Friday, July 19, 2013

smearing the messenger

Oh here we go. The police have put a piece in the Daily Mail smearing undercover police whistleblower Peter Francis. Full of quotes from three or four loyal cops, it alleges he's doing it for the money he gets from the Guardian book. Which is a book he gets no money from. It's a bit rich from the paper that paid a fortune to Mark Kennedy and credulously printed his extravagantly embellished story in 2011.

Francis is unique in that he spoke out before the Kennedy affair. In March 2010 he did an interview for the Observer.

As former Special Branch officer Chris Hobbs remarks: ‘I find it puzzling that the issue of smearing the Lawrence family was not mentioned (in the Observer) in company with the other revelations.’

At the time, Francis was cagey about a lot of things. It took him months to start being named as Pete Black, even though that too is only an alter-ego. As the scandal has unfolded and the threat to him as sole source has receded, just like the activists who were infiltrated, he has come forward with increased details of what went on.

Similarly the women who had relationships with undercover officers did not speak to the press initially. Then they were pseudonymous. Now several are out speaking publicly under their real names. It's not a because they've spent two years cooking up ever more elaborate lies, it's because it's taken a while to get the confidence. They and Francis knew before they began that they'd be shot down by behemoth institutions who are very protective of their reputation, irrespective of justice.


At the time, he wanted to write a book about his undercover life. But the response from publishers was ‘lukewarm’. Apparently, the Observer article was an attempt — ultimately unsuccessful — to attract a book deal... Move forward to 2013, and the new ‘smear’ allegation is the main selling point of both the Dispatches programme and the book by the Guardian journalists. In the much-edited documentary, Francis was steered carefully through his sensational new claim.

So Francis was hoping to get a book deal but failed and has invented with the Lawrence thing to spice up the Guardian journalists' book. Or else the Guardian journalists 'much edited' his interview to make him say something he didn't mean.

Francis has spoken out since the Dispatches programme, standing by its claims, and offered to repeat them under oath.

Which leaves us with the book-hawking thing. The book by the Guardian journalists is just that. By them. It's not by Francis. As they make clear, neither he, nor any other sources, were paid for their contributions. He didn't get paid to be in the Dispatches film either. So as exaggeration for money goes, it's a pretty bad business plan.

Such scepticism should apply to claims by Mark Kennedy who, via his publicity agent Max Clifford, was paid handsomely for his Mail on Sunday exclusive and his Channel 4 documentary, but that's not how it works with Francis.

So why would he do it? Ex-colleague Hobbs says

Time can play tricks with memory

Oh, so even if he isn't in it for the money he's just unhinged. He didn't actually infiltrate the Lawrences, he just thinks he did. He's utterly fabricated the myriad details of a deployment that didn't actually happen. I'm sure that sort of thing happens to us all.


How credible are Francis' claims? He says he was tasked to find dirt on the Lawrences and succeeded in doing so for Stephen's friend and prime witness Duwayne Brooks. This is pretty convincing given the Brooks was then prosecuted with preposterous charges and later on the MacPherson Inquiry found he had been the victim of a racist vendetta by police. At the same time other officers were infiltrating similar campaigns. This week police admitted that the undercover police did have files on the Lawrences.

So they do undermine campaigns like this, they did focus on the biggest of them, gathering information and smearing a key person, but yet somehow they opted to leave the people at the centre alone? Hmmmm.

Former Special Branch commander Roger Pearce says

I would be astounded if it is proved that someone said: "Go out and get information to rubbish and smear the Lawrence campaign".

Read that again, stressing the word 'proved'.

An unnamed former colleague - and note the later part of this next quote - says,

I would be absolutely amazed if someone told Peter to get dirt on the Lawrences; even more amazed if there is a written record of it. 

How much paperwork was kept by a top secret unit whose training was mostly given in practice not theory? And how much has been shredded since Francis went public in spring 2010 and Kennedy splashed his arse across the media a year later?

John Carnt, a retired Scotland Yard superintendent, trawled through hundreds of documents relating to Scotland Yard’s investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence ahead of his family’s ill-fated private prosecution in 1996.

He told us: 'I saw the contents of information gathered on the first murder inquiry, and at no time did I see anything which suggested there was a surveillance operation on the Lawrences to discredit them in any way.'

So a Scotland Yard detective found Scotland Yard did nothing wrong. Imagine that.


But beyond that, the whole point of the SDS was to be secret. Most people in the Met didn't know it even existed. The incident that brought them crashing into the limelight was the Ratcliffe power station prosecution when the police had failed in their duty to give the defence all the evidence.

Mark Kennedy's previously hidden evidence exonerated the defendants, leading to the collapse of the trial, 20 previous convictions quashed and at least another 29 to follow. The police knew they were orchestrating miscarriages of justice.

In these three cases alone there would be 55 wrongful convictions if activists hadn't caught Kennedy. So what chance do you think there was of them fessing up their crooked deeds to officers giving evidence to the Lawrence Inquiry?

Mick Creedon, Chief Constable of Derbyshire, is leading Operation Herne which is investigating the undercover police scandal. He took over to stop it appearing like the Met are self-investigating. In reality, three quarters of its staff are Met employees, including serving officers who have their future careers to think of before revealing anything unhelpful about their superiors. It is police investigating themselves, with no outside scrutiny and not even a promise to publish their findings.


A year into Herne, they say they found evidence of an officer using a dead child's identity. In the five months that followed the 30-odd staff didn't find any more cases, even though it was standard practice, sanctioned from the top and there were dozens of cases. It's that sort of inquiry.

This week Creedon said

There is nothing in Operation Herne which suggests any attempt whatsoever to do two things. Firstly, to be tasked against the Stephen Lawrence family; and secondly, to besmirch the Lawrence family. 

This is damage limitation. They do it well. Remember when police were criticised after the 2009 G20 protests where they killed Ian Tomlinson? During the protests a Lib Dem MP was called over to a group that had two suspicious people encouraging violence against the police. As they were confronted, the group - including the MP - watched the men walk to police lines, flash their warrant cards and be taken through. The officer in charge, Commander Bob Broadhurst, told parliament

We had no plain-clothes officers deployed within the crowd. It would have been dangerous for them to put plain clothes officers in a crowd like that.

This was flattened by footage of a line of City of London police with batons - check out the one in jeans and baseball cap. Yet it was still more than a year after the footage went public that the police finally admitted they had undercovers on the streets that day. All this without mentioning Mark Kennedy's presence that day, too.

At the G20 the officer in charge of the streets and the one doing media were of the same rank. That's how seriously they take this stuff.

On to the early days of the undercover scandal, when they thought they could portray Kennedy as a rogue officer, Chief Constable Jon Murphy said sex with activists was

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 all the ones exposed so far have done it to varying degrees, with one officer after another saying it was standard practice. The senior police seem to have given up on denying that now.

With each new revelation we can expect that pattern of denial and of smearing the person at the centre. But if the likes of Francis persist then - as the women who had relationships or those who saw the agents provocateur at the G20 proved - perseverance coupled with the weight of evidence will establish the truth whether police admit it or not.

1 comment:

Mr Climber said...

Thx Merrick - well researched article. And thx to ex Police Officer Peter Francis for having the guts to stand up and be so honest.
Mr Climber