Despite the colossal array of corrupt misdeeds committed by Bob Lambert and his disgraced political secret police unit the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), his professional associate Stefano Bonino has been moved to write in his defence in Times Higher Education.
Somewhat melodramatically it starts with a reminder of the recent politically motivated killings in France and then says
the SDS maintained a central and defining focus on political violence – most notably street violence conducted by and between far-Left and far-Right groups – and helped to save lives
A central and defining focus should leave plenty of evidence behind it. Yet among the exposed spycops is a central focus on groups who presented little or no threat to life.
As well as targeting trade unionists brandishing lethal leaflets and environmental groups with their deadly sitting in roads, the SDS spied on a swathe of justice campaigns, perhaps the most well known being the Stephen Lawrence campaign. This is now regarded as one of the most shameful acts in the history of the Metropolitan Police.
SPYING ON THE LAWRENCES
Lambert said in 2013 – just 18 months ago, well into his academic career, when he’s supposedly seen the light and come clean about his past – that
at no time in my tenure as an SDS manager – which is from November 1993 until when I left in 1998, which was roundabout the time of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry – at no time was the Special Demonstration Squad concerned in smearing their family or their campaign.
It appears that he carefully phased it to imply denial of allegations that his unit targeted the Lawrence family, and indeed the piece was headlined
‘We did not target Stephen’s family’, says undercover boss
However, the findings of last year’s comprehensive report by Mark Ellison QC are quite clear. They did target Stephen’s family. Bob Lambert was overseeing spying on the Lawrences, with nine officers gathering intelligence on the family.
If that wasn’t unethical enough in itself, Ellison says
The reality was that [officer deployed by Lambert codenamed] N81 was, at the time, an MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] spy in the Lawrence family camp during the course of judicial proceedings in which the family was the primary party in opposition to the MPS
The time they are talking about is not the immediate aftermath of Stephen Lawrence’s murder. It is five years later, as the Met was preparing for final submissions to the MacPherson Inquiry into the killing and the police response.
Lambert brokered a meeting between his Lawrence spy N81 and the team formulating the Met commissioner’s public response. The Ellison report’s findings were pretty blunt about Lambert’s actions.
We find the opening of such a channel of communication at that time to have been ‘wrongheaded’and inappropriate…
a completely improper use of the knowledge the MPS had gained by the deployment of this officer
Bonino talks of
potentially violent protest groups that were attempting to attach themselves to the Stephen Lawrence campaign
Take a moment to think about the phrase ‘potentially violent’. Consider how it is being used, and how it could be used to justify spying on absolutely anyone and everyone.
But even before we need to address such blanket policing, Bonino’s assertion – that the concern wasn’t the Lawrence family themselves – has been discredited since the Ellison report’s revelation of the meeting Lambert organised. Why else would that meeting take place, except to discredit the family and their campaign? Where exactly was the public order threat, five years after the murder, from the family’s submission to the MacPherson Inquiry?
WHEN IS A SPY UNIT NOT A SPY UNIT?
Bonino has no choice but to concede that much of what Lambert did for years is indefensible, but then mentions the final phase of his police career.
If his progressive calls for more participatory and transparent approaches to counterterrorism appear largely inconsistent with the activities of the SDS, the achievements of the Muslim Contact Unit are unquestioned.
Really? The Muslim Contact Unit has an untarnished reputation, as you would expect from an organisation run by a secret unit and which has never been critically examined. We should remember that Lambert’s animal rights work sounded fine from his own account, but subsequent revelations indicate that it was something else entirely.
The Muslim Contact Unit was set up by Lambert and his favoured protege Jim Boyling after the 9/11 attacks. It was ostensibly an outreach unit to foster good links between police and Muslim communities, to acknowledge that devout Islam is not a threat to the wider society. And maybe that’s all it was. I have no evidence to the contrary.
But one has to wonder why Special Branch, the secret intelligence gathering wing of the police, would fund a unit if it wasn’t there to gather intelligence. If you’re not spying why use your accomplished and skilled spies who have little experience of anything else?
ACADEMIA COMES OUT OF THE IVORY TOWER
Bonino grasps for a philosophical assault on criticism of Lambert, saying
the campaign urging Lambert’s dismissal is undermined by its own hubris. Not only does it fail to differentiate between academic expertise and morality (are all lecturers made fully accountable for their non-academic past?), it also elevates morality to an absolute virtue floating outside the realm of a complex political world.
A group of academics have responded to Bonino in this week’s Times Higher Education, saying
The growing clamour from politicians, opinion formers and the wider public for Lambert to be sacked comes precisely because morality is not divorced from the political world.
Ethics must be integral to teaching, and nowhere more so than in the tutoring of those who will have privileged power over the lives of citizens and the political movements essential to democratic society.
Should lecturers made accountable for their non-academic past? Yes, if it is a profoundly unethical past that seriously undermines their suitability for the academic post. If lecturer in medicine were revealed to have performed secret, grossly unprofessional experiments on citizens including sexual deception, that led to record compensation payouts to their victims, they could not expect to retain their post.
Likewise, when a criminology lecturer devoted decades to abuse of citizens and the counter-democratic undermining of campaigns for seemingly no reason other than they threaten established power, it demolishes their credibility and legitimacy.
DID THE LIAR LIE?
The campaigners disregard the authority and competence of universities to assess and monitor the fitness of their employees.
One of two things happened:
1) Lambert disclosed the full detail of his relevant past when he applied for the job – information that official reports have spent years ferreting out and are still not at the bottom of, matters that Lambert has flatly refused to answer questions about, details that he says he kept secret from even his wife and family – and the institution gave him the nod nonetheless; or
2) Lambert he failed to disclose a swathe of information relevant to his post that is now embarrassing the universities and damaging their standing, deceiving them as he deceived the campaigners he infiltrated and the women he abused.
Either way, the universities that employ him have questions to answer. But it doesn’t stretch credulity to imagine a state-trained liar with decades of experience being able to deceive a university’s recruitment staff.
Bonino thinks the campaign against Lambert
ignores the specific context in which Lambert acted and the morass of moral ambiguities inherent in covert policing.
Even in that world, Lambert and the SDS were exceptional. The way he and his charges behaved was, in the words of people with a higher level of policing authority than Lambert ever achieved, ‘grossly unprofessional‘ and an ‘abject failure‘.
He did not merely make a personal mistake but developed a methodology using tactics that have shocked the public and been unequivocally slammed by senior police officers. Under his management, that methodology was emulated by those he was in charge of.
This is neither intrinsic to covert policing as Bonino asserts, nor is it the ‘extremely rich experience in professional practice’ that London Metropolitan University’s spokesperson claims.
WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED? IT MAY BE COMING SOON
The question should really be approached from the other side – if all this is not enough to render him unfit to teach in this field, what is?
Unlike someone contrite, he has not readily admitted his wrongdoings until they have been revealed by others. This is the measure of the man today.
Even after he was exposed he did not make contact with his ex-partner and their son despite knowing of the risk to the child’s health from a genetic condition. Instead she found out by seeing it in a newspaper in 2012. She has said that, had she not done so, Lambert would have taken the secret to his grave.
So one wonders what else the range of ongoing official inquiries, criminal investigations and court cases will add to the already appalling list.