of those books that once you put it down it’s hard to pick up again.

Going under the name Chris Penhaligon, the author tells of being a uniformed copper in the 1980s and 90s who then became a private detective/paid informer.

It reads like a first draft of something by someone who’s never really written before, which is exactly what it is. It’s published by Author House, Random House’s print on demand imprint. That is to say, you send them a PDF and pay them a bit of money, they knock up a cover, give it an ISBN and put it on Amazon.

Even the interesting stories are missing hooks and told arse about face. Pretty much everything that could make a piece of writing grasp your imagination is absent, and the actual point of the book is largely missing. If you don’t know why the main character is doing anything, you cannot have any connection or sympathy.

At least it’s fairly short. I’ve done the heavy lifting for you and got to the end. I hope to save others from a similar fate.


The book was published in July 2010, four months before Mark Kennedy was outed, and indeed in the week after Kennedy’s story detonated in the press in January 2011 Penhaligon wrote a piece for the Guardian.

What is interesting– presuming Penhaligon is telling the truth – is that the Met's Special Branch pay long-term private infiltrators to go into political groups autonomously with no oversight. 

He writes of being in some politically iconic circumstances. He says that as a squaddie he was so close to a 1977 Belfast car bomb that he never fully recovered his hearing. He then guarded Hitler’s deputy fuhrer Rudolf Hess in Spandau prison. In the police he was posted at the notorious Stoke Newington police station at the height of its controversy for racism, brutality and corruption. 

As a VIP protection officer he guarded General Pinochet. He worked alongside President Mubarak’s secret police. As a private security contractor he worked for Greenpeace protecting them from Amazon loggers’ death squads, then as an informer paid by Special Branch he spied on Greenpeace. 

He may be puffing himself up a bit. Certainly his claim of the car bomb being the first such remote controlled device in Northern Ireland is contradicted by documented cases as early as 1972.


Beyond the precise truth, there’s a bigger question. How does he feel about those events, what do they mean to him and other people?

We have no idea because it seems that he has no idea either. There is a dearth of self-analysis or even self-awareness, no clue as to his motivation and you’re left with the distinct impression that there simply is no underlying philosophy. The space where most of us put morality and ethics is occupied by a subconscious evaluation of who’s got the most money and power, coupled to automatic presumption that those people are right and good. 

He makes comments such as ‘I felt it was time for a change,’ or ‘he was one of the best detective sergeants on the squad,’ without any indication why. There is no questioning of authority’s power or motivations, only of its reliability and efficiency in exercising that power.

Like many children of police and military families, he has disdain for politics yet strong allegiance to an ill defined idea of queen and country. Obedience is felt to be a virtue, even though it’s obeying the top brass they complain about and say they have little respect for. State authorisation – the enactment of the politics they dismiss – makes it all feel justified, so they can then get on with the personal satisfaction of excitement. It also helps alienated people such as army kids feel wanted and useful. Personal alienation is key to the effectiveness of the undercover officer.

There is simply no questioning of the morality of his work. His aim is just to climb a ladder that he imagines exists, to be working for the most powerful people possible. So when Greenpeace offer a job, he takes it. But Special Branch are more powerful than Greenpeace so he switches sides – working as a double agent and presumably paid by both sides – with no compunction.

He cringingly prefaces the book with a poem in block capitals telling us


But who is this deadly foe that he protects people from? Amazonian loggers? Greenpeace opposing the Amazonian loggers? His double paycheques say it’s both. The only conclusion is; the foe is whoever the most powerful person prepared to pay you says it is.

When MI5 approach him to sort of get close to some Russian people with the implication of some sort of dodgy connections – though we’re never told what – well, that trumps Special Branch. He has no moral judgement at all beyond the instinct that the British state and its agents are always politically right.

This may be because, like Kennedy and other undercover officers such as Liam Thomas, Penhaligon has never known a life outside those institutions. Like Kennedy, his dad was a police officer, like Thomas he had a military career before joining the police. Like the police officers who, as a matter of policy, all had spouses and families (bosses felt this reduced the risk of them ‘going native’), Penhaligon says has a family that he is absent from much of the time. 

These men were of a generation who saw The Sweeney on telly when they were too young to realise Jack Regan is an anti-hero, not a role model.

Signing up to protect Greenpeace and then spend years betraying them doesn’t bother him in the least. Again this is reminiscent of Kennedy, hiring Max Clifford to sell his story to the Mail on Sunday, complete with the first public naming of his traumatised son, stabbing any back within reach if there’s money in it.


Born in early 1958, he grew up in Lambeth. Joining the army at 16, he served with 2 Para in Northern Ireland. In mid 1979 he left the army to join Thames Valley Police. Soon after, he signed up for the Territorial Army and swiftly felt greater commitment to the latter.

In the mid 1980s he left the police to be a ‘security consultant’  and approached

a South London based PI company run by a load of typical ex Flying Squad wide boys…  looking for an undercover operative to into a scenario long term.  

They were investigating thefts from a food company and Penhaligon got a job to see if he could find out which workers were responsible, supervised by the Regional Crime Squad. The crossover of an ex-police private company working in conjunction with the police is noteworthy.

Penhaligon steals some donuts and fish fingers and gets arrested as part of his pre-authorised further theft. He is released without charge to be met and congratulated by the manager of the private firm alongside at least one Regional Crime Squad officer. 

This mix of public and private investigation – ex-cops deploying other ex-cops in conjunction with actual cops who grant immunity from prosecution to the private spies – shows how well used the revolving door between police and private spies is. It’s a crossover dealt with in forensic detail in Eveline Lubbers’ compelling and essential book Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark.


Penhaligon rejoined the police in 1990, attending the Metropolitan Police’s Hendon training college. Eight months after qualifying he went to the notoriously brutal Tactical Support Group (TSG). He talks of their ‘old-style’ approach saying, ‘there were limits, if only morally’. Not so much legally, then. He served in the TSG riot squad for the Notting Hill Carnival in August 1994.

On 10 October 1992 he arrived at the TSG’s headquarters, Paddington Green Police Station, which also housed high-security units for terrorist suspects. He was caught in the blast from an IRA bomb in a phone box outside the station.

After a brief secondment to Essex police, he returned to the Met to what he refers to as the ‘infamous Stoke Newington’ station. The base for police renowned for profound corruption and racism, in January 1983 Colin Roach had been shot dead in the entrance. Despite the inquest jury following the coroner’s direction to record a verdict of suicide, Roach had not entered the station with a gun and the crime scene was comprehensively inconsistent with suicide. 

The long litany of wrongdoing at Stoke Newington - drug trafficking, perjury, racketeering, brutality and racism - is not mentioned by Penhaligon beyond that initial use of ‘infamous,’ then a later complaint that ‘good hardworking officers’ got confronted with ‘offhanded attitudes and allegations of being a bent copper from Stoke Newington, the place where people were murdered and abused and fitted up’.

I suppose that’s one of the unpleasant side effects of being part of a team from a place where people are murdered and abused and fitted up.

Around 1994 he tried to join the Met’s covert operations group SO10 – the one that would later be responsible for the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes - but was refused as he was felt to be too old at 36. 

He sought to capitalise on the intertwined worlds of police and private spying, saying,

I had accumulated a seriously strong core skill-base with a high amount of courses under my belt that were not obtainable outside of government circles. If I could transfer those skills outside of the police, I would.

But before he could do that, he had a successful application to join SO16, the diplomatic protection group. He says he became interested in General Pinochet’s house arrest at Wentworth so managed to get deployed there. We have no clue why he was interested, nor do we get any information about Pinochet apart from him being tall and well built, and that the alleged ill health that was used to fight his extradition may or may not have been true.

In October 2000 he left the police. In 2002 he’s chief instructor at a military base near Nasr in Egypt. It was run by the brother of a senior officer in President Mubarak’s secret police. He says he became good friends with this man and spent time at their base learning about ‘counter terrorism’. Again, no further detail or analysis.


An ‘ex-SBS officer’ working for a private security firm recruits Penhaligon. It's not clear what he means as, in classic copper style, he loves using acronyms without explanation. The SBS is the Special Boat Service, like the SAS Special Air Service but they didn't get the Iranian Embassy gig so didn't get the publicity. However it seems more likely that it's a typo for either SB - Special Branch - or perhaps the SDS, the Met’s secret Special Demonstration Squad of political infiltrators.

Whatever, Penhaligon says he was hired to provide specialist driving training. Such firms certainly exist, such as Global Open, set up by Rod Leeming, the Special Branch officer who ran the Animal Rights National Index, and who inked a contract with Mark Kennedy before he'd even finished with the police.

His first client was a Greenpeace official – for some reason, he is amazed that it was a woman of slight build. They were working in Manaus against Amazonian deforestation and had received death threats from the loggers. Before he goes, Special Branch officers hire him to spy on Greenpeace. 

For most of us, this would provide a stark moral dilemma; one role works to support Greenpeace, the other to undermine them. Penhaligon has no qualms of any kind, appears to be unaware that there could even be a conflict.

On return to the UK, Greenpeace recruited him to their Actions Unit. As anti-fascist direct action group Antifa found with Mark Kennedy, having a small, centralised group of activists means that it only takes one mole to get a clear overview of what is going on.

Special Branch are pleased with this new role and, at last, we have a passing mention of the conflict. It was ‘weird’ to be training people to do what he was doing against them. And that’s it. The fact that Greenpeace ‘caused many headaches with their antics within government circles’ is all we need to know that stifling them is vital work.

He reports on a brainstorm-meeting idea to

identify and embarrass players from Chelsea football club, some of whom were known to use Range Rovers, and obviously carbon emissions were on GP’s agenda and so became a target. From a legal point of view I had an obligation and a duty of care to protect life, and so SB were informed of the attentions of GP against Chelsea.

Quite how embarrassing a Range Rover driver is a threat to life isn’t clear. As with the secret police themselves, Penhaligon seems unable to distinguish between a threat to life and a threat to the reputation of the powerful. Regarding a non-plan to do something harmless as life-threatening is bizarre.

Perhaps it’s relevant that, of the 14 Special Branch political undercover officers exposed, we know the football allegiance of four, three of whom – Mark Kennedy, Jim Boyling and Bob Lambert  – are Chelsea fans.

Then in November 2005 comes his part in what his grandiose back cover blurb calls ‘an attack on Downing Street’. He drives a truck of coal that is to be tipped at the end of the road. Interestingly for a private operator, he says Special Branch gave him a signed document giving him immunity from prosecution as long as he doesn’t act as agent provocateur.

On a subsequent action he is annoyed at the limited immunity he’s offered and says he felt it was

a system of “use and burn” – in simple terms, they want you on the job for everything they can get, yet would leave you open to anything, and they wouldn’t give a toss if you got nicked or your business was ruined.

Ah, the glamorous life of the copper’s nark.

Soon after he had a falling out with a senior Greenpeace official and bitterly says Greenpeace UK have never employed him since. Yet he claims that within weeks he was hired by Greenpeace International to go to Turkey to train Greenpeacers from around the world.

Rather like the way that post-police Mark Kennedy stayed with the activists he knew as a private spy and ran a training session on dealing with infiltration at the 2010 Earth First summer gathering, Penhaligon teaches ‘research, intelligence and investigation’. He describes his hacking of Greenpeace computers providing material not only for UK police but Interpol and foreign police forces too.

The camp was infiltrated by journalists who he spots and exposes.

Here I was working for SB against Greenpeace, and then working for Greenpeace against the international press, what a situation – it was win-win all the way for me, I couldn’t lose!

I can’t help but wonder what he’s winning apart from money. Certainly, he’s not winning friends, integrity or any advances in coherent philosophy.

And here, having unmasked the journalist, 89 pages in, we have a mention of self-doubt, albeit instantly dismissed with an attempt at humour.

I resorted back to my original task of getting intelligence for SB, and not GP. People have asked me if I have identity crises, to which I simply reply, “only at weekends, when my name’s Veronica”.

Savour it, people. It’s not only the extent of his wit but also as deep as he goes for political analysis or personal beliefs in the career he’s devoted his life to. 


After 130 pages he justifies the deceit, saying,

all these roles are only what a terrorist has done before and may do in future, so what government agencies do in response is not out of perspective at all.

As if ‘they do it too’ justifies anything. As if we’re supposed to believe his main focus, Greenpeace, put deep cover spies into BP or national governments. As if Greenpeace and their ilk qualify as terrorist.

He talks of Greenpeace parties where

the use of cannabis was rife, leaving the air thick and acrid with the possibility of absorbing the drug through passive means. This was a dangerous factor to me as an operative and left me vulnerable, so I faked being asleep in the corner.

This comes half a page after describing drinking ‘cases of beer’ at the same events that presumably left him sober and of sound judgement. Like many of the undercover police officers - Kennedy, Lynn Watson, Rod Richardson – here’s someone who eschews illegal drugs but is a big drinker. He later says ‘I personally have a zero tolerance [sic] of drug abuse in any form,’ without irony.

In June 2005 Penhaligon accepts an offer of personal protection work for a wealthy American attorney in Russia and Ukraine. The client was ‘clearly a man of great wealth who had earned this by sheer hard work and not through an inheritance,’ as if there are no other ways to acquire money.

On return to the UK he briefs Special Branch and British security services on his work. This is a private spy volunteering information got from a private contract with an American lawyer to British government officials. Again, he has no inkling that anyone might have ethical quandaries about such duplicity, let alone legal qualms.


The book moves into its final, frankly bizarre, act. UK secret services want him to make contacts with some Russian people. It’s strongly intimated they are mafia, though they may be secret services, it’s never really made clear. What they are planning is never even hinted at. He spends a long time meeting and remeeting someone called Ludmilla. Eventually she takes him to meet some men who have a circumspect conversation about his skills. 

She comes to the UK so he rents a flat and they spend a week together. They have superficial chats, they go sightseeing. They don’t form a close personal bond, nor have any offers of any shady work. He spends a lot of time shopping. What he looks for and what he thinks about it aren’t disclosed. Maybe I’m not consumerist enough but using the single word ‘shopping’ to write off hours at a throw, time after time, is staggeringly vague. 

He calls himself ‘an important cog in the machinery of political murders and espionage,’ which is somewhat overstating his position as a minor informer who isn’t even directly employed. His repeated complaints of being left unsupported by MI5 hardly seems like the treatment of vital agent would receive. This mission is ‘the pinnacle of my efforts,’ but you’re left wondering ‘efforts to do what?’


Where does this all leave him?

Undercover work is much a game of minds and bluffs, but the risk you run with that is someone can come to believe what they have been rehearsing is actually true. The human body does not allow for complete alienation from emotions and feelings, and, at first, in some cases, that switch cannot fully be switched off or on.

It’s the first genuinely interesting thing he says. What does he do to unpick this tangle and maintain a balanced life of clarity? All we get is advice to take a day to get into character.

He later positions himself as Britain’s hope for Olympic gold in the men’s freestyle vagueness event by explaining

if you don’t recognise or read a situation coming, you are likely to be embroiled in a heap load of crap and in a situation you cannot get out of no matter how hard you try.

Well, thanks for that.

As with interviews by exposed undercover police officers Mark Kennedy – whose use of language is strikingly similar - and Bob Lambert, the cagey lack of bean-spilling leaves you with the feeling that you haven’t actually been told anything, just heard an indistinct hubbub.

Even when he is detailed, Penhaligon’s inability to make a clear point or be able to pace a story leaves you just as bewildered as those hush-hush half-told anecdotes. Put together, they make for a frustrating, tedious and largely pointless book.


The title itself, One Blood, is hollow, oblique and irritating. Nothing in the book explains or alludes to it, and given the vision of a riven society, it makes no sense at all.

It could be used by the editors’ union as evidence of the need for their role. Occasional typos and grammatical errors are what happen when writing goes unchecked. This blog, like every other, undoubtedly has many. But when 184 pages drip with them it gives a stuttering flicker to your reading that wears you down.  The writing is a self-sabotaging obstacle to understanding, rather than its vehicle. 

A full stop in mid sentence breaks the flow, especially when you’re bored already. The lack of a comma changes meaning, as in, ‘they were in black overalls, both had tashes five foot eight inches tall’. That really is a hell of a tash. 

The malapropisms and homonyms also trip you up. Your South London locale is a manor, not a manner.  Metaphors are mixed – ‘remaining firmly on the fence as a safety net’ is an especially choice image - and the whole thing is desiccated by an absence of adjectives.  Hopefully he’s sold enough copies to save up and buy himself a bag of paragraph breaks, because two pages without one is a hefty ask of the reader.

He further alienates with unexplained jargon and that particular copperspeak that gives everyone dry personal identifiers such as ‘the female approached me and...’. This, in turn, leads to unwitting racism when he only notes ethnicity of people who deviate from the norm of being white. 

With trademark clumsiness he explains

the techniques used in the art of undercover work or surveillance is not an exact science, mainly due to the fact that these operations are human orientated and of course involves humans at some point.

Quite when they don’t involve humans isn’t explained. 

His arrogance grates too, deceiving people and then ‘I smiled to myself and had a laugh at their expense’, or ‘laughing your socks off inside thinking what an idiot they are’ for simply not knowing that they’d been lied to.

His sexism hardly endears him to you either, talking of ‘woman type chores’ and how 'East European women are well endowed in the looks department’.

Copperspeak also includes extraneous and/or overuse of Latin-rooted words. You or I might walk down the road but a copper proceeds upon the highway in an orderly manner.

I have been accused many times of either analysing people or talking to them like a police officer. That part of it, I am glad to say, does not in any way form part of my personality now,

he says, self-underminingly.


In doing the googling for links in this post I discovered that a new book appeared in February with the same stories entitled True Lies: The incredible true story of the man who infiltrated Greenpeace, with a summary article in the Mirror in March.

This time the protagonist is named as Ross Slater. Published by John Blake who specialise in ghost written material such as Jordan’s “autobiography”, it credits a co-author, Douglas Wight.

Oh fuck, do I have to wade through that one too?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

My Upcoming Public Things on Spycops

I dunno, you wait ages for a speaking engagement then three come along at once.

I'm talking about Britain's political secret police three times in mid November.

First up is a Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance public meeting on Wednesday 12 November at 6pm at London Metropolitan University, hosted by LMU's Unison branch. Also on the panel will be Helen Steel (Police Spies Out of Lives and McLibel defendant) and Dave Smith (Blacklist Support Group). It's free entry and the general public are welcome.

Then on Saturday 15 November I'm speaking at ORGCon 2014. It's mostly about digital rights but I'm speaking in a session about surveillance called Nothing To Hide, Nothing To Fear. Alongside me will be Erin Saltman (Quilliam Foundation), Güneş Tavmen (Turkish Internet rights expert) and Eleanor Saitta (nomadic hacker, artist and designer).

Next day it's We Do Not Consent, Defend the Right to Protest's national conference. This is the biggest gathering of people spied upon so far. I'm on a panel with Rob Evans (Guardian investigative journalist and author of Undercover), Dave Smith (again) and Jenny Jones (member of GLA and its scrutiny committee the Metropolitan Police Authority). In other sessions there are dozens of voices worth hearing; Carole Duggan, Kevin Blowe, Marcia Rigg, Ewa Jasiewicz, Owen Jones and many more. Tickets are only £5 (£3 unwaged, £10 'solidarity price')

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.