Monday, June 24, 2013

self-investigation injustice (slight return)

To make undeniable trouble go away, hire someone sympathetic to run an inquiry. Then fend off all specific complaints with, 'it would be inappropriate for me to comment while the inquiry is ongoing'. Then keep it running for as long as possible in the hope that the general public loses interest and forgets, and those personally wronged get worn down, crumble under the stress and give up.

Mick Creedon, the Chief Constable of Derbyshire, is investigating the undercovers scandal.

Creedon offered a "100%" assurance the matter would be properly investigated. He added that prosecutors were already being asked to consider whether criminal offences had been committed by generations of undercover operatives who had been planted in protest groups over the past 45 years.

This includes the possibility of prosecuting officers who committed criminal acts, such as sexual assaults. But then we're told

Keith Vaz MP, the chair of the home affairs select committee, has already called on Scotland Yard to inform parents whose children's identities were used by undercover police.
However, Creedon said it was "highly unlikely" he would contact the parents because it would require confirming the false identities used by former operatives.

It would only confirm their fake name, not their real identity. However, they cannot prosecute an officer without publicising their full name and details. If they won't do it for fake names, they certainly won't do it for real names. Which means that prosecution will only be an option for thiose who have been caught by activists and journalists. So far that is twelve, out of what is believed to be between 100 and 200 officers.

So Creedon is actually giving about an 8% assurance that it will be properly investigated. We're also told it may well run - and they appear to be serious - until 2016. In the Care Quality Commission cover-up scandal the minister in charge was pleased that those responsible were rapidly named. What's different here then?

To be fair, what institution would do a daming report on itself? It's no insult to presume bias. This is why, in most fields, the more serious the charges the more independent the investigation into it. But Creedon specifically rubbishes the idea of an independent inquiry, saying he will do a better job than they could.

In case you've any residual confidence in this self-investigation, he blithely ignores the long history of extensive cover-ups involving thousands of officers that - even when exposed - still don't get anyone convicted. Instead he gets in there first with his supposed affrontery that tells you all you need to know about where his allegiances and biases lie and what the report will say.

"There has always been public concern about police investigating the police, but I'll be brutally honest: there is no one as good at doing it as the police," he said. "We don't seek to hide things. We do actually seek to get the truth and we do it properly and I frankly find it almost insulting that people suggest that in some way, because I'm a police officer, I'm not going to search the truth."

Stephen Lawrence. Orgreave. Christopher Alder. Greenham Common. Blair Peach. Joy Gardner. Hillsborough. Colin Roach. Ian Tomlinson. Liddle Towers. Mark Duggan.

self investigation: the next level of injustice and abuse

Clear a bit of space on your desk. You're going to need it shortly to bang your head on.

As the revelations reverberate about undercover police undermining Stephen Lawrence's family's campaign for justice, politicians call for action.

David Cameron tweeted

I'm deeply concerned by reports that police wanted to smear the family of Stephen Lawrence. The Met must investigate immediately

[headdesk time]

You know how we didn't respond to the phone hacking by saying the News of The World should investigate it themselves? That. Exactly that. As anyone who's ever found themselves at the fridge at midnight can tell you, self-regulation amongst the guilty doesn't work.

Jack Straw - Home Secretary at the time of the MacPherson Inquiry into the Lawrence investigation that was kept in the dark about the spies - said on Radio 4 this morning that the Independent Police Complants Commission should investigate.

[headdesk time]

You know what the result of sending Kelvin MacKenzie in to lead Times journalists to investigate the News of The World would have been? That.

People who spend their professional and personal lives with police officers are, even with the best of intentions, going to be biased. Even if they weren't largely ex-police themselves.

The IPCC exonerated the police over the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes (you know, the rapist in the bulky jacket on a hot day who vaulted the barrier and ignored police shouts to stop, except none of that happened).

The IPCC took the police's word for it that Ian Tomlinson hadn't had contact with them, they believed the dodgy rush-job autopsy, they believed that there weren't any CCTV cameras in the area of Tomlinson's assault, that OK there were cameras but just like with De Menezes they weren't working. Their first response to the incriminating footage appearing on the Guardian's site was to go into the newspaper's offices with police (whose asked who, I wonder) and demand it be removed.

They are not independent and not fit to adjudicate in serious cases.


Thanks to the tenacity of journalists and suspicious activists we now have documented proof of over thirty years of undercover political policing. The police, were they really interested in justice and believed their institution was innocent, would want to get to the bottom of it. Instead they ignored it until it blew up in the media. Then they said Mark Kennedy was one rogue officer way off mission.

Here we come to the double injustice visited upon those who fight police corruption. First there is what is done to you. Then there are the smears and obstructions to justice. The infiltration of the Lawrences and other black justice campaigns is evidence of that. Ask yourself what your impression of Mark Duggan is.

In far more terrible circumstances and to a far greater degree, the Hillsborough families suffered like this. They too had the double injustice, with police self-investigations being nothing of the sort, instead smearing and sexually harassing survivors as the concocted a fraudulent case to protect the force.

Eight women who had long-term relationships with undercover police officers are suing. You can see their site and donate to their campaign at The Met reponded by trying to get the case thrown out and then, partially successfully, by trying to have it heard in an Investigatory Powers Tribunal. Still got that dented desk clear? You'll be wanting that.

Did you think you have a right to a fair trial? If your case involves surveillance then it can be heard in an Investigatory Powers Tribunal. The police can make up whatever evidence they like (and omit whatever incriminates them). The complainants do not get to see the evidence police present, do not get to be in the court, do not get given the reasons for the verdict, and have no right of appeal.

In cases of life-threatening espionage there might be an argument for that. But with these activists, when the details have been splashed all over the press with the officers' pictures, when Mark Kennedy has hired fucking Max Clifford to handle his media appearances, all claim to the need for secrecy has long since vaporised. It's a deliberate obstruction, a further attack on these women by the police.

The Met's department of Professional Standards is trying to talk to activists who were spied upon about what happened. Yet, desperate to avoid being sued, they won't officially confirm that any of the officers were actually officers. Let me say that again - an internal body of the police talks to you about your ex-partner who has been exposed in the press as a police officer, but they won't admit he was anything to do with the police. Otherwise you might want compensation or maybe maintenance payments for the child he fathered twenty years ago and left you to bring up alone.

Worse, it would expose what has really gone on and, as the infiltration of the Lawrences shows, they hate nothing more than being made accountable for their indefensible acts. There are miscarriages of justice, listed convictions, being left to stand because the officer involved, although named and pictured in the press, cannot be conclusively proven to have been a police officer.


This is not about rogue officers or units. The obfuscating response alone makes that clear, as they close ranks to envelop and protect the abusers.

The current chief of the Met is Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. In 2011, when chief of Merseyside, he wrote the first major report into the Mark Kennedy affair (actually it was the second - they had to pulp the first one before it was published because fresh revelations had shown it to be a cover-up even before it came out). It was a whitewash. Not one bad apple after all? OK, mistakes were made, few individuals, mostly oversights, all over now, nothing to see, move along.

There are a staggering twelve inquiries, all with their limited remits, all police self-investigations or near as dammit. If there's one thing the last three years has taught, it's that we don't need any more on that list. It's time for something real, complete, honest and trustworthy that acknowledges the institutional abuse and ensures that it ends. Actually, it's long past time for that.

It is indisputably established that this is a system that has continued through several generations of officers, many of whom have subsequently risen through the ranks. The long-awaited, much promised amending of the rules for undercover officers turned out to be nothing of the sort. Instead it makes clear that the police want all these horrific abuses to carry on indefinitely.

They, and anyone on their side, cannot be the ones to investigate what went wrong. Self-investigation is a repulsive insult to the people who have been abused and an affront to anyone who desires justice.


Phone hacking was an outrage that got a full judge-led inquiry. Undercover policing involves more lives, for a longer time, invaded to far greater degree, with far more serious consequences, by people in a far greater position of trust. It needs a far more serious response.

But this scandal must not have a judge-led inquiry. Hillsborough had two of those - the Taylor Inquiry and Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's scrutiny - and they failed. Hillsborough proved that the state cannot investigate its own cover-ups. But the Hillsborough Independent Panel is a model of getting to the truth so that it can be established, agreed and believed. I'm willing to bet that it's cheaper too.

The swathe of horrors uncovered in this scandal - the women abused, the children abandoned, the campaigns stifled, the bereaved families' dead childrens identites stolen - is barely the start. We know of a dozen officers. There were well over a hundred. None of the officers exposed infiltrated campaigns that threatened life and limb. Almost all had long-term relationships. A quarter of them fathered children. Is that statistically accurate? Why aren't we being told?

There is an even bigger question - who devises this political policing? Do the police make it up for themselves? Is it ordered by government? The long, resounding silence from politicians, apart from Cameron's absurdly trusting tweet this morning, has been very telling.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

protectors of racist murderers

A year and a half ago, when two of Stephen Lawrence's five racist killers were finally convicted after 18 years, I wondered how much quicker and more complete justice might have been had the police not actively undermined it. I said then it seemed likely to have been one of the justice campaigns that was infiltrated by an officer known as Pete Black.

Today Peter Francis - Black's real name - has confirmed that he was indeed sent into the Lawrence family and their campaign soon after the teenager's murder in 1993. He was ordered to find 'dirt' to discredit the family. He managed to get Lawrence's friend Duwayne Brooks - who was the main witness in the case - spuriously arrested and charged. Francis says he was one of four officers spying on the campaign.

Stephen's mother Doreen Lawrence remembers that the family liaison officer would note the names of everybody who came and went from the house.

The people in our house were all black. The people who killed my son were white. Why should the police be so interested in who was in the house?

None of this work was made known to the MacPherson Inquiry in 1998 that examined the police's investigation and gave the famously damning verdict of 'institutional racism'. Francis says he argued for it to be but superior officers overruled him.

From earlier reports, we know Francis worked with Bob Lambert, who'd left activism in 1989 and was moving to take charge of running operations. He is the one who had previously infiltrated London Greenpeace, co-written the McLibel leaflet and fathered a child with an activist. In both my posts this week I've said that Lambert's claim that infiltration of non-terrorists was merely a stepping stone to proper terrorists was bollocks. Today's revelations galvanise that point


Lambert also deployed Mark Cassidy - aka undercover officer Mark Jenner - to live with an activist girlfriend for four years and infiltrate black justice campaigns. Jenner was deeply invovled in several groups at the Colin Roach Centre (named after a man who was shot dead inside Stoke Newington police station). They got many wrongful convictions overturned, though on a day when they held a picket of Stoke Newington police station the Centre was burgled, with equipment vandalised and a computer stolen. Cash was left undisturbed.

Where is the threat to life and limb from these campaigns? What terrorists might there be hanging round the Lawrence family and others like them? The only threat they posed was one of embarrassment. They would discredit the police, not by any libellous means but simply by showing them up for what they had actually done.

It is clear that this is political policing. They make no distinction between threat to life and limb, threat to corporate profits, threat to police credibility or threat to the dominance of capitalist ideology.

By undermining anti-racist activists they act as pro-racist activists. The police have done more than anyone to scupper anti-racist campaigns in the last 20 years as the BNP and EDL have risen.

The long-promised tightening up of rules for undercover work was announced last week and it leaves all these methods and activities, including the long-term relationships, unaffected. It is still going on today and they intend to carry on with it indefinitely.


And so tonight there is a confirmed addition to the already long list of Bob Lambert's crimes. Being prosecuted under his false identity for a political arrest while undercover was likely to have been illegal and so is the most actionable, even though morally it's the least of it. This serial sexual and psychological abuser of women and firebomber is also the protector of racist murderers.

Since leaving the police five years ago he's forged - and I do mean forged - a career as a progressive academic. Here he is speaking at a Unite Against Fascism conference, here's hard left Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn hosting a parliamentary booklaunch for him, here he is writing for Al-Jazeera, then for lefty journal New Statesman, blogging at the Huffington Post and being praised in the Guardian.

"The Islamic Human Rights Commission is proud to present this award to Inspector Robert Lambert (Head of Muslim Contact Unit), upon his retirement from the Metropolitan Police Service. In appreciation for his integrity and commitment to promoting a fair, just and secure society for all, which is a rarity and will be greatly missed".

These days Lambert holds a post at the University of St Andrews trading on his career of repressive political policing which he has the gall to call counter terrorism. How much can the truth of his career shred his credibility before the university decides he's unfit to teach there?

Just how much damage of many kinds need he be known to have done - including damage to the reputation of the police, of course - before he is stripped of the MBE he got for services to policing?

When will he be put before a real inquiry and compelled to tell the whole truth about what he did so that justice may begin to be done?

If phone hacking warrants a proper inquiry, this far greater invasion of lives - in the case of the women who had long-term relationships, the greatest possible invasion of lives - deserves at least as much. It cannot be a judge-led inquiry. Hillsborough had two of those that came to nothing. The state cannot investigate itself fairly.

Hillsborough's Independent Panel model showed how it can be done. However, as the infiltration of bereaved families shows, when they are in the wrong the police will go to extraordinary lengths to obstruct justice.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

mclibel: police drumming up business

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

We call for: 

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 20, 2013

undercover oversight

As the undercover policing scandal rolls on - with the tenacious Guardian journalists about to publish their book and have the accompanying documentary screened by Channel 4 on Monday - the government has announced tighter rules for future operations.

All long-term undercover policing operations will be independently authorised

Well that sounds reassuring. But which outside body will be scrutinising the police's desires?

the Office for Surveillance Commissioners (OSC) will be notified at the start of all undercover police deployments – and must approve any lasting beyond 12 months.


We've come across these people before. They already had the ultimate sign-off on undercover deployment. Hiring a bunch of judges and asking them to question the motives of police, well, no need to guess how well that went and why we've had decades of unjustifiable invasion into political groups and outrageous abuse of the individuals therein.

We've even had Surveillance Commissioners look at this specific issue after everyone knew it had gone wrong. In the wake of the exposure of Mark Kennedy and the revelation that witholding his evidence had led to a miscarriage of justice that saw 20 people wrongfully convicted, Sir Christopher Rose produced a report looking into whether the Crown Prosecution Service had colluded with the police.

Rose was a former judge and a Surveillance Commissioner. Just like the way police had initially tried to make out Kennedy was one rogue officer, Rose's report scapegoated one CPS official, Ian Cunningham. He specifically said there was no conspiracy.

Nothing I have seen or heard suggests that, at any stage of this prosecution, there was deliberate, still less dishonest, withholding of information which the holder believed was disclosable

It takes a hell of a lot of front to say that, given that months earlier emails had been leaked showing Cunningham and a more senior CPS official discussing the 'sensitive disclosure issues' around the 'participating informant' Kennedy. If you have two people involved in a cover-up it is, by definition, a conspiracy. If they document it then it is, by dint of plain evidence, not an oversight.

Rose said that although there were transcripts of Kennedy's recordings of the activists' planning meeting, nobody at the CPS thought they might have important information in regarding what happened in the meeting and so didn't look at them or think to give copies to the defence.

These are the people who will be checking the police's motivations and need for future deployment of undercover officers. Just like the "Independent" Police Complaints Commission, they're a rubber-stamp body made up of people who spend their professional and personal lives trusting police officers.


Police enjoy self-regulation and, if anything goes wrong, what amounts to self-investigation, often without the pretence of an independent body.

After it was revealed that undercover police used the identities of dead children - a practice that is not only ghoulish but puts bereaved families in real danger - the investigation into undercover officers was taken away from the force that did it, the Metropolitan Police, and put in the hands of, oh... a different Chief Constable.

After 24 years of campaigning the Hillsborough families have proven there was a cover up (pertinently, it also went beyond police into the judiciary) and the original inquest verdicts have been quashed. Last week we learned that the new inquiry, to prove itself free of any bias towards the police who have been so thoroughly discredited, will be relying on a report from, oh... a former Chief Constable.

What other body can be so indisputably shown to have acted so deplorably and ruined so many lives yet still be given self-investigation as a response? If a Manchester United player commits an extreme offence on camera, it's not investigated by Manchester United officials. Furthermore, responding to pressure by getting Manchester United's reserves team manager to look into it instead does not qualify as an independent investigation.

The proposals once again say undercover officers will be used for "terrorism and for serious organised crime". But this is the line they've always spun as they target non-terrorists who are merely politically undesirable, people with ideas that challenge the status quo and are in danger of catching on. We've seen undercover officers like Bob Lambert MBE say that he had to go through less dangerous groups to establish credibility before moving on to actual terrorists (in his case, people who did not threaten anybody's life but did property damage). Like Kennedy he was an agent provocateur, becoming a successful firebomber.

Even this stepping-stone argument seems to be largely bollocks as many officers, such as Kennedy, spent years with the fluffier groups without ever graduating to any bomb-weilders. These protest groups are often the end target in themselves.

The use of the term 'domestic extremist' to mean anyone who would break a law for a political reason (and that's everyone, by the way) shows that the authorities are trying to conflate civil disobedience with terrorism. The deliberate lies spun about climate activists  - they want to commit serious violence against citizens, they want to hurt your granny - is a stark underlining of that point.


But the most important thing about the new proposals for undercover officers is what is omitted. The scandal broke because Kennedy was caught by his partner of six years. Since then we have learned of a dozen officers, almost all of whom had long-term, committed life-partner relationships with activists they targeted. A quarter of them fathered children. It is the most shocking and controversial aspect of the whole scandal. And yet the new proposals on making undercover operations fair and accountable contain nothing, not a single word, about the most intrusive act that the state performs on a person.

The officer is sent into someone's life to be their partner - their most trusted confidante, their lover, in numerous cases to co-habit and co-parent - all the while having it monitored, analysed and presumably directed by an unseen group back at Scotland Yard. The person targeted doesn't know it is going on so they do not hold back in the way that others, such as people imprisoned, retain some privacy and personal identity from the state agents ranged against them.

Last year Home Office minister Nick Herbert was glove-puppeted to say officers must be allowed to have sex with the people they spy upon.

to ban such actions would provide a ready-made test for the targeted criminal group to find out whether an undercover officer was deployed among them.

So with that, and the absence of anything in the new proposals, we know that they intend to continue as before. Lives will be ruined, women will be violated and left rearing children single handed.

More, there is no justification for it to ever happen. To anybody at all, under any circumstances, ever. The 'ready made test' argument is absolute unmitigated bullshit. Are undercover officers infiltrating paedophile gangs are authorised to rape children? Otherwise the group concerned have a ready-made test.

Even presuming that political activists warrant infiltration to defend society and it's not just the powerful protecting their political interests, what is it that can be got from activists by this means that cannot be got other ways? The fact that two officers - Lynn Watson and Rod Richardson - were deployed without having relationships and weren't rumbled shows that it is not necessary. The police just prefer it.

So this new announcement isn't about genuine oversight or a change from the wanton abuse of citizens. It's the police trying to make a few of the right noises to protect their existing methods and power.