RC a #spycop? Police refuses to confirm or deny…

NCND letter from police
Donal O’Driscoll and Eveline Lubbers,
Undercover Research Group
4 February 2016

Today we release a profile of an animal rights activist based in Bedford 2002-2006, whom former colleagues (including a member of URG) now believe was a undercover police officer.

However, the final, definitive bit of documentation that would 100% confirm this person as a police officer is missing. For that reason we refer to him solely as RC, and no pictures of him are included.

This is less than ideal and the responsibility for it lies squarely with the police, who continue to frustrate attempts to uncover injustices in the spycop saga. In response to our request for confirmation, the police ‘intend to maintain the principle of neither confirming nor denying the issues raised‘. However, remaining silent is not an option: firstly, there are potential miscarriages of justice associated with RC being a police officer and secondly, those affected will be hampered from being core participants in the Pitchford Inquiry.

If we are wrong, we will publicly apologise, but we believe we have sufficient evidence to take this step.

In this blog post we explain how we came to the decision to publish an anonymised version of the profile, explaining the way we worked on this case and summarising the evidence at the end against our List of Fifteen Questions.

Please read this first before going to the profile on RC

Resolving a dilemma

Nobody wants to discover a close friend or colleague is a spycop. The implications on personal and political levels are huge and it can cause great pain. Yet, worse than knowing is not being able to confirm, to have a horrible sensation that something is not right, but not being able to put the fear to bed.

It is an experience familiar to many caught up in the spycop saga, including ourselves. So many people we have talked to have felt the same. Several have searched for years, going to different countries desperate to find out the truth. Bitter fights have been fought in court to get disclosure. Sometimes the truth eventually comes out, but for too many more people, that moment is still to come.

Since the exposure of Mark Kennedy, the publication of Rob Evans and Paul Lewis’ book Undercover and the Mark Thomas show Cuckooed, more and more people have started looking into suspicions around old friends or colleagues. Recognising similar patterns, we wrote up our collected knowledge in a List of Fifteen Questions. The list aims to help people decide if those early suspicions require further investigation. The next step would be turn those suspicions into something concrete. Piecing together the story of a person that has disappeared after an intense time at the activist scene, mapping their whereabouts, and the doubts that have come up will get you further, but it is not enough. The last thing we want to do is go pointing fingers and spreading rumours.

The very nature of this work means that getting definitive confirmation depends not only on perseverance, but rather on coincidence or slip-ups of the undercovers in question. In some cases researchers get lucky and find public records that prove someone is indeed a police officer. After he left the police, Mark Kennedy returned to his friends as a corporate spy using a passport in his real name. That gave him away eventually. Similarly Carlo Neri made a slip up that led us to identifying his real name and thus the public records revealing his occupation as police officer. The use of birth certificates of dead children can provide important clues – but the police seem to have stopped using that tactic at the end of of the 1990s.

So where do we go, if nothing else works? Asking the police is not an option, as they choose to stick to their ‘neither confirm nor deny’ (NCND) policy when it comes to undercovers. Even after the unreserved apology of the Metropolitan Police to the women for the sexual relationships undercover officers had engaged in, this policy has not changed. Though they admit liability, they still can’t provide any kind of disclosure of what they are admitting to.

Looking for answers and resolution, we are caught in a bind. The ‘smoking gun’ is missing so confirmation is impossible to get, even when everything else supports the conclusion.

This is the case for an old friend “RC”. After we developed more of an understanding of how undercovers worked, he seemed a natural fit. And like all other undercovers, he seemed to have disappeared in thin air. Though our old group has gone its separate ways, we know where to find each other – but not him, which is odd for someone so gregarious. We tried to track him down to see if we could prove he existed but had moved on to another phase in this life, but still no joy. We sat down and profiled him in depth, we went through the fifteen questions and satisfied ourselves there was reasonable suspicion there. The way he vanished from the scene fits the classic model known from so many undercovers.

The group RC was involved in campaigned on animal rights in Oxford in the mid-2000s, and that made it a known target of domestic extremism police units such as NETCU and NPOIU. There are no illusions there: the question was not if it was being spied upon, but how.

At this point in our research we are as certain as we can be that RC was not who he claimed to be; all the evidence points to him as an undercover police officer. And if this is true, there are significant implications: miscarriages of justice, intrusion into personal lives and inappropriate contact. Amongst other things, RC set up Bedford Animal Rights, drawing many people into campaigning. People involved feel uncertain, confused and betrayed, and this is even before we discuss the ethics of this operation, and the legal implications of him acting as an agent provocateur.

Yet… there is that 0.5% chance that we are wrong and that he was not sent in by the police. Could this all be an unfortunate coincidence? The last thing we want to do is smear someone  considered a good friend and colleague. If we could, we would like to sit down with him and clear up this misunderstanding once and for all.

RC, if you are reading this, do get in touch. If we are wrong, an apology is ready to go.

We have asked the police for confirmation about RC, but unsurprisingly they have given us the NCND line.

So now we are stuck with a dilemma. What can we do without definite proof? Going public with this case is taking a risk, with horrible consequences if we are wrong.

Not going public has a lot of consequences as well. Without suspicions out in the open, it is easier for the Pitchford Inquiry to put this case aside. Until now, the Inquiry seems to focus on groups that were able to provide evidence of ‘close involvement’ with undercover officers. Without going public, without building up pressure, this case – and the next ones waiting to come – will never get confirmed. And without confirmation, the people involved cannot take legal steps against potential miscarriage of justice.

On balance, we have decided to release the details of RC but not his name or picture. Those who knew him at the time will readily recognise him from the profile. Below we set out the reasons why we think RC is an undercover.

However, we believe firmly that the weight of the responsibility for this dilemma lies with the police: for not confirming any undercover officer, and – with that – for deliberately frustrating justice. Unfortunately, he will not be the only such case.

The evidence against RC

The case for RC being an undercover officer in Bedford and Oxford in the mid-2000s is built around his disappearance and the total lack of subsequent contact.

While we were able to track down pretty much all of his friends and colleagues in animal rights, or at least find people still in contact with them, RC is conspicuous by his absence. Furthermore, the method of his leaving, the apparent going to Norway to be with a pregnant girlfriend followed by total loss of all contact, is classic tradecraft for undercover police to extract themselves.

As we explained in our Fifteen Questions article, the answers determine whether there is a case to be built. Here we provide the answers we found, most of them in line with those for the undercovers already exposed. This summary is based on the full profile of RC

  1. Is their background missing?

RC’s description of himself is generally sparse. He shared a small amount of details by way of providing something of a background, saying he had been expelled from school, kicked out by his former girlfriend, and had lived in his car for a while since. What seemed convincing enough back in the day, turns out to be uncheckable now.

He was officially registered at the address where he lived when he was active, but we have not been able to locate where he lived before or after that. However, this particular part of the research was hampered by his name which happens to be relatively common.

  1. Is their politics missing, underdeveloped or stereotyped?

He did not stand out on this front, in comparison to other animal rights activists. He was an avid bird-watcher. In hindsight it seems strange he did not have rescue animals where almost everybody else would, and there are some question-marks over the strength of his veganism considering how into animal rights he was – the two usually go together.

He was much less politically-correct than other activists around him in general. As part of this, he was noted as being lecherous, and at occasions demeaning to women. His general risqué humour fit in with that, but could also be tied in with his general charm.

  1. Has anyone ever met their family?

Nobody ever encountered his family; some thought he was evasive about this. He talked about having a son, but claimed he could not see him, a tale of lost contact. He provided two separate stories as to why this had happened.

He claimed to have an on-and-off relationship with a woman in Norway, who was seen in his presence at social events in the UK at two occasions. When he left, he said it was to be with her because she was pregnant – something not everybody believed at the time. He went to demonstrations in Oslo and stayed with Norwegian activists – but they never met his girlfriend as he told them she lived an hour away from the capital.

However, when RC went to Norway the address he left was in Oslo itself.

  1. Does their job take them away for periods at a time?

Yes. He claimed to be involved in supervising fitting furniture for pubs, and later in selling air conditioning. For both he would travel, including abroad, for periods at a time. He did talk of this job and working as part of a two-man team for a company – but people cannot remember the name it.

He would claim to be in Norway on a regular basis.

  1. Did their home look un-lived in?

He lived in the same place in Bedford the entire time he was active. This house was full of animal rights paraphernalia, though it was very unkempt and he took little care of it. The garden was so over-grown he did not know about the discarded clothesline still with clothes from a previous occupant.

Various campaigners stayed at the house, including some from Europe and others who were on trial at the time.

  1. Did they have a vehicle? / 7. Did they have above-average driving skills?

Yes, several over his time including a van, and he was willing to use them to take people and materials to protests. He also volunteered at times when others would wary of doing so because of regular stop-and-search tactics by the police. He seemed to be remarkably lucky in not getting stopped when others did – such as for instance at the International Animal Rights gathering in Kent which received a lot of police attention.

His driving was described by a number of people as basically crazy. He would also often take risks, including texting while behind the wheel, and drinking alcohol before driving. One person noted that for a supposed salesperson, his ability to navigate was surprisingly bad.

On leaving the UK he gave his then vehicle to a prominent animal rights activist.

  1. Would you consider them someone who went out of their way to be helpful?

RC was considered a helpful, friendly person who would be generous and at times go out of his way. He helped make things happen, put up posters and would be texting reminders for events to people in the local animal rights group he had established.

It is also worth noting that he was a considerable drinker though never lost control; he did not appear to do drugs.

  1. Did they have ready access to money and were they generous with it?

Basically yes. Though not flash, he clearly had access to money and was willing to share it. He would buy rounds of food and drinks for people, share branded cigarettes (most people only smoked roll-ups as that was all they could afford) and wave petrol money for trips to protests. He also owned expensive things that were often outside of an activist’s budget, such as up-to-date phones with camera, unusual at the time.

  1. Did they focus relationships on key people?

Yes. He has been friends with a number of prominent animal rights activists of the time, a number of whom subsequently went to prison. People remember him having made a beeline to one high-profile spokesperson in particular who later served a significant prison sentence. He also focused his attention on several of the leading local campaigners, forming strong friendships with them.

  1. Did they ever exhibit noticeable out-of-character behaviour?

This happened on several occasions.

a) When he was responsible for having an individual asked to not come back to meetings of Bedford Animal Rights, he grew angry over his presence and alleging that he was spying on the group. This stuck out as being at odds with his normal behaviour as a very welcoming person and it was not clear where behaviour this had come from.

b) Though mainly focused on Bedford, for a while RC associated with the Northampton Hunt Sab group, going out with them and being close to a leading person there. Unbeknown to the Bedford animal rights group, RC initiated plans for a Bedford hunt sab group, to the point of asking a friend in Northampton Sabs to buy and repair a van in preparation for this. After the van had been bought, RC called-off the project out of the blue and he cut off contact with the person, in itself quite unusual.

c) When he was with his Norwegian partner, it was as if he was a totally different person: a loyal, loving boyfriend, losing a lot of the toilet humour and flirting he exhibited around animal rights activists. Once, on the way to the Animal Aid Fayre, texting while driving, he surprised his passengers by suddenly becoming very frantic and getting into a blind panic, saying he had upset his girlfriend – not like him at all.

d) His lack of presence on social media after he left and not turning up to the funeral of his close friend Fran Cornwall were both seen as things totally out of character for the gregarious person he was.

  1. Have you spotted oddities?

– Strong dislike of having his picture taken.

– On the evening of his leaving do, he said to people “Don’t try and look me up”, something that felt out of place.

– After his disappearance, he got in touch with Fran Cornwall asking for his former comrades to email him because he was feeling lonely, but when people did there was no response from him.

– At one point having kissed a female activist, he rang up the following day in a panicky state, saying sorry. Not long afterwards he said he had a phone call from his ‘ex-girlfriend’ saying she wanted him to come to Norway to see her.

– During his time on the scene he regularly did stalls, which got little or no police attention; this changed dramatically after he left.

  1. Have there been weird things around court cases or – lack of – police interest?

He is known to have been arrested three times, but none of these cases came to court. On one occasion, the group he was arrested with subsequently successfully sued for wrongful arrest and got a payout.

Another occasion following an action which had seen a number of people from the group raided by police, he claimed to have managed to avoid being arrested. However, shortly after he drove to a protest in Oxford, but insisted other campaigners from the Bedford group went in a separate vehicle when they would have normally gone with him. This was on the ground he felt he was going to be arrested, something that came to pass. He also claimed his house was damaged and to be boarded up following the police search, something others arrestees had not experienced.

People were also surprised at how casually he treated the risks of being stopped by police while driving to doing pick-ups at animal rights gathering, including drinking and driving, or driving to the SPEAK protests with the smell of alcohol still on his breath. All these events had high-profile police presences, but he hardly ever got stopped.

  1. Did he or she suddenly disappear and cut off all contact?

The reason given for his disappearance was his Norwegian girlfriend getting pregnant (apparently because her coil fell out – something not believed by those around RC). As she wouldn’t move to England, he had to go to Norway instead – planning to work illegally as a bricklayer.

His exit and disappearance is a key point of suspicion, as everyone expected RC to stay in touch and to be present on social media. He did not, and his mobile phone ceased to work as well.

Some had a ‘niggle’ something was not right when his close friend Fran Cornwall died and he did not respond to attempts to reach him or come to the funeral.

Now it all seems to come together. RC behaviour shows the same pattern as a number of other known undercover police associated with the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (e.g. Lynn Watson, Marco Jacobs). He was around for five years as a deeply involved and highly sociable person who suddenly disappeared to another country, with all contact cut off shortly thereafter.

  1. Points in favour of RC being genuine

It is worth acknowledging that there are points that would indicated that RC was a genuine activist for animal rights and go against the belief he was an undercover officer.

In his time, RC was a very active campaigner, regularly doing stalls and bringing new people into animal rights. He was articulate on the megaphone and facilitated a lot of activity. In particular, he brought together Bedford Animal Rights (though not generally its public face) and helped turning it into one of the stronger animal rights groups at the time, with up to 30 people coming to meetings. He genuinely seemed to be upset at animal cruelty and would give out to people laughing at pictures of animal abuse on stalls.

Continue to the profile on RC

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