Peter Salmon / Undercover Research Group
21 March 2016
Anyone who has been following the Pitchford Inquiry in any kind of detail will know that this week’s hearings are fundamental to how it is going to be conducted. At heart is how public or private the whole thing will be. Campaigners are calling for total transparency for justice to be done. The police are naturally demanding it is held in secrecy so nothing about identity or methods slip out – as that would be helping ISIS, paedophiles and organised crime (we kid you not).
At heart of the argument is Neither Confirm Nor Deny (NCND) which has been covered elsewhere, but it is useful to look at some of the evidence the police have submitted as justifying their stance. Particularly in the light of the experience of Christian Plowman.
Plowman was an undercover officer with the Met’s specialist covert policing unit SO10 (also called SCD10). As such he took part in many operations involving going undercover and would run several identities at any one time. Some of his work would revolve around getting close gun-runners and drug dealers.
Yet, in 2013 he published a warts-and-all biography of his time undercover, Crossing the Line, and how it had brought him to the brink of suicide. It was not the threats from criminals that did this, it appears, but the system he was working for. Meanwhile we have the police desperate to justify how much they cared for the welfare of their undercovers in the light of the Pitchford Inquiry being asked to overturn NCND and release details.
So we dug a bit deeper and have been intrigued by Plowman’s account, as it is quite at odds with the official police line.
For instance, he was threatened with violence, but it was by his own work colleagues who were angry he had exposed them in a book! There is no mention of him having breached the Official Secrets Act, despite that being thrown about where Special Branch spies are concerned. No complaints he exposed methods (though none of them came as a particular surprise).
His work with criminals is clearly potentially dangerous stuff, so dangerous that it is somewhat of a surprise you think to find his face readily accessible with a quick internet search. This is not a man who seems to need a carefully managed protection scheme.
Also of interest is just how much his welfare was not being looked after. He speaks of being brought to the edge of suicide by the difficulties of the job, and his doubts over its effectiveness – particularly they way it targeted and criminalised communities rather than going after the bosses of crime gangs. Plowman mentions the macho nature of the unit and how been seen to seek help would count against you. Even when he summoned up the courage to tell his boss about his problems, and request a psychologist he was still sent on assignments he was struggling to cope with. All in all, it is not a pretty picture of looking after undercover officer’s welfare. And this for a hard-working member of the full time undercover elite in the Metropolitan Police.
The desperation to protect NCND is also undermined by Plowman. He was cited in a 2013 case before the Court of Appeal where it was admitted he was an undercover officer, but is also making an appearance in Court in another case currently on going.
Of course, as both Rob Evans of the Guardian and my colleague Eveline Lubbers have demonstrated elsewhere, the police are more than happy to breach NCND when the occasion suits them, as was the case with the True Spies series on undercover police.
No mention of Christian Plowman should go without noting two other curious links. He worked alongside the young Mark Kennedy when the latter was a Test Purchasing Officer for Operation Yabloki (apparently Russian slang for ‘bollocks’) in Soho, and one of the few officers in the MPS who actually felt sorry for the situation Kennedy found himself in.
The other is that Plowman’s current wife, Danni Brooke, was also an undercover officer who had no problem identifying herself in newspaper articles, not least as she is one of the ‘fugitive hunters’ in Channel 4’s series ‘Hunted’, where she works with a number of other individuals familiar to the incestuous world of undercover policing, Brett Lovegrove and Peter Bleksley.
Read our full profile on Christian Plowman.
– Rob Evans, Leaked letter appears to undermine police bid for undercover secrecy, the Guardian, 18 March 2016.
– Eveline Lubbers, BBC True Spies series: police happy to disclose information when it suits them, Special Branch Files Project.
– Eveline Lubbers, SDS Welfare Policy – The lack of mental health support for undercover officers, Special Branch Files Project.
– Police Spies Out of Lives, Open Inquiry, Open Justice – A guide to submission to the Public Inquiry into Undercover Policing, 20 March 2016.