Dónal O’Driscoll, Undercover Research Group, 29 March 2017.
Today, the Pitchford Inquiry into undercover policing confirmed that former Special Branch commander Roger Pearce had been a spycop. This was something that the Undercover Research Group had first publicly identified in October 2016, having stitched together material from various sources.
It was the police’s own Operation Herne which led the way, giving us the nugget of information that N85, a Special Branch commander had previously been an undercover officer and leading us to the identification. However, when we delved into Pearce’s public appearances, there were plenty of other clues, not least in the way he publicly spoke about spycops.
Defending the indefensible
When the undercover scandal broke, he was vocal in defending the indefensible – theft of dead children’s identities and sexual relations with activists. We now know the horrendous activities that the undercovers got up to on their deployments. Yet, he went on television to state:
The people I know and knew, the people who were selected for Special Branch and above all those who were selected for SDS, with very, very few exceptions who were known about, were people of integrity and honour and fired up by a sense of mission, to protect the country actually.
When asked about sexual relationships, he said:
…the Branch was inviting individual officers to live a false life for four or five or more years, the false friendship can develop and escalate into a sexual relationship. So it’s almost inevitable that these took place and I am making no moral judgement about them at all.
Let’s recall that it was on Pearce’s watch that Bob Lambert fathered a child with one of the women he targeted…
The Pitchford Inquiry noted that Pearce’s cover name had been Roger Thorley. Pearce (cited as N85) told Operation Herne:
…a life of deception needs a true name to withstand scrutiny. I used an accepted practice; however, I did everything I could to avoid using the surname. There was no moralising about the process, I didn’t think of it as stealing a child’s identity. This was a long term political infiltration which was seen as justified. It was for Queen and country and peace and democracy. It was the way it was done. A registered birth was the strongest foundation; other methods were not available at the time.
We see that as a clear admission that Roger Thorley was such a stolen identity. This by someone who went on to run the Special Demonstration Squad and subsequently oversaw the creation of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit.
Pearce has a role to play in the scandal around the spying on the Lawrence family and Duwayne Brooks. He was Director of Intelligence for the Met Police at the time the applications to bug meetings between Brooks and DAC John Grieves (a man familiar to followers of Bob Lambert’s career) were being made. Years later, Pearce was ready on hand to rubbish claims by undercover whistle-blower Peter Francis that he had been tasked to spy on the Lawrence family – though QC Mark Ellison in an independent review concluded indeed that the Special Demonstration Squad had actually spied upon the family.
Bob Lambert makes an appearance
And, without doubt Pearce also knew Special Branch careerist Bob Lambert. Pearce had taken over the SDS while Lambert was still undercover as Bob Robinson, including the period during which Lambert is said to have burned down the Debenham’s store at Harrow. The Metropolitan Police are conducting an investigation into Lambert’s role, with officers from Operation Sparkler out and about trying to get former activists to talk to them about what happened back in the day; one wonders have they also asked around a bit closer to home…
After his deployment as a spycop, Lambert went on to take up Pearce’s old position as head of SDS. Later, it is during Pearce’s time as head of Special Branch, that it’s Muslim Contact Unit is established by Lambert and another spycop – Jim Boyling (who also fathered children with an activist he targeted) – running the show.
Lessons and questions
The important lesson in all this is that the role of undercovers often does not simply stop with their tour of duty. Knowing where they ended up and how they perpetuated the same abusive systems is just as essential if the full story is to be told. For this reason more than just the cover names must be released. Pearce’s involvement in establishing the NPOIU and the shaping of its culture demonstrates that in many cases the real names are just as important.
Another question is this: if we had not published our research in October 2016, would we be here now? Undoubtedly, the Metropolitan Police would still be trying to protect Pearce’s identity and obscure his long role in the spycops scandal. While the Metropolitan Police is desperately trying to stop the cover names from being released, Pearce is the perfect counter-point to their arguments. He is a man whose public presence not only indicates there is no need for the obsessive secrecy, but demonstrates why there is a very public interest.
Research into Roger Pearce is not over yet. We now know his cover name to be Roger Thorley, but it remains to be discovered just who he infiltrated – and if other miscarriages of justice will emerge in the face of this disclosure. Given the torrent of scandal pouring from the Special Demonstration Squad and the NPOIU, we would be surprised if this was the end of the story…