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Undercovers on the run

Key highlights of the last four months

Metropolitan police apology

The end of November saw the assistant commissioner of London’s Metropolitan police, Martin Hewitt, offer an apology and settlement to seven women who had been targeted by undercovers – a victory following four years of obstructive tactics by the police. The apology acknowledged the inexcusable behaviour of the undercovers though he refused to specifically confirm that a number of the individuals were actually police or give any details as to why the women were targeted.

Lambert resigns

Bob Lambert is the bête noire of campaigners. An undercover officer who infiltrated the animal rights movement and the group London Greenpeace (nothing to do with Greenpeace International) in the 1980s, he helped author the now infamous ‘McLibel’ leaflet and has been accused in parliament of planting incendiary devices in a Debenhams department store. He later ran the special demonstration squad, where he continued the policy of using the identities of dead children as cover names for undercovers, as well the policy of targeting activists for relationships.

Since retiring from the police, Lambert has held a series of lecture positions, mainly focused on police-Muslim community relationships. Following a campaign, Lambert stepped down from teaching positions at the university of St Andrews in Fife, Scotland, and at London Metropolitan university, just before Christmas.

Scotland

Since December, pressure has been put on the home office in London, and on the Scottish government, to extend the Pitchford inquiry to Scotland. The terms of reference of the inquiry have been criticised for covering only England and Wales, when it is known that many of the undercovers exposed to date were active in Scotland, particularly around the 2005 G8 mobilisation.

In January, the UK home secretary, Theresa May, refused a request from the Scottish government for this extension.

March saw the culmination of Helen Steel’s 24-year search for the man she once considered her soulmate.

However, the spycops debate continues to attract attention in mainstream Scottish media. It also led to the new chief constable of police Scotland, Phil Gormley, running into controversy within a few days of taking office in January, when it emerged that he had headed special branch, overseeing the special demonstration squad.

Further articles continued pressure on senior Scottish police officers over their role in undercover policing. It was revealed that the recently retired head of the Scottish police complaints body, the professional standards department, had been seconded to the NPOIU when it was founded.

Carlo Neri and ‘RC’

January also saw two new undercovers being exposed through the work of the Undercover Research Group. Newsnight carried a 15-minute piece on ‘Carlo Neri’, who had infiltrated anti-racists and the Socialist Party in the 2000s. One of the women targeted for a relationship gave a powerful interview of the damage he had done. More evidence emerged that women were specifically targeted by undercovers for relationships.

At the end of January, another undercover, known simply as ‘RC’, who had infiltrated the animal rights movement, was also exposed by the group.

Walton resigns

The next police officer to run into trouble was former special branch officer Richard Walton, head of counter terrorism command at the Metropolitan police. Walton was part of a controversial meeting, along with Bob Lambert, with an undercover (‘N81’) who had infiltrated campaigns close to the family of Stephen Lawrence in the late 1990s.

This meeting was exposed in a review conducted by Mark Ellison, who labelled it ‘wrong-headed’, leading to Walton’s suspension in early 2014 and an independent police complaints commission investigation. Walton was subsequently re-instated, though he suddenly resigned several weeks prior to the release of the IPCC report on him, so avoiding disciplinary hearings.

Trevor Monerville

February saw details emerge of another family justice campaign being spied upon. This time it was Hackney undercover, Mark Jenner, spying on the campaign for justice for Trevor Monerville, who was seriously beaten by the police in the 1990s. This emerged in a public meeting called by former members of the Hackney Community Defence Association and lead to a powerful piece on Channel 4 News which had Trevor’s father talking of the devastation and betrayal he felt.

Blacklisting

At the same time, the Blacklist Support Group also gained an important victory with a multi-million pound pay-out from construction companies which had blacklisted trade unionists and safety campaigners on building sites. It is now well known that material from undercover police was being passed on to private companies to form part of illegal blacklisting.

Steel confronts Dines

March saw the culmination of activist Helen Steel’s 24-year search for the man who she had once considered her soulmate. Steel, of McLibel fame, finally tracked down undercover officer John Dines to an Australian university where he teaches future generations of police.

In her inimitable fashion, Steel walked up to him as he was greeting a delegation of Indian police and confronted him over what he had done. And received an apology from him. Steel had been one of the women apologised to by the Metropolitan Police in November, but they had never formally admitted that Dines was an undercover officer working for them.

Final note

We in the Undercover Research Group are aware that there are many people out there with strong suspicions about people in their groups, historically and current. We are also aware that suspicions can be toxic and disruptive. We urge people not to spread rumours but to investigate responsibly. There is material on our website that will help and, where we can, we will provide advice.

A major issue is that very little is known of what happened in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. We are always looking for people with memories, knowledge and archives of political activism from this time to come forward. Please get in touch as you may be sitting on crucial evidence and even the smallest detail can lead to new investigations.