Triple Whammy! Helen Steel, Peter Francis & Scotland

Donal O’Driscoll / Undercover Research Group


John Dines as he is confronted in Sydney by Helen Steel.

Even in the the roller-coaster ride that is the #spycop saga, yesterday will stand out. Keyboards were smoking as our various members sought to react to the breaking news. In case you missed it, we summarise the three stories that came out.

Top of the day was Helen Steel confronting the man she once called a soul mate. John Barker had been a north London activist who she had fallen in love with and they spoke of spending their lives together. When he vanished it was devastating to her and she spent many years tracking him down, discovering bit by bit that everything about him was a lie. Even his name. Years of destructive doubt followed.

He was really John Dines, undercover police officer who had been sent in to target her and her friends. Anyone who knows Helen knows she is a tenacious and fearless campaigner, but even for Helen this was a remarkably long and hard road. So when she finally tracked him down and confronted him we all cheered for her.

Helen had traced Dines to Australia where he is teaching the next generation of spycops in Charles Sturt University, along side a bevy of other ex-UK police of questionable background. She walked up to him in the airport as he was awaiting arrival of a group of Indian Police. It is amazing footage to watch as she walks up to him and gets him to apologise. Subsequently a statement was read out in the Australian Parliament asking why Dines was allowed to teach.

See: Guardian article and video footage, and a series of statements released via Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance, Islington Against Police Spies and Police Spies Out Of Lives.

As we were following all that a document quietly slipped out on the website of the Undercover Policing Public Inquiry. This was a response from the lawyers of whistle-blower Peter Francis, who had served in the same unit that John Dines had. Now, it is worth noting that the Metropolitan Police have always refused to confirm that Dines was a police officer as part of their controversial policy on ‘Neither Confirm Nor Deny’ (NCND). Even when the Metropolitan Police gave an apology to Helen and others suing them over deceitful relationships with undercover officers, they insultingly still refused to confirm. Of course, Dines’ apology in Sydney has made a mess of that stance in relation to him.

Behind the scenes of the Inquiry, a small but very important storm has been brewing over just how public the inquiry will be. The police are saying it must be in secret to protect its officers and also to protect the entire basis of NCND. Naturally everyone else is pointing out this is supposed to be a public inquiry, and there will be no justice if this happens. Helen is one of very many looking for answers, and nobody should have to wait the 24 years that she did, or go through that hard a fight.

Yet the police continue to respond that it must maintain NCND, partly because it has a ‘duty of care’ to its officers and because they promised the officers that they would – back in the day but also for now and ever more. However, Francis’ statement blew that part. In a beautifully written paragraph he states:

14. Further, as far as a promise of life-long confidentiality is concerned, Peter Francis will say that he was never promised this. He was unaware of the concept of NCND during the course of his employment nor was such terminology used in any written documentation relating to his role as an undercover officer.

You can’t really argue with that. For those of us engaged on the legal side of things, it was a lightening bolt – here is someone who was on the inside at the time pointing out just how untrue the police position is in a way we can never do.

Finally, we had our own slice of the cake, with our work providing the basis for a leading story in Scotland in the Daily Record / the Ferret. Over the last few months a coalition of groups have been putting pressure on the Home Secretary to extend the Public Inquiry to Scotland where many of the known spycops were active. She is resisting, but a steady trickle of stories has been keeping the issue alive and undermining her (lack of) reasons for excluding it.

Our work showed that many of the senior police officers who were in charge of policing for the 2005 G8 Summit at Gleneagles – which pretty much all known spycops appear to have congregated at – were involved in the secretive Terrorism and Allied Matters Committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers. Known as ACPO TAM, it ran the domestic extremism units and oversaw undercovers such as Lynn Watson, Mark Kennedy, Marco Jacobs and “RC”. The importance of this is showing just how high up the UK police food-chain officers knew what the spycops were up to, Scottish chief officers as much as anyone.

Elsewhere, 25 people turned up for an impromptu protest at new Scotland Yard over Dines, before heading down to join the many more demonstrating at the Home Office’s Police and Security Conference against the militarisation of the police.

A satisfying day.

(though even as we write, we are listening to Helen on Radio 4 Today and have been told there is another story coming later…)

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