Undercover Research Group
5 August 2015
On 28th July 2015 Justice Christopher Pitchford opened the Public Inquiry into undercover policing. Much has been written about it, including our own piece on Corporate Watch (to be published soon), so we will not repeat all that. What we want to address here is the practicalities of the public inquiry as it relates to those affected by undercover policing.
To make sure wider aspects are heard, the Undercover Research Group will step forward and apply as core participant. Thus we are willing to work with the otherwise unrepresented to make sure voices are heard.
Meanwhile, we want to offer help in dealing with suspicions, in identifying whether you had an undercover close to you.
Getting ready for the Pitchford Inquiry
The website for the inquiry is up at ucpi.org.uk and includes its terms of reference and Pitchford’s opening remarks. A key section of the latter (para. 26 onwards) relates to core participation. This is a legal term by which an individual or organisation affected by the issues raised in the public inquiry can seek to participate. It is not an automatic right – it has to be applied for and Pitchford will have the final say as to the appropriateness of the participation. As well has having the ability to have your voice represented at the inquiry, it also gives the judge some powers to grant costs for expenses and legal representation.
As such, all applicants for core participation should write to the Inquiry by 14 September 2015, and Pitchford will decide on this at a preliminary hearing during the week starting 5 October 2015.
We at the Undercover Research Group are aware this is quite short notice, and that a lot of people have been affected by undercover policing do not necessarily have the resources or representation needed. While the public discussion has focused on a few leading issues such as relationships and the use of identities of dead children, we recognise that the effect of undercover policing goes much wider than that and many other accounts are not being heard. We know because are among them, having the misfortune to count undercovers as our friends and colleagues.
To make sure this wider aspect is heard, the Undercover Research Group will step forward and apply as core participant. Thus we are willing to work with the otherwise unrepresented to make sure voices are heard.
Due to the terms of the inquiry we have to focus on issues of undercover policing in England and Wales from 1968 onwards. Corporate spying and international aspects are off the table, though as a research group we remain interested in them. Our background is in environmentalism, anti-fascist, animal rights and social justice campaigns, though we are also interested in working in a non-partisan manner with left wing, anarchist, trade union, peace movement and family justice groups that have been affected. (We will not work with right wing groups, those who have a history of collaborating with the police or are known to regularly making unsupported accusations against other individuals.)
As part of this, we hope to host a series of round tables across the UK in late 2015 and through 2016 to bring people together so we can ensure we are representing voices properly and accurate. These meetings will be open only to those who have been affected by undercover policing, as we need to protect people’s confidentiality and ensure they are safe spaces for those telling their stories.
If you have any questions please do get in touch.
Meanwhile, dealing with suspicions
We are very aware that the undercovers made public so far, are only the tip of the iceberg and that there are more to be exposed. Many people have suspicions as more is learned about the methods used. We want to support this process, but equally we want to avoid destructive witch-hunts.
We strongly encourage people to not spread rumours, but to actively investigate before making any allegations. Already we have had to deal with situations were rumours were spread wrongfully – sometimes originating coming from informers and infiltrators.
From our investigations of the undercover officers exposed to date, we have been able to identify key aspects of their trade-craft, particularly the Special Demonstration Squad and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit which we list here.
If we have a key bit of advice to give, then it that the first thing you do is write down what you know (and don’t know) of the person, and what are the basis of your suspicions. It is a surprisingly effective technique for testing the substance of your concerns. Use the Tradecraft and Exit Strategy below as a first check list to see if and how the suspicions overlap with this basic framework.
Next, make a time line chronicling his or her whereabouts, presence, behaviour and activities – checking for (in)consistencies as well as periods of absence like we did for Mark Kennedy. (Always make sure not to include hearsay or stories that go around, keep track of who are your sources).
Key aspects of tradecraft used by undercover officers exposed for infiltrating activist groups:
- Jobs that would take them away for considerable periods.
- Sparsely furnished house, often devoid of much in the way of personal stuff. Can sometimes be very focused on cleanliness and order.
- Never having family or people from their previous lives around, plus a background story that writes them out of their lives. This includes going to places close to family with partners, but somehow never ending up meeting them, especially if they use the excuse of ill family members as an excuse for being away.
- Have a car or van and be ready to use it to give people lifts to demonstrations or their homes, transport essentials for an action or volunteer for recces. Above average driving skills.
- Ready access to cash and quick to buy rounds.
- Poor politics, or avoidance of discussing stuff to any depth.
- Claims of activities that do not match up with day to day experience of them. (Claim to be a handyman, but failing to fit a kitchen; claim to be a supporter but failing to know specifics about the team).
- Quick to get close to key organisers (but again, not necessarily so).
- A lack of public record for the individual before or after they are on the scene
- Provoke acts that disrupt actions or their planning, alert police or are otherwise out of the norm – whether socially or politically. For example: inexplicable carelessness (sabotaging of the car blockade during a Reclaim the Streets action by ‘ forgetting’ to keep window closed so that the car was easy to remove); or doing things beyond the group’s normal mode of behaviour (encouraging activities that put other members at risk, or take them into unplanned confrontations).
There is a key set of techniques consistently used around exit strategy:
- Increasing (expression of) moodiness, depression and paranoia. Erratic behaviour.
- On the scene for a period of approximately four years (at 7 years, Kennedy is the exception rather than the rule). During this time they will often move from one group to another.
- Breaking up of relationships messily.
- Vanishing without a trace, often claiming to be moving abroad, and in a good number of cases with a new love otherwise unknown to the scene around them. Minimal contact for a short while before utterly disappearing there-after.
Finally, a key bit of evidence is there being a death certificate for a child in the name of the person, though this tactic died out in the late 1990s / early 2000s.
Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list – it is merely a set of key questions to ask. None of these are evidence of guilt by themselves, but collectively they paint a very coherent picture.
Please remember that there are also perfectly valid reasons for never meeting someone’s family; that some people are naturally generous and people may have actual jobs that take them away for lengths of time. Most of the undercovers exposed to date were not ‘odd’ but came across as genuine, likeable people; some were so-called ‘very deep swimmers’, actively engaging in the group, while others only ever remained on the periphery.
For more information on exposing undercovers, see the guide at ActivistSecurity.org.