Donal O’Driscoll, Undercover Research Group, 28 June 2017
Yesterday, we released our profile of undercover officer ‘Rod Richardson’. It is one of our largest profiles to date, three years in preparation, with dozens who knew him interviewed. We spent this time and effort because, of those exposed to date, we believe Rod is one of the most important and his deployment raises significant questions.
(Also see: Rod Richardson: #spycop was used to undermine protest, 26 June 2017)
What we know of Rod is that he was deployed in Summer 1999, in Essex, where he turned up at the Save Gorse Woods campaign at Rettendon. There he offered his house as a facility to other protestors. From 2000 he becomes involved in two strands of work. In London he focuses on anti-globalisation and anarchist groups such as W.O.M.B.L.E.S and Movement Against the Monarchy (MA’M). The other is infiltrating environmental networks, such as Earth First! and particularly the alternative scene in Nottingham. He disappears in Summer 2003, saying he was joining his girlfriend abroad.
Rod was not a passive observer of the activism he targeted. He threw himself in head-first. He was on the front line or driving for big demonstrations. Carefully documenting his time in London, we can place him close to the centre of quite a few events which saw heavy policing, such as Mayday, DSEi and anti-monarchy protests.
There is good cause to believe that it was his intelligence that lay behind a number of pre-emptive arrests and targeting of squats and campaigners. When we studied contemporary newspaper accounts, it was clear how heavily the police were relying upon such intelligence. Having confirmed his presence at the time, it is now clear that Rod is a strong candidate for being their principal source.
Sadly, during the preparation of the profile one of those who knew him well in London, Simon Chapman, died. A core participant at the Undercover Policing Inquiry, Simon would have been a key person for them to talk to, as he was along side Rod on numerous occasions during the undercover’s time in London. Among other things, it was Simon who pinpointed Rod’s involvement in the 2001 Mayday protests, and Rod’s role in confrontations with the police.
Rod’s time in Nottingham raises worrying questions also. He took up a place in a housing co-operative, integrating himself into the personal lives of the campaigners who lived there. Though he did not have sexual relationships with activists, people told us about the closeness of his personal friendships with individuals, some of whom were clearly targeted by him.
While much media has focused on sexual relationships, Rod has exemplified the issue of damage done by intimate friendships. Confidentiality means we cannot reveal everything, but we know the damage he did to people’s trust, preying on them when they were in a vulnerable place in their life. Having talked to those affected, we know the impact is as vicious as any and needs to be recognised.
From the beginning of his deployment, Rod was given a girlfriend, ‘Jo’, as part of his cover whom activists met when he brought to . She provided him a ready-made excuse to avoid relationships becoming sexual. This shows his bosses were aware of the issue of sexual relationships emerging and were capable of designing strategies which could avoid it happening.
It is abundantly clear Rod’s successor in Nottingham was Mark Kennedy. If he didn’t brief Mark directly, the intelligence he gathered would have definitely fed into the latter’s deployment. Mark was sent in without a pre-existing girlfriend, and within weeks was dating Kate Wilson, who Rod had had been close to in Nottingham. This gives substantive weight to the belief that Mark’s relationships were a strategic decision on behalf of his bosses, that such relationships were an accepted tactic. As Kate Wilson is currently arguing before an Investigatory Powers Tribunal, it demonstrates that there was a systemic attempt to violate her human rights by the police as a whole.
First NPOIU spycop
Rod’s deployment in 1999 makes him among the – if not the – very first National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) officers. This pioneering position indicates that managers thought he was something special. The Undercover Policing Inquiry revealed that the NPOIU Unit has deployed over 50 undercovers from 1999 to 2010. That is a staggering amount and means many of us still have to learn which others of our friends were not who they claimed to be. For those spycops who targeted anti-capitalists, anarchists and environmentalists, Rod will have laid much of the ground work, identifying places and people where further undercovers could be deployed.
We know the NPOIU, though nationally focused, was at the time under the aegis of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch. A report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary states that in the NPOIU’s early days much of its training and staff came from the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS).
Given the SDS had stopped using the identities of dead children for their cover names year earlier, it is curious that Rod resurrected this tactic. It implies the idea came from people in the SDS who had experience of that tactic themselves. Also, when one considers the groups targeted, it is likely Rod was directly briefed or mentored by former SDS undercovers. Probably including Jim Boyling – who had just left Reclaim the Streets, the predecessor of the WOMBLES. As such, Rod is a key link between the SDS and the NPOIU.
- Profile of Rod Richardson (main page)
- For a deeper analysis of how he disrupted lawful protest and his role in the Fairford Coaches case, our blog post: