Thursday, October 31, 2013

Undercover Police: No Sex After All

A new police code of ethics will ban undercover officers from having sex with members of the public they are spying on. This completely contradicts a long series of pronouncements from a horde of the most senior police officers and politicians who said it was not only allowed but necessary.

On 13 June 2012 policing minister Nick Herbert told Parliament

What matters is that there is a general structure and system of proper oversight and control, rather than specific directions on behaviour that may or may not be permitted.

Moreover, 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. Specifically forbidding the action would put the issue in the public domain and such groups would know that it could be tested.

On 27 September 2012 Jenny Jones, member of the Greater London Assembly, was at a Police and Crime Committee meeting questioning the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Craig Mackay.

JJ: Would a serving police officer be given authorisation to start a sexual relationship with an activist while using a false identity?
DC: Not ordinarily, no.
JJ: What do you mean “not ordinarily”?
DC: Well you can’t write a rule for every particular scenario.

Radio 4's File On Four programme of 2 October 2012 featured the first interviews by several of the women affected. It also had the Met's Deputy Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan saying

I think it is one of those things that we cannot legislate for every single circumstance. If a circumstance happens where that happens with an officer, I would expect them to immediately report that to a supervisor. Each case needs to be looked at on its merits

The following month the big chief himself, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bernard Hogan-Howe, told the Home Affairs Select Committee

The fact that it may sometimes happen, I think, could almost be inevitable. Not that I would encourage it, obviously, but when you are deploying an officer to live a lifestyle and they are going to get close to a target or a group of targets, it is not impossible to imagine that human relationships develop in that way.

Last week ago Hogan-Howe clarified his stance when questioned by the tenacious Jenny Jones AM.

what we need is transparency when it happens. The individual involved lets us know and we deal with it as a problem, but do not condemn.

When drugs officers are caught stealing and selling what they confiscate, or officers are proven to be violent or sexually abuse citizens, is it also dealt with it as a problem but not with condemnation? If you want it stopped, make it a sacking offence. Otherwise, it continues.

Just two weeks ago women who had long-term relationships were in court, appealing against the decision to send their human rights case to a Bullshit Stalinist Tribunal. Lawyers for the police said

It might in some circumstances be necessary and proportionate to authorise an undercover operative to engage in sexual contact in order, for example, to maintain cover

But this week Alex Marshall from the College of Policing told MP David Winnick

'the authorising officer should make it clear that sexual activity is not allowed while working undercover'.
Winnick: ‘Totally banned?’
Marshall ‘Yes.’ 

After years of flip-flopping, it now seems that it is OK to have a ready-made test, you can write a rule for every particular scenario, you can legislate for every circumstance, you don't look at each case on its merits, it's not almost inevitable and it is not necessary or proportionate to authorise an undercover operative to engage in sexual contact.


It would be nice to think this was some sort of moral advance. In reality, it appears that senior police have decided to say that sexual activity is legal but not authorised. That is to say, if it were illegal the police as a body would be liable; if it is merely not authorised then it is the fault of the individual officer. Thus, the bigwigs who've permitted and encouraged it get away and the lowlings get all the blame.

More, it seems that they'll be arguing this was always the case, thus evading responsibility for what they oversaw. Liam Thomas was an undercover officer until 2004 and says

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?' It was tongue in cheek, but I left with the impression that had I shagged around for intelligence, it would have been OK.

Jim Boyling infiltrated environmental activists, marrying one woman he targeted and having children with her. She recalls that

Jim complained one day that his superiors said there was to be no more sexual relations with activists anymore – the implicit suggestion was that they were fully aware of this before and that it hadn't been restricted in the past. He was scoffing at it saying that it was impossible not to expect people to have sexual relations. He said people going in had 'needs' and I felt really insulted.

Two later officers - Rod Richardson and Lynn Watson - did not have long term relationships but instead told activists about their partners who lived elsewhere. On occasions these 'partners'- clearly other officers - would come to social events. This all means that the top brass knew full well about officers having relationships and had effective ways to avoid it.

And yet - most damningly after Watson and Richardson - they sent in Mark Kennedy without a pretend far-off partner. Like Bob Lambert thirty years before him, Kennedy targeted his first long-term girlfriend within weeks of starting his spying. At the very least his superiors chose to put him in a position where this was more likely, and it is plausible that they encouraged and even directed his relationships.

The fact that in the 30 years of known cases only one uncovered officer had no sexual contact with the public, and the overwhelming majority had long-term relationships, shows this was endemic and seemingly strategic.

Undercover officers openly had relationships; this meant they sometimes did so in front of other officers. The fact that John Dines' infiltration of London Greenpeace overlapped with Bob Lambert's in the late 1980s means Lambert's relationships will have been known about. Lynn Watson and Marco Jacobs were, at different times, deployed alongside Mark Kennedy. Watson in particular was at social events where Kennedy was very much in a couple.

Either these officers (and the others like them who haven't been unmasked) failed to report their colleagues' misconduct; or else their superiors failed to act on it; or else it simply wasn't regarded as wrong until the public found out.

Police Spies Out of Lives, which speaks for eight women who had long term relationships with officers and are suing the police, saidof this week's announcement

It’s a welcome step but we must be cautious. We’re still not getting the consistency and action that the public is owed. We are talking about deep abuse of people’s lives, the violation of their human rights, that we know has taken place over the last 25 years. The abuses indicate a profound level of institutional sexism, and also institutional prejudice against members of the public who engage campaigning for social and environmental justice.

There are still many questions which need answers: When does the new training start? What’s happening in the meantime? What about past transgressions? Are any officers facing disciplinary action – or are their superiors taking Hogan-Howe’s stance? Is there any protection for whistle-blowers? Will the police change their legal tactics – or are they going to continue to make their victims have to fight for justice?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Let Them Eat Jam

The BBC stays nigh-on silent about the privatisation of the NHS. But here's a BBC news story complete with audio about a LibDem MP (the hilariously named Tessa Munt) saying that a cut in jam sugar content from 60% to 50% could mean "the end of the British breakfast as we know it". All the news that's fit to, er, take up space with trivia.

The sugar thing, incidentally, seems to be less of a health measure and more to do with standardising for the global market. Still, surely reducing sugar consumption is the kind of thing that's a good idea for the health of the public at large. Maybe so, but then Munt isn't interested in the public's welfare.

She only got into the house of Commons in 2010. Despite such short tenure she's voted:

- to replace Trident (£50bn on unused weaponry whilst benefits are slashed)
- to increase VAT (a tax that hits the poorest hardest)
- to keep detention without charge at 28 days rather than reduce it to 14 days (LibDems, the party of civil liberties)

- against giving communities greater control of shops development to keep payday loan and betting shops out
- against investigating zero-hours contracts with a view to eliminating their abuse

But still, as long as you focus your media strategy on giving blankets to dogs and talking about jam, hopefully nobody will notice that other stuff.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cameras Don't Lie But They Can Go Blind

As bailiffs beat up protesters in the tree protest camps at the Newbury Bypass, police officers would simply turn round and face the other way. Contradicting their sworn duty, in plain sight of colleagues and members of the public, they all did it.

When I asked why they weren't stopping assaults and arresting the perpetrators I was told, 'they can make a complaint later, if they like'.  The bailiffs were more powerful and so they were protected; had the assaults been the other way around the police would have piled straight in.

The other day I wrote about how Plebgate is getting the establishment in a kerfuffle over police corruption and accountability, and how a Tory MP's victimhood is different to that of Ian Tomlinson, Jean Charles de Menezes or Hillsborough.

Today another Tory MP, David Davis, has joined in, calling for police to wear cameras. Nice though it may sound, like the outrage over Plebgate, I can't believe it will be used to do much more than to serve the interests of the powerful.

Cameras have already been in place at many incidents of serious police wrongdoing. Let's look at cases I mentioned on Monday. When the police killed Jean Charles de Menezes, CCTV cameras on the station platform and the train 'weren't working'. The company operating the cameras and London Underground staff were reported to contradict this, but didn't have chance to check the tapes before police took them away, and certainly blank tapes were all that was returned to them.

But still, it was possible. When you consider the thousands of cameras installed across the country, it's a good bet that lots of them aren't working at any given time. This excuse surely couldn't apply for the G20 protests in 2009. More than 100 officers were deployed to monitor over 3,000 CCTV cameras. Unlike Stockwell tube, the area concerned was well known weeks in advance. There is simply no way that they didn't ensure the system was in full working order.

Yet we were told that there weren't any cameras in the area where police fatally attacked Ian Tomlinson. When it was pointed out that two permanent cameras controlled by City of London police were aimed directly at the spot, the statement was amended to say that the cameras weren't working.

At Hillsborough, crucial CCTV tapes were stolen. They have never been recovered. They were in a locked cupboard in a locked, alarmed room. There was no sign of forced entry and the alarm did not go off. When the theft was logged with a crime report, it was marked 'NO PUBLICITY RE THIS OFFENCE'. The words 'no publicity' were underlined twice.

With outbreaks of selective faultiness, police can remove technology from the case and bring it back to a contest of integrity. And who would believe the word of a civilian against that of a police officer?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Plebgate Proves You Are What You Own

The Plebgate affair, in which police stitched up MP Andrew Mitchell, has provoked a storm of criticism about police lying and corruption. You'll get that sort of support and outrage if you're a public school educated banker turned Tory MP. The rest of us, even when attacked en masse, find it's the perpetrators who get all the help the desire.

The construction industry blacklist is a major scandal any way you look at it. Thousands of people had their details held on an illegal database, used by most of the major construction firms to vet workers. People were denied a living because they wanted to unionise a workplace, or even because had tried to get workplaces to adhere to proper health and safety practices including those dealing with asbestos.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission says that gathering information for the construction industry blacklist seems to have been a normal, ongoing part of Special Branch work. Pete Francis, the whistleblowing ex-undercover Special Branch cop, said in August that as well as infiltrating protest groups, he believes his intelligence was used in the blacklist.

It reflects what was revealed in the McLibel trial, where a large corporation used illegal methods to stifle fair criticism from activists. More than this, both cases show that a two-way illegal exchange of information between police and corporate spies was a matter of routine.


Secret operations, by their nature, are not often exposed. Does anyone think McDonald's is the only corporation to use spies in such a way, or just the only one well documented thanks to legal disclosure? Is construction the only industry to use a blacklist, or just the only one that's been caught?

Why would other industries not use such proven effective tactics to defend their power and profits?

In the summer we learned that the police's Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) had a list of over 100 blue-chip companies that had employed spies who used illegal methods (and that number was described as 'the tip of the iceberg').

It followed in the wake of the tabloid phone hacking scandal, but none of the companies on the list are in the media. It's banks, oil, construction (of course), pharmaceuticals - mostly household names, all giants.

SOCA had known about all this criminality for years yet had kept it secret. Its chair, Sir Ian Andrews, explained that revealing these crimes would

substantially undermine the financial viability of major organisations by tainting them with public association with criminality.

There. Right there. That is a bald admission that protection of corporate profit is more important than bringing known corporate criminals to book, or letting the public know what crimes are being committed against them.

Andrews is right - people would be put off a company if they knew how devious and criminal it really was. The same applies to individual citizens who commit crimes, yet they are all publicly named despite the impact it will have on their lives and livelihoods.

But very few citizens can compete with the importance of corporate profit in the eyes of the powerful and their protectors in the police. The automatic, unthinking, active protection of power extends to the watchpoodle bodies that are supposed to keep the police in check and, in turn, the public figures who watch the watchpoodles. It takes a Tory MP being fitted up in Plebgate for the Opposition to say the Independent Police Complaints Commission needs to be replaced.

Last week, the Mark Duggan inquest and the partners of undercover police were in the Royal Courts of Justice, but they are just ordinary citizens to be treated like, well, plebs. So when the IPCC has colluded with the police in those cases, and to cover up crimes in the cases of Hillsborough, Jean Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson, Leveson and untold instances of individual violence and racism, it is fine. The victims aren't rich enough. You are what you own.

Not only will corporations do whatever they can get away with to increase profits, but they will be assisted by the agencies of the state that claim to protect us.

People ask why Mark Kennedy and the secret police infiltrated groups that were no physical threat to anyone. It is because there is no distinction made between the threat to life, the threat to corporate profit or the threat to police credibility. All of them are perceived as dangerously subversive and they must be stopped, in the words of the motto of the secret police's Special Demonstration Squad, 'by any means necessary'.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Last Chance for Human Rights

Some of the women survivors of long-term relationships with undercover police are back in court next week. Although very similar things happened to them all over a long period of time - hence suing the bosses for the strategy of psychological and sexual abuse, rather than the individual officers - only incidents that occurred after the Human Rights Act have a human rights claim in UK courts. So this case just involves three women who had long term relationships with Mark Kennedy.

The rest of the claimants do have the same human rights regarding privacy and freedom from degrading and inhumane treatment, but would need to have the money to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Remember that next time you hear Tory clamour - now a manifesto pledge for 2015 - to repeal the Human Rights Act. It wouldn't be withdrawing human rights, just ensuring that they're only enforcable for the rich. (Although as of last month they are talking about withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights entirely.)

When the Human Rights Act was introduced, the government spotted that state espionage will often breach human rights, and relevant cases under the Act might involve very sensitive, even life threatening information. To deal with this, they set up Investigatory Powers Tribunals. These are bullshit Stalinist secret courts that the claimant is not allowed into. The state presents its evidence, the claimants don't see what the state has said to see if its true (or see what is true but ahs been omitted). The claimants are not there to cross-examine anyone. The judge then makes up their mind and says who has won, without giving any reasons for their decision. There is no right of appeal.

In cases of genuine secrecy with lives on the line you can imagine how such measure might appear necessary. But in the case of environmental activists it's nonsense. More, the case of Mark Kennedy, who hired Max Clifford to repeatedly sell his stories to the Daily Mail, could scarcely be less secret. Yet in January a judge decided that the womens' human rights claim should go to a Bullshit Stalinist Tribunal.

It is not about the interests of national security. It is plainly an obstacle being used by the guilty to avoid accountability. Yet again we see state powers enacting a double injustice - committing a gross offence against citizens, then when it is caught it tries every trick available to deny them justice.

Next week the Court of Appeal will hear the appeal against the decision to go to the Bullshit Stalinist Tribunal. It is the last chance to ensure press and public scrutiny of Mark Kennedy’s police commanders over Human Rights Act abuses.

The support group for some of the women, Police Spies Out Of Lives, has called for a picket on the opening day:

- Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London, WC2 (Holborn or Temple tube)
- Tuesday 15 October, 9am-10am

There is more info and explanation about the hearing in their press release.

The 'Where We Stand' statement by the eight women in the Police Spies Out of Lives case is an absolute must-read.

The group finally set up social media this week, so you can keep up to date with the cases by following them on Twitter @out_of_lives or liking them on Facebook at

Monday, October 07, 2013

No Freedom, No Information

Freedom of Information requests can embarrass police officers.

In the Hillsborough scandal, one of the main architects of the police smear campaign was Norman Bettison. When last year's Hillsborough Independent Panel report came out he did not answer calls. In later written evidence, given under caution, Bettison said he was in a place with no signal. An FOI request showed his work phone was in use all day, making 14 calls and 15 texts.

The 'outside' overseer for the current Hillsborough investigation is another senior police officer, Jon Stoddart, the recently retired chief constable of Durham. 

A new body, the National Crime Agency (NCA), came into being today. Stoddart has been seconded to the NCA. The NCA is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. Hmmm.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Spied Upon Film UK Screenings

I've been following the undercover policing scandal closely since it began and, as longer term readers may suspect, I've got a personal interest in it. I was close to Mark Kennedy for many years in his Mark Stone guise, and I was one of the people who did the investigation that unmasked him.

I've not gone into it much before in public. That has, in part, been to do with the integrity of the writing; I want the commentary to stand on its own merits, to be based on facts and reasoning that anyone could arrive at, rather than based on any emotional drive or undisclosed information. But it's also partly it's personal; having had your life and the lives of those around you so horrendously intruded upon, there was a powerful initial need not to exacerbate that feeling. Additionally, I didn't want to look like a self-publicist or do anything to overshadow the court cases being brought by women who'd had long term relationships with these officers.

As time's gone on the personal shock has waned but the scale of what we know has grown. Everything we know about Kennedy is still true, yet his actions have become just a tiny part of the greatest scandal in British policing history. It's a story of huge abuse of power and resources, dozens of psychologically and sexually abused women, abandoned children, rigged court cases and the probability of hundreds, even thousands of wrongful convictions.

There is a growing band of us who suffered this stuff who are co-ordinating and agitiating for justice. Jason Kirkpatrick is an anti-capitalist activist based in Berlin. He was also friends with Kennedy for years. Since discovering who his friend really was he's been travelling around with a camera, tallking to other targeted activists, academics and politicians, trying to find the truth and get some answers.

He's coming to the UK next week for 'sneak preview' screenings of his forthcoming film, Spied Upon, and I'm speaking with him. He'll be showing about 40 minutes of the material he's got so far, talking about the film and having a discussion with the audience after.

This isn't a mainsteam media endeavour. It's an activist filmmaker, portraying the activist perspective. This also means it's got no funding, so if you'd like to see the film finished and have a few quid, he's just launched a crowdfunding appeal.

You can see clips from the film on the Spied Upon site

The screenings:

Wednesday 9 October, 7.15-9pm
Vibe Bar, 91 Brick Lane, London, E1 6QL
£3-8 (sliding scale) at the door. No one turned away for lack of funds.
London Facebook event

Friday 11 October, 7.15-9pm
Broadway Cinema Studio, 14-18 Broad St., Nottingham, NG1 3AL
£3-6 (sliding scale) at the Studio door, no presale tickets
NOTE: This is a “Private” event, and thus not under Broadway Cinema listings
Nottingham Facebook event

Sunday 13 October 2013, 2.15-4pm
Hyde Park Picture House, 73 Brudenell Road, Leeds, LS6 1JD
£6, £3 unwaged
Leeds Facebook event

Tuesday 15 October 2013, 7.30-9pm
Forest Cafe, 141 Lauriston Place, Edinburgh, EH3 9JN
Free event, no tickets required 
Edinburgh Facebook event

Wednesday 16 October 2013, 7.30pm
St Andrews School 6, St Salvators Quad, St Andrews, Fife
Free event, no tickets required
St Andrews Facebook event

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

undercover police: another inside view

In the week after the Mark Kennedy undercover police scandal hit the news in January 2011, amidst the flurry of newspaper articles there was one that bears re-examining. Perhaps overshadowed by Kennedy’s Max Clifford brokered Mail on Sunday splash that day, ex-undercover officer Liam Thomas gave an interview to the Independent on Sunday (two years later the Sunday Times lazily recycled it, giving him a false name to make it seem more edgy).

Thomas doesn't mention any involvement with protest groups, describing instead his time among drug gangs, paedophiles, and 18 months running a fake shop front to catch local petty criminals. But, because of he isn't covering his own arse and had long since left the force, his dispassionate insight into the culture of undercover police is all the more illuminating.

Notably, whilst senior officers were loudly delivering unequivocal proclamations that sexual contact with targets is grossly unprofessional and never allowed, Thomas was the first person to corroborate the fact that it was an established strategy.

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?' It was tongue in cheek, but I left with the impression that had I shagged around for intelligence, it would have been OK.


It's clear that undercover officers acted as agents provocateur. Even the judges who overturned 20 convictions Kennedy secured said so.

After the spate of revelations the police have been keen to say that lessons need to be learned, that long-term undercover work needs better oversight and must avoid over-involvement with those being spied on.

But hang on, what's this?

Scotland Yard claimed last night that the future of covert police work was under threat after a court ruling that some of its officers had committed a "state-created crime"... A prosecution based on the sting was thrown out at Southwark crown court yesterday after a judge described the police actions as "massively illegal".

Judge George Bathurst-Norman allowed 10 defendants to walk free after saying that the police had "overstepped the line between legitimate crime detection and unacceptable crime creation".

Sounds a lot like what Kennedy and co did with the entraspment of the Ratcliffe protesters and subsequent collapse of the trial.

But this is dated 29 July 2003. Mark Kennedy's first active infiltration, attending the 2003 Earth First! Summer Gathering, happened less than a fortnight earlier. Everything else in his mission came after this, including the agent provocateur work some six years later that got 20 people wrongfully convicted.

Thomas went on to highlight Kennedy's work in this wider context.

the Met had just been humiliated in court after another long-term infiltration was found to have spiralled out of control. In that case, Operation Cotton, the Met had allowed two UCs [undercovers] posing as money launderers on the Costa del Sol to operate for seven years. It cost tens of millions of pounds. I was one of the many UCs asked to go to Spain with cash to fund their high-rolling lifestyle...

The judgment was supposed to have forced a major internal review of the oversight of long-term undercover operations. But the management lessons don't seem to have been learned in the deployment and handling of Kennedy.


Thomas also tells a - by now familiar - story of ending up suffering a mental breakdown and leaving the police on medical grounds. There can be no denying that those in charge of operations are fully aware that the officers are likely to be scarred by the work, but there'll always be a fat cheque to buy the old ones off and new ones waiting to sign up. Not only are the people targeted and the bereaved families whose childrens identity is stolen seen as mere collateral damage, but the officers themselves are added to that pile of human mincemeat.

Those same senior officers refuse to co-operate with the women and families they jeopardised and damaged. They say it's not to do with trying to avoid accountability, but that their policy to 'neither confirm nor deny' that people were undercover cops is based on an overarching need to protect their staff even after they've left the force.

Those ex-officers, meanwhile, have to launch lengthy legal cases to win compensation to help them deal with the serious damage that was knowingly, predicably and therefore pretty much deliberately inflicted on them.

I'm certainly not saying that the undercover officers should be our main concern. They signed up for their job, and those they targeted for abuse, who had no choice, are unquestionably the real victims. But it is those who devised their missions and pushed them through the mind-mangle who bear the greatest responsibility, even more than those whose hands did the work.

For all their bluster about 'mistakes' and 'lessons to be learned', it's clear that all the practices of undercover police now being widely decried, and conceded as wrong by senior police, were part of a long established strategy that those in charge were fully aware of and content with.