Sunday, February 10, 2013

undercover relationships were approved: the evidence

A year ago Mark Kennedy said
I lived undercover for eight years and if I hadn’t had sex, I would have blown my cover... It was essential for me to have relationships in order to do my job.

Last November the head of the Metropolitan Police, Bernard Hogan-Howe, said  it was 'almost inevitable' that such relationships happened, though they 'shouldn't be part of the strategy'.

This tallies with the earlier claim by police who, glove-puppeting the policing minister Nick Herbert, said that such relationships were completely legal under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and therefore the case of women involved should be heard in a Bullshit Stalinist Tribunal rather than an actual court.

Herbert went further, adding

Moreover, to ban such actions would provide a ready-made test for the targeted criminal group to find out whether an undercover officer was deployed among them. Specifically forbidding the action would put the issue in the public domain and such groups would know that it could be tested.

So, almost all undercovers had sex with their targets because there's no way to infiltrate activists without having relationships with them. This week's revelations about the officer known as Rod Richardson tells us that is not true.


Rod* lived among activists in Nottingham, sharing a house with them, for nearly three years from 2000-2003. He left a couple of months before Mark Kennedy arrived in the same community, indicating that he was Kennedy's predecessor. The difference in the men's behaviour is illuminating.

Rod did not have any sexual relationships with activists, and he was not suspected of being a spy. He said he had a long-term partner, 'Jo', who lived elsewhere in the country. Most crucially, Jo turned up with him at several social occasions (and his friends wondered why he was seeing someone who had such a different nature and was, well, rather like a cop).

An officer calling herself Lynn Watson infiltrated the same activists, living among them in Leeds from 2004-2008. She too had no sexual relationships - bar a single one-night stand - and she also said she had a long-term partner living elsewhere. As with Rod, Lynn had 'Paul' accompany her on a social occasion. And, again, Lynn's comrades wondered why she couldn't do better for herself and said amongst themselves that this guy seemed almost like a cop.

It seems clear that superior officers had set-up the undercover officers with a pretend partner to strengthen their claim to having a long-term relationship elsewhere. They not only knew of the risk of relationships, they had an effective strategy of ensuring it didn't happen.


Several officers - both undercovers and seniors - say that though sexual relationships may happen it's never overtly talked about, implying it is done with a nod and a wink.

But this is contradicted by the evidence of Jim Boyling. He infiltrated Reclaim The Streets and anti-capitalist groups in the late 1990s and 2000s. He not only had a relationship with one of the activists he targeted, he married her, had children, confided in her and introduced her to other undercover officers. He also

told her a ruling from seniors that undercover operatives should not have sex with targets was unrealistic, and developing relationships with activists was "a necessary tool in maintaining cover".

Given when Boyling was deployed, starting before Rod but overlapping with him, it seems likely that Rod's abstinence was because of that directive.

And yet Kennedy came after Rod. So they had a proven effective tactic for avoiding relationships without garnering suspicion yet they chose not to use it for Kennedy. The most likely explanation, then, is that they preferred Kennedy to have his relationships.


At last week's Home Affairs Select Committee hearing, Patricia Gallan, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police repeatedly said that undercover officers' sexual relationships are not authorised and are morally wrong.

This flies in the face of the statements of them being inevitable, providing a ready-made test, and the very basis of the police's case to go to the Bullshit Stalinist Tribunal. Unless, that is, she's trying to do some very fancy footwork and say that though they're not authorised and are reprehensible, nonetheless they are legally intended and provided for.

It seems those in charge know there is no position they can take that will get them out of this and so they're flailing between stances to see if anything is better than the untenable place they're currently in.

But let's be as generous as we can and say that, despite paying other officers to be pretend partners, seniors really didn't know that undercovers had relationships. Let's say that, all along, the top brass did not authorise them, thought them morally wrong and said so.

Lynn Watson not only moved among the same groups, she was often at the same events as Kennedy. If his quasi-marital relationship with an activist was so far beyond the pale then surely she would have reported on it. Yet it was allowed to continue for a further four years to the end of his deployment and beyond.


Between Lynn Watson's witnessing, the two uses of the pretend partners, and the fact that the tactic pre-dates Kennedy's deployment, it is clear that Kennedy's relationships were known about and approved of by his superior officers.

The startling similarity of the relationships, and the fact that those who'd engaged in them were later in charge of deploying officers who did the same, is are strong enough indicators that this has always been the way. But the evidence we now have means that, for Kennedy's case at least, there is no longer any shred of plausible denial.


*It may seem overly familiar to refer to him as just Rod, but out of respect for the real Richardson family whose dead baby's identity was used by the officer, I'm not comfortable calling him 'Richardson'.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

police lying about undercovers. again.

On Tuesday the MPs from the Home Affairs Select Committee held a session about the undercover policing scandal. As well as hearing from lawyers acting for women who had relationships with officers and a Guardian investigative journalist who's been covering the issue, they had Patricia Gallan, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

It was the day after the Guardian revealed that officers from the Special Demonstration Squad had used stolen identities of dead children, and it had happened in around eighty cases. As the Guardian's live blog of the hearing reported, Gallen cast doubt on the figure.
She says she does not know if the figure of 80 children's identities being used is accurate. She knows of two cases....It has been confined to the SDS and the NPOIU (National Public Order Intelligence Unit).

The admission it was the NPOIU is interesting. The police had tried to spin that the cases were in the 1970s and 1980s, yet the NPOIU was only formed in 1999.

But hang on a minute. If she knows of two, and of it happening in two units, then that's one per unit.

Details came out this week of the presumed NPOIU officer, who used the identity of Rod Richardson. There's an Indymedia post with photos and list of his activities by activists who knew him, and a Guardian piece that interviews the dead baby's mother.

So that leaves the Special Demonstration Squad officer. Except we have John Dines, who posed as John Barker from 1987-1992, and also the officer known as Pete Black who stole that name in 1993, as he explains in this video.

So Gallan can't count the three already exposed, yet we're supposed to have faith in her helming yet another secret self-investigation into the dozens of cases.

Asked why she hadn't told the parents or apologised she explained that
It would be inappropriate to rush to make statements in haste

That's a broad definition of haste. She conceded that she found out about the dead children's stolen identities five months ago.


Asked by the Committee's chair Keith Vaz whether the parents of the dead children should be informed, she dodged, saying

it's important to find out all the circumstances and whether they are accurate... ethical and legal issues also need to be considered.

Indeed there are. I'm sure they want to consider legal issues and prevaricate, hoping the clamour for families to be told will dissipate. The Richardson family are already suing. The brother of John Barker, an eight year old who died of leukaemia whose idenetity was used by John Dines, points out the seriousness of such claims and the danger police put citizens in.

In our case, we now discover, there was a girlfriend who was left behind when the policeman pretending to be my brother disappeared from the scene. Apparently she was so worried about him that she tracked him down to the house we had moved out of a few years earlier.

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.

Eighty-odd cases - and with the NPOIU added in that could be over a hundred - would be hugely humiliating and expensive for the police. So, as is their habit, they are playing down their wrongdoing and trying to avoid us knowing the truth; the opposite of what a body concerned with justice would do.


A few years ago a Freedom of Information request was lodged asking for Special Branch records on people with alleged affiliations to London Greenpeace, a group we know was heavily infiltrated.

The police information manager responded in October 2006, readily admitting that records existed and it "would contribute to the quality and accuracy of public debate" to release them. However they refused to do it as it was not in the public interest.

They explained – and get ready to have to read this twice to believe it - "The Public Interest is not what interests the public, but what will be of greater good if released to the community as a whole." Disclosure is therefore not in the public interest because it could "undermine their goodwill and confidence in the Metropolitan Police and could result in a lack of engagement with the MPS" and may "endanger the health and safety of our officers".

In other words, if you really knew what we did to you, you'd lynch us.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

equal marriage

I've never understood marriage, unless it's for tax or citizenship reasons. Maybe I'm just not romantic, but I've never been moved to say, "I love you so much that I want to make a contract with the state to ensure that leaving me is an expensive process involving lawyers".

Though I don't want it for me, that's my choice. Ringfencing it, or anything, exclusively for heterosexuality is an injustice to be fought. I think less people should eat at McDonald's but if they had a whites-only policy I'd join the fight against it.

At a time when 'gay' is still a common term to mean pathetic or inept, it is clear we have not reached a point of equality. So the overwhelming parliamentary vote in favour of gay marriage seems almost bizarre to me. I find it hard to take in such colossal progressive support from so reactionary an institution as the House of Commons. But it's also about the pace of change. It's dizzying, confusing and gratifying to realise I'm just not up to speed.

The country I was born into had men in jail simply for being gay. In the early 1970s people would be stopped in the street by police and forced to remove their 'glad to be gay' badges. Those who came out would be called 'self-confessed gays', like murderers or rapists. Around this time the UK had its first Pride marches. They were not the corporate-branded extravaganzas of today, but a few hundred people being jeered by the excessive number of police sent to escort them.

In the 1980s the official response to AIDS was to ignore it and let gay people die, until it appeared to be a threat to the rest of the population. Then the homophobia went into overdrive. Tabloids routinely referred to it as 'the gay plague'. The government passed laws to prevent teachers from depicting gay relationships as equal to straight. Libraries withdrew gay books. Gay newspapers had their offices firebombed and it was defended in parliament with a Tory MP saying, 'it is quite right that there should be an intolerance of evil'. As late as 1989 the Sun said that it was impossible to get AIDS through heterosexual sex and anything else was 'homosexual propaganda'.

A world in which a major rugby player would be out and able to get married to another man was ludicrously unthinkable. So far, so fast.


In the mid 1970s a then-unknown gay activist called Tom Robinson wrote a song called Glad To Be Gay. Two years later, and by then the first out and proud rock star, he released it as a single. Despite radio stations refusing to play it, it got in the top 20. Over the years Robinson rewrote the lyrics to keep them current. It was the protest that mattered to him, not the art.

I thought that was an interesting creative challenge. But these days the various versions of the song have a historic job to do as well. They are a snapshot from every couple of years through a period of extraordinary social change on the issue.

As a generation come of age who struggle with the idea that homosexuality was ever illegal, who have never heard of Clause 28 or the Spanner trial, it is important to remember what was done. It is not just about gay rights, it is also a stark lesson that society at every level can discriminate against whole groups but it doesn't make it right. So I did a website of all the versions of Glad To Be Gay, explaining the references.

The very first version of the song talked of Peter Wells, a man who, in 1974, was 26 but his boyfriend was 18. The age of sexual consent was 16 for straights but 21 for gay men. Had Wells fallen for a woman it would have been socially lauded and they would have been able to marry. But it was another man, so he got two and a half years in jail. There he was beaten and abused by inmates and guards alike, even before his conviction. He spent the last year of incarceration in solitary confinement.

But whilst inside he launched a case at the European Court of Human Rights, saying that the different age of consent was discrimination. He did not win but, as with so many political campaigns that fail, it laid the foundations for those who came after to succeed. In the late 1990s a young man called Euan Sutherland brought another case, citing Wells' work. He won and the UK was forced to equalise the age of consent.

Peter Wells did not live to see it. He died in violent circumstances in 1979, aged 31. Brought up in borstal institutions, imprisoned for being gay, he was the victim of a swathe of brutality and alienation that we have succeeded in rolling back. I've researched and written a biography of him that will be published soon.

Today, Peter would be five weeks into his retirement. Those of us who celebrate last night's progressive landmark owe him, and so many others like him, thanks. As Owen Jones reminds us, we must remember that this hasn't come about through government benevolence but through the persistent campaigning of brave people.

Monday, February 04, 2013

dead children in uniforms

Undercover police officers infiltrating protest groups stole the identities of dead children to create their fake identity. They would comb registries looking for someone with the same first name. They would visit the dead child's house and locality to get the details for the backstory. On the dead child's birthday, as the family would have been in sombre reflection on their tragedy, they would take activist comrades out to celebrate.

It's thought around 80 bereaved families are affected. The police say they're looking into it - another self-investigation, another bucket of whitewash - but they are distancing themselves by saying it was mainly in the 70s and 80s.

Firstly, that does not alter the morality one iota. Secondly, it is untrue. Whilst the children themselves were born in those years, the identity theft came later. One officer, known as Pete Black, did it in the 90s. He infiltrated anti-racist groups before moving on to campaigns for justice for black people who died in custody or whose death had been under-investigated. Another case was an officer from the 2000s.


We're told

The idea was that if activists ever researched a police spy's background to check out whether they were who they claimed to be, they would come across the birth record of a real child.

But the obvious problem is that there is also a death certificate waiting to be found. Did they really think people suspicious enough to look for birth certificates would not go further? The case of John Dines proves that, as you'd expect, they would and they did.

Later spies who simply made up a name - Mark Kennedy appears to be one, using his real date of birth to be 'Mark Stone' - had no such flaw. They didn't have a birth certificate, but there are numerous plausible reasons for that, such as being adopted or born abroad. These would also fit with undercover officers' prediliction for stories of a disturbed childhood.

Peter Blexley, a former undercover officer for a different unit investigating serious crime, told the [Radio 4 Today] programme: "I cannot for the life of me comprehend why anyone would want to adopt an identity, rather than create one."

The only plausible reason I can think of is the same one that anybody wants a birth certificate for - to prove an identity to authorities. In an era when the state was dealing with the Cold War and Northern Ireland, perhaps the government thought infiltration of lefty parties, peace activists and trade unionists was unworthy of equipping with the full gamut of false identity documents. Could it be that the undercover officers weren't issued with stuff like fake passports and bank accounts, and resorted to fraudulently applying for them?

Another officer who used a dead child's identity says it was done for 'the greater good' but neglects to tell us what that good is and why it couldn't be achieved by other means.


The identity theft of dead children is ghoulish and is further evidence of the institutionalised callousness and arrogance with which the police treat the public they supposedly serve, as if that wasn't already amply illustrated by the way they intrude upon the living.

Presumably they thought that, like the women with whom they had long-term relationships and fathered children, the people they were abusing would never find the full details and catch up with them.

As Pete Black says himself, to search your house they have to get a warrant. To bug your house or tap your phone they have to have approval from the Home Secretary. But to live in your house, hear all your calls, integrate into your family, be your quasi-marital partner, have a child that they know they'll leave you to bring up alone from pre-school age onwards, that just requires the police to decide they want to do it. But that is not the issue.

The big question in the political policing scandal is: who ordered it? Do the police make up these missions for themselves or are they given ideas, directions and commands from political sources? If so, is that the government of the day? An international mix of governments and security services?

The phone hacking scandal caused a storm with politicians clamouring for a public inquiry. There is no way in which the spycops scandal is not a greater invasion of lives and yet politicians (outside the Green Party) are staying deafeningly silent. If you want to know who was complicit and culpable, you should usually look for who is turning away, whistling, hoping not to be noticed.


The people whose lives have been affected - the women abused for years at a time, the political campaigns undermined and now the grieving families of dead children - have suffered a double injustice.

Firstly there was what was done to them and then there's the wilful obstruction of justice by the police. Amongst the self-investigations is one by the Department of Professional Standards. They are contacting people who were spied on and asking for their assistance whilst simultaneously saying they 'neither confirm nor deny' that the spy was a police officer.

Why would an internal police body be asking about someone who wasn't a police officer? It is an insult to the intelligence of their victims and a crude legal trick to avoid accountability. We all know what went on but if you can't prove that they were a cop, how can you sue police chiefs for doing it? We still don't even have real names for half of the exposed officers.

The increasing likelihood of a public enquiry is good, though that would not be the end. There were two of those for Hillsborough and they failed.


This is a justice campaign. People who suffered far worse double injustices - such as the Hillsborough families or the Lawrence family - also got tired at times, and people outside stopped being interested.

But they held on to their outrage, and each new avenue, each attempted assault on the castle would bring a new smidgen of information. And whilst nothing can undo what was done, there can be justice. Truth can be told, those responsible can be brought to account, and future deeds of the same ilk can be prevented.

The peculiar thing about justice campaigns is that if they persist they tend to win. Maybe the authorities give up when there's no careers on the line any more because all those responsible are retired or dead. Or maybe the irritation builds up into a serious discrediting and the continuation of that is worse than letting the truth be told.

Either way, the lesson seems clear. This will not be over soon, and just because the facts become familiar does not make them less of an outrage.