Saturday, December 17, 2011

undercover cops' girlfriends sue police

Eight women who had sexual relationships with undercover police officers are taking legal action against the Metropolitan police.

Jon Murphy of the Association of Chief Police Officers spoke about his undercover officers having sexual relations with the people they're sent to spy on.

It is absolutely not authorised. It is never acceptable for an undercover officer to behave in that way...

It is grossly unprofessional. It is a diversion from what they are there to do. It is morally wrong because people have been put there to do a particular task and people have got trust in them. It is never acceptable under any circumstances... for them to engage in sex with any subject they come into contact with.

Yet most of the unmasked undercover officers not only did so but formed emotionally committed relationships with their targets. Indeed, most of them aren't involved in this legal case - it concerns three of the established officers plus two new names.

These people were expensive assets, watched over by cover officers on a daily basis. The idea that their handlers didn't know who they were with for years on end is laughable. One of them, Bob Lambert, graduated from fieldwork to running the deployment. If Lambert thought his relationship had been a mistake, why were his subsequent agents encouraged to do the same thing?

Lambert was in charge of Jim Boyling's spy work; Boyling had relationships with two of the litigants. Lambert also oversaw Pete Black who says that sexual relationships were condoned by senior commanders.

Back in January ex-undercover officer Liam Thomas explained

At training school, it was drummed into your head that you are only limited by your imagination. The whole UC [undercover] model in the police is taken from the spooks, where an agent sleeping with the enemy is condoned.

The official Met line was 'don't do it', but unofficially it was condoned. I remember one senior detective saying to me, 'Have you embedded yourself in the community yet?'

Despite several exposed officers admitting the policy, Mark Kennedy has tried to downplay what happened.

He is also furious at what he calls a ‘smear campaign’ that he bedded a string of vulnerable women to extract information.

He said angrily: 'I had two relationships while I was undercover, one of which was serious'.

Yet three of the women taking action had long relationships with Kennedy during his seven years undercover.

The state trained these people in techniques to gain trust, to create a sense of intimacy and closeness. They then used this to deceive these women, and others, into having profound permanent sexual relationships.

Internet message boards and comment sections are awash with arguments about whether what was done is rape. The r-word is so emotive that it rapidly polarises discussion and often makes political allies turn against one another.

Some people say that these women were not giving informed consent, and so it is a form of rape. Indeed, when this point was put to Mark Kennedy he folded into sullen silence and did not deny it. Others point out that all relationships have secrets and many people lie about themselves in order to pull someone. If I tell someone in a club that I'm a commando it doesn't mean it's rape if they swoon for me.

The discussion is interesting and important, but off the point. This is not about a single instance of sexual activity. They did not lie to make themselves a bit more impressive in order to get laid. They went and integrated themselves into people's lives and families, became the closest possible companions, in long term emotionally committed relationships. The officers did so only as a paid agent in order to undermine everything that these women worked for and held most dear.

They did this under orders, and were withdrawn at very short notice leaving those who had loved them devastated.

It's not rape in the commonly defined sense. It's perhaps not fraud in the common sense. This is because the set definitions are for things that we have *had* to define. What happened to these women is so rare that we don't actually have a familiar definition or name for what crime it is. Just because that's the situation it doesn't alter the clear moral position of what was done.

Despite the press focus it is not about sexual assault. As they make clear in their statement, the womens' action is for many crimes committed against them, including deceit, misfeasance in public office and negligence as well as the Human Rights of protection from inhumane and degrading treatment, and respect for private and family life, including the right to form relationships without unjustified interference by the state.

The bravery and dignity of these women is admirable and impressive. Already intruded upon and destabilised, it would be completely understandable if they kept quiet and got on with their lives, yet they are putting the personal injustice they suffered into the public arena.

They have not hired publicity agents to splash them across the press for money, nor are they going for their specific cops individually. Instead, by going anonymously they emphasise the way police invaded their personal lives; by going collectively they demolish the lie that relationships were forbidden and Mark Kennedy was one rogue officer; and by suing the Met as an institution they go for the real villains and give the best chance of bringing the workings of this murky corruption out into the light.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

the next bucket of whitewash

You know the cliche about how a frog thrown into hot water jumps out, but a frog put in warming water stays put and gets boiled alive?

One all-encompassing cover-up report into the actions of undercover police officer Mark Kennedy and his colleagues would be such a hurricane of bullshit that it would cause outrage. Instead there are - count them - twelve separate narrow little inquiries reporting one at a time.

The frog dropped into a pond of whitewash jumps out; but slowly add whitewash to the pond and it doesn't notice until it's swallowed a load and gone blind.

Yesterday Sir Christopher Rose published his report.


The Crown Prosecution Service failed to mention they had transcripts of recordings made by Mark Kennedy at the meeting where activists planned to close Ratcliffe power station - evidence that exonerated many of those involved. Twenty people were convicted and a further six were on the brink of it when they demanded Kennedy's report; the prosecution refused and the trial collapsed.

Had activists not uncovered Kennedy, those convictions would stand. How many other people have been wrongly convicted due to the prosecution witholding evidence of undercover cops who, unlike Kennedy, were never found out?


Sir Christopher Rose was a poor choice to write the report (or a good one, if you want a cover-up). He was Surveillance Commissioner, a post that has the ultimate sign-off on deployment of undercover cops. He was one of the people who sent Kennedy and co in. This isn't the same state investigating itself, nor even the same institution; to some extent it's the same individual.

Did he find any systemic problems then? Have a guess.

As I said when the last Kennedy report was due to come out, when it gets caught doing the unacceptable, state power denies it's done anything wrong. When that fails, they hang a small number of lowlies out to dry. No officers went to jail for the American policy of torture exposed at Abu Ghraib. A solitary Second Lieutenant was convicted of the My Lai massacre. If they can do that for such atrocities, the spy cops thing is a walk in a finely kept park.

Just as the undercover cops were 'one rogue officer' (even though Kennedy did nothing that wasn't done by a slew of others subsequently uncovered), so Rose has found that the CPS' witholding of evidence was down to one rogue prosecutor, John Cunningham.

Which takes some brass balls to say, given that emails proving conspiracy between Cunningham and his superior were leaked months ago.

Cunningham exchanged a series of emails with Nick Paul, a more senior CPS prosecutor based in London, according to the documents. At that early stage Paul was also aware of a "participating informant" and "sensitive disclosure issues" relating to Kennedy's evidence.

And of course, there were many CPS staff who will have seen the transcripts of Kennedy's recordings. Rose admits

all involved were well aware

that they should disclose the evidence, yet he says

at no stage of the prosecution was there any deliberate, still less dishonest, withholding of information.

I know I should tell you something, I don't, yet I'm not deliberately witholding it? You fucking what?

The weaselling is done by essentially claiming that the Crown Prosecution Service didn't notice the hundreds of pages pertaining to Kennedy, or if they did they didn't think it would have any bearing on the case to have a transcript of what was said and by whom. (And let's just ignore all the police officers involved who were fully aware but stood by and watched a miscarriage of justice, they're in the clear too). This is a one-off, then, right?


But we already knew that one of Kennedy's predecessors, undercover cop Jim Boyling, had been arrested as an activist and been prosecuted under his false identity. (Truth, whole truth, nothing but the truth?).

This week we learned that Boyling had earlier been on a hunt saboteur action that ended in arrests, and he had supplied a witness statement for the defence. (In a poetic twist, the sabbers' lawyer was Kier Starmer, who these days is the Director of Public Prosecutions who ordered the Rose report).

What's interesting is that in that case the prosecution declared that they were witholding certain evidence. We still don't know what it was but the only obvious answer is that the 'sensitive' documents showed that the activist Jim Sutton was actually the police officer Jim Boyling.

If that's right then the CPS definitely knew about Boyling, and about undercover officers among activists, at that time. Which means that when Boyling was prosecuted later on, the CPS knew who he was yet it got waved through.

One of Boyling's contemporaries, Pete Black, says that prosecutions under false identities were commonplace in order to build the credibility of undercover officers.

This means that there are many other cases like the Ratcliffe one where the prosecution has pertinent evidence that mitigated or even exonerated the defendants, yet they witheld it.


The Director of Public Prosecutions, Kier Starmer, went on Newsnight last night to defend the Rose report's weapons-grade whitewash. He said that there was no need to go back through all the prosecutions involving undercover officers. Instead, he would look at any cases that concerned people bring to him.

He knows full well nobody can do that, it's yet another shutdown whitewash tactic. How can anyone know what cases to suggest if we don't know who the secret police officers are?

Either the CPS has to get a list of the spy cops and examine all cases, or they have to publish a list of the cops' names so we can say which cases we saw them in.


These enquiries and reports - despite all the evidence incontrovertibly proving otherwise - are saying there is no systemic corruption. They are a denial that there has been decades of this political policing. They are decoys to keep us from asking a larger question about what the mission has been and how far it has gone.

Beyond that there is a larger question still - who invented this role? Did the police invent it for themselves and the prosecutors and politicians keep nodding it through? Did they sit down and do it together? Or was it invented by politicians?

For such a large and long-running scandal, during this extraordinary past twelve months the politicians have been deafeningly quiet.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

sweets for my sweet, twit for my twitter

Just to point out that I've got a Twitter account, @MerrickBadger.

It has notifications on the increasingly rare occasions when I publish a blog post, plus some personal life idle thoughts, and mostly (so far) it's been political stuff on current events.

There's a wee grey button in the sidebar if you want to follow me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

mark kennedy's thatcher tears

Margaret Thatcher was clearly choked up and her eyes welled with tears as she left Downing Street for the last time. Some political observers remarked that this was evidence of her having common humanity after all.

But to only cry for your own loss of power, status and income after despoiling communities and instigating brutal political crackdowns without a glimmer of remorse, well, that actually proves your complete lack of common humanity.

This is not the same as crocodile tears, so needs a different name. As it's not a unique phenomenon perhaps we should call every instance of it Thatcher tears.

Last night, a year after he was uncovered by the activists he had infiltrated for seven years, undercover cop Mark Kennedy starred in a Channel 4 documentary (it can be watched online here, at least for now). In it he said how wonderful the activists had been to him day in day out for years on end and how he feels bad having shopped them by the dozen. If that were true and he had a conscience as you or I understand it, he would have ended his mission years earlier.

After he left the police, he came back to the activists under his real name because he missed the camaraderie, he said. In fact, he'd set up a private spy firm and returned to continue his infiltration. This explained his sudden interest in animal rights, an odd turn of events for a meat eater. He continued spying and lying even without police instructions. He would still be doing it now had he not been caught by suspicious friends.

That he kept working as part of the darkest police mission after he saw the routine brutality of the police on protests - even getting hospitalised by them himself - shows a man in love with power rather than morality. For several years after his beating, he was instrumental in organising similar police war parties on subsequent protests.

To see him on TV saying how great his victims were, and portray himself as the biggest victim of all, is as stark a case of Thatcher tears as can be.

He says he feels guilty about betraying people. Yet he was happy to do it for as long as the cash kept coming in. Jim Bliss likened him to 'Judas pretending to be Jesus'. But Judas started out as a disciple. Kennedy was only ever there because he'd had the pieces of silver up front, and then went looking for more people to hand over to the crucifiers on his own initiative.

He said the activists really cared for him and loved him. Except, of course, they didn't. They cared about a man who didn't exist. They didn't love him any more than the Anti Nazi League would love a secret Klansman in their midst.


He talks of the people who exposed him as dignified and said he didn't feel threatened by them. Funny that earlier this year he told the Guardian the meeting was 'hugely menacing', and his earlier Mail on Sunday story said it was a 'terrifying kangaroo court' and the front page headline said I FEAR FOR MY LIFE.

He still claims to have only had two sexual relationships with activists - which even the fawning voiceover clearly didn't believe - and says he was in love. Yet when asked if it was abuse as the women did not give informed consent, he crumples and does not deny it.

Both he and the film makers refer numerous times to the four year relationship. They say it was underway by the time of the Icelandic dam campaign of summer 2005 and continued until he was outed in October 2010. Kennedy and the film crew are unable or unwilling to count to five, an indicator of the level of clarity and accuracy in the programme as a whole.

An anonymous undercover cop said that he couldn't be expected to 'live like a monk' for seven years. A man like Kennedy who is frequently returning home to visit his wife and kids is not in that position, though. Incidentally, in the film his marriage continued until he was outed in the press. In previous interviews he said the marriage broke down years ago.

The film makers not only share his poor numeracy but also his attitude towards the truth. Near the end they said that not one activist would participate in the film. Earlier this year they contacted many. After a few weeks, despite having being told in very stern terms to shove it, they contacted some of them again offering them anonymous contributions and saying that others were already co-operating. Using lies to make a vanity film about a liar. You've got to admire the neat consistency of approach there.

Much was made of his arrest at the Ratcliffe power station action in April 2009 and how dropping charges against him made it obvious he was a cop. In real life, 114 people were arrested and bailed. About half of them had no further contact from the police. Were they all suspected of being cops too then? Around 60 were recalled for interview, including Kennedy, after which charges were brought against just 26. Charges are frequently inexplicably dropped against activists. It is not an alarm bell.

He said his role was not to inform on individual people, yet this is completely untrue. Documents disclosed to Ratcliffe defendants show that he was given a short list of named activists to keep tabs on that day. Is seems scarcely credible that his other orders were not along similar lines.

He said he didn't want the publicity. If I didn't want publicity, I don't think I would hire the world's most notorious publicity agent Max Clifford to get me on the front of the Mail on Sunday dressed like Alan Partridge's golfing partner, followed by a five figure sum for being in a documentary about me not wanting publicity.

Amongst the big lies were many small ones. He was described as a 'committed vegan', a point he reiterated in the sycophantically filtered webchat after the show (seriously, was there someone at a computer in Max Clifford's office with the word 'brave' in the clipboard?), yet he never even pretended to be vegan.

Why would they put in such a pointless lie, unless he is a man who genuinely cannot distinguish between truth and falsehood?

He appears to have spent so long in the role of agreer to those around him, surfing the moment, that he not only doesn't know what he thinks but can't even keep track of what he does.

He plainly has no idea why he did what he did, nor who he is. He has a personality disorder that was cultivated and exploited by his bosses, just as they did it to other officers before, just as they're doing it to Kennedy's successors right now. To them, Kennedy and his ilk are just grist to the mill and the legion of people psychologically and sexually abused are irrelevant collateral damage.


The police refused to comment on Kennedy specifically, but they propped up Jon Murphy from the Association of Chief Police Officers. Despite its public body sounding name, ACPO is an unaccountable private company that was responsible for deploying Kennedy and other undercover cops.

Murphy said that intimate relationships 'shouldn't happen', yet we know that most of the exposed undercovers had them, often having several.

One of them, Bob Lambert, went on to run undercover operations and was in charge of deploying officers who had relationships. If he knew the danger and thought it a bad idea, surely he would have made sure it didn't happen. From the evidence we have, it seems more likely that he encouraged it as a way to ingratiate.

Murphy says undercover cops lie, but they do it 'within the bounds of the law'. Yet this has never been tested. What about the cops who were prosecuted, who stood up in court swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, before giving evidence from someone who didn't exist? What about those sexual partners who have a legal right to privacy and a family life? What about the baton-charged protesters who have a right of free assembly?


A man moves in next door to you. He is friendly and helpful and shares your interests. Over the years you become close, going on family holidays together, he babysits for your kids, you eat at each other's houses. Then seven years in you find out that he only moved in so he could get close to you in order to film himself abusing your children. More, he did it not out of any compulsion but because a gang of film distributors paid him to do it. But when they stopped paying him, he carried on making the films, selling them freelance until you caught him at it.

When you discover what he's done he is ostracised, his life ruined. The inner void of that abuser warrants some serious counsel and guidance, but he cannot be viewed as the main victim. He chose this. Those he abused did not.

However, neither can he be viewed as the real villain. His hands did the work, but the true evil is in those who sent him in; they run an army of abusers, knowing lives will be shattered, sitting back in the shadows with all of the power and money and none of the risk.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

two cover ups for the price of one

To briefly recap: Bernard Hogan-Howe's report said Mark Kennedy was a one-off rogue and the police would be fine watching themselves. At the last minute the report was pulped when it was revealed that one officer, Jim Boyling, had been prosecuted under his false identity, even testifying and being present in meetings between activists and their lawyers.

Then it came out that Boyling was not the only one. When his boss, Bob Lambert, had been an undercover officer he too had been prosecuted.

Hogan-Howe either hadn't looked into his subject at all and had simply made some stuff up, or else he knew full well that Kennedy's actions were sanctioned, and wrote a whitewash report of deliberate lies. Given Hogan-Howe's position as chief of the Metropolitan Police, the force that runs the undercover infiltrator officers, I think we can guess which answer is correct.

You'd think being so glaringly shown up would have taught them a little humility, perhaps even inclined them towards a sense of honesty and justice. Think again. Only a week after the shocking revelations that forced the climbdown, Hogan-Howe came out fighting, telling the Metropolitan Police Authority on Thursday that being prosecuted and giving evidence under oath using a false identity, lying about your involvement in the incident before the court, is absolutely fine.

There's no law that says it can't happen. The fact that someone has concealed their identity doesn't mean the crime didn't happen. In absolute terms, the criminal law does not make a crime of it. If you are dealing with more serious crimes, we have to seek all options.

The 'more serious crime' Jim Boyling was prosecuted for was a brief peaceful occupation of an office. In Lambert's case it was leafletting outside a shop.

With even more gall, considering last week's proof that his inquiry was a sham, Hogan-Howe has launched two more internal inquiries. One will look into how many times undercover police officers have been prosecuted under their fake identities. Another, headed by the Met's deputy assistant commissioner Mark Simmons, will look into 'a range of issues' about undercover policing.

In other news, Alex Ferguson has decided to counter Manchester United's recent dip in form by appointing himself referee for every remaining game this season. He has decreed that matches will be played without spectators or any officials from the opposition's team being present, and no cameras will be allowed.

Friday, October 28, 2011

who defends the indefensible?

Bob Lambert's apology cannot be trusted, partly because of the omissions (why is he not sorry for the other officers he deployed?) and partly because of its implausibility. The idea that his infiltration of London Greenpeace was a mere stepping stone on to more serious threats is nonsense, given the way his department clearly targeted numerous groups similar to London Greenpeace as an end in itself.

By saying that other officers didn't do anything wrong, he portrays himself as one rogue officer making, ahem, 'mistakes'. You know, like all those other one-off rogues he worked with and commanded. His explanation and apology, if they get believed, are not only helpful to his present career but also to the police's attempted narrative.

Two months ago Radio 4 broadcast a documentary called Living With Secrets that featured an interview with an unnamed ex-undercover officer. They perpetuated the fiction that what the undercover officers did - including, we now know, Bob Lambert - was against orders. The officer said that in their job the key thing was

never get too involved, not too personally involved. Definitely don't get romantically involved.

Specifically asked about Mark Kennedy and his sexual relationships with the activists he was sent to infiltrate, the officer said

It's a different time and a different age. As far as I'm concerned, that is dreadful.

Who was the anonymous officer disowning acts committed by Lambert and co? Compare the voices.

The BBC interview

Bob Lambert

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

one bad apple gets worse

There is even more to the story of ex-undercover cop Bob Lambert than we thought.

Not only are there revelations that he was prosecuted under his false identity, he is yet another of them who had a serious long term sexual relationship whilst undercover.

Lambert's girlfriend wasn't even an activist, she was merely a random citizen whose emotional wellbeing Lambert decided to sacrifice to help with his cover. He even had his Special Branch colleagues raid her house to puff up his image as a radical activist.

Lambert has come forth and apologised.

I was deployed as an undercover Met special branch officer to identify and prosecute members of Animal Liberation Front who were then engaged in incendiary device and explosive device campaigns against targets in the vivisection, meat and fur trades.

'Incendiaries', 'explosives', makes you picture bloodied corpses being removed after IRA bombs in shopping centres doesn't it?

Most ALF devices were overtly stated as economic sabotage, almost always in empty premises and planted overnight, all the better to have serious damage done by the time anyone came in the following morning. As a tactic it is certainly more serious than leafleting and linking arms across doorways, but it is still just damage to stuff.

How many members of how many peaceful groups can have their trust in humanity shattered police officers trying to prevent property damage?

As part of my cover story so as to gain the necessary credibility to become involved in serious crime, I first built a reputation as a committed member of London Greenpeace, a peaceful campaigning group.

I apologise unreservedly for the deception I therefore practiced on law abiding members of London Greenpeace.

If that's the case, can we take it that he never reported back on what London Greenpeace were doing and thereby had their actions undermined?

By implication, was Mark Kennedy also on a career path to some big bad group, and just accidentally handed in seven years of notebooks detailing the meetings and plans and lives of environmental activists?

Peter Black's deployment saw him infiltrate the Anti-Nazi League before moving on, presumably to the groups whose threat to public safety warranted all the intrusion.

I began targeting the groups set up to win justice for those who had died in police custody or had been victims of racism, it was clear that what the loved ones of the deceased wanted was justice.*

Lambert is holding to the classic 'one bad apple' rogue officer idea, applying it to himself. Yet is is clear that other officers behaved in the same way. Indeed, Lambert was the superior officer in charge of Peter Black's deployment in justice campaigns.

I also apologise unreservedly for forming false friendships with law abiding citizens and in particular forming a long term relationship with [Name of person removed] who had every reason to think I was a committed animal rights activist and a genuine London Greenpeace campaigner.

It is the intimate personal relationships that are perhaps the most shocking aspect of the undercover police scandal. A person you had let into your life, who moved in with you, who had integrated into your family, was in fact there as a paid agent of the state to undermine the things you hold most dear. It must do incalculable damage.

Many of these people were in their 20s and 30s, a time when most people form very long term relationships. Not only did the police put fake relationships in, they kept real relationships out. Every year spent with your Special Branch officer is a year not spent finding and forming bonds with somebody who does actually love you. Even without the profound emotional impact of your partner turning out to be a copper, the loss of time that can never be regained is in itself an horrific attack on a person's personal life.

Lambert apologises, for whatever that is worth. Where's his apology for sending Peter Black and Jim Boyling in to have sexual relationships? Or would that just demolish his 'it was just me, not a calculated plan, honest guv' (fairy)storyline?

Daud Abdullah, who has worked with Lambert in recent years, dismisses all the Lambert revelations as 'smears' with the implication that it's all convenient for our neocon government.

When you have proof of something and the accused admits it and apologises, it's not a smear. It's a fact. Alleging that the anarchists from London Greenpeace who found Lambert are stooges of the government, now that's a smear.

the vast majority of Met special branch undercover officers never made the mistakes I made, have no need to apologise for anything, and I deepy regret having tarnished their illustrious, professional reputation.

His use of the word 'mistake' is a tad devious. It has more than one meaning - an innocent accidental act, or a knowing act that in retrospect was unwise, perhaps because it didn't let you get away with your misdeed. He can only mean it in the latter sense, but an articulate academic used to manipulating people is surely aware that the glow from the other meaning's connotations will make him seem a nicer guy than he is. This stuff was not a 'mistake' in the sense that anyone should be absolved of.

The two 'mistakes' he fesses up to are forming false friendships and having sexual relations with activists. Most other officers didn't do that, right Bob?

There are documented reports of this being true of five of the seven officers named in the Guardian's series of reports (and who knows if it's yet to come out about either or both of the others).

So, given that very high strike rate for the uncovered officers, how many never made these 'mistakes'? Earlier this year ex undercover cop Liam Thomas - not one of the seven - said

I remember one senior detective saying to me, 'Have you embedded yourself in the community yet?' It was tongue in cheek, but I left with the impression that had I shagged around for intelligence, it would have been OK.

Given that Lambert not only did such things but was then the superior officer in charge of Jim Boyling and Pete Black when they did the same, it's clear he had no problem with it at all. Indeed, you've got to wonder if he's the 'senior detective' Liam Thomas mentions.

I offer my new book Countering al Qaeda in London: Police and Muslims in Partnership as evidence of my ability to build genuine trust with groups campaigning for social justice and as a signal of my good faith moving forward.

Plug plug plug. The gratuitous hawking of his book is, by itself, proof that Lambert has no shame and, just as in his days undercover, can only see his career advantage rather than the impacts he is having on others.

He is frantically trying to retain his credibility and save his job. Sorry Bob, but spending the last five years working on one aspect of anti-racist work does not absolve you for 25 years of actively attacking it.

Who has done a better job of giving space for fascists to rise in the last twenty years, Combat 18 or Special Branch? If Lambert and Boyling had not been doing their work, how much of the BNP's increased popularity have been prevented? How many justice campaigns would have borne earlier and more valuable fruit?

I'm not saying that sinners can never repent. Realising you were wrong, saying so and trying to make amends is honourable. Sitting there hoping nobody will notice and only admitting it once tenacious activists have tracked you down and embarrassed you is not honourable. It is the desperate arse-covering of a self-serving fuckwad who has made a career out of duplicity, a man who is still trying to lie his way out of culpability for his actions.


* Peter Black is referred to in the article as 'Officer A'. The anonymous interview from March last year was actually the first publicity this affair got, though it went almost entirely unnoticed until Mark Kennedy was outed. Post-Kennedy, Black dropped the anonymity and is now the most outspoken of the former cops, a title it's not hard to earn.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

covering up the cover-up

The first of the raft of the state's self-investigations into the Mark Kennedy affair was due to report this week.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary had looked into the deployment of Kennedy and undercover officers. Advance notice had been given that it had found that Kennedy had been off-mission and was not properly supervised. It said that independent oversight by people outside the police would not be necessary. It was written by Bernard Hogan-Howe, who has just been appointed as head of the Metropolitan police.

So then, the police look into police misconduct and find that nobody outside the police need be involved in future. In other news, a gang of convicted child abusers say they don't need CRB checks when applying for jobs.

The HMIC report was dramatically pulled at the last minute after (yet more) revelations that Kennedy was by no means a rogue officer. In the late 1990s undercover cop Jim Boyling was prosecuted under his false identity and perjured himself in the process. As a supposed defendant, this officer was in meetings where activists met with their lawyers to discuss their case.

In the same case a police officer offered John Jordan, another of the defendants, helpful testimony if he'd become an informant. Jordan refused and, entirely coincidentally I'm sure, was the only one of the group to be convicted.

From Mark Kennedy's intelligence reports that were later disclosed to Ratcliffe defendants, we know he was recording things in minute detail, right down to people's biscuit preferences. The HMIC report's conclusion that he was going astray and that his superiors didn't know what this £5,000 a week asset was doing is just laughable.

Twenty of the Ratcliffe protesters were convicted and another six were going to court when the revelations forced the trial to collapse. It was not Kennedy himself who witheld the evidence which exonerated the Ratcliffe protesters. It was his superior officers and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Another of the Kennedy reports looks into these 'failings' by Nottinghamshire police and the suppression by the CPS of that evidence.

Sir Christopher Rose, who sat in the court of appeal until 2006, will head the independent inquiry set up by the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, who acknowledged "growing concerns" over the claims.

Rose, as Chief Surveillance Commissioner, has been responsible for scrutinising the surveillance activities of the police and other official bodies for five years.

So, as Chief Surveillance Commissioner, Rose had the ultimate sign-off over the deployment of undercover officers, including Kennedy. This isn't just the same body investigating itself, it's the same individual.

The various reports are an attempt to cover up the cover-up. They know exactly what the undercover officers did. Bernard Hogan-Howe's report could, I suppose, try to use the excuse that it didn't look into its subject at all before coming to a conclusion and making recommendations. Hardly tenable from the new chief of the country's largest force.

The police know full well that the other officers acted in the same way as Kennedy (and in some respects worse, what with being prosecuted under false identities and breaching lawyer/client confidentiality). Those deployments and the torrent of whitewash reports coming down the pipeline are not just institutional corruption. They're evidence of an institution that appears incapable of little other than corruption.

When denials and cover-ups fail, the powerful sacrifice those whose hands did the dirty work. Even in cases infinitely more serious and extreme than anything done by the UK's undercover police, the pattern of the powerful is identical.

The American military's use of torture at Abu Ghraib, a matter of policy practiced and refined at the Bagram base in Afghanistan before they brought it to Iraq, was depicted as an isolated incident of rogue personnel. No officers were jailed, only a handful of low ranking soldiers. A generation earlier, after the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, a solitary Second Lieutenant was the only person convicted.

As their actions are dragged out into the daylight, those who devised and ran the UK's undercover political policing are letting Kennedy be dragged out too, cutting their ties to him so they can remain in the shadows.

Kennedy is the most recent of the seven officers so far exposed. His behaviour tallies exactly with his forerunners. What he did, and what was done with his intelligence and evidence, was clearly part of an ongoing strategy.

No activist I know was surprised by Ian Tomlinson's death; the police dished out such life-threatening attacks thousands of times that day, and thousands of times a day on dozens of other occasions. But nobody I know was surprised at the police lies and cover up that followed either. Even when you have it all on camera they still try to deny it. If Delroy Smellie can be acquitted, any cop can.

But given the huge implications of Jim Boyling's prosecution, and newly-exposed Bob Lambert seeming to have done the same thing, whilst a third ex-undercover officer says that it was 'part of their cover' to be prosecuted, the police had to bin the HMIC report a couple of hours before it was due to be published and move to a higher grade of fob-off.

In place of the HMIC report, the police have asked the Independent Police Complaints Commission to look into Boyling's actions.

This is the same IPCC who ruled that the police did nothing wrong when they killed Jean Charles de Menezes, the same IPCC who were happy to parrot the police lies about Ian Tomlinson being in a place with no CCTV, having no contact with police and dying of a heart attack. Their reports are merely second-level cover-up.

There can be no credibility in self-investigation or reports by puppet bodies, and no believable outcome that doesn't see senior officers and politicians not just named but convicted.

It is clear that there has been a large scale systematic project of political policing, given priority over any considerations for its legality, its cost or, most importantly, the impact on the citizens it deceives and abuses.

Who devised this? Was it ordered by politicians, or did the police make it up for themselves? Which politicians knew about it and gave it their continuing approval? Throughout wild outpourings of truth about undercover policing in the last year, members of the government past and present have stayed conspicuously silent.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

yet another one bad apple

There's the old urban myth about glaziers who go round bricking windows at night then drop their card through the door the next morning. In Apocalypse Now the medics help soldiers of both sides, drawing the comment that 'we cut them in half with a machine gun and give them a Band Aid'.

Bob Lambert is a liberal academic who pushes for greater racial harmony and acceptance of multiculturalism. Here he is speaking at a Unite Against Fascism conference a couple of weeks ago, here he is writing for Al-Jazeera, lefty journal New Statesman and being praised in the Guardian.

For more than 25 years, Bob Lambert was a special branch undercover officer, actively undermining the work of protest groups including anti-racist groups.

Lambert's biography on his academic webpage, presumably self-written, describes his time in the police force working

in counter-terrorism, gaining operational experience of all forms of violent political threats to the UK

Under the alias of Bob Robinson, he infiltrated London Greenpeace in the 1980s. Not to be confused with Greenpeace International with whom they have nothing in common but half a name, London Greenpeace was a long established direct action group of an eco-anarchist bent whose public activities mainly involved a lot of leafleting.

They were perhaps best known for the McLibel case - after handing out What's Wrong With McDonald's leaflets they were prosecuted for libel. The multinational spent thousands of pounds per day on lawyers whilst the defendents represented themselves in the longest trial in English history.

During the trial it was revealed that the group was heavily infiltrated. Indeed, meetings occurred where the activists were in the minority and most people in the room were either undercover cops, private detectives hired by McDonald's, or a second group of detectives hired to spy on the first lot.

After his time with London Greenpeace, Lambert moved to backroom stuff, overseeing officers deployed in other groups. He put Jim Boyling into those well-known terrorists Reclaim The Streets.

More pertinently, he put 'Pete Black' into anti-racist groups for four years. Having had a stint obstructing the Anti-Nazi League's attempts to prevent the rise of the BNP, Black then infiltrated and undermined people fighting for justice for under-investigated black deaths such as the Stephen Lawrence campaign.

The dignified tenacity of the Lawrence family and those around them eventually led to an admission of 'institutional racism' from the Metropolitan police, and serious subsequent changes to the acceptability of racism in the force. But all this was after they'd done their best to scupper the campaign.

Where was the terrorism being countered? Where was the threat of political violence? The only threat they posed was to the credibility of the police by drawing attention to their incompetence and racism.

As we've seen with the Mark Kennedy case, groups are not infiltrated according to their threat to public safety but in proportion to their political unacceptability to the status quo. And nothing draws the police's attention and ire quite as much as an attack on police credibility.

This is why senior officers ordered constables' statements to be altered at Hillsborough disaster.

Last two pages require amending. These are his own feelings. He also states that PCs were sat down crying when the fans were carrying the dead and injured. This shows they were organised and we were not. Have [the PC] rewrite the last two pages excluding points mentioned.

Like all concentrations of power, the police's maintenance of their position becomes paramount, other considerations are secondary where they exist at all. Lambert - whose police work garnered an MBE - is the seventh undercover cop to be exposed, compounding a body of incontrovertible evidence that the same methods were used against the same kind of groups for more than thirty years.

Knowing it is indefensible, the various self-investigatory reports will try to hang their underlings out to dry and tell us Mark Kennedy was a rogue officer straying off-mission. When all seven exposed officers behaved more or less identically, the police need to tell us how many it takes to prove that far from following orders, this was strategy. And more than that, who devised, approved and ordered this political policing?

Saturday, October 08, 2011

the best human rights money can buy

Earlier this week Theresa May donned the jackboots essential for any Home Secretary to wear whilst speaking, got up on her hind legs and railed against the Human Rights Act to the Tory Party conference.

She singled out the use of the Act's guarantee of a right to family life being used to prevent deportations, citing a case where courts decided someone

cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – because he had a pet cat

She was telling the truth - she had not made it up. The head of UKIP, twitchy right armed freemarket fundamentalist Nigel Farrage, made it up two months ago.

Farrage told a meeting that courts had decided somebody

should not be deported because... and I really am not making this up ... because he had a pet cat

This is, as is now established, bullshit. But the right wing campaign against the Human Rights Act rolls on.

The UK is a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights. Any breach of the rights granted by the Convention can be taken to the European Court of Human Rights.

Despite what the Mail and Express tel you, none of this has anything to do with the European Union. The Convention and the courts that adjudicate on cases arising from it were set up and run by the Council of Europe, an institution older and far larger than the EU.

But here's the thing that I'm not seeing said elsewhere; the repeal of the Human Rights Act would not alter our human rights. The Convention would still stand, and the judgement of its court would still be binding.

The Human Rights Act did not give us more rights, it only made the principles of the Convention enforceable in our domestic courts. This means that people can get Legal Aid for cases instead of needing the vast heaps of personal cash required to take a case to the European Court.

Rather like the way the government (including the Labour Party) says we should have the right to strike but only if we don't use it, they are now saying we can have human rights but only if enforcement is priced out of our reach.

Once again this cabinet of millionaires moves to horde the most important resources as the exclusive preserve of the rich.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

comparitive justice (slight return)

An alcoholic is released from Strangeways prison near central Manchester. He immediately spends his money on tobacco and downs a bottle of sherry, and as he gets to the city centre he sees the aftermath of a riot. He goes into a smashed-in Krispy Kreme and helps himself to a box of donuts. A horde of riot cops turn up and arrest him, and he gets 16 months in jail.

16 months is exactly what MP Jim Devine got for committing over £8,000 of expenses fraud in 2008-09 (after the expenses scandal was front page news) and then lying about it in court. He served a quarter of his sentence. MP David Chaytor got 18 months for a £22,000 fraud, and served less than a third of it.

Looting a plasma screen telly and only fessing up when you're caught is fine, just pay the cost of it and we'll say no more. If you're an expense-fiddling MP, that is. If you're an urban youth, that'll be several years in jail.

The majority of those charged in the aftermath of the riots have been held on remand which, as with Jonnie Marbles, is a way of jailing people no matter what they're sentenced to. One man is sat in jail today awaiting sentence for stealing an ice cream. No violence, no suggestion of property damage, just taking an ice cream.

You don't even need to steal anything. Ursula Nevin slept through the riots but next day was wearing a pair of shorts looted by her flatmate. She just got five months in jail, away from her two young children.

As Andrew Bowman says in the excellent Manchester Mule,

In 2006, the Home Office’s Sentencing Advisory Panel issued advice that shoplifters – the most common criminal in the UK – should never be sent to jail unless involved in violent attacks on staff, using children to steal, or working in organized gangs. It is clear that many of those now facing hefty jail sentences were none of the above.

Meanwhile, people are four years for drunkenly suggesting on Facebook - with a 'lol' at the end - a riot that didn't take place.

For the cost of sending two young men to jail for four years for setting up a Facebook event that didn't cause a riot, you could employ four youth workers for four years working with up to 200 of the most alienated young people per year (800 young people in 4 years). Or pay for a full time youth advice service in eight large secondary schools (benefitting around 10,000 young people) for a year. Or you could employ 24 young people on £15,000 for a year at a time when youth unemployment has reached over 20%.

Beyond the jail terms, families of those convicted of riot-related offences face collective punishment as councils threaten to evict them. Sounds far fetched? It's already happening.

We have indeed "descended into a form of collective madness" over the rioting. Laurie Penny, as is her habit, nails it.

Freedom of speech and equality before the law aren't there just to be indulged when everything is quiet, and tossed aside as soon as teenagers start ransacking Evans Cycles. It is at moments of national crisis that human rights are most important, because it is at such moments that these rights tend to be called into question, although rarely with such bombast as by the British politicians and commentators who openly called for the Human Rights Act to be rescinded in the wake of last week's riots.

It is barely six months since David Cameron was condemning Hosni Mubarak for human rights abuses against Egyptian protesters that included shutting down the internet. This week, the Prime Minister was congratulated by China for proposing eerily similar measures in last Thursday's emergency House of Commons debate. "The US and Britain used to criticise developing countries for curbing freedom of speech," commented Chinese state media website Global Times. "Britain's new attitude will help appease the quarrels between East and West over the future management of the internet."

When China approves of your digital rights strategy, you know you're heading in a dangerous direction.

Friday, August 05, 2011

comparitive justice

Jonnie Marbles tries to throw shaving foam at Rupert Murdoch. He gets six weeks in jail.

Two men attack TV presenter Fiona Bruce with aerosols of silly string. They get £80 fixed penalty fines.

Marbles' judge, Daphne Wickham (the same judge who acquitted Delroy Smellie, the G20 cop filmed slapping a woman in the face), said that in sentencing him she had taken into account the fear of injury Mr Murdoch would have experienced. I wonder who had the greater fear of their attackers, given that for years Bruce has been dealing with a stalker who breaches the restraining order to keep away from her?

Contrary to the BBC's headline in the Bruce article, a fixed penalty notice is not a fine, it's something much less than that. A fine is a sentence after somebody has been found guilty. Police sometimes issue a Caution instead, whereby the accused person admits guilt and gets a temporary criminal record lasting five years. A fixed penalty notice is a flat fee for alleged minor anti-social behaviour; it does not admit guilt and is not a criminal record.

Marbles, meanwhile, immediately appealed against his sentence. His judge decided to undermine it by sending him to jail while the appeal is pending, so even if it quashes the custodial sentence he will have spent the time incarcerated and not be due any compensation for it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

go johnnie go

A pie in the face works best when the target is well known as somebody who is pompous, arrogant and thinks they're above the rest of us, someone with too much power, someone who will be riled that any lowling dared to challenge them.

As such, Peter Mandelson was an ideal target. Jeremy Clarkson was less so because, whilst he's a rampantly egotistical fuckweasel of the highest order, he was bound to take it in good spirits.

Frankly, I cannot think of a better target than Rupert Murdoch, target of a pie attack by Johnnie Marbles (who explains it himself here).

The venomous bile he's spewed into our lives, the racism, sexism and homophobia he has promoted and entrenched, the countless thousands of lives he has permanently ruined to get one day's titillating story, the governments he's hijacked, enfeebled and bent to his will. Really, who would weep for him ever, let alone being unhurt by foam?

And yet they pretend to. The Daily Mirror fumed that the outrageous news of yet more City banker bonuses were buried because Murdoch's pieing got the front page, and this is somehow Marbles' fault. As if Murdoch's appearance at the Select Committees wasn't going to be the front page anyway.

Had Marbles not lobbed his custard (so to speak), should we blame Tom Wilson for hiding the banker bonuses by having Murdoch come into parliament that day? Or is this a paper desperately trying to find outrage somewhere but knowing that, really, you can't stick up for Murdoch because we all hate the fucker and he needs less of a pie in the face and something more like a trial for crimes against humanity?

It's not just the usual press gripers though. On Facebook, Billy Bragg posted

We finally get an opportunity to see Rupert Murdoch for what he really is - a frail 80 year old who is out of touch with the day to day running of his empire - on what must be the worse day in News Corps history. Then Jonny Marbles steps up with his pie prank and gives the The Sun, The Times, Sky News and Fox News the chance make Murdoch look like the victim. Thanks a lot, you idiot.

So Fox News were poised to report it properly were they? They hadn't already drafted their portrait of Murdoch as the victim of aggressive axe-grinding politicians?

Tailoring our action to what won't make Fox News and the Sun dislike us is not going to get us far. Doubly so when the target is the Sun's owner. For floundering unthought-throughness, Bragg exceeds even the Mirror.

Direct action is rarely popular with the media. They tend to call it anti-democratic when it is actually almost always about plugging gaps in democracy, reining in or smacking up against power that is far in excess of what is fair and just. Murdoch bestrides the earth designing our tax regimes and picking our leaders. He came into the select committee, once again made the politicians dance for him, then flew away in a private jet.

Jonnie Marbles is the first one to stick something back at him, to give Murdoch's victims a laugh at their tormentor's expense, for who knows how long. But at the end of the day it made no real difference either way. Contrary to what Billy Bragg and co allege, the world is not awash with a spontaneous wave of tender love for Rupert Fucking Murdoch. Neither did it derail the questioning - it's not as if without the pie Murdoch might've spilled the beans on the corrupt police and politicians on his secret payroll.

It did not profoundly shake Murdoch's power. But then neither will any number of attacks be they desserts or select committees. And that was part of the point. It did, for just for one moment, make the self-appointed king into a clown.

Monday, July 18, 2011

they're all in it together

So the other day I mentioned that the attention given to News International employees shouldn't distract us from the guilt shared by politicians and, especially, the police who colluded; that this wasn't just lowly constables accessing police files but something much more institutional.

After the police killed Ian Tomlinson in April 2009 they put out a string of lies to try to get away with it. They claimed to have had 'no contact' with Tomlinson, that their officers tried to revive him whilst protesters threw a hail of bottles (in fact protesters tried to get an ambulance for him whilst the police refused to speak to medical staff). They had a dodgy autopsy done saying it was all natural causes. They had the 'Independent' Police Complaints Commission say there was no CCTV in the area, and after people published photos of the cameras they amended that to say they 'weren't working'.

And they did almost get away with it. Then the Guardian published the footage of the police assault. The response was to go round to the Guardian's offices and (glove puppeting an IPCC official) tell them to take it off the website. Anything to keep themselves in the clear.

Yesterday the head of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Paul Stephenson, resigned because of the phone hacking scandal (and Assistant Commissioner John Yates looks set to follow today). Like a thousand guilty coppers before him, he knows if you resign there's no real investigation and you keep your pension.

Press reports made much of the fact that Stephenson had a £12,000 stay in a health spa that the owners had 'forgotten' to give him a bill for. It's easily done, my workplace is always doing twelve grand's worth of work for a solitary client and then and absent mindedly neglecting to ask for payment. And a copper taking a massive freebie is in no way suspicious at all.

The spa and the Met both employed Neil Wallis, ex-Deputy Editor of News Of The World, to do their PR. Both sides say this is a coincidence and they didn't know about it. Stephenson now says the real reason was that he should have told the Prime Minister that Wallis was implicated in the phone hacking scandal.

However, it's interesting that the resignations comes less than 48 hours after it was revealed that the toppest of the Met's top brass, including Stephenson himself, made not one but two intimidating visits to the Guardian to tell them that their coverage of the hacking scandal was exaggerated. They particularly disliked the claims that the police were in any way colluding in the hacking.

These visits came two months after they started employing Wallis. If they didn't know Wallis was implicated, and if they didn't know the full extent of the hacking and the police's integral part in it, then it's a bit of a coincidence and pretty poor detective work (especially for professional investigators). From here, it looks very like the same tactics used on the same newspaper to cover their guilt on the killing of Ian Tomlison.

Resignation is no substitute for prosecution and conviction. It's time for the police to start arresting one another.

The Times - a Murdoch paper glad of an opportunity to deflect blame - says today

Journalists who bribe policemen are indicative of a flawed industry. Policemen who can be bribed are indicative of a flawed state.

This is true, but ignores the fact that the media barons, politicians and police are all prongs on the same fork. They share the same aims and values, and seek to maintain the same powers for one another.

And, just as the police response to the final damburst of information about the Mark Kennedy/Ratcliffe affair was to throw some blame on to the Crown Prosecution Service, so Stephenson has lost no time in waving an accusatory finger at David Cameron. He points out that the Met's man Wallis had left the News of The World without a hint of impropriety, whereas Cameron's man Coulson - Wallis' boss - had been forced to resign because of the phone hacking scandal. The implication is that if Stephenson had to go, it counts doubly for Cameron.

We can dream, can't we? They didn't imprison Al Capone for the Valentines Day Massacre, they finally got him in jail for tax evasion. By the same token, I want to see Coulson go down, not for the phone hacking but for getting Cameron into power. But like the feds with Capone, I'll take whatever I can get.

That said, if there's one thing this last week has taught us it's that we can't tell what's coming. This story is *still* gathering pace and is finally beginning to properly bring the Tories and police into it.

Even if it doesn't bring Cameron down, it can certainly be his Dodgy Dossier moment, the point at which the wider public consciously understands that the leader is a duplicitous scumfuck and that the real power is held by a shady swarm of evil people around him whose names we don't know.

Friday, July 15, 2011

phone hacking and spinning the police

The phone hacking scandal has been amazing. One day there's a move to refer the takeover of BskyB to the Competition Commission that looks like an attempt to sweep it under the carpet till the fuss dies down, the next day the entire bid collapses.

This story is moving so fast - and every move making it worse for Murdoch and News Corp - that The Guardian have a live updates page, they way they do when they're reporting a trial or inquest.

Interestingly, the American end of this may still be barely beginning. If there is proof that News International paid police for information then it is against US law - as an American corporation it is bound by legislation not to bribe officials of any state. And if there is any proof of attempt to hack 9/11 victims and their families, it's game over for Murdoch.

Top marks to Billy Bragg for already releasing a song about it (free download here), with a major nod to the Scouse boycott of the Sun ever since their foul lies about the Hillsborough disaster.

Reflecting on it all, it strikes me that there are several parallels with the Mark Kennedy affair. A scandal was passed off as the act of one bad apple, a rogue that the bosses didn't know about. Then it becomes clear that it was endemic, a policy run from the top. Then beyond that, it becomes apparent that it was the product of the shared political values of the police and the organisations they work with.

The police kept quiet and covered their arses for as long as possible, then when that became untenable they leaked the Crown Prosecution Service's guilt in the Kennedy affair; similarly with the phone hacking they did a lalala fingers in the ears inquiry but now it's blown up they're busy telling us how evil News International have been all along.

There is a major difference though. The guilt in the Kennedy affair lies primarily with the police, whereas in the phone hacking it lies with News International. However, the police were the source of much of the initial seeds of information that led to stories. It appears around £100,000 was paid to officers, a few hundred quid at a time. News International should go down for that, but so should the officers.

If the journalist who wrote the stories on Jennifer Elliott - daughter of Denholm, found begging on the streets with drug problems and being an occasional sex worker - can tell Radio 4 that he feels his work contributed to her eventual suicide, then that culpability is shared by the police officer whose tip off instigated the story in return for a slender envelope of cash.

The family of Jean Charles de Menezes have written to the government urging them to ensure the inquiry into hacking covers the police's involvement. The fact that their phone numbers were on the hack list points the finger squarely at the police.

Given the baseless personal slurs about de Menezes that came out in the tabloids, the relationship was more than bent constables taking a bung from a low-level journo hacking to try to get a story. It is the kind of thing that comes from media management strategy at a high level.

It is certainly a scandal that a senior News of The World executive was working for the Metropolitan Police at the time when the Met were investigating the hacking. But what really caught my eye in the story was that the guy's police job existed at all.

Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of the tabloid, was paid more than £1,000 a day to work two days a month at Scotland Yard as a consultant to Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police commissioner.

You fucking what? £24,000+ of public money for a total of two weeks spin doctoring?

And Wallis' pay isn't the half of it.

Neil Wallis, who was questioned for several hours on Thursday, was employed as recently as last year as sick leave cover for the force's deputy director of public affairs

Presumably the actual Director of Public Affairs gets even more than the deputy.

Yet there are still people who say that the police do a good honest job with the resources they've got, people who deny the police are a political force who manipulate the media.

Like the Conservative Party leadership, the police are desperately wriggling at the moment, trying to hold News International at arms length. Yet it is plain that all of them share information, personnel and tactics, because they have shared values and a shared mission.

Friday, July 08, 2011

glastonbury 2011

Many people leave Glastonbury having not slept the night before after five days of excessive drink and drugs. Whilst that was true of me too, I was also among the much smaller number who arrived at the festival that way. That, as you can imagine, is a whole other story.

It was a muddy Glastonbury. But so what? It's not actually cold and as long as you've got wellies there's no problem. Walking is a bit tougher but there's just as much fun to be had. Anyone who says otherwise is a pathological grump.


Despite the lack of a Climate Camp this year, their field has been retained as the Tripod Stage with the same frontline political attitude, and amongst the politics there were performances from Get Cape Wear Cap Fly, Chumbawamba and a host of others. I loved the beardy folky band doing Minnie Riperton's Loving You.

It was there that Rabble Rousers - performance poetry triumverate of me, Danny Chivers and Claire Fauset - started off our input to the festival in the Thursday lunchtime sunshine. We began with about six people in front of us but it soon swelled. Everyone's on a bimble on the Thursday and keen to engage. The enthusiasm is matched by the paucity of stuff on the big stages, so stuff like the Tripod Stage and the Bandstand down in Babylon do really well.

And sure enough, cider in hand, we passed the bandstand as the Beau Bow Belles were in full swing. And I do mean swing. Hilarious, theatrical, quirky but underpinned by serious musicianly prowess - god their harmonies! - they're a proper festival band. Why the fuck aren't Madam Laycock and Her Dabeno Pleasures on the bandstand? They would go down a tropical storm.

A huge sweep around the site to the twisted Blade Runner dystopian weirdness of Shangri La, with daylight baring its scaffolding supports made it a bit like seeing the Wizard of Oz as a bloke pulling levers behind a curtain.

During the festival proper it was understandably empty in the day - one daytime band in the Snake Pit had three people watching, blatantly a mum, dad and girlfriend of band members - but on Thursday afternoon the goodtime seekers had congregated and Womp were belting out a manic ska party that made the anticipatory party energy just erupt into the humid sky.

The official schedule is stretching properly into Thursday now. With the increase in punters, Glastonbury keeps adding more acts over a longer period and new stages too. In that way, the festival gets better and better. All those whining turds on the Guardian comments talking about how mainstream it is and why would anyone want to go and watch Beyonce and Coldplay, they just betray their ignorance and can fuck right off. The Pyramid Stage may be the largest, but it has never been what the festival is about.

At, say, Cropredy Festival there's only the one stage so if you don't like what's on then you're stuffed. They guard against that by having Richard Thompson headline the Friday and Fairport Convention healdine the Sunday every year, but still. Being in a place where you can't escape Nik Kershaw is not my idea of fun.

There is seemingly a rite of passage at Glastonbury, loads of people camp within earshot of the Pyramid Stage their first time and then learn to get as far away as possible in future. Indeed, the Pyramid's proportion of the festival is diminishing with all these new stages coming in.


And really, that underground acoustic candlelit piano bar in the Dragon Field is proper, classic, weird, poor health and safety, rollicking festival lunacy.

You go in through a metre-wide concrete pipe into a room mostly underground about the length and height of a double decker bus, and about twice the width. Steeply banked benches run up either side and at the end bands play. They have no amplification so must get the audience to sing along if they're to be heard. When I went in a trad jazz outfit were doing Staying Alive. There is a candle chandelier and bootleg liquor for sale. As Pete The Temp said, it is a carnival of abandoned logic.

It's off the side of the Stone Circle field, at the furthest reaches of the site, and there must be many a pharmacologically altered munter-punter who wakes the next morning with no idea where they found it and starts to wonder if they imagined the whole thing.

I'd planned to see Jimmy Cliff on Friday. Saw him at Glastonbury a few years back and he was superb, piling through his immense repertoire - Many Rivers To Cross, Wonderful World Beautiful People, You Can Get It If You Really Want, The Harder They Come - with all the gravitas of an original reggae pioneer but also the luminous exuberant delivery of a soul singer. However there was a rumour - I always believe the rumours, they've led me to secret sets from Madness and Thom Yorke, and never been wrong - that the special guests on The Park were


The Park is a poorly laid out site. The stage faces a slope side on, so if you come in the bottom of the field you just can't see. We went round the top for Radiohead, mingled well down but still, it was too small a soundsystem for so large a crowd.

When you're listening to music in a fairly noisy car, you need to play things you know well so that your brain can fill in the gaps made by the engine noise. By the same token, Radiohead doing mostly very new stuff with a few In Rainbows tracks to a crowd who mostly couldn't hear it was a bit meh. Given how utterly transcendent they can be, how they make music into something others can't even allude to, it was odd to walk away none the richer.

Jimmy Cliff, meanwhile, had played a blinder including updating Vietnam to be Afghanistan over at West Holts. Incidentally, honourable mention should be made of


It's a more or less tasteless pear cider base into which they mix flavoured syrups. It tastes about as sickly and artificial as it sounds when drunk in an urban environment. But out there in the spliffing fields it is the best drink imaginable. Silly, fizzy pop that is somehow stronger than beer. Perfect for keeping you on an uneven keel, and in its way it contributes as much to the weekend as any Arcadia pyrotechnics, bump into a dear old mate, K-hole psychonautry, or blinding set from a band.

Nicely positioned at the side of West Holts field it's easy to get to the Brothers bar no matter who's on stage. West Holts, come to think of it, is sort of an anti-Park. The sound is loud and full no matter where you are, clear view of the stage for far more people than want it.

Anyway, from Radioheady underwhelm down to


They've headlined the Other Stage a couple of times and mates have always come back saying they were mindblowing. Unexpectedly, properly mindblowing.

They are not my favourite band by a long, long way. I respect their excellent taste but find them really derivative. You can so tell what records they're thinking of when you hear them. Not that that's so terrible. As Julian Cope said, rock n roll is a strange artform in that a facsimile is the real thing. Oasis are obvious, unoriginal and meaningless, but nobody can deny that they're a real rock n roll band. So, you know, total originality isn't a prerequisite for being great, but nonetheless it does separate the great from the godlike.

Primal Scream have been doing one of those classic album tours, playing the entirety of Screamadelica. And they came out and did it. And truly, minds were blown. It scooped everyone up and swirled them into the music. It opens with the pop euphoria of Movin On Up and is by turns trippy, euphoric, edgy, sweeping, and has such deep groove running through it, touching on everything I need from music, melded into one huge rich symphony.

They've never split up so, like the Rolling Stones, they've stayed committed to their band and got to a stage where they deliver everything with such push, such penetrating confident swagger. Every moment, individually, was utterly perfect. I'd forgotten gigs could do that. Total strangers were arms round each other, bouncing and singing to the sky. It was quite simply the best gig I've ever seen.

I remember after Bowie at Glastonbury in 2000 - also a glorious and perfect gig that frankly I thought I'd never see the likes of again - I was one of many people checking with strangers at the end that it was indeed the best thing anyone had ever seen. With Primal Scream it happened again.

At the end of Primal Scream someone came up and said they'd lost their mates and come on their own 'and it was the best decision of my life'. I was there with Joe, the random stranger I'd been gurgling and singing and swooning with, and said, 'and your mates won't believe you cos it's only Primal Scream. But you, me and Joe here, we *know*', and we left the field feeling like we were walking on acres of fluffy pillow about two feet above the ground, like an invisible bouncy castle.

I was, it barely needs saying, ripped to the tits for the whole thing.

After I ran out of friends and strangers at the festival to gush at I had to spend the rest of the evening calling and texting everyone to enthuse. I knew that in the cold light of day I'd try to revise it cos, you know, what are Primal Scream next to Bowie or REM or whoever? But really, it was the best gig I've ever seen, anyone, anywhere, ever.


Meanwhile, over at the Pyramid Stage, the U2 protest went off pretty well. U2 complain about low levels of poverty relief from Western governments yet they are registered in the Netherlands to avoid the taxes they would pay if they were an Irish company, rather like the way Boots is run from their vast estates that take up half of Nottingham but are technically based in a PO Box in Switzerland. So Art Uncut inflated a 20 foot high balloon saying 'U PAY TAX 2?', and got their fingers broken by security for doing so.

Holding up banners at stadium rock bands on the Pyramid Stage? Did a bit of that myself back in the day, but that's another story.

U2's set included a mere four songs from the latter two-thirds of their career, a ton of Achtung Baby stuff, and no pontificating from Bono, which is as good as I would've dare hope for if I were there. Wouldn't have swapped that, nor most things I can think of, for being down the front at Primal Scream though. And I still feel weird about saying that.

On Saturday down at the Cabaret marquee


did an epic set, well over an hour long, talking about his recent walk along the length of the Israeli apartheid wall. The energetic passionate delivery is infectious, the way he can find comedy in anything holds you there, yet he can talk of the most harrowing experiences in unflinching detail and it doesn't lose you but pulls you in further. It's a hell of a talent, and what you get for only working on things you really deeply care about.

In some excellent billing he was followed by


who also does something peculiar with comedy. Like Bill Hicks, he says funny stuff but then wanders off into just saying what he thinks politically and philosophically. The openness he's created with the humour is used to make us amenable to his perspective.

More than that, he's optimistic. It is far easier to write slagging things off than being positive (as a visit to the Comments sections that form the bottom half of the internet can attest). Comedy tends to generalise and ridicule, and whilst Hardy's stuff certainly does this, his underlying position is one of hope, his hatred (where it exists) is for the way we've been made to feel dull and powerless.

He knows he's largely talking to older folks ('good to see so many people here; I have a Radio 4 demographic and it was a harsh winter'), and he uses that to stir people to break through their crust of jadedness. 'Young people aren't being daft when they protest, they just haven't thrown in the towel. They're thinking about globalisation instead of what's on offer at Topps Tiles'

The rumour - yet again, true - was that Saturday's special guests at the Park would be


I know that they really mean a lot to people who were 14-24 in 1995. And I like the big choruses, the knowingness. Jarvis' subsequent solo stuff is intelligent and continues the same line, bold and inventive and catchy and with a real edge. Cunts are Still Running The World is just marvellous.

But still, I never got on with Pulp. There's a sneeringness in the lyrics, something arrogant and somehow hollow. The heavy irony is laid on so thick that you can't tell what point is actually being made, and I suspect Jarvis himself can't tell either.

When he sings 'is this the way they say the future's meant to feel? Or just 20,000 people standing in a field?', what does he mean? Blatantly he's having a great time and genuinely loving it, as are the 20,000 people singing along. Yet the line is clearly there to say that they don't like it, that it is rubbish. It's the kind of relentlessly dismissive smug aloofness common to people who want to dress up their fear of intimacy and enthusiasm as some form of cool superiority.

Of course, now the whole thing is nostalgia and so it doesn't matter. We can sing along all manner of songs of heartbreak or gibberish and they really mean something to us if we've cherished them in our bones for years and years.


Headlining the Saturday night on the Other Stage, Chemical Brothers were massive. With them, as with folks like Orbital and Fourtet, seeing them live is kind of like watching someone check their email whilst listening to Chemical Brothers CD. But at full-on festival volume the dark nebulous elements come out in full, the depth and complexity of the music splatters you in a way that no headphones or home speakers can ever allow.


The Speakers Forum where we Rabble Rousers do our thing was its usual great self all weekend. Climate politics analysis from the person who conceived Contraction and Convergence, Aubrey Mayer who - hell, you're on stage at Glastonbury so milk it - ended with a viola piece.

Sunday brought a truly weird moment for me though.

In Bob Geldof's autobiography there's a picture of him on stage at the end of the Live Aid concert. He is being carried on the shoulders of Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend while David Bowie looks on, applauding. Geldof captioned it 'spot the non rock god'.

Two years ago we were on before Nick fucking Clegg (and I did a seven minute poem about what duplicitious freemarket fundamentalists the LibDems are). But this year the bill on Sunday ran; Mark Thomas, Michael Eavis, Rabble Rousers, Tony Benn. Kinnell. Spot the non folk heroes.


We had to leg it down to my only visit to the Pyramid Stage this year. It's that Sunday late afternoon slot, everyone's a bit minging and a bit musiced-out. You need a legend who touches your soul. In previous years I've seen Al Green, Brian Wilson and Van Morrison in this slot. Paul Simon is a total box ticker for it. It amazes me he wasn't higher up the bill. With such a phenomenal back catalogue and songs that absolutely everyone adores, he'd close the festival so well. What sort of event has given Roger sodding Waters the headline slot yet relegates Paul Simon to 4th?

You've gotta feel for any drummer Paul Simon hires. You're going to dread him saying he wants you to play 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, a song with a drum pattern so languidly loose and grooving that the original drummer, Steve Gadd, gets a royalty from the track.

As is often the case with going in with high hopes, Paul Simon was disappointing. What was good was wonderful - four or five from Graceland, an album that half the world seems to regard as a dear friend - and some gorgeous sunshine stuff like Slip Sliding Away and (the one time that I cried this year) Hearts and Bones. But there were four from the new album, and no Simon and Garfunkel tunes whatsoever. I know he must be sick of Bridge Over Troubled Water, but how about America, Hazy Shade of Winter? As opposed to coming to Glastonbury and encoring with Kodachrome? Erk?

From there to the BBC Introducing stage, oddly situated in the Dance Village, to see a well deserved headline slot from the mighty


BBC Introducing have put video of pretty much their whole weekend online. You can watch the whole Vessels set here and you'll be a smaller sadder creature if you don't. Try it at the loudest that you dare.

Vessels were magnificent, but then again they always are. Like Radiohead they can take the peculiar time signatures, grandeur and segmentation normally associated with wanky prog and make something epic and rocking that makes you think that the band are telepathic and all other pop music, even the stuff you love, is essentially nursery rhymes.

From there a shlurp back through the mud for the closer on West Holts,


Not many places'll give you Kool and the Gang supported by Vessels and Paul Simon.

Coming from the American soul revue tradition with its roots in playing for dancing before the advent of DJs, the music never stopped, it was one long bouncing party.

Tight as a gnat's chuff and yet all ten of them on stage arsing around and having a hell of a time, they bundled through all the hits - unfortunately that included two I Just Called To Say I Love Youalikes, Cherish and Joanna - they hit with with more funk than I'd dared to hope for. In my mind's ear stuff like Get Down On It is a bit slick and shiny, but that night the sheen became sparkle and there was a real proper dirty funk chassis that it rode upon.

And as I'm obeying the instructions to get down get down, as if the gods of festivalaciousness wanted to make sure everything felt unified and joyous, bouncing in by my side is Joe from down the front at Primal Scream. And, as anticipated, when they closed the set with Celebration, being in the field at the end of the boistrous festival with ten thousand people singing that first 'wahoo' was a real Moment.

As ever, people who don't go to festivals always ask about the bands, and as always it's easiest to cite the bands rather than the thousand little interactions, joys, positive exchanges with strangers and weirdnesses that make the real vibe. Glastonbury would be worth it without any of the bands listed above.