Eveline Lubbers, Undercover Research Group, 26 June 2017
Today we publish the profile of Rod Richardson, the undercover officer active as an environmental, anarchist and animal rights protestor between 1999 and 2003 in Essex, London and Nottingham. Richardson was exposed on Indymedia UK and in The Guardian in 2013 and confirmed as a spycop in December 2016.
Piecing together the profile of Rod Richardson and the details of his tour of duty in the world of activism, it occurred to us that the policing of two major protests he had been involved in had been subject to extensive legal challenges since.
Today we look at the forced return of the Fairford coaches on their way to an anti-war rally in 2003, with Rod Richardson on board; and part 2 will investigate the kettling of MayDay protesters at Oxford Circus in London in 2001, again with Rod in the middle of everything. In both cases, the police detained a fairly large and mixed group of people in quite extreme ways, while also in both cases protesters fought a decade-long legal battle to uphold their right to protest.
Investigate exactly what role he has played in these protests, the core question is to what extend the intelligence gathered and the activities of the undercover officers influenced the actual policing of these events.
The Fairford Coaches
A short summary first. Although technically a RAF base, Fairford in Gloucestershire is effectively a USAF base. The only European airfield for American heavy bombers, it played a major role in the bombing of both Gulf Wars. In early 2003, in the run up to the second war in Iraq which would topple the regime of Saddam Hussein, a group called the Gloucestershire Weapons Inspectors called for large protest at Fairford on 22rd March 2003. The WOMBLES were among those advertising and mobilising for it, and The theme was Flowers to Fairford and among the scheduled speakers on the day were writer George Monbiot, Green MEP Caroline Lucas, and writer/comic Mark Thomas. Locals supported the protest, and a few thousand people were present.
One part of the policing of the demonstration was particularly excessive. Three coaches full of anti-war campaigners were intercepted three miles before arriving. All passengers were searched, filmed and questioned one by one by the police before being forced back on the buses and, without toilet breaks, escorted back to London.
The officer in charge Chief Superintendent Kevin Lambert of the Gloucestershire police (not to be confused with former undercover and later leader of the spycop unit Bob Lambert) justified his approach by referring to ‘intelligence’ gathered about the occupants of the coaches. The intelligence led him to conclude that on arrival in Fairford ‘a breach of the peace’ would occur; however – and quite essentially – none of this intelligence has been disclosed to date.
The passengers of the Fairford coaches eventually won the legal challenge of the decisions made by the police that day. In 2006, law lords sitting in the House of Lords ruled that both the two hours’ detainment and the return to London were unlawful, and that freedom of expression was ‘an essential foundation of democratic society’. The ruling was hailed as a landmark victory for liberty and human rights. And in 2013, ten years after the event, the protesters involved in the procedure were awarded more than £4,000 each for having been humiliated and intimidated by police.
Still, it is not over yet. As we know now, two named undercovers were heavily involved in the protest. Rod Richardson had infiltrated the WOMBLES and was a passenger on one of the buses, while Jason Bishop – also exposed in 2013 – had taken part in the organisation of the transport.
The involvement of the undercovers brings up a whole new set of questions all focused around intelligence that require answers.
Police concealed evidence in a lengthy legal procedure
Last year, campaigners wrote to the Pitchford Inquiry accusing the police of concealing the involvement of two undercover officers, stating that Richardson and Bishop could have provided crucial evidence to bolster their case and cut short ‘lengthy, stressful and expensive litigation’. Pitchford promised the Inquiry would investigate saying they had raised an ‘important issue’ about the disclosure of evidence.
To an extent, this is reminiscent of the Ratcliffe-on-Soar case where the police was caught to having withheld exculpatory evidence gathered by Mark Kennedy in order to protect his identity as an undercover. As a result, a case against the environmentalists who had been arrested before they could actually blockade the coal power station collapsed, and another 20 already convicted had their convictions overturned.
– What evidence did the police withhold in the Fairford coaches legal challenge?
– Was the evidence withheld to hide the involvement of two undercover officers?
Police interfered with the right to protest
The House of Lords made a big thing of the police action being neither ‘reasonable’ nor ‘proportionate’. By treating everyone as a potential threat to public order, the police had interfered with the general right to protest, a direct interference by the state upon the rights of the individual under Articles 10 and 11 of the ECHR.
– What was the intelligence that made the police decide to breach the right to protest?
Police lied about not having specific intelligence
Throughout the lengthy procedures the police always maintained that there was nothing more than a ‘general’ intelligence picture about the coach passengers and they could not distinguish between them. As we know now, this is a blatant lie, as
- Two named undercover police officers participated in the plan to demonstrate at Fairford, so the police must have known most if not all passengers of the bus by name.
- A Forward Intelligence Team from London was present at the search, officers specialised in recognising familiar faces, supported by ‘a member of the Metropolitan Police Public Order Intelligence Unit (to recognise those known to be extreme protestors)’.
- In their own review of the policing of the Fairford protest, the Gloucestershire Constabulary acknowledges as much, stating that the operation involved ‘the turn-back of three coach-loads of protestors including various persons known to be part of direct action groups’. (emphasis added)
– What was the level of detail the police have about the protesters and in particular the passengers of the Fairford coaches?
– Did the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU the undercover unit), share the intelligence they had gathered with the police and other intelligence agencies involved?
So, on the surface, the police say they believed that the Fairford coaches presented a risk of a breach of the peace, they claimed not to have more specific detail and thus forced three bus-loads of campaigners back to London. This might have been done to protect the identity of the undercover officers, and to shield the level of detail known by police about individuals on the buses.
But still, when it became apparent that there was a very mixed bunch of people on the coaches, most of whom did not present any potential threat to the peace, it was – or should have been – incumbent on the police to review their strategy in relation to these coaches. But they did not.
To answer the question why there was no space for a more relaxed approach, we need to have a yet closer look at the role intelligence played in the policing of anti-war protests.
The Gloucestershire Police review Policing of RAF Fairford during Iraq conflict reveals that the tension was rising in the weeks running up to the event. From the time of the first rather relaxed rally held in late January with around 1000 protesters present, it was scaled up to the highest level police operation just three days before the gathering at 22 March.
Over the following weeks, media attention intensified in proportion to the increasing likelihood of war and the consequent setting up of the peace camp, the arrival of B52 bombers at the base, and intelligence which suggested that several more high-profile marches were planned. p46
The stakes were high. There may have been political pressure, as the war against Iraq was highly controversial. The Americans were involved, as RAF Fairford is one of only three bases in the world outside of the United States mainland capable of receiving and retaining B52 bombers. The so-called incursions onto the base by cutting or climbing the fence were understood as a high level of threat to the base and its assets. It is quite clear that the consequences of a significant failure in base security during military operations would have been catastrophic (emphasis in original). The Ministry of Defence was responsible for the internal security on the base and brought in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Ghurkha Regiment.
Gloucestershire constabulary was responsible for the public order at the other side of the fences. According to the Review, they didn’t really feel up to it:
It should be recognised that this operation was the largest and most sustained national mobilisation of police mutual aid since the 1984 miners’ strike. Consequently there was little for the service or the Constabulary to rely on in terms of recent experience or corporate memory.
Close reading of the Fairford Review reveals the key role played by the NPOIU spycops unit and the intelligence gathered by their undercover officers – as shows this chronological summary of the preparations.
- Representatives from the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) attended the protest on the 23rd February and ‘helped to shape planning for subsequent protests – both for planned events and for spontaneous disorder’. p.30
- ‘In early March, intelligence reports were indicating large numbers of protestors likely to attend the demonstration planned for the 22nd. The planned policing operation was therefore due to be stepped up in line with the increasingly significant threats posed by the protest.’ p.55
- Ten days before the 22th March rally, the Constabulary invited the Metropolitan police to be advised on their tactical plan. Intelligence gathering was high on the agenda.
‘This meeting led to a number of changes to the tactical plan, including use of a specialist barrier company, Metropolitan Forward Intelligence Team support, greater use of traffic management and sectoring for command and control purposes. The Metropolitan team praised the tactical plan, particularly the documented threat assessment process introduced by Ch. Supt. Lambert, and they also agreed to send an experienced commander to the event in an advisory capacity.’ p.31
- A Joint Intelligence Cell (JIC) located at Fairford collated all available intelligence. This intelligence was discussed at weekly police Gold Tasking and Co-ordinating Group meetings and by the multi-agency coordinating group, which involved members from various Police and military organisations. p.34 The JIC established strong information exchange protocols not only with the organisations involved but also SO11 (Criminal Intelligence Branch) of MPS and the NPOIU. p.25
In total, around 2,000 protestors took part in this demonstration at RAF Fairford, policed by around 1000 riot police to protect public order. It was a very peaceful event. The police review does not have a specific evaluation of the fact that the demo was completely over-policed. It just goes on in length about how difficult it was to coordinate, feed and bed the large amount of units deployed.
The question remains: what was the intelligence that made the police decide to over-police the peace demonstration and to treat the Fairford Coaches so excessively?
Although the police was very proud of the screen grabs the specialised team made every day, the intelligence scooped from the Internet seems to be restricted to the websites that were actively encouraging people to attend. The summery included Stop the War Coalition, Active Resistance to the Roots of War (ARROW), Disobedience, Gloucestershire Weapons Inspectors, Indymedia, Subvertise.org.com, Bristol Stop the War, and of course the White Overalls Movement Building Libertarian Effective Struggles (WOMBLES).
The police may have misinterpret what they found on the Internet and took the Gloucestershire Weapons Inspectors too seriously?
The content and tone of one statement posted on the WOMBLES’ website on the 11th March leaves one in no doubt of the intentions for protest:
Smash USAF Fairford!
“The first time we went there 50 people entered the base, the second time the main gates were pulled down, what happens on March 22nd at USAF Fairford is up to you. Are you going to passively spectate while hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are murdered, or are we going to be actively involved in changing history and stopping this war by any means necessary? Book a place on the coach and find out!”
No, it must have been the information from the undercover officers – have they over-reported what they heard, did they make themselves or the WOMBLES bigger than they were? Disclosure of the undercover notes and the intelligence reports is the only way to find out.
A strategy to silence protest
The case of the Fairford Coaches is a prime example of how undercover officers were employed, and how this contradicts with the little that has been given by way of justification (‘we need to know what is going to happen, so we can adjust the capacity of the public order operation’). A large group of people was unlawfully turned back, and the police cannot feign ignorance as they had a trained officer in the midst of it. The same goes for kettling of the MayDay 2001 protesters, which will be discussed in part 2 of this blog. Not only was Rod Richardson involved in the preparations for the day, he was part of the confrontations with the riot police which he – or the intelligence he gathered – was supposed to have prevented.
Time and again officers cajole activists to be more hardcore, they instigate, facilitate and organise the actions. The Fairford model was repeated by Kennedy, suggesting it was deliberate strategy – Kingsnorth 2008 was the third Climate Camp, he had been involved from the start, the police knew all about it. Yet they spent £1m a day over-policing it as was, with unlawful searches of everyone entering or leaving, to the extent that the policing was raised in parliament.
This has nothing to do with public order control, rather it’s about smothering movements that are gaining widespread popularity. Excessive public order policing making demos a tough experience and puts people off. When this is done while the police knew the scale of what to expect – or even despite knowing that, it means that we have to look at the role of the undercover officers in an entirely new way. What we are seeing here bears the hallmarks of a strategy to silence protest and undermine dissent.
Thanks to Dónal O’Driscoll and Merrick Badger.
- Rod Richardson – a pivotal spycop, blog post, 27 June 2017
- Profile of Rod Richardson (main page)
 19 March the Police National Information Coordinating Centre was activated to coordinate the large-scale mutual aid from other forces – the PNICC only becomes active when there is supposedly a state of national emergency.
 The JIC was comprising staff from Gloucestershire Constabulary, Ministry of Defence Police, RAF police of the Provost and Security Service and the US Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
 Reported protester numbers vary: 3,000 according to www.indymedia.org.uk and 2,000-5,000 according to www.statewatch.org – quoted by the Police Review p19
 In total 33 units trained in Public Order and Riot Control (PSUs) of 25-31 officers each and two Mobile Response Units, Police Review p19.