Donal O’Driscoll, Undercover Research Group, 8 February 2018
Today the Undercover Policing Inquiry released the cover names of two undercovers who infiltrated the left wing groups in London in the early 1970s. Some details had been previously revealed by the Inquiry, but this was the first time we learned the names the pair used while undercover. This brings to five the number of undercover cover names revealed by the inquiry that had not already been know to campaigners.
Both the new officers were with the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS). The dates of their deployments indicate that they were part of a second generation of undercovers, when the unit moved beyond its original targets – the anti Vietnam war protests – to look at all forms of political protest groups.
The two names are:
- “John Clinton” (HN343), who from 1971 to 1974 was with the International Socialists (I.S.).
- “Alex Sloan” (HN347), who from 1971 to 1973 infiltrated the Irish National Liberation Solidarity Front (INLSF)
The International Socialists, now better known as the Socialist Workers Party, were targeted from the beginning of the SDS, and remained a favoured quarry of the unit into the 2000s, when it was spied upon by Simon Wellings. Others include HN301 (deployed 1971-1976) and HN356 (1977-1981). Groups closely connected to the I.S. / SWP, such as the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign and the Anti-Nazi League were also targeted. It is curious that HN301 and John Clinton were spying on the group at the same time.
The Irish National Liberation Solidarity Front
The Irish National Liberation Solidarity Front was a group organised by the Communist Workers League of Britain (Marxist–Leninist), a Maoist group. It emerged from around a group of people who had been involved in 1968’s Joint Committee of Communists, but split from both it and from Machanda’s Revolutionary Marxist-Leninist League in September 1969 to emerge as the INLSF. It was lead by Edward Davoren, who had also been active with another SDS target, the Revolutionary Socialist Students Federation of 1968-1969.
At the time the INLSF called for support of the IRA’s armed struggle in Northern Ireland. A brief history of the group at Marxists.org calls it ‘a broad campaigning organization which produced the Irish Liberation Press, a paper for Irish workers in Britain, starting in March 1970.’ It also organised demonstrations and public meetings.
However, the group apparently ‘suffered from police attention’ over its Irish sympathies and from expulsions.
In early 1972 the group behind the INLSF shifted focus to working class organisation and reincarnated as the Communist Workers League of Britain. Davoren himself was expelled in Autumn 1972. An open question is the extent to which ‘Alex Sloan’ played a part in this, particularly given his deployment was shorter than the usual SDS length, ending the following year.
For much of the rest of the 1970s, it focused on building unity among the various Maoist groups until it disbanded in 1981. For more see Marxists.org.
First targeting of a family justice campaign?
An incident involving campaigners from the INLSF during the time Alex Sloan was in the group, was a protest which took place on in March 1971, to mark the death of Stephen McCarthy. McCarthy, aged 20, had been badly beaten by police, who claimed he had ran himself into a bus-stop, and he subsequently died. Following a corrupt coroners hearing which said there was no case for the police to answer, a public meeting was held at Islington town hall, which turned into in a march on the local police station. There it was violently attacked by police with numerous arrests made, including members of McCarthy’s family, and Davoren who was convicted for ‘inciting an unlawful assembly and criminal libel of police officers‘.
We raise this to ask the question whether ‘Alex Sloan’ was present on the day? If so, this is a very early case of the Special Demonstration Squad spying on a family justice campaign.
As ever, we are always interested in hearing from those who might have known these undercovers, or even you do not recall them directly, are able to shed light on the groups at the time so we are able to discover more about these infiltrations. Given how far in the past this happened, all memories are welcome. We are happy to work in confidence. Contact us here or by email.