Donal O’Driscoll and Eveline Lubbers / Undercover Research Group
18 January 2016
Today we can reveal that Carlo Neri, who was active in the Socialist Party between 2001 and 2006, was in reality an undercover police officer in London, mostly likely deployed by the Special Demonstration Squad.
We have been working on this case since last summer, after people who knew him came to us with their suspicions. Following a long and sometimes winding investigation we were able to identify his real name, and to locate documentation that had his occupation down as police officer at the time he was undercover.
The story goes live today on Newsnight and in The Guardian. The Undercover Research Group presents an in-depth profile detailing Neri, his tour of duty, his relationships and the activities he was involved in.
This expose could not have been done without the efforts of Carlo’s former friends and partners. We salute their efforts in bringing this grim truth to the public scrutiny it deserves. Carlo systematically used people and betrayed trust; he deliberately sought out relationships as part of his cover. We hope in exposing him that some resolution can be found.
This blog post has – for the first time – a detailed account of our investigation. Yet again, the people affected by undercovers in their lives had to go through the painful process of uncovering the truth. Something that could have been avoided if the Pitchford Inquiry would release the list of cover names of undercovers from the Special Demonstration Squad.
Go to the Carlo Neri profile
How we proved Carlo Neri was an undercover police officer
Donal O’Driscoll / Undercover Research Group
Last summer we started to hear rumours that some people suspected a former friend, one ‘Carlo Neri‘, might have been an undercover officer. It is not uncommon to hear this. More often than not, the fears are baseless, rooted in something else. Yet, we knew these people by reputation as sensible folk. Mutual friends said we should be talking to each other, so I got an email asking for a meeting. It was the start of a roller-coaster ride that cumulated in today’s joint expose in The Guardian and Newsnight.
Over the last few years our profiling of known undercovers had given us a check list of what to look for (now written up as our Fifteen Questions article). So when I went to that basement room to meet two of Carlo Neri’s former comrades, I had a good idea of what to look for.
Now, normally in this kind of investigations, it is I who has to ask the questions, but they came well prepared. They’d already started testing the waters to see if their fears around ‘invisible Carlo’ were justified. Like all undercovers before him, he had mysteriously disappeared from the scene after several years devoted to activism. This was the next step for them, they wanted to know if it was worth proceeding.
I listened to their account, read the assembled emails and mentally ticked off each item on the check-list. There was no doubt in my mind that they had a strong case, as uncomfortable as it was. The question was whether we could turn it into something concrete, to confirm the dark fear that a fellow activist, former friend, house mate and in several cases a lover, was not who he had claimed to be.
Over the next couple of months I spoke to a number of people who knew him, mining their memories for the smallest of details. We know from experience that new avenues of investigation can come from such minute points. Slowly I assembled the account of his life among his friends. I walked the places he had walked, checking out the various addresses he had lived at to get a feel for him.
I spoke to Andrea (not her real name) about her relationship with him and more material came out. She had been to Mark Thomas’ show Cuckoo on his experiences of targeted by someone he had considered a close friend, and she walked out of it with one thought – Carlo was not who he had said he was.
Others who had known him reacted in different ways, with different emotions. That is to be expected, but a common theme was wanting to know that he was not an undercover, that their fears were unfounded. Some would have been happy to see him walk through the door and explain everything away. And there was room for doubt.
By September / October I was sure we were still on the right track though. My colleague Eveline agreed. But still, we needed proof.
One way of getting there was trying to ascertain that he was a real person who had just moved on from the activist period in his life and did not feel like keeping in touch with his old buddies. An important crack in that scenario was the ongoing relationship with ‘Beth’, which had started before he had vanished from activist circles, and which was continuing as we heard from various sources. On the surface it seemed to indicate that Carlo Neri was a genuine identity, though when we tried to confirm Neri indeed was his name there were signs that something was not right. We could not find any records for the two of them after they had moved away. Since other undercovers have used fellow cops to create the impression of they were in a relationship, we could not rule out that this was happening here as well. It meant we would continue our investigation.
Further research let us to one officer who might have been the undercover we were looking for: a policeman called Carlo with an Italian surname. After a few weeks of nervous waiting, this lead came back negative. Someone we knew had previously been in contact with that particular copper, knew what he looked like and could say it definitively was not the same person. We slumped, more doubt seeped in.
Then came the breakthrough – though it was not immediately clear it was such. A small detail had been overlooked. Registered to the same address as ‘Beth’ was one Carlo with a different surname; it was not even clear if they overlapped living there at the same time, but with all other avenues closed, it was worth a look.
The surname was an unusual one so we were able to track down his family, and it started to emerge that this Carlo had family members with the same first names that Neri had used when talking about his family. There were some differences, but it soon became apparent that he had simply taken middle names instead, giving us confidence we were on the right track. We found that his sister ran a delicatessen in North London and other aspects fell into place as well. Added up, the stories matched, surprisingly so.
I spoke to Andrea, and sent her websites of members of the family. She rang back – she recognised the people who appeared on those websites from photos that Carlo Neri had out on a shelve in her house when he lived with her. The hunch had paid off and it seemed that we had found our man.
Next to get concreted proof; the details now assembled allowed us to identify the paperwork that needed to be tracked down to provide the final pieces of the jigsaw. I remember getting the phone-call when they arrived, sitting on a bus in a state of shock. Confirmation, as definitive as we were ever going to get at this stage – there in black on white was his name and his occupation listed as police officer.
It is a complex set of emotions. The thrill of the chase tempered by knowing that for some it would be pain as the suspicions became a reality and the full implications of that settled in. For others, it was a relief to know definitively. Even though I had never met Carlo (though I had known other undercovers such as Lynn Watson and Mark Kennedy), I could see the impact on people. It is not something we would have wished on anyone, though for many it was as important to know the truth about their missing colleague and friend. If we could have proven he was who he had said he was, that had been an activist, genuine in his beliefs, whose life had simply had moved on, that would have been an outcome easier to accept, a better outcome for those who had known him, but that was not to be the case.
This way, though, people will be able to get the answers they need and perhaps, ultimately, some justice.
There is a lot more to the Carlo story which we have not revealed. Carlo intruded into people’s lives and it is not our desire to expose more than is necessary. We feel deep sympathy not just with those taken in by his lies, but also with his real family. They are also victims in this. We know that the police preferred undercovers who had families, yet so many of them had intimate relationships with other women, co-habiting with those they targeted. Carlo is by far not the only undercover for whom this is the case.
The real responsibility is with those who sent Carlo in and allowed him to actively go looking for relationships. That he was openly lying about being single and asking for people to help him find a partner demonstrates mind-boggling cynicism, not just from him but also of his superiors suggesting, sanctioning and implementing such a bare-faced tactic. Having spent a lot of time speaking to the affected, it is impossible to feel anything but anger.
We hope that this exposure will help them find some resolution, though there are many questions still to be answered. Who decided to deploy him, and who authorised it? Who turned a blind eye to his relationships, or as is increasingly likely as the pattern of other undercovers indicates, encouraged him on such a path?
Exposing Carlo has been the first salvo in a battle for answers to these questions, one we are sure the Metropolitan Police will fight in order to protect their men (it is nearly always men) including those who make the decisions.
Yet again, it has been those affected by undercovers in their lives who have had to go through the painful process of uncovering the truth. I hope I’ve given a small flavour of the emotional ride it has been for those involved. Something that could have been avoided if the Metropolitan Police released the list of cover names of undercovers from the Special Demonstration Squad.
We are aware that many people have concerns and suspicions regarding former comrades. If you want to talk them over with us, feel free to get in touch by email (PGP available on request).
Please don’t spread rumours about individuals without doing proper background checks.