460 groups spied upon…?

Herne logo Undercover Research Group, 22 June 2016

For a long time it was not known how many groups had been spied upon by undercover police since 1968. Without the cover names the #spycops used it was impossible to even to speculate.

However, at a press conference two years ago, the Metropolitan police surprisingly revealed a specific number of groups. The occasion was the release of the third of the Operation Herne reports on 24 July 2014, looking at the Special Demonstration Squad and its history. Mick Creedon, the Chief Constable of Derbyshire having direct responsibility for Operation Herne, stated specifically

…that over the 40 years when the SDS were operating, they infiltrated over 460 groups, across a huge spectrum of ideology and motivation.

The full text of what was said at the press conference is provided below, but first we want to look at this figure a bit closer. What does it tell us? How close to the truth is ‘over 460 groups’ spied upon?

For a start, it does not include the groups spied upon by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, so the actual number spied upon is going to be many more. Also, it covers groups on all sides, left and right-wing, single issues campaigns, family justice campaigns and so on.

Most of the 460 groups are likely to have a London focus as this is where the SDS were primarily active; but it is known that a number of them travelled to other parts of the country. For instance, Matt Rayner was at actions in Merseyside and made a point of befriending and visiting activists in the north of England.

We can only speculate how Operation Herne reached this number. Our suspicion is that it comes from collating all the groups that have been cited in internal SDS intelligence reports and similar documents (see the Ellison Report for such examples) – as far as those were kept on file and have not been shredded since. We don’t believe there has ever been a pre-existing and carefully distinguished list identifying which groups were primary targets of infiltration, and which were ‘collateral’ – as the police likes to call that. (Not that we accept there was any such thing, we think all intelligence was of interest for the SDS and its successors.)

Our reason for believing this, is that while each officer will have been given a group as a primary objective, that would have been merely an entry point to a wider number of groups. For example, Mark Jenner’s association with the Colin Roach Centre would have provided access to a wide number of campaigns of different types which would have been reported back on. Thus the degree to which each group was a target, and which was caught up through association is not entirely clear. However, from our examination of available material, at least some of the officers were directed to central points which gave them access to multiple sources of intelligence, for example Lambert’s participation in London Greenpeace, or Simon Wellings in Globalise Resistance. The group the undercover simply known as ‘N81‘ was placed in, would have allowed him or her to gain intelligence on many family justice campaigns without necessarily being at the heart of them.

It may also be that several different undercovers were reporting on the same group from different directions. The interest of NPOIU undercovers in social centres for instance (Lynn Watson at the Common Place, Mark Kennedy and Rod Richardson at the Sumac Centre, for example) bears this out.

Some undercovers would have more access than others; while reading between the lines on the activities of other undercovers, it would appear that some would have been tasked to focus on specific campaigns or issues only and told to ignore other issues altogether (for example the apparent strict division between infiltrating animal rights and environmentalists that can be observed in NPOIU undercovers). Another factor to take into consideration is the quality of the undercover concerned; there is quite a range here. In the jargon, while some were ‘deep swimmers’ such as Lambert, Dines and Jenner, able to go deep and wide, others were ‘shallow swimmers’ such as Chitty, barely scratching the surface.

Last but not least, we should point out that Operation Herne is not viewed as a particularly credible investigation, especially when contrasted with the Ellison Review that drew quite startling different conclusions from the same material. Nevertheless, that the police were able to quote this figure of 460 is telling enough. It indicates that a count has been done, and that the names of the groups are known. Likewise, the police are claiming that some of their officers are at risk even if only their cover names would be exposed, (a claim we will continue to challenge). It is obvious that to be able to make such a risk assessment, the police must have made the effort to go through all those groups spied upon to evaluate the present danger they impose.

The true extent of undercover policing abuses cannot be understood without knowing which groups were spied upon in the first place. For this reason, the Undercover Research Group adds its name to the other campaigners demanding that this list of groups be made public (and the list of cover names used by the #spycops too!).

The press conference

From: MPS Press Bureau <mpspressbureau@metropolitanpoliceservice.org.uk>

Date: 24 July 2014 13:29:08 BST
Subject: Operation Herne press conference – Latest from NSY at 13.29 on Thursday 24 July

Today, Thursday 24 July, Chief Constable of Derbyshire Police Mick Creedon gave an update on Operation Herne, an investigation into the conduct and deployment of undercover officers from the Special Demonstration Squad.

Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt:

“Thanks very much for your time today and coming in – for those of you who don’t know me I am Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt and I am
in charge of the Met’s Professionalism Portfolio. I am joined today by Derbyshire Chief Constable Mick Creedon – who as you know is leading the Operation Herne investigation – he will update on the latest report his investigation team have completed.

The Commissioner started Operation Herne two years ago in response to allegations that were made about the behaviour of individual undercover officers and some serious concerns about the operation of the Special demonstration Squad. He was absolutely clear that the investigation should go where the evidence took it without fear or favour. In February 2013 the Commissioner asked Mick Creedon to take over the leadership of that investigation after further allegations were published. I believe that his independence from the MPS is essential for the confidence of the public and for the officers concerned.

We have and will continue to give Mick Creedon our fullest possible support. Mick will now explain the detail of his report.”

Chief Constable Mick Creedon then said –

“I was asked in February 2013 by the Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, to take the lead on Operation Herne as way of providing essential independent oversight to this investigation. Operation Herne is a significant ongoing investigation that is examining allegations of both crime and misconduct by Metropolitan police officers who were part of the Special Demonstration Squad, 4 strands of which are being supervised by IPCC. This continues to be a large and complicated investigation that is piecing together evidence and information that spans the four decades of the operation of the SDS. We currently have about 40 staff working on the enquiry and we plan to bring in additional investigators and analysts. We have recovered over 6,000 documents and approximately 50,000 computer records. You cannot underestimate the challenges in investigating the work of a unit that by its very nature was covert, and its existence closely guarded. This has been described as the ultimate cold case.

I would like to start today by reminding you of the last report that was published under Operation Herne – Trinity – in March of this year. That Herne report went some way in explaining the operating methodology of the SDS, but also specifically addressed allegations made by a Mr Peter Francis, who claims to be an ex SDS officer. Mr Francis had alleged that the SDS were tasked to target the family of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, and other ‘black justice campaigns’ that were formed after murders, deaths in police custody or allegations of excessive force by police. You will recall that the Herne report was published on the same day as that of Mark Ellison QC who also considered the same Peter Francis allegations as part of his broader report. The findings of the Trinity report investigated the allegations Francis made specifically about the targeting of the Lawrence family. Today’s report addresses his broader allegation – that of the targeting of black justice campaigns generally.

First, though I want to address the misunderstanding that has developed about the nature of one undercover officer specifically – N81 – and the SDS in general. The deployment of N81 was referred to in both the Herne Trinity report and the report of Mark Ellison. The role of N81 and other SDS operatives was to infiltrate groups that were assessed by the Met Special Branch as having the capacity and propensity to commit violence and civil disorder – and to provide intelligence on their intentions and plans.

The context of how they operated is essential to understanding today’s report and I am clear that despite the concerns I shall discuss today, they were not tasked to infiltrate grieving families or justice campaign groups.

In respect of N81 both the findings of Herne’s report and those of Mark Ellison’s review are essentially the same:

No evidence either witness or documentary was found that any SDS undercover officer was ever targeted into the Stephen Lawrence campaign or his into his friend, Duwayne Brooks.

There was likewise no evidence that any SDS undercover officer was ever targeted into any black justice campaign.

There was no evidence that SDS undercover officers were ever tasked to obtain intelligence specifically on a black justice campaign or the Stephen Lawrence campaign.

And lastly there was no evidence that any SDS undercover officer was directed to smear the Lawrence family, or Duwayne Brooks

So as I start this much broader briefing, to be absolutely clear:

– N81 never came into contact with the Lawrence family – the officer never met them.

– N81 was never tasked to try and get close to the Lawrence family

– N81’s tasking was to infiltrate a group deemed as having the potential and propensity for violent protest.

Mark Ellison himself describes N81 as ‘an officer doing as professional a job as possible, according to tasking given by superiors, and using the methods the superiors encouraged to be used.’ He described him as a credible individual. My team worked closely with Mr Ellison supporting him with his review and we provided him with a mass of relevant information and intelligence held by Herne. The two reports had different terms of reference but they are not at odds.

I wanted to examine Mr Francis’ broader allegation in more detail so we followed this work through to examine other high profile events over the last forty years in the capital.

It did not surprise me that so far we have identified numerous other ‘mentions’ similar to those we found relating to the Lawrence family and their campaign. I say that because of the very way in which SDS officers were trained to operate, it was inevitable. These officers were recruited and trained to an existing covert methodology developed and maintained within the SDS and once trained they were deployed completely on their own, for long periods of time. In their covert role they couldn’t use notebooks or corroborate their information.

They were the human equivalent of a covert listening device – all the knowledge and information that they gathered – or you could say just hoovered up – was reported back into their managers as a part of the Special Branch intelligence collection process.

Put yourself into the shoes of the SDS officer – you are recruited by word of mouth and trained by your peers, you are tasked to infiltrate a particular group or groups without knowing the broader context and as you watch and listen you are conscious that your one piece of information – no matter how insignificant it may seem – could prove to be the final part of the information jigsaw when put together by other officers. In your covert role you simply ‘hoover’ and collect everything you hear and see and in line with your training you properly report that to your supervisors.

The work of the SDS and the groups they targeted meant that they regularly submitted intelligence reports on activities that group was involved in, on campaigns they supported and on their planned and often violent protests.

The very nature of some of the groups meant that they sought opportunities to further their agenda of violence by offering support to an ongoing and usually peaceful justice campaign SDS officers submitted intelligence both about the group, but also about the campaign or campaigns they sought to exploit. In the main all the reports we have found are information gathered by officers attending public meetings or meetings of the protest group infiltrated by the SDS officer and the reporting is largely about protests and marches being planned.

This is exactly the process that led to the reporting around the Stephen Lawrence campaign – N81 had infiltrated a violent group who went on to seek to exploit the campaign but to their eternal credit the family and their legal advisors led a wholly peaceful campaign for justice and rejected the alleged support. This is the reason N81 never came near the family.

These numerous ‘mentions’ we have found of families or justice campaigns fall in line with the following specific example:

“An Intelligence report detailing an individual’s planned attendance at a funeral. There was no intelligence to indicate that the funeral would have been anything other than a dignified event”.

Let me totally clear that I have seen no evidence whatsoever of the SDS deliberately targeting families, their legal representatives or their campaigns for justice, and what we have found is a wealth of intelligence to demonstrate that SDS officers were successful in gathering intelligence on the potential for public disorder, violence, and serious criminality – intelligence that undoubtedly kept people safer than they would otherwise have been.

To date we have identified 17 families or people with an associated public campaign where there are mentions in SDS intelligence reports that have been retained within the MPS Special Branch intelligence system – or to use the correct term as it stands now examples of ‘collateral intrusion’.

I would draw you towards the detail of my report and hope you understand that whilst I can and have explained this broader SDS intelligence reporting as part of a much wider ‘hoovering’ of knowledge, it is my position that I cannot justify the way this information was subsequently handled. Quite simply put unless the information could have prevented crime or disorder it should not have been retained and certainly not for the period it has been.

I can understand why this is likely to be distressing and astonishing for those families and friends who campaigned often for years for justice – to know that details of your deceased or innocent family member and your campaign was mentioned in reports stored – often stored for years – in Special Branch records. This must seem inexplicable. This will also no doubt be of concern to the public who rightly expect us to serve and protect but also quite rightly expect us not to cross the line by ignoring our own rules on what is appropriate for us to keep and store. Such rules were set for the Special Branch and the SDS in the Home Office guidance for the working of Special Branches, as explained in section 8 of my report – these rules make clear and the importance of only keeping the right data and information and the fact that there should be a destruction of the information if it ‘could no longer be clearly related to the discharge of its functions’

We have made or are in the process of making contact with legal representatives for those families and people affected to brief them on what we have found.

I am not prepared to name those families or individuals. This is covered in my report. In explaining why I am not prepared to name the families and the campaigns, firstly we have not managed to meet with all the relevant families, but secondly it is not my role to potentially cause them more distress by placing this detail in the public eye. They have already suffered enough. In addition – and you will expect this – I will not name any of the undercover officers involved in this work, nor the groups they were asked to infiltrate. These officers did what they were trained to do and in line with the expectations of the MPS senior management. I have already explained the duty of care owed to them. They did nothing wrong on an individual basis.

Never before has the work of undercover officers or the work of an entirely secret unit been examined, scrutinized and talked about publically in such detail. Whilst some – and that might include some of you – will do all they can to expose the officers who successfully infiltrated a gang, group or movement, I and others have the duty of care to them which others don’t. As we speak openly about the work of the unit, every piece of information takes us a step closer to people being able to identify those officers so as a consequence this duty of care only increases.

I would like to stress that over the 40 years when the SDS were operating, they infiltrated over 460 groups, across a huge spectrum of ideology and motivation and you will appreciate the scope of their work.

As the national lead on serious and organsied crime and within that undercover policing, I take my responsibility for that duty of care very, very seriously.

Operation Herne has identified many brave and innovative operations that the SDS carried out, and some hugely courageous and good covert operatives who undoubtedly helped save lives keep the people of London, and further afield, safe over many, many years. Their stories will never will be told, the risks to them remains as serious today as it did two decades ago.

Moving on from the individual officers, what I make clear in my report is that whilst the collection of information and intelligence in this way was a case of the operatives doing their jobs as trained and expected – how the information was then managed and retained by their handlers, managers, and ultimately the Metropolitan Police Service, was not always right. Once the knowledge was submitted by the officers, it was for the supervisors and managers to ensure the correct recording, analysis, editing, sanitizing and onward dissemination of the information they received – this did not always happen.

Information that mentioned individuals or campaign groups should not have been retained unless it clearly related to potential crime and disorder. What my investigation indicates is that the MPS Special Branch did not comply with their legal obligations or the Home Office guidelines. What appears to us to be a general MPS Special Branch thirst for knowledge and retention of information – on what I would describe as a ‘just in case basis’ – cannot and should not have been a sustainable rationale for keeping this information.

There is information held by the SDS that breaches MPS policies – and from 2000 onwards also breaches the legislation governing covert policing – the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), and the statutory codes governing the Management of Police Information (MOPI). In addition it breached the long-standing Home Office guidance I have already explained. There was no assessment of what should be kept and for what purpose, and then no weeding of what had been recorded.

That was wrong.

I also believe that criticism should be leveled at the people who created and ran the structures, systems and culture within the SDS and the MPS Special Branch – essentially those officers who allowed the SDS to operate in a largely unchecked, unregulated way and failed to take account of the broader developments in policing and legislation.

The culture, leadership and management of the unit was kept insulated from internal scrutiny by MPS senior officers, making it impossible to ‘health check’ against how the broader field of undercover policing was being managed.

We have spoken to officers who held the rank of Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner, along with other very senior officers involved in covert policing and public order and the vast majority of them knew nothing of the existence of the SDS. This is astonishing given the suggested pivotal role the SDS played in reporting on violence and extremism and preventing disorder and the question has to be asked about the lack of executive scrutiny, of intrusive senior management and of effective supervision. This is something Herne will report on further, but it appears to me the senior MPS management and leadership of those days allowed the operation of the SDS to carry on in secret isolation – this was certainly complacent, at worst it may be negligent.

My investigation will continue to examine how this came to be and if there are misconduct matters by officers we will identify them.

Can I conclude with another word about the SDS covert officers? They have been collectively pilloried in public and without any right of reply as ill disciplined, people whole stole the identities of dead children, who engaged in inappropriate sexual relationships, who targeted innocent members of the public and who acted without effective control and with disregard to the laws of the land.

You are aware there are ongoing investigations, but that is not reflective of the vast majority of officers who served in the unit.

The vast majority of the SDS undercover officers did exactly what was asked of them, what they were trained to do and they acted to the guidance and authority given to them by their organisation and their senior officers. We can and will question that guidance and authority, but it is wrong to castigate them.

I cannot express clearly enough on their behalf the sense of frustration, and even betrayal, they feel. The impact on them, their professional reputation and sometimes their personal life has been enormous. They were and in many cases still are professional police officers, dedicated to the service and asked to do a uniquely challenging job. They like all of us want to see the truth established, and if officers have let down the public and the Police Service – they look for them to be held to account as much as you do.

This investigation has many months to run, and as we progress it is very likely we will keep uncovering new information.

I am committed to making sure that we keep the public informed, when we can to ensure as much transparency as is possible given the secretive nature of what we are investigating.”

AC Martin Hewitt continued:

“This is a difficult and incredibly emotive subject to talk about, and there will be a number of families out there for whom this has caused much distress. I was moved by the interviews with Mrs. Reel last night, and that is why it is so important that we are all clear about the facts of what happened. As I have already said Mick Creedon’s team will follow through where the evidence takes them – that is vital in establishing the truth about a unit that, for good reason, operated in near total secrecy over the course of four decades. But we must all be mindful that the investigation is only part completed, and we must allow that work to finish in order to have the full picture.

I hope the public will be reassured to read the findings of his investigation so far in that:

– they have found no evidence of covert operations targeted against any of the respective families or justice campaigns
– that no documentation has been identified detailing any targeting or infiltration by the SDS into any family member of any justice campaign or those justice campaigns themselves
– that there are no references to any SDS undercover officers directly meeting or being tasked in relations to solicitors or legal representatives of the families justice campaigns
– that there is no recording of personal information about families

However there are very clear criticisms about what subsequently happened to the information that was gathered by individual officers – I am not surprised by this.

Information management is a complicated issue, that’s not unique to the Met or even to policing. The decision to retain information or not is a challenge and getting that balance right is difficult. And it gets even more complicated when you are talking about information being gathered to build up an intelligence picture. That one piece of information gathered by an officer could be the final piece of information that others needed, especially when you bear in mind that intelligence would have been gathered from many different sources.

I am still considering the full detail of Mick Creedon’s report, and I have seen a number of examples of the types of information he is talking about. Some of it is perfectly legitimate and is reporting I would expect to see. But looking at some of it through today’s eyes – applying 2014 standards – some of it I would not expect or want to be kept.

Not all those people who oversaw the unit or the senior management of that time have yet been spoken to as part of Herne’s investigation. It is important that they are all spoken to before I make any judgments on the legitimacy of the strategies they used. But Herne will continue to investigate and will provide clarity and this will be fully scrutinised by the public inquiry.

I have worked within the area of covert policing for a number of years. It is covert for very real and important reasons – you do not shout about your covert tactics as that renders them useless, even within your own organisation that tight control on operational security is important.

I recognize the concerns that Mick has raised about how this unit was run and operated, it’s really important that his work continues to look at this in detail to explain what has happened. Mark Ellison’s report also highlighted these issues. I would again stress operation Herne is an ongoing investigation with many months work left to do, and it will undoubtedly uncover more difficult issues for us.

It may well uncover things that individual officers need to be held to account for, and if that is the case, the appropriate action will be taken. Herne and the upcoming public inquiry that will examine a huge range of issues – I will not make premature judgments on what they may conclude. I became a police officer to help people, and particularly those at times of vulnerability. Seeing Mrs Reel on TV last night so obviously distressed is deeply uncomfortable, and I know there are other families out there today who feel the same.

The Met’s overwhelming concern – since Peter Francis made his allegations – was to understand exactly how the SDS officers were deployed – and who they were tasked into. But the fundamental point that the Herne report makes clear is they have found no evidence that any family or justice campaign was infiltrated by the SDS. This was information that those officers picked up whilst deployed into groups that had been assessed by the Met as being violent, or capable of violence and disorder.

It’s really important to understand that those officers who volunteered to work in the SDS did a difficult and dangerous job, to keep London and further afield safe. That may not be apparent to everyone today – and you will understand why I can’t talk about that in as much detail as I’d like to. But, once again, I would hope that a more complete picture will emerge as a result of the public inquiry.

I recognise this is totally unchartered territory. Never before have we – the police service – been so open about undercover policing and their deployments. There is huge public interest and concern, and I will take every possible opportunity to address that. But I must always balance that against the risk to those officers. Despite the passage of time the risks and threats to some of our SDS officers remain both real and serious – they do face a significant personal threat.

So, in summary, this is a detailed report and we will continue to study its findings carefully. It also contains some difficult messages about how we have managed undercover policing and record management in the past.

On the positive side, it is categoric that there were no taskings into the individuals, families or justice groups that have been identified. The public of London should be reassured by that, but I do not underestimate the distress that the whole issue has caused those people, and I very much regret that.

The Commissioner set up this investigation, and then asked Mick Creedon to oversee it, with the determination to understand in detail the operation of the SDS. That work is part way through and whilst it is uncovering many examples of brave and important work, it is also exposing some behaviours and actions that are difficult for the Met. We will not shy away from those issues, and as you are aware, these will all be scrutinised in detail by a full public inquiry at some later stage.”

2 thoughts on “460 groups spied upon…?

  1. Pingback: Why is the State Still Spying on Peaceful Protestors? - Oil Change InternationalOil Change International

  2. Pingback: Why is the State Still Spying on Peaceful Protesters? - Oil Change InternationalOil Change International

Leave a Reply