Harvey Duke reports (This article appears in the new issue of the Socialist - the paper of Socialist Party Scotland)
- This article was written just before further revelations were reported by the BBC and the Guardian on January 18 2016, that an undercover officer had infiltrated the Socialist Party in London in the early 2000s. See this report from the Socialist Party website.
As a result of campaigns against anti-democratic police spying, the Scottish Government has asked for the Public Inquiry into Undercover Policing to investigate the role of police spies in Scotland. When Tory Home Secretary Theresa May set the terms of reference for the ‘Pitchford Inquiry’ , in July 2015, it was limited to undercover policing by English and Welsh police forces and their activities in England and Wales. This was widely looked upon as a partial cover-up from the start – as half of the identified undercover police officers also worked in Scotland, including Mark Kennedy – 14 times in 7 years. Kennedy was known to have been spying on protesters at the G8 gathering at Gleneagles in 2005.
Labour MSP Neil Findlay has led calls for action in the Scottish Parliament against anti-democratic spies, and organised the hour-long debate on 6th Jan 2016.
Fresh evidence of police spying has continued to come to light since the revelations in the Guardian and in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme in June 2013, when it was revealed that undercover officers, from the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad, had been tasked with finding dirt on the family of murdered teenager Steven Lawrence. Many of these facts only became known through evidence from whistleblower, and former police spy Peter Francis, who also spied on Youth Against Racism in Europe, under the name Pete Black.
Other reports by Rob Evans in the Guardian detail the most recent developments. A former Deputy Mayor of London discovered she was spied upon by police from 2001 to 2012. Baroness Jenney Jones, a Green party politician, used the Data Protection Act to access proof that she was a target, labelled a ‘domestic extremist’. According to police whistleblower Sergeant David Williams, who came forward in Jan 2016, the police shredded records about the politician in June 2014: the month when she was looking for answers.
The Blacklist Support Group has also led calls to investigate the role of undercover police seeking to undermine trade unions. There is evidence that police spies have attended union meetings and picket lines, and passed information to blacklisting companies.
questions to answer
On 14th January, the Guardian’s Rob Evans announced a new online resource called the Special Branch Files Project. It was set up by Eveline Lubbers, Nicola Cutcher and Jac St John. The files can be found at http://specialbranchfiles.uk – a store of documents from 1968 onwards, released under Freedom of Information claims. As Rob Evans wrote: ‘These files catalogue the police’s intricate, and often intrusive efforts to keep track of protesters at meetings and demonstrations, both large and small.’ The spies were spying on the anti-apartheid movement; CND; and protests against the Vietnam War.
As Eveline Lubbers explains in the Special Branch Files Project: ‘The authorities now routinely refuse to disclose Special Branch files, including information which they previously released.’
One former Head of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch is now Chief Constable of Police Scotland: Phil Gormley. For 4 years from 2003, he had responsibility for the Special Demonstration Squad, which spied on political and trade union activists from 1968 to 2008. He has a lot of questions to answer about what he knew about undercover policing. So far, he says he knows nothing.
On 23rd October, 2014, the Met agreed to pay £425,000 compensation to a woman called Jacqui who had a child to former SDS spy Bob Lambert, who had tricked her into having a relationship with him, when she thought he was a committed environmental activist. He vanished from her life, taking up a new role as a lecturer. He recently resigned from posts at St Andrews University and London Metropolitan University, following months of protests from groups including the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS); and Police Spies Out of our Lives – which represents some of the women tricked into having close relationships with undercover officers. They were later abandoned by the spies, and damaged by the experience.
When Phil Gormley became a Met Commissioner in 2003, police spy Mark Kennedy joined Operation Pegasus, tasked with spying on left-wing groups. His activities were supervised by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, run by the Association of Chief Police Officers: as this is a private company, it is exempt from Freedom of Information laws.
As a new period of increased workers’ action against cuts begins, it is vital that the pernicious role of undercover police spies is publicly examined, and action taken to remove these units from activity. In Scotland, that means there needs to be complete disclosure of the activities of police spies in Scotland – by any police force. The role of private companies in undercover spying on activists also needs to be brought into the full glare of public examination. Whatever Theresa May decides, the workers’ movement must remain vigilant on these issues, demanding answers and police spies out of our lives!
Further information can be found in:
- Undercover, The true story of Britain’s Secret Police (2013) – by Rob Evans and Paul Lewis
- Blacklisted – The Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists (2015) – by Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain
- Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark: Corporate and Police Spying on Activists (2012) – by Eveline Lubbers
- https://policespiesoutoflives.org.uk The website for women victims of police spying who are taking legal action. This site contains the most moving stories and courageous testimony from activists.
- http://campaignopposingpolicesurveillance.com/ The website for the COPS campaign: a wealth of material and regular updates.
- Blacklist Support Group: see their excellent Facebook page for up-to-the minute updates
- https://www.ucpi.org.uk/ The official website for the Undercover Policing Inquiry.