How the Met failed their #spycops – until the Pitchford Inquiry came along

SpecialbranchfileslogoEveline Lubbers, Undercover Research Group, 5 October 2016

Quite a few retired undercover officers carry a serious grudge against their former employer, that much the Metropolitan police acknowledge in submissions to the Pitchford Inquiry. In applications currently under review, however, the Met spells out the efforts made to gain the trust of these spycops and the subsequent time spent on mental support.

We think there is a bit more to say about this sudden concern for the wellbeing of the long-lost spycops. As a matter of fact, the submissions reveal how little the police cared so far. Until late last year, the Met had no clue whatsoever where to find their most secret former employees. In addition, the details published now confirm that the Met has failed their undercover officers for decades. They had no welfare policy in place, and even after Mark Kennedy was exposed and the scandal broke, nothing happened – until the Pitchford Inquiry came along.

The revealing submissions to the Inquiry come from two officers tasked by the Met with locating and liaising with former spycops, known as ‘Operation Motion’. Code-named ‘Karachi’ and ‘Jaipur’, the pair were chosen because of their long careers in Special Branch – careers very similar but not identical to that of the undercover officers (or so they say). This closeness is said to be essential to build rapport with the spycops. Continue reading

Voices of the Spied Upon public meeting – 10th October

Note from URG: the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance are hosting another of their Voices of the Spied Upon public meetings. These are a great place to find out more about the issue of spycops and how they have impacted on people. Several people from the Undercover Research Group will be also going. More details from the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance below. Please spread the word.

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How Many Spycops Have There Been?

COPS placardRepost of Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance blog, 1 Sep 2016, written with support of Undercover Research Group. 5 September 2016

Political spying is not new. The Metropolitan Police founded the first Special Branch in 1883. Initially focusing on Irish republicanism in London, it rapidly expanded its remit to gather intelligence on a range of people deemed subversive. Other constabularies followed suit.

But in 1968, the Met did something different. The government, having been surprised at the vehemence of a London demonstration against the Vietnam War, decided it had to know more about political activism. The Met were given direct government funding to form a political policing unit, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS).

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Operation Herne’s concerted efforts to limit the Pitchford Inquiry

Herne restrictedEveline Lubbers, Undercover Research Group, 7 September 2016

To date, the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into undercover police abuses, Operation Herne, has made publicly available three Reports. Its fourth report, an Update, issued in February 2015, was classified as ‘Restricted’ and only internally circulated rather than being published on the official Herne website.ju

Following a Freedom of Information request, the Undercover Research Group received a redacted copy, which (as opposed to hidden in the Met’s disclosure log) we are making available for all to read.

Much to our surprise, the amount of redaction was minimal. As set out below, we believe the reason for being restricted is that it has a number of points which cause the Metropolitan Police embarrassment.

Our first analysis of the Update confirms the utter disarray in record keeping we wrote about in August, and exposes – once again – the rationale behind Operation Herne. We have found derogatory remarks about the little amount of official complaints and legal claims, and disturbing suggestions to limit the reach of the Pitchford Inquiry. Far from being independent, Operation Herne does not only serve as the Met’s self-investigation into the spycops scandal – it is actively seeking to scale down the scope of the Public Inquiry in every possible way. Continue reading

The Met’s Chaotic and Dysfunctional Record Keeping

Shelves-full-of-disordered-filesStorage facilities with most documents missing or misfiled, systems repeatedly described as ‘chaotic’ by the police themselves – internal documents reveal that the Met is having big problems sorting out its records management before it can even tell the Pitchford Inquiry what’s gone on.

Guest posting at the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance blog by Peter Salmon of the Undercover Research Group, unpicking recent statements from the force. 19 August 2016.

The issue of police disclosure and how public it can be is a matter taxing all involved in the Pitchford Inquiry. We know that behind the scenes there has been considerable discussion between the Inquiry team and the Metropolitan Police over how the Inquiry accesses the vast amount  of police material.

Recently, the Inquiry website published two statements from Det Supt Neil Hutchison, responding to questions from the Inquiry team. With dozens of supporting documents, they shed some light on what has been happening within the Metropolitan Police. The first statement deals with conflicts of interest and the prevention of the destruction of relevant records. The second focuses on the state of the Met’s record keeping and what is being done about it through Operation FileSafe. In this post we look at the latter issue. Continue reading

Why is the State Still Spying on Peaceful Protesters?

PSOLAndy Rowell, repost of his blog for Oil Change International Exposing the true costs of fossil fuels July 25, 2016

Here’s a simple question for you. Given the intense security pressures law enforcement agencies are under globally, why are the US authorities still wasting precious time and resources spying on peaceful environmental activists?

Last week, the Intercept reported that back in May when 300 protesters assembled in Colorado for an auction of oil and gas leases on public lands, “several of the demonstrators were in fact undercover agents”.

The story was based on emails obtained through open records requests which revealed that the local Police Department collected information about the protest from undercover officers as the event was being planned. During the auction, “both local law enforcement and federal agents went undercover among the protesters.”
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The case of Gary R & Abigail L … another two unconfirmed undercovers.

SPEAK logoDonal O’Driscoll and Eveline Lubbers, Undercover Research Group, 13 July 2016

Today the Undercover Research Group is able to release profiles of two individuals strongly believed to have been undercover police officers infiltrating animal rights groups in Oxford. They particularly associated with the high-profile SPEAK campaign against a local vivisection laboratory. They turned up in 2006 as a couple, with Abigail leaving in 2008 and Gary in 2010.

URG believes that, as we set out below, everything now points to them being undercover police, though nothing official has been found to confirm this definitively. This is why we have not provided their full cover names or images at this stage. Nevertheless, their connections to several high profile cases means the danger of miscarriages of justice cannot be ignored either, and hence why we have decided to publish at this stage.

Abigail and Gary have been a difficult case for Undercover Research Group. Suspicion regarding Gary began early on – while he was still active – and our extensive research shows that he and the woman he presented as his partner fit the profile of undercover officers – as we will explain below. Most importantly, they don’t seem to exist in official records, outside the time they were active in Oxford. It is clear to us that the lack of background is strong enough to say that Gary and Abigail are effectively ‘ghost identities’.

Much of our research work involved the effort to actually find these two people, to disproof the suspicions by showing that they just moved on from being activists and lost contact with old friends. We followed as many leads as possible, difficult in places as their apparent background stories overlapped with those of other people who really exist – perhaps deliberately so.

However, every lead dried up. In particular, we have not been able to find birth certificates for either of them, and they effectively only have electoral roll records for the times they were active in animal rights, or the year before or after.

Of the various possibilities as to what they may have been, we believe on balance of probabilities, that both were serving police officers rather than, say, private intelligence agents. Much of their activity sits within the picture of police tradecraft built up from confirmed undercover officers. Given that at the time SPEAK was a very high profile campaign and that another strongly suspected undercover officer, ‘RC’, had recently exited the group, there is reason enough to believe that a replacement would be sent to focus on this group.

We reiterate, that in this case, as with RC, no proof has been found that is as conclusive as was the case with say Mark Kennedy or Carlo Neri. However, given the high chance of miscarriages of justice having taken place, given significant court cases Gary would have touched on, and having exhausted all other options, it seems to us that the consequences of not going public outweigh the residual risk that we are in error. As with RC, we are prepared to offer an apology if they come forward and clear up the various outstanding questions marks hanging over them.

Undercover active in Norway?

One of the reasons why we have decided to publish our research about Gary and Abigail now, is the possible connection to the court case of Debbie Vincent: Gary’s presence at an animal rights gathering in Norway. We may need to add him to the long list of undercover officers who have been active abroad.

Debbie Vincent is an animal rights campaigner currently in jail having been convicted of conspiracy to blackmail the research company Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) and its clients. Her trial, which revealed that an undercover officer posed as an employee of drugs company Novartis in an sting operation against her, is also interesting in the context of Gary R.

Court documents show that at least one NPOIU police officer attended an animal rights gathering in Norway to spy on Debbie Vincent, and reported back on who she was meeting. Careful reading of the short bit of prosecution evidence in Debbie’s case file implies that the officer was not an external monitor (though at least one other NPOIU officer, intelligence gatherer Ian Skivens was seen in hanging out in the back of an Oslo police vehicle), but someone with access to the group. This indicates that he was a relatively trusted individual known to the UK animal rights campaigners present.

This is the same gathering that Gary attended and is known to have volunteered to wash-up alongside Debbie.

Gary is also know to have associated with Mel Broughton, of the SPEAK campaign, and attended his court hearings on at least one occasion. Broughton was later sentenced to jail for an arson attack on Oxford University.

Continue to our profile of Gary and Abigail.

What we have found on Gary and Abigail Continue reading

UK Professor quit course over involvement #spycop John Dines

Dines current Eveline Lubbers, Undercover Research Group, 4 July 2016

At long last, the Undercover Research wiki website has a profile of John Dines, the undercover officer who infiltrated London Greenpeace, animal right groups and local groups in Hackney in the 1980s.

John Dines is most known for his relationship with campaigner Helen Steel, who spent years looking for him after he disappeared from her life in 1992 feigning a psychological breakdown (like many #spycops before and after him).

Earlier this year, Helen confronted John Dines in Sidney at the airport, where he was waiting for a delegation of police officers from India. As she found out, Dines is now working for the Graduate School of Policing & Security, part of the Charles Sturt University in Australia, as one of the directors of a capacity building course for the India Police Service.

We did some work on Dines’ current career as well, and found out that a UK professor teaching public order and crowd control to police forces at the course in India decided to quit when he realised Dines was one of the #spycops in the current undercover policing scandal – see below. Continue reading

New undercover guidelines contain absurd get-out-clause

standwus-icon Repost of Police Spies Out of Live blog.

Today the College of Policing published a draft ‘Authorised Professional Practice’ for Undercover Police. This is the first time that such Guidelines have been published, and it is welcome, although  that they have been forced to publish it by huge pressure for change from people affected by undercover infiltration, and the public at large. Its contents are not hugely reassuring. Positively, they do state that intimate sexual relationships will never be authorised or used as a tactic:

It is never acceptable for a UCO (undercover officer) to form an intimate sexual relationship with those they are employed to infiltrate and target or may encounter during their deployment. This conduct will never be authorised, nor must it ever be used as a tactic of a deployment.

However they go on to give themselves an unnecessary and absurd get-out-clause, suggesting it is ok for an officer to have sex if his life is being threatened, or similar:

If a UCO engages in unauthorised sexual activity for whatever reason (for example, they perceive an immediate threat to themselves and/or others if they do not do so) this activity will be restricted to the minimum conduct necessary to mitigate the threat. In such extreme circumstances UCOs must record and report this to the cover officer at the earliest opportunity. The authorising officer will be informed immediately and the circumstances investigated for welfare and training purposes, potential breaches of discipline or criminal offenses and to allow an appraisal of the operation.

There is no need for this get-out-clause. It suggests there is enough grey area that officers just need to find themselves an excuse for committing these abuses. It risks enabling these abuses to continue.

It is also essential that these guidelines are not seen as enough. Many of the women, deceived by undercover officers into intimate sexual relationships, see the practice as tantamount to rape. The psychological abuse that ensues from it is devastating, and the police themselves have admitted it is an abuse of human rights. It therefore should be outlawed in legal statute, as well as in these codes of practice, which can only lead to disciplinary procedures.

These guidelines are in draft form, and they invite you to comment on them. Tell them to get rid of the get-out-clause, and to outlaw this behaviour in legal statute!


  • ‘Lisa’ and comment on new guidelines at 48mins into Victoria Derbyshire – iPlayer.
  • Sex and drugs off limits for undercover police .Covert officers can have sex or take drugs with suspects only when ‘necessary and proportionate’ under new guidelines, Press Association, The Guardian, 29 June 2016
  • Actually the new guidelines grant them a loophole, they can use sex if feeling „threatened“. See on Twitter.

460 groups spied upon…?

Herne logo Undercover Research Group, 22 June 2016

For a long time it was not known how many groups had been spied upon by undercover police since 1968. Without the cover names the #spycops used it was impossible to even to speculate.

However, at a press conference two years ago, the Metropolitan police surprisingly revealed a specific number of groups. The occasion was the release of the third of the Operation Herne reports on 24 July 2014, looking at the Special Demonstration Squad and its history. Mick Creedon, the Chief Constable of Derbyshire having direct responsibility for Operation Herne, stated specifically

…that over the 40 years when the SDS were operating, they infiltrated over 460 groups, across a huge spectrum of ideology and motivation.

The full text of what was said at the press conference is provided below, but first we want to look at this figure a bit closer. What does it tell us? How close to the truth is ‘over 460 groups’ spied upon?

For a start, it does not include the groups spied upon by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, so the actual number spied upon is going to be many more. Also, it covers groups on all sides, left and right-wing, single issues campaigns, family justice campaigns and so on.

Most of the 460 groups are likely to have a London focus as this is where the SDS were primarily active; but it is known that a number of them travelled to other parts of the country. For instance, Matt Rayner was at actions in Merseyside and made a point of befriending and visiting activists in the north of England.

We can only speculate how Operation Herne reached this number. Our suspicion is that it comes from collating all the groups that have been cited in internal SDS intelligence reports and similar documents (see the Ellison Report for such examples) – as far as those were kept on file and have not been shredded since. We don’t believe there has ever been a pre-existing and carefully distinguished list identifying which groups were primary targets of infiltration, and which were ‘collateral’ – as the police likes to call that. (Not that we accept there was any such thing, we think all intelligence was of interest for the SDS and its successors.)

Our reason for believing this, is that while each officer will have been given a group as a primary objective, that would have been merely an entry point to a wider number of groups. For example, Mark Jenner’s association with the Colin Roach Centre would have provided access to a wide number of campaigns of different types which would have been reported back on. Thus the degree to which each group was a target, and which was caught up through association is not entirely clear. However, from our examination of available material, at least some of the officers were directed to central points which gave them access to multiple sources of intelligence, for example Lambert’s participation in London Greenpeace, or Simon Wellings in Globalise Resistance. The group the undercover simply known as ‘N81‘ was placed in, would have allowed him or her to gain intelligence on many family justice campaigns without necessarily being at the heart of them.

It may also be that several different undercovers were reporting on the same group from different directions. The interest of NPOIU undercovers in social centres for instance (Lynn Watson at the Common Place, Mark Kennedy and Rod Richardson at the Sumac Centre, for example) bears this out.

Some undercovers would have more access than others; while reading between the lines on the activities of other undercovers, it would appear that some would have been tasked to focus on specific campaigns or issues only and told to ignore other issues altogether (for example the apparent strict division between infiltrating animal rights and environmentalists that can be observed in NPOIU undercovers). Another factor to take into consideration is the quality of the undercover concerned; there is quite a range here. In the jargon, while some were ‘deep swimmers’ such as Lambert, Dines and Jenner, able to go deep and wide, others were ‘shallow swimmers’ such as Chitty, barely scratching the surface.

Last but not least, we should point out that Operation Herne is not viewed as a particularly credible investigation, especially when contrasted with the Ellison Review that drew quite startling different conclusions from the same material. Nevertheless, that the police were able to quote this figure of 460 is telling enough. It indicates that a count has been done, and that the names of the groups are known. Likewise, the police are claiming that some of their officers are at risk even if only their cover names would be exposed, (a claim we will continue to challenge). It is obvious that to be able to make such a risk assessment, the police must have made the effort to go through all those groups spied upon to evaluate the present danger they impose.

The true extent of undercover policing abuses cannot be understood without knowing which groups were spied upon in the first place. For this reason, the Undercover Research Group adds its name to the other campaigners demanding that this list of groups be made public (and the list of cover names used by the #spycops too!).

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