Is Mitting just paying lip service to the legacy of Pitchford? What the latest #spycops files say.

Pitchford Inquiry logo
Eveline Lubbers, Undercover Research Group, 16 November 2017.

In the running up to the hearings early next week, the Undercover Policing Inquiry has released another set of documents. Since the UCPI’s website is quickly becoming unwieldy and impossible to navigate, we try to keep track of what is coming out, and what it tells us. (For a detailed overview what is known to date — and this is a work in progress — see our pages of spycops by number.)

A quick scan shows that the Inquiry has made decisions on the applications for anonymity for three sets of spycops: those from the oldest undercovers, from a few who were deployed in the far right, and from officers involved in spying on black justice campaigns, in particular N81 who spied on the family of Stephen Lawrence. In short, from the sparse information released, Mitting has chosen to start with both the easiest and the most difficult part, while also dealing with the stuff that is impossible be to avoid.

In short: disrespect for older people targeted, blanket secrecy on deployments into the far right for unexplained ‘real risk of serious violence’, and yet more secrecy for the black justice campaigns. Is Mitting just paying lip service to the legacy of the late Chair Pitchford?

Overview of new files November 2017

Overview of new files November 2017

In their 70s

The easiest part, Mitting seems to think, would be the older former undercover officers. In addition to the four cover names of early spycops released in August, fifteen in the latest list of 24 are in their 70s or 80s, or have already passed away. Two of them are women.

Mitting clearly believes that the early days of the first spycops unit the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) are consigned to history and can have no contemporary relevance. He is willing to run the exercise of looking into deployments starting in 1968 and the early 1970s, but he is not at all convinced that much evidence will be found. In his Minded To note, he is quite explicit: repeatedly he says that it is ‘unlikely’ the officer will be able to remember stuff, in other cases he judges it ‘highly unlikely that the publication of either real or cover name would prompt any evidence from a non-state source which would assist the Inquiry to fulfil its terms of reference.’ His decisions speak of the elapse of time and failing memories, and he even assumes that people who were targeted in the early 1970s are no longer alive. (For HN334 clumsily phrased: ‘In the unlikely event that any surviving member of the group against whom she was deployed who is still alive could be prompted to give evidence about her, publication of her cover name, which will occur, would provide the prompt.’)

This is such nonsense. Someone who was 18 when the first SDS officers were deployed in 1968 is 67 today. They are younger than people we know were spied on by the SDS and still healthy, active adults such as Jeremy Corbyn and Dame Joan Ruddock. (Even Mitting himself was 20 when the SDS started, certainly he would not think of himself as too old and frail to be of any use?)

We can assure you that many of the people who were targeted in the early days are still very much alive and kicking, with enviable memories and archives to back up what they have to say. It seems a bit prejudiced, not to say tendentious, to assume that people of a certain age can be put aside and ignored – just as it is unacceptable that being older per se is a reason not to be held to account.

Furthermore, it is quite remarkable to see how in the reasoning to protect their real names, the ‘septuagenarians’ are either pictured as old and sometimes poorly (we would want to ‘risk impairing the peace of mind and even health of a man in his twilight years’) or as still economically active with a reputation that needs to be protected.

And not for the first time, the Inquiry accepts the assumption that being exposed as a spycop will be ruinous to somebody’s reputation. This contradicts the police assertion that spycops do valuable work keeping society safe, and tacitly admits the work was something to be ashamed of. They can’t have it both ways! Either the spycop should be proud, or else they should be held to account like any other wrongdoer. Either way, there is no case for anonymity.

Far right: real risk of serious violence

The most difficult part for the Inquiry is what to do with the spycops who were embedded in the extreme right. They opt for the most simple solution – more secrecy: Neither the real nor cover name can be published.

This applies to four or five of the undercovers in this release, and for them even less information is given out. Of HN17 we already knew he was in the far right. For HN23, HN40 and HN64 the same decision is made and an identical cut & paste explanation is used in each case:

‘If the true identity were to be discovered by members of the [groups he was deployed against] HN17 would be at real risk of serious violence by them or their associates.’ And: ‘publication of the cover name would be likely eventually to lead to the discovery of the real name.’

How so? Sorry that can ‘only be explained in the accompanying closed note.’

Though for the fifth thought to have been in the far right, HN341, Mitting has added an intriguing sentence: ‘given the nature of the deployment, it is unlikely that members of the groups against which HN341 was deployed would wish to provide evidence to the Inquiry’.

It seems like a closed case: deployment against the far right equals ‘a real risk of serious violence.’ As Mitting states: ‘That is not a risk which I am prepared to run.’ Can we please check how that decision has been made? No we can’t. Furthermore, in the cases concerning the far right, suddenly ‘publication of the cover name would be likely eventually to lead to the discovery of the real name.’

In many of the operations not involving the far right, the opposite case is made. Now the reasoning is that disclosure of the cover name may prompt people to come forward and that this outweighs concerns about the former undercover’s private life and damage to his reputation. Suddenly, the idea that the cover name could lead to the discovery of the real name is no issue at all. It just says: ‘Publication of this real name would serve no useful purpose.’

Again, you can’t have it both ways. Either there is a serious problem with releasing the cover names because it would allow finding the real names. Or there is not. We fail to understand why for undercovers deployed against the far right one rule applies (for reasons only given in closed notes), and for spycops in any other groups there are other rules.

Spying on black family justice campaigns – N81

And now for the issue that is impossible to avoid. It’s about time Mitting explained in detail how the Inquiry is going to address the spying on black family justice campaigns. In a closed hearing he decided to reveal the identity of N81, if and when the time is right. (We put together an extended profile of N81, based on available sources such as the police self investigation Operation Herne and the Ellison Review.)

Meanwhile Mitting is moving slowly, identifying everybody who was involved (can we get a full overview please, or do we do we need to make that for you as well?). Another five can be found on the November list: HN15 whose application for anonymity requires a closed hearing for undisclosed reasons. HN88 – deployed against community based support groups in the 1980’s – we might get his cover name. The Inquiry explores if that ‘was justified and what, if anything, of legitimate interest to the police occurred during the deployment.’

There is HN337, an undercover in the 1970s and a manager in the SDS in the mid-1990s. Unfortunately he does not want to cooperate with the Inquiry circus – and thus he remains anonymous. However, according to the Inquiry: ‘He was partly responsible for the recruitment and initial deployment of HN81, but played no part in the deployment of HN81 into the group allegedly used to infiltrate the Lawrence family campaign.’

But reasons to be cheerful, we are going to get the real names of two officers with background roles: of HN127 who was a cover officer and of HN216 responsible for the day-to-day running of the SDS in the 1990s. Hurray!

More remarkable details

  • ‘HN1 was deployed against animal rights groups between 1992 and 1997. His cover name is already in the public domain.’ As Peter Francis has stated that there were two spycops infiltrated in Animal Rights when he started in 1993, we think this must refer to Matt Rayner. The other officer undercover at that stage was Andy Coles, known as Andy Davey at the time. He was exposed earlier this year and resigned from his role as Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire a few days later.
  • ‘HN298 was deployed against two groups between 1971 and 1976, one of which was involved in the anti-apartheid campaign. In the course of his deployment he was arrested at a demonstration against the British Lions rugby tour to South Africa on 12 May 1972 for obstruction of the highway and of a police officer. He was prosecuted in summary proceedings in his cover name. He was convicted of both offences and fined and made the subject of a conditional discharge. His actions were approved by his line management. Not long after his deployment, he left the police service, since when he has had nothing to do with the police.’
  • HN334 belonged to the Special Operations Squad (as the SDS was known in its earliest days) between 1968 and 1972. In 1968 she was deployed for several months against one group – the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign as the girlfriend of HN330 – who was released in August this year. Now in his 80s, HN33 targeted the Havering, Essex branch of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, attending some of their meetings, both public and private. He created a false name and occupation. He ceased his undercover deployment with the Special Operations Squad on 27th October 1968, following the large VSC march which the unit was focused on.

Crucial: From the very beginning in 1968, the SDS brought in female undercovers to act as the girlfriend of a male spycop. Which brings up the question of why this tactic was not continued.

  • HN336 was deployed against two groups – the International Marxist Group and peripherally the British Communist Party – and provided intelligence on others between 1969 and 1972. With the approval of former senior officers, he spoke about undercover policing and his own deployment on the BBC television programme “True Spies” under the pseudonym “Dan”.

Others on the November list

  • HN45 was deployed against identified groups in the early 1970’s. He performed
    an administrative role in the Special Demonstration Squad in 1982 and 1983. The work included the collation and internal distribution of intelligence reports, but not the tasking of undercover officers or target group selection.
  • HN345 worked as an undercover officer for six months in 1971. He was not deployed against any specific group, but reported on a number of them, including those opposed to apartheid in South Africa. His deployment ceased, when his probationary period in Special Branch was terminated.
  • HN301 was deployed between 1971 and 1976 against one group – the International Socialists – which became subsumed into another, and reported on others.
  • HN332 served in the Special Operations Squad/Special Demonstration Squad in a managerial capacity in the 1970’s. He was the signatory of a significant memorandum dated 17 December 1971.
  • HN347 was deployed against one group – the Irish National Liberation Solidarity Front – which no longer exists, between 1971 and 1973.


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