Tuesday, July 09, 2013

if i were special branch

Cast your mind back a year or two ago to the rattling clunk of a million dropped jaws when Mark Kennedy was unmasked. Remember the slew of front page reports, the amazement that someone had been trained and deployed to act as he did.

Now he is reduced to a bit player. Not that anything Kennedy did has been found to be untrue or diminished in any way, it has only shifted relatively. It turned out that he was actually a latecomer among hundreds of officers who behaved identically, and there are even darker deeds done beyond the like of his. The known wrongdoing has expanded a hundredfold, so our outrage should be multiplied by the same amount.

This police scandal is larger than any that came before it. It is larger than the Stephen Lawrence case and the institutional racism it exposed, because it includes that. What's more, it includes more institutional racism than we previously knew of and, worse still, secret measures to protect and perpetuate it.

It is far, far beyond the phone hacking scandal that involved corrupt police being covered up by their superiors. Huge numbers of people had their privacy breached by hacking but none had state agents sent to live with them, integrate into their families and father their children. Also, beyond the private lives of citizens, the undercovers had a far more damaging mission. They were, as solicitor Harriet Wistrich termed it, given a counter-democratic remit.

And yet all this comes from the stories of a mere ten officers, leaving well over 90% still in the shadows. What more is there still to be revealed?

From what is known, nobody is more implicated than Bob Lambert. He infiltrated London Greenpeace and co-wrote the notorious What's Wrong With McDonald's leaflet, then left just as it saw the group sued for libel in the longest case in English history. During his time, unbeknownst to his wife and children, he had sexual relationships with four women and fathered a child with one. "Raped by the state" is how one of them describes it.

Afterwards he moved up a notch and supervised deployments. He oversaw Peter Francis' infiltration of black justice campaigns including that of Stephen Lawrence, he put Jim Boyling into Reclaim The Streets. Peculiarly, he and Boyling then formed the Muslim Contact Unit ostensibly as an outreach project but, as I've said before, the most credible explanation for using your most experienced infiltrators and spies is, well, infiltration and spying.

The new book Undercover has by far the most complete picture yet of Britain's secret police. In it, Lambert is interwoven with most of the spies and is personally responsible for some of the worst excesses of the undercover squad.


As the tide of shit rapidly swells around him, last week Bob Lambert broke his silence to talk to Channel 4 news (in two parts, here and here). The man who is so skilled a deceiver that colleagues said his work was "hands down regarded as the best tour of duty ever" is now doing damage limitation. You do that by appearing to be meek, confessing some unpleasant but established truths, then casting doubt on the most unsavoury parts.

He admitted much of what we already know - taking the identity of a dead child to form the basis of his activist persona, misleading courts by being prosecuted under that false identity, having two serious relationships with women and fathering a child. He missed out his third relationship and a fourth brief liaison, but still.

He claims that the women he abused were not targeted, that it was love and 'just happened'. Yet the pattern of approaching the women, then preparing to leave by feigning mental distress and cheating on his partner, is identical to that of other officers. But more than that, like the others, he was trained in sophisticated tricks of making people identify with him and trust him. When in his role he cannot have been anything other than targetting anyone he befriended, let alone became lovers with. Those women thought they were meeting The One when they weren't even meeting a person, they were meeting a set of techniques. It had no informed consent, it was deceit and abuse. It most certainly was not love.

He flatly denied planting the Animal Liberation Front firebomb at fur-selling Debenhams in Harrow. So the question remains; who did? He was trying to get the bombers jailed. One of them says there were only three people involved. On Lambert's intelligence, two of them were caught red-handed and sent down. Either there was a fourth person that nobody has mentioned before and whom Lambert failed to have arrested, or else Lambert was the third bomber.

But, most boldly and implausibly of all, Lambert flatly denied that the Lawrence campaign was infiltrated. Yet we know that other officers under his command were infiltrating black justice campaigns in London at that time. We know that Peter Francis is telling the truth about the police's racist victimisation of the main witness to Lawrence's murder, Duwayne Brooks, a fact established by the MacPherson Inquiry. The idea that the squad was doing this to campaigns that posed less of a threat to police credibility, that they were doing it to those around Lawrence and yet somehow thought it wouldn't serve their purpose to do it to the Lawrence family themselves flies in the face of all we know about how the police work and the way that, above public order or any other consideration, they prize their reputation.

Former Met officer Chris Hobbs describes a regime so single-minded in the protection of its reputation that anyone rocking the boat is given rough treatment. Hobbs, who spent 23 years in the Met, including Special Branch, before leaving in 2011, said: "It's run like a dictatorship and if you dare challenge the system then you've had it. If you take on the Met as a whistleblower you'll never win. I was forcibly retired after making my concerns known."

It is precisely because of this brand awareness that the Lawrence case is the real Achilles heel for the Metropolitan Police. They were deeply humiliated, had their innner workings dragged into the limelight, and then were forced to declare that they had come clean, reformed and it would never happen again.

In fact, since the Lawrence case numerous innocent people who entirely reasonably presented a threat to the Met's credibility - Delroy Lindo, Roger Sylvester, Jean Charles de Menezes, and beyond the Met in the case of Christopher Alder - have suffered similar smears and dirty tricks campaigns, whilst corrupt police have been painted as put-upon heroes. Let's remember the Evening Standard's headline the day after police killed Ian Tomlinson in 2009.

But Lawrence remains iconic; to have their record on this dragged down again, to be proven to be even worse than anybody hitherto thought, would be the most damning blow to the Met.


So by giving a bumbly presentation, repeatedly using the interviewer's forename and fessing up to what is already known, Lambert gives the impression of someone coming clean. By bizarrely saying of the men he jailed as the ultimate aim of his deployment that "in my heart" he was their friend and he had "a genuine respect for their cause and still do," topped with an apology to two of the women he had relationships with - but honestly didn't target - he hopes to look contrite and at least conjure a cloaking question mark over the current firework display of explosive revelations.

It's the best shot they've got and, if I were Special Branch trying to save face and utterly uninterested in justice, it's what I'd do too. But because it defends so much of what is already established and indefensible, Lambert fatally undermines himself with ludicrous implausibility.

He can't even concede the fact of Duwayne Brooks' persecution, a campaign so trumped-up that Brooks walked free from court without opening his mouth, later received £100,000 in compensation and - a true rarity - a written apology from the police. Lambert's interview comes in the same week that the senior officer in charge of the inquiry into Lawrence's murder, John Grieve, admitted secretly recording a meeting with Brooks and his lawyer. As Brooks said last week,

Does anyone actually believe the covert recording only happened once? There will be more to come out. It seems a bit odd that he’s just come out and admitted to it once.

Lambert's claims would be risible if they weren't subjecting the Lawrences to yet more insult and lies from the police who spent years treating them, in Doreen Lawrence's words, "like white masters during slavery".

His admission to taking the identity of a dead child was mitigated with the claim that it was standard practice and, more, was "well known at the highest levels in the Home Office". It is always tempting to believe that a cover-up goes to the very top, and in this case it may well be true. However we have to be cautious and recognise this for what it is.

Lambert spent a long time undercover before becoming second in command of the Special Demonstration Squad. Whatever judgement is made on the undercovers falls most heavily on him. He has an academic career built on his, ahem, 'counter-terrorism' experience that hangs by a rapidly thinning thread. He is desperately covering his arse and trying to deflect blame away from himself and his squad. Some of that can be done by blaming individual officers below him (tellingly, they're starting with one who divulged squad secrets). The other option is to push shit uphill and accuse those above him in the Home Office.

Just as the police responded to the exposure of their orchestration of a miscarriage of justice in the Kennedy-Ratcliffe trial by leaking documents implicating the Crown Prosecution Service, so now we should be unsurprised to see them to blame government and rogue officers. Anything to protect the institution, its methods and culture.

Their refusal to implement even the mild recommendations of the HMIC report into Kennedy's unit, coupled with the way their new, supposedly tougher oversight for undercovers actually preserves all the previous tactics, shows a force that does not want to stop such violations in the future, let alone examine them in the past.

As the key figure so far exposed, we can expect the decoys, deflections and bullshit to centre around Bob Lambert. His performance so far shows he retains his lifelong commitment to injustice, and everything he says must be viewed through that filter.

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