Saturday, June 22, 2013

mclibel: police drumming up business

With the Guardian's book on the undercover police scandal out next week, the newspaper is publishing flagship articles with some of the revelations in it.

The McLibel trial was the longest trial in English history, with McDonald's spending millions prosecuting a small group for a leaflet. It was already found to have been unfair, and the two defendants won damages from the UK government at the European Court of Human Rights.

We already knew the police had illegally given details of the activists to McDonald's. We knew that McDonald's sent in two teams of private spies. They claim it was solely to get information to bring for the case, yet they actually sent a final agent in as it was launched to stay for many months, spying on how the group responded and prepared its defence.

Yesterday we got confirmation that the state was even deeper in. The controversial leaflet at the centre of it all was was co-written by Bob Robinson, aka undercover police officer Detective Inspector Bob Lambert.

I do hope McDonald's are now thinking of suing the police. They spent £10m on the case, fighting two anarchists conducting their own defence, and still the court found that the leaflet was right in many of its assertions. It was a public relations disaster for the junk food giant.

Bob Lambert infiltrated the animal rights movement in 1983. Shortly afterwards, Special Branch started giving briefings to McDonald's security department, which was itself entirely comprised of former police officers. Lambert joined the small group London Greenpeace (who have no connection to Greenpeace International) around that time. He had a number of serious relationships with activists, including fathering a child. He had a further relationship with a woman who wasn't even an activist. After he firebombed a Debenhams store in Harrow - part of a campaign targeting fur retailers - he had that woman's home raided by his colleagues at Special Branch supposedly looking for him. It violated her life but gave him a good excuse to leave his deployment without being suspected.


This was 1988. By that time John Barker had also joined London Greenpeace. Except he hadn't. John Barker was an eight year old who died of leukaemia. The man using his identity was Sergeant John Dines. He targeted future McLibel defendant Helen Steel and they began a long term relationship and moved in together. She says she fell 'madly in love with him'. As her partner, he will have been privy to confidential legal meetings, plans and documents for her cases involving McDonald's and the police.

Like so many of his colleagues, when it came time to leave he feigned mental breakdown. He declared himself alone in the world but for her. He disappeared in March 1992, leaving Steel without trace of him and desperately worried. Again, like so many of his colleagues, he was simply returning to his wife and job. [UPDATE: Today's Guardian has a lengthy piece speaking to partners of Lambert, Dines and Jim Boyling]

Lambert went on to be in charge of undercover deployments, putting Jim Boyling into Reclaim The Streets and 'Pete Black' into assorted anti-racist campaigns. Then he set up the Muslim Contact Unit that, on the surface, is a community outreach exercise. But, as I've mused before, that seems a rather unlikely thing for someone whose expertise is in spying and infiltration. The more plausible explanation is that it is yet another spying operation or a front for a ring of informants. Several years later he left the force, collecting an MBE for services to policing on his way out.

Since his exposure by activists in 2011, desperate to preserve his credibility now he's got his academic career, Lambert has said that he only infiltrated London Greenpeace to establish himself before moving on to real hardcore activists. Yet not only did he stay for many years, but between him and Dines there is seven years of unbroken infiltration of London Greenpeace. And that, of course, presumes they were the only ones and there aren't more yet to be unmasked.

That's rather a lot of attention if the group were just one of a plethora of possible entry points. It's clear that groups like this are spied upon in their own right. It is insulting to our intelligence to pretend otherwise and frankly I even feel a wee bit patronising just saying it so plainly. Undercover policing is aimed at anyone who is a threat, without distinguishing between the threat to life and limb, the threat to profits or the threat to capitalist ideology.

The new Guardian book details over forty years of it, and Eveline Lubbers' essential book Secret Manoeuvres In The Dark shows that it goes far beyond that period and the UK, it is simply how states and corporations work.


Lambert, Dines and Boyling are all named in the lawsuit being brought by eight women who had long term relationships with undercover officers. The women have just revamped their website and now, alongside the updates on their case, you can donate, declare your support and find more assertive articles including a strident, dignified statement declaring their aims and beliefs.

There are no circumstances in which it would be acceptable for an undercover police officer to engage in intimate relationships with either targets or members of the public under the guise of their undercover identity. The fact that this has taken place repeatedly, despite being morally wrong and unjustifiable, shows that within the police forces in the UK there exists: 

* institutional sexism – women have been used to shore up undercover identities, without regard for those women’s right to a private life (whilst men have been affected, evidence so far shows that it is primarily women’s lives that have been abused in this way). 

* institutional prejudice against members of the public who engage in social justice and environmental campaigning, including a disregard for their human rights. Both these forms of institutional prejudice must be challenged and stopped; each has reinforced the other. 

We call for: 

  • a clear and unambiguous statement that the abuse has ceased, and will never, in any circumstances, be permitted. 

  • the past to be thoroughly and openly investigated, so that the damage may be acknowledged, those responsible may be held to account, and that as a society we may come to terms with what has happened, heal the wounds that have been inflicted and be confident that the practice has ceased. 

  • action and change to prevent these human rights abuses from ever happening again, including stronger support for whistle-blowers and greater protection for rights of association and expression.

    Until these things happen, we have no reason to believe that these abhorrent abuses have stopped, or that the police acknowledge their actions are wrong, and that they must change.

    We come from different backgrounds and have a range of political beliefs and interests, and we are united in believing that every woman, and every person, has a right to participate in the struggle for social and environmental justice, without fear of persecution, objectification, or interference in their lives. We welcome allies who wish to engage with the above issues in this spirit of democratic empowerment.

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