Back in October 2010 a news story broke involving a rather shady division of the police called the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, where it was a revealed an undercover police officer named Mark Kennedy- aka Mark Stone- was sent to spy on various environmental groups and had been having sexual relationships with female activists who were oblivious to his identity. One woman who was in a relationship with Kennedy for six years and described him as the closest person to her, told how they would go on holiday together, cook meals, and spend time with family. Something she later discovered he was paid ‘overtime’ for doing so. When her father died, he was the one who held her, attended her father’s funeral, even travelling with her in the mourners car. His real identity was discovered only after he left the police, though suspicions were first raised while she discovered a passport in a different name while they were on holiday in Italy as part of a trip he was undertaking to- unknown to her- spy on animal rights activists. She has since learned that he had been married and had two small children.
Since then, other similar operations have been put under the spotlight, including the Special Demonstration Squad which was part of the Met from 1968 to 2008. It has been confirmed that over a 1000 groups have been spied on since the late sixties, though it could potentially be much more. The vast majority have been men, but a few female officers are starting to be identified, including Christine Green who still lives with the man she targeted, despite him now knowing her true identity. Their other tactics have been subject to scrutiny also, after it was discovered they stole the identities of dead children in order to create these personas and used them to infiltrate activist circles. A small few of at least 144 infiltrators have been identified, but countless more revelations about their activities are revealed every week. Andy Coles who spied on animal rights campaigns deceived a 19 year old girl with a history of mental health issues into a sexual relationship. He told her he was 24 when he was a married 32 year old police officer. He then went on to be a Tory councillor in Peterborough. Coles also wrote a manual about undercover activities in which he describes the people whose lives he violated as ‘wearies’ and referred to stealing documentation of dead kids as “claiming squatters rights over unfortunates identities”. Bob Lambert was another SDS operative whose manipulation of a 22 year old activist resulted in the birth of their son. Lambert disappeared when the child was 2 years old, while the boy’s mother needed to seek psychiatric care when she learned of his true identity. The Met issued a statement apologising and declaring that they never had a policy saying “that officers could use sexual relations for purposes of policing”. In 2015, the Met issued a formal apology to 7 of the women:
these relationships were a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma…. relationships like these should never have happened. They were wrong and were a gross violation of personal dignity and integrity… sexual relationships between undercover police officers and members of the public should not happen. The forming of a sexual relationship by an undercover officer would never be authorized in advance nor indeed used as a tactic of a deployment. If an officer did have a sexual relationship despite this (for example if it was a matter of life or death) then he would be required to report this in order that the circumstances could be investigated for potential criminality and/or misconduct.
Personally I don’t think there is no way that the officers superiors would not have been aware of the relationships. This statement is also discredited in another part of Coles’ manual which recommends that relationships with activists be “fleeting and disastrous”.
Currently there is a public enquiry underway which has been constantly hindered by the police’s delaying tactics and left us no further forward as we approach the end of the initial three year deadline. 12 officers involved with the SDS have applied for anonymity for fear that their human rights will be breached if their identities are revealed. They are even having the gall to cite Article 8 of the Human Rights Act to plead their case- which is the right to privacy and family life. The SDS was also recently shown to have links to the blacklisting scandal, and that -as well as environmental and animal rights activists- trade unionists were also targeted and had their union activities and political leanings compiled, which was then used by construction companies to vet potential employees on sites.
We must always remember that while these units class the people they spy on as ‘domestic extremists’, from what we’ve seen so far, we are not talking about the Baader Meinhoff gang here. It would be hard to argue with the infiltration if it meant preventing awful attacks on innocents. But many of the groups who have been spied on have not been violent or massively subversive. Many have been revealed to be peaceful and non violent. Even if some had engaged in tactical direct action, does that justify the level of violation and abuse shown by the state? No. Remember that in a recent interview, Andy Coles tried to imply that the people he targeted were dangerous, and that simply is not true. We must know why so much public money was spent violating people who pose no threat to us whatsoever. Out of the victims who have so far been identified, they all appear to be mainly environmental, animal rights and anarchist groups, though it has been confirmed that some right wing groups were also targets, including the BNP. Police have also revealed that there were more spies hired by private companies than there were police officers involved in undercover work, as if this statement somehow made their actions less abhorrent and the situation less terrifying. An officer named Peter Francis who spied on anti racist groups, but has turned sort of whistleblower criticised the practice of surveillance on certain groups recently stating there was no evidence to suggest many of the people he was asked to infiltrate were dangerous. He has also condemned the decision to allow officers who have had relationships with targets to remain anonymous, seeing anonymity as a privilege rather than a right.
The existence of these police units doesn’t shock me, though it does repulse me. What has stunned me about this whole situation is the silence of the activist community. Every time new information around this issue comes to light, I wait for the outrage and am left watching tumbleweed blow through social media. And I don’t understand. Our refusal to speak about it makes us bricks in walls of silence which protect the state and trap the victims into spirals of shame and paranoia. Forty years at least we have allowed our governments to sexually abuse and mentally destroy those who dare resist them. Our complicit silence teaches those who have fought tirelessly for the rights of others that when the shit hits the fan, they’re on their own and very few will stick around to defend them.
The lack of interest within our own ranks is astounding. Even the most stridently feminist campaigners against sexual abuse and violence are saying very little. The #metoo campaign and international women’s day went past without so much as a whisper. Maybe from this someone can tell me what is going on. I have a couple of theories. One is the good old “that would never happen to me” school of thought. Just as we believe that we don’t have friends who abuse their partners or rapists in our ranks, because we think we can spot them a mile off, so too do we think that we have some infallible built in bullshit detector that would allow us to identify an imposter, when statistics tell us that simply isn’t true. Most of us have a great story involving plain clothes coppers coming into clubs or pubs when we were teenagers and trying to buy drugs, but were always inevitably spotted a mile away. In Manchester, when members of the local force would come into the goth club we literally haunted, all looking like jocks from a bad nineties high school movie asking people for tack, us spooky kids would immediately shift to the opposite wall and glower at them until they fucked off. But we have to take into account that the SDS officers were not your usual plod. They were highly trained manipulators whose sole purpose was to infiltrate people and exploit them for no real purpose.
Another theory is that some of us believe very much that we may have had our lives invaded already. There’s been that friend, or that lover, who appeared out of nowhere, caused absolute hell on, then vanished into the wind again leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Imagine saying out loud: I think my mate/my boyfriend/my child’s father is really a police officer sent to spy on me and report everything I do back to the authorities. Sounds mental, doesn’t it? One woman who also found out her partner was an undercover officer said “No-one believed me. Everyone thought I was mad. People didn’t know about this”. This is political gaslighting on an unprecedented scale. And even now that we are starting to scratch at the truth, it perhaps provokes a terrifying discomfort that people cannot bring themselves to talk about for fear it may bring their own world crashing down around them.
Which is how they win. We have to remember that the SDS’s sole intention was not just to detect illegal activity and bring the perpetrators to court. It has been about disrupting the groups and causing discord and mistrust among political communities. One SDS officer known only as Officer A at the time (later revealed to be Peter Francis) confirmed this when he said “Once the SDS get into an organisation, it is effectively finished”. Tactics include smear campaigns and rumour spreading about certain individuals, finding the cracks in relationships within groups and chipping at then until they fracture completely. And it’s happening on a global scale.
Kennedy’s name was in the news again last week in connection with the start of the trial of a small anarchist group in France involving a rail sabotage that occured over a decade ago, allegedly by the group he was paid by French police to spy on. In fact, Kennedy travelled internationally and was involved in political actions around Europe, used by police forces in different countries. How many is unclear- Mark Kennedy told the Guardian it was 22, but given that his job was to literally lie to people, we should take this with large pinch of salt. But considering that officers were known to travel considerable distances sometimes it is hard to imagine how far this thing might go.
The enquiry is quickly turning into a shambles, due to Sir John Mitting who is chairing it being about as suitable for the job as Katie Hopkins on a Samaritans helpine. Today the victims and their QC walked out in protest of his handling of it. If you have the slightest care and concern for this situation, share everything you see about it. Engage in conversation. It is important to let them know that we are watching them this time and that we have the victims’ back. If your silence is motivated by thoughts of “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear” you will one day find yourself on the receiving end of state interference with no one left to defend you. The same will happen if we also allow fear to cow us into only showing our indignation using the Facebook angry face emoji. I’m no longer naive enough to believe that public outcry or outright kick offs will stop similar things from happening in the future. But I do believe we need to be more present for those affected and less convinced that it will never happen to us.
For more information please have a look at http://www.policespiesoutourlives.org.uk, which contains more information about campaigns, legal actions, and the impact the spies have had on people’s lives.
Corrupt from the bottom to the top, and you tell me it’s the law. Here’s Dirty Davey by The Levellers.