Walton, the Watchdog and much more questions

Richard Walton

Eveline Lubbers / Undercover Research Group
26 June 2015

For the last 22 years the murder of Stephen Lawrence has hung over Metropolitan Police, and it continues to do so. In 1998 it threatened to topple the then Commissioner Paul Condon. Over the years it has cost jobs and careers. Those of a more junior rank two decades ago and who have since joined the top echelons are finding it will not go away.

In March 2014 it came back to haunt the head of counter-terrorism, Richard Walton. He was temporarily removed from his post for his role in the spying on the Stephen Lawrence Campaign back in 1998, and his case was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). He is still under investigation – with four other former- officers as Rob Evans explains in the Guardian.

However, the suspension of Walton was – as is shown here – only ever a cosmetic exercise. More importantly, there are several other lines that indicated less than reputable behaviour by the Met. Working on a set of new profiles for the Undercover Research Portal on Richard Walton, undercover officer N81 and their meeting in Bob Lambert’s garden, some questions came up that need an answer, either from the IPCC, Ellison, or the coming Independent Inquiry.

The main focus on a controversial meeting between Walton and undercover officer organised by Bob Lambert, then acting head of the Special Demonstration Squad, must not overshadow other important questions on the spying on black justice campaigns. All the more reason why next year’s public inquiry needs unhindered access to documents and actors involved if the truth is ever to be learned – because it is clear the Met will not be forthcoming.

Back in 1998, Walton met with an undercover officer ‘N81’, who had been placed close to the Lawrence family. At the time Walton was part of the ‘Lawrence Review Team’, a select group of trusted officers around then-Commissioner Paul Condon preparing the Metropolitan Police’s response to the Macpherson Lawrence Inquiry. Reviewing the failed Lawrence murder investigation, Macpherson criticised the police for being ‘institutionally racist’. Tensions were high.

In 2014, the Ellison Review into corruption around the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry and spying on black justice campaigns found out about the meeting and ruled it “wholly inappropriate”. Had it come out at the time that the Commissioner’s office had been briefed by a spy infiltrating black family justice campaigns, “it would have been seen as the MPS trying to achieve some secret advantage in the Inquiry from SDS undercover deployment.” Even more so, it would have caused the riots the SDS said it aimed to prevent. “In our opinion, serious public disorder of the very kind so feared by the MPS might well have followed.” (p. 267)

To give the impression that Ellison’s criticism was taken seriously, the Met ‘temporary removed’ Walton from his post as head of the Counter-Terrorism Command (SO15) – only to restore him to full duties eight months later, in December 2014.

The decision to reinstate Walton was taken as early as June according to a Scotland Yard press release, which was in fact – as we found out – right after the IPCC had announced it would open an investigation into his conduct (on 2 June 2014). His interview with the police watchdog took place in the same month he went back to work.

How much more proof do we need for the arrogance of the Met, and the total disrespect in the upper-echelons for QC Mark Ellison? Of the many reviews into the undercover police scandal his’ seems to be the only one making an effort to lift some lids.

The IPCC investigation also includes two others involved in organising the secret meeting. The first is Bob Lambert, acting head of the SDS at the time, who set it up to take place in the garden of his house. The second is his superior Colin Black, who – right after the meeting – formalised a route for intelligence from the undercover to land on the highest level of police involved in restoring relationships with black communities.

Obviously, some people were biding their time, hoping the investigation would go away – quite understandably with the IPCC’s reputation for deciding against bringing difficult cases to court and their recent refusal to investigate Orgreave police action during miners’ strike. (They said 1984 events were too long ago despite evidence that officers assaulted miners, perverted the course of justice and committed perjury).

But for now, it seems this one is not going to go away. Late last month the IPCC announced that the investigation had been widened, with two further former MPS officers being served with gross misconduct notices, their names not disclosed.

In an attempt to identify these two officers, we went with the little the IPCC revealed, put together the management structure of the SDS at the time, and tried to identify who was in which position in the hierarchy. Sifting through Operation Herne and the Ellison Review, their interviews and the few documents that survived the shredder, we pieced together which officers “may have had some involvement or knowledge of the meeting with the undercover officer” – as the IPCC put it.

This Undercover Research page reconstructs the SDS chain of command and identifies a few candidates for the IPCC investigation, but more than that it brings up some issues that go beyond the controversial meeting in Lambert’s garden.

Should Walton have been reinstated?

Being under investigation by the IPCC for involvement in spying on the Lawrences should be more than enough a reason to remain of duty for the duration of the inquiry. However, Walton has been involved in more undercover operations, back in the days (as will be explained below) as well as today.

There are question marks over the suitability of Walton to head up Counter-Terrorism Command today. In this post he oversees what is left of the domestic extremism units that once employed spycops like Mark Kennedy, Lynn Watson and others. Now renamed the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit, it has been stripped of its ability to run undercovers but still gathers intelligence on protestors.

With Operation Herne looking into the activities of the undercover operations and the Independent Inquiry announced by Theresa May coming up, it seems quite inappropriate that Walton – under investigation himself – still figures prominently in the disputed unit’s chain of command.

Why focus just the one meeting?

Ellison’s focus on the disputed meeting is understandable because it was a key moment in time, and illustrative in many ways of how the SDS operated: very much in secret, on its own, devoid of oversight and away from command structures, and so convinced of themselves that they failed to see the risks of what they were doing.

Given the contested issues at the [Macpherson] Public Inquiry as to the honesty, integrity and openness of the MPS, and the disputes as to the true causes of the seriously flawed investigation of Stephen Lawrence’s murder, the objective impression created by any public revelation of the fact of such a meeting could only have been dire for the MPS. (Ellison Review, Vol. 1, p. 219)

But the focus mostly on the meeting is also dangerous, because it overshadows other important issues uncovered by Ellison’s diligent research and persistent questioning that need our full attention too.

A ‘formal route’ to channel intelligence to the Commissioner’s staff?

As Ellison found out, right after the disputed meeting mid-August 1998, a formal route was set up to channel information gathered by N81 and other undercover officers to Walton. As recovered documents show, SDS intelligence was to be forwarded to John Grieve who headed the Racial and Violent Crimes Task Force, the Commissioner’s staff unit tasked with restoring relations between the police and black communities. Walton was to join the Task Force after finishing his stint with the Lawrence Review Team (early October 1998 according to police HR documents); the route was set up mid-September.

Walton was specifically mentioned in SDS Notes on the formal route for intelligence as being on the receiving end. The channel was a secret operation; Commander Colin Black wrote in a memo: “I have reiterated to [Walton] it is essential that knowledge of the operation goes no further. I would not wish him to receive anything on paper.” (Ellison Review, Vol. 1 p.230-31)

“Suitable material” would be “both tactical intelligence around the Lawrence enquiry and broader work on race crime”, which included, according to Ellison, information that touched on personal details regarding the Lawrence family emanating from N81’s reporting.(Ellison Review, Vol. 1, p. 229)

The focus of any future investigation should include the channelling of information gathered by undercover officers infiltrated in groups campaigning for justice black communities. How long did the official route continue to exist? What was the information reaching the desk of the Task Force used for?

What did the spying on black justice campaigns entail?

Part of the answer we already know, but it is important to spell it out, and to work on a full reconstruction. While it continued to receive intelligence gathered by N81 and other undercover officers spying on black justice campaigns, the Racial and Violent Crimes Task Force was assigned to reinvestigate the murder of Stephen Lawrence and Ricky Reel.

Just last week the Reel family was invited by Operation Herne to come and see the files the police kept on their campaign, at least those that escaped the shredder. Ricky Reel died after a racist attack in 1997; his mother found the police was spying on her, while she campaigned for a proper murder investigation .

The material will be heavily redacted, no doubt, just like the files of Duwayne Brookes (the friend of Stephen Lawrence who was present when he was killed) and Celia Stubbs (whose partner Blair Peach was killed by the police 35 years ago and who has been lied to ever since) They were invited to see their files only to find out to what extend they were spied upon themselves while campaigning for the truth.

These questions, and so many others, need an answer, either from the IPCC, Ellison, or the coming Independent Inquiry.

Meanwhile, read the new Undercover Research profiles: