‘Was my friend a spycop?’ publication now out

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A guide to the do’s and don’t’s of investigating if a comrade was an undercover police officer is released today,

In this 24 page booklet, we have brought together all the lessons we have learned to help you do your own investigation.

It covers how to start investigating and the sorts of questions that need answering. Equally importantly, we discuss how to support each other or deal with situations which are inconclusive. It takes you through the process step by step, so even if you have already started your own investigation there is help with what to do once you have come to a conclusion.

Supporting each other

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John Graham and behind the scenes in 1968

Donal O’Driscoll, Undercover Research Group, 25 August 2017

Cover of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign bulletin advertising the protest of 27th October 1968.

The impact of the protests of 1968 on reshaping left-wing politics is well-known. It also had another important effect, the development of political policing through the use of specialist undercovers to spy on protest movements. One of those early spies, the Undercover Policing Inquiry has now revealed was a ‘John Graham’. Examining what little is known of him has allowed a rare light to be shone on the much less studied events behind the scenes leading to the outpouring of protest that year.

Politics in 1968 was dominated by the United States involvement in the Vietnam War. In the UK, the opposition was lead by the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, a broad coalition of hard-left groups, but in the main lead by Trotskyists. It was the VSC which organised the mass protest of March 1968, when thousands of protests occupied Grosvenor Square and fought with police to get access to the US Embassy there. This caused huge embarrassment to the Labour Government of its time. With a second big demonstration being organised that October, the pressure was on the police to gather intelligence to prevent a repetition – and it was this which directly lead to the setting up of the notorious spycop unit,the Special Demonstration Squad under Det. Ch. Insp. Conrad Dixon.

1968 was also important because it was the year radical student politics came into its own. At the heart of this was the Revolutionary Socialist Students Federation (RSSF). Again a broad church coalition many of its leading lights came from the same Trotskyist milieu as the VSC. The core of the activists was based in and around north west London – Camden, Hampstead, Kilburn and the like.

Studying ‘John Graham’ has been a fascinating exploration of the history of the time, allowing us to examine rarely seen archives which documented some of the internal workings of the VSC. For anyone looking at an understanding of the history of protest at the time, our profile is possibly worth a read for that reason alone.

Founding of the Special Demonstration Squad

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Three New Spycops Named – But Others Get Hidden

COPS logoRepost from Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance, 14 August 2017.

The public inquiry into undercover political policing has published three new names of spycops and, for the first time, they’re new names rather than just confirming what activists, whistleblowers and journalists had already revealed.

However, among the hefty tranche of new papers from Inquiry Chair Sir John Mitting are grave indications of that he is seeking to prevent the full truth coming to light.

Having dragged out the process of beginning the inquiry for years, earlier this year the Metropolitan Police were given a firm timetable for applying for ‘restriction orders’ for the anonymity of undercover officers.

As expected, the Met are pushing for maximum secrecy, arguing that it would make officers worried and sad to be publicly known for what they’ve done. The Met also argue that the officers would be at risk of violent reprisal, despite nothing of the kind happening to the swathe of officers who have been very publicly exposed since 2010. With deadlines passing, the Met have had their hand forced and, finally, we are getting a small measure of new information from the Inquiry.

THREE NEW SPYCOPS

As had been suggested by some victims, the new names are all from the early days of the Special Demonstration Squad in the late 1960s and early 1970s. With those involved being of advanced age, there’s some merit in tackling these cases first. Indeed, one of the three newly named officers is already dead.

Read on at the COPS website 

Updated list of known spycops, it’s still only 23 out of at least 144.

Rod Richardson – a pivotal spycop

spycop Rod Richardson

Undercover police officer ‘Rod Richardson’, who infiltrated protest groups from 1999 to 2003.

Donal O’Driscoll, Undercover Research Group, 28 June 2017

Yesterday, we released our profile of undercover officer ‘Rod Richardson’. It is one of our largest profiles to date, three years in preparation, with dozens who knew him interviewed. We spent this time and effort because, of those exposed to date, we believe Rod is one of the most important and his deployment raises significant questions.

(Also see: Rod Richardson: #spycop was used to undermine protest, 26 June 2017)

What we know of Rod is that he was deployed in Summer 1999, in Essex, where he turned up at the Save Gorse Woods campaign at Rettendon. There he offered his house as a facility to other protestors. From 2000 he becomes involved in two strands of work. In London he focuses on anti-globalisation and anarchist groups such as W.O.M.B.L.E.S and Movement Against the Monarchy (MA’M). The other is infiltrating environmental networks, such as Earth First! and particularly the alternative scene in Nottingham. He disappears in Summer 2003, saying he was joining his girlfriend abroad.

Rod was not a passive observer of the activism he targeted. He threw himself in head-first. He was on the front line or driving for big demonstrations. Carefully documenting his time in London, we can place him close to the centre of quite a few events which saw heavy policing, such as Mayday, DSEi and anti-monarchy protests.

There is good cause to believe that it was his intelligence that lay behind a number of pre-emptive arrests and targeting of squats and campaigners. When we studied contemporary newspaper accounts, it was clear how heavily the police were relying upon such intelligence. Having confirmed his presence at the time, it is now clear that Rod is a strong candidate for being their principal source. Continue reading

Rod Richardson: #spycop was used to undermine protest

former #spycop Rod RichardsconEveline Lubbers, Undercover Research Group, 26 June 2017

Today we publish the profile of Rod Richardson, the undercover officer active as an environmental, anarchist and animal rights protestor between 1999 and 2003 in Essex, London and Nottingham.  Richardson was exposed on Indymedia UK and in The Guardian in 2013 and  confirmed as a spycop in December 2016.

Piecing together the profile of Rod Richardson and the details of his tour of duty in the world of activism, it occurred to us that the policing of two major protests he had been involved in had been subject to extensive legal challenges since.

Today we look at the forced return of the Fairford coaches on their way to an anti-war rally in 2003, with Rod Richardson on board; and part 2 will investigate the kettling of MayDay protesters at Oxford Circus in London in 2001, again with Rod in the middle of everything. In both cases, the police detained a fairly large and mixed group of people in quite extreme ways, while also in both cases protesters fought a decade-long legal battle to uphold their right to protest.

Investigate exactly what role he has played in these protests, the core question is to what extend the intelligence gathered and the activities of the undercover officers influenced the actual policing of these events. Continue reading

Spycop liberated chickens, and other updates on Andy Coles

Andy Coles undercover with Gulf War Resisters at Fairford, 1991. Photo Noor Admani; (c) Peace News.

Donal O’Driscoll, Undercover Research Group, 6 June 2017

Since the exposure of Andy Coles as the former spycop Andy ‘Van’ Davey, more information on him has been steadily trickling in. We’ve collected the most important updates:

  • Infiltrating the anti-war group ARROW
  • Another allegation of inappropriate behaviour
  • Andy’s role in a 1993 chicken liberation;
  • Questions over possibly illegally obtained police warrants.

New discoveries: infiltrating anti-war groups

Peace News has revealed that prior to infiltrating animal rights groups, Andy Coles targeted the small but highly visible anti-war group Gulf War Resisters, later Active Resistance against the Roots of War (ARROW). As Andy Davey, he attended their meetings and demos throughout 1991. Peace News also unearthed the first proper full face photo of Andy undercover (shown above), and two of him on a protest.

Davey’s time as an anti-war protester preceded his tour in animal rights, but his cover was already in place – he would wear the clothes, and use the same pager and the van he would appear with later on. To the anti-war activists he made out that he was already involved in the Animal Liberation Front – not true as far as we know –  which he used to add an aura of mysteriousness about his background. In Peace News Emily Johns explains she found this very weird at the time:

He told me, to impress me I thought, that he was a press officer for the ALF (Animal Liberation Front).

I remember thinking: ‘What kind of a fool do you take me for? Or what kind of a fool are you to tell me that?’ The ALF was and still is a very secretive group, carrying out direct action against animal exploitation. Either Andy was not a press officer for the ALF, and he thought that I was the kind of person who would be impressed by that boast, or he was an ALF press officer breaking the secrecy of the group with someone he barely knew.

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For core participants and others – request your police files

Lord Justice Pitchford is clearly very reluctant to release any personal information about those who were spied on beyond the details the Undercover Policing Inquiry feels that it needs to conduct its investigations. This is not the same, of course, as releasing the files that were gathered on individuals so they can understand the extent of the intelligence gathering and surveillance on them. So, let’s help them a bit! Continue reading

Breaking – Andy Coles resigns as Deputy Police Commissioner for Cambridgeshire

ex Met #spycop Andy Coles resigns as DPCCC.

Andy Coles has announced his resignation, effective immediately, following a weekend of press scrutiny over his past activities as an undercover police officer, in which the woman he deceived into a relationship called for him to step down.

Statement from the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner

May 15th, 2017

Statement from Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, Andy Coles    

There have been news reports over the weekend about which I am unable to comment.

This coverage is significantly impacting on my ability to carry out my duties as Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner.

I have therefore today tendered my resignation with immediate effect, which Police and Crime Commissioner, Jason Ablewhite has accepted.

I am aware that the allegations have been referred directly to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

Statement from the Police and Crime Panel   

There have been news reports over the weekend regarding Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, Andy Coles.

A referral has today been made by the Police and Crime Panel to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

As a result of the referral, we are unable to make any further comment at this stage.

Statement from the Police and Crime Commissioner, Jason Ablewhite  

Following news reports over the weekend, Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, Andy Coles has taken the decision to resign from his post with immediate effect.

I have accepted his resignation.

The matter has been referred directly to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) for their consideration, therefore I will not make any further comment.

ENDS

Finding Andy – ex #spycop now Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner

former #spycop Andy Coles currentlyDónal O’Driscoll and Eveline Lubbers, Undercover Research Group, 12 May 2017

Today we expose Andy Davey who was undercover in the animal rights movement in the early 1990s. His real name is Andy Coles, and he is currently a Tory councillor and Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner.

Simon Israel at Channel4 News at 7pm has an interview with ‘Jessica’, the woman Coles groomed into a relationship when she was just 19, and in the Guardian Rob Evans has Jessica calling for Coles to resign.


Update 
Breaking – Andy Coles resigns as Deputy Police Commissioner for Cambridgeshire, our blog, 15 May 2017.
Rob Evans, Cambridgeshire deputy police commissioner resigns over spy claims, The Guardian, 15 May 2017


Finding Andy

Each discovery of a new undercover police officer in protest movement comes with its own unique twists and turns. For Andy Coles, it began with a small paragraph in the autobiography of his more famous brother, the former popstar (The Communards!) Rev. Richard Coles. From there we were able to track not only what he got up to undercover, but also where he is now. These days, he is a Tory councillor and Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

The painstakingly unravelling of a hidden identity and documenting the activities of spycops is a process that usually takes months and months. More often than not, what you are left with after excruciating amounts of sifting out false positives is only 95% certainty that someone had indeed been a spycop.

Finding Andy Coles was a very different story: it moved much faster. His undercover persona Andy Davey, also known as Andy ‘Van’, was first outed by his former animal rights comrade Paul Gravett online in 2014. At the time, little was known other than that Andy fitted the pattern of spycops discovered to date. However, the investigation began in earnest when in January 2017 we got a little help from some friends. Someone reading Fathomless Riches, Or How I Went From Pop to Pulpit, the autobiography of the pop star, broadcaster and Anglican priest Richard Coles, spotted the following intriguing paragraph:

My older brother, Andy, brought his own drama with him. He looked like he had just walked out of the woods, his hair long and shaggy, with a straggly beard, his ears rattling with piercings; but his disarray was not like mine, an outward sign of internal distress, but suffered in the line of duty. He had joined Special Branch and was undercover, living a double life, infiltrated into some sinister organisation while his wife and baby daughter made do with unpredictable visits.

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How activists dealt with Stasi Tactics before the fall of the Berlin wall

A couple embracing, while one takes notes behind the other's back
Repost of Max Hertzberg‘s blog Stories from the edge of utopia, 22 November 2016. Pics by Carrie/1000 blackbirds.

N.B. In general, we are careful not to compare the UK #spycops saga with a totalitarian state systematically spying on its citizens. Max however has studied Stasi files and spoke to people spied upon.

Taking a look at the experiences of political activists in East Germany (GDR) who had to deal with Stasi informants and infiltration before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, this post is based on interviews with people who were politically active in East German times, and reflects their experiences. Those familiar with how police spies have been used for example in Britain may recognise the tactics used by both secret police and GDR activists.

The invasive spying and disorientation tactics used by the East German secret police (Stasi) meant there were significantly fewer possibilities for civil disobedience and direct action than political grassroots activists have today in countries places such as Western Europe and North America. Nevertheless political activists in East Germany managed to start a grassroots revolution in 1989.

East German opposition and activism

Because non-state organisations were prohibited in the GDR, networking and co-ordination between activists was informal: independent groups and networks stayed in contact through newsletters and the exchange of campaign materials, and there was a mix of local and regionally co-ordinated covert and open actions.

Activists in the GDR also campaigned on issues that will feel familiar to many campaigners today: anti-nuclear and peace issues, challenging economic paradigms of growth and consumption at any cost; resistance to an undemocratic state and its activities; propagating and practising sustainable choices versus exploitation of environment and animals. There was a strong emphasis on DIY culture with egalitarian, equitable principles – politically most activists in the GDR in the 1980s self-defined as socialist or anarchist. Continue reading