Longread: Undercover Policing Inquiry’s First Mitting Hearing

Donal O’Driscoll, Undercover Research Group, 13 December 2017

The 20th & 21st November saw the first open hearing of the Undercover Policing Inquiry before the new Chair, Sir John Mitting, who succeeded Christopher Pitchford earlier this year.

Prior to this hearing, Mitting released several ‘minded-to’ documents that indicated his intention to restrict details of undercover officers, and said he would provide an opening statement on the future conduct of the Inquiry under him. The victims of the spycop scandal approached the hearings with trepidation and scepticism.

In this long read, we unpick the hearing in detail, in particular how the new Chair is likely to approach the release of information on spycop deployments and their supervisors. We look at Mitting’s opening remarks and how he dealt with a protest. With much of the hearings focusing on ‘restriction order’ applications for spycops’ anonymity, we look at how he handled the various challenges thrown up by them.

It is worth noting how much the discussion has shifted. Arguments around releasing cover names have advanced considerably in favour of publishing, with debates now focusing on the degree to which real names should be revealed.

Nevertheless, Mitting has put down markers on the subject – his concerns are where there is a real risk to the officers or crucial factors relating to their health and expectations of anonymity. However, the stand out point is the moral right of those deceived into relationships to know real names.

Since the hearing, Mitting has handed down a number of rulings in response.

Note: this is the author’s own impressions from sitting through both days. There may be other readings / interpretations of how things went. Continue reading

Son Abandoned by Spycop Sues Police

Repost of Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance, 8 December 2017

Bob Lambert then and now

Bob Lambert, then and now

A man who was born as part of an undercover officer’s deployment is suing the police.

The 32 year old man, known as TBS, was the planned child of ‘Bob Robinson’ and an animal rights activist known as Jacqui. ‘Robinson’ was in fact undercover police officer Bob Lambert, who knew at the time he would be abandoning his new family a couple of years later to return to his real identity, wife and children.

As with cases brought by women deceived into relationships, the Met have tried to have the man’s case thrown out entirely. The Met won’t even meet TBS, according to his legal representative Jules Carey. However, at the High Court on Monday, Mr Justice Nicol rejected the police’s demands. Continue reading

‘Rick Gibson’ – spycops sexually targeted women from the start

Eveline Lubbers, Undercover Research Group, 28 November 2017

Something spectacular happened at the hearings of the Undercover Policing Inquiry last week that slipped past unnoticed outside the court room. The Undercover Research Group delivered a bombshell proving that, far from going astray later, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) sexually targeted women almost from the start.

The Inquiry was looking at a batch of undercover officers from soon after the SDS was set up in 1968. The rushed routine – discussing the officers’ applications for anonymity in order to dispose the cases as too old and thus insignificant for the Inquiry – came to an unexpected halt when a piece of our research was revealed. The Chair and the legal team for the police were stunned to hear that one of the early spycops had been involved in at least two deceitful relationships.

To date, the earliest officer known to have had relationships, including fathering a child, was Bob Lambert who started in 1984. As he continued to be a supervisor and later the manager of the SDS, it was assumed he had set an example for others following him.  The Gibson case proves Lambert was not the first one and shows women were sexually targeted almost from the start.

This is the story of how we got there, at the occassion of presenting:
Our profile of the undercover in question, Rick Gibson.

Also see:
– Undercover Research Group, Is Mitting just paying lip service to the legacy of Pitchford? What the latest #spycops files say, 16 November 2017
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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? Continue reading

If only spycops were just paranoid fantasy

Yesterday The Guardian published a letter from the Undercover Research Group critical of a recent article by Paul Mason stating that spycops were a thing of past.

Among the various things in the article we disagreed with what he wrote, he stated:

Amid the social warfare of the 80s, there are people from both sides who could say, as Rutger Hauer does in Blade Runner: “I’ve done questionable things.” Unless we’re going to have a South African-style truth and reconciliation process, the challenge is to bury the paranoia and move on.

We argue that what is actually needed is the opposite of his suggestion, a full and frank discussion based on facts that bypass the paranoia, because as we now know all too well, not all that paranoia was unjustified, and in some cases the truth was worse than many could imagine.

Full text:

We must disagree with Paul Mason’s assessment that we should simply “bury the paranoia and move on” (Stella Rimington should stop fuelling paranoid fantasies about Jeremy Corbyn, G2, 17 October). It is highly unlikely that spying on protest groups and politicians has ceased. Though the two main undercover policing units have been disbanded, across the country police maintain “domestic extremism” (what in past times was known as counter-subversion) monitoring units, and these units work hand in hand with the secret services.

One only has to look at the recent Guardian stories on Prevent and fracking, or the account of the questioning of the sister of your columnist Owen Jones to see the same patterns are alive and well in the present.

In arguing that the era of political police spying is over, Paul Mason does a disservice to the desperately needed public debate around spying on political and protest groups. There is still no effective legislative oversight and no firm guarantee that it is definitely something of the past. Pushing the discussion away does not help those who have suffered grievously at the hands of “spycops” to find resolution, or to understand better what is happening in the here and now.

What is needed, rather, is a more open and informed discussion based on facts as opposed to supposition. Indeed, if we have learned anything at all from the undercover policing scandal, it is that much of the paranoia was not as unjustified as it was dismissed for at the time.

For this reason, it is more important now than ever that the undercover policing inquiry does its work properly in an open and transparent fashion, providing those much-needed answers.

Dr Donal O’Driscoll (core participant in the Undercover Policing inquiry)
Dr Eveline Lubbers
Undercover Research Group

John Graham and behind the scenes in 1968

Donal O’Driscoll, Undercover Research Group, 25 August 2017

Cover of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign bulletin advertising the protest of 27th October 1968.

The impact of the protests of 1968 on reshaping left-wing politics is well-known. It also had another important effect, the development of political policing through the use of specialist undercovers to spy on protest movements. One of those early spies, the Undercover Policing Inquiry has now revealed was a ‘John Graham’. Examining what little is known of him has allowed a rare light to be shone on the much less studied events behind the scenes leading to the outpouring of protest that year.

Politics in 1968 was dominated by the United States involvement in the Vietnam War. In the UK, the opposition was lead by the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, a broad coalition of hard-left groups, but in the main lead by Trotskyists. It was the VSC which organised the mass protest of March 1968, when thousands of protests occupied Grosvenor Square and fought with police to get access to the US Embassy there. This caused huge embarrassment to the Labour Government of its time. With a second big demonstration being organised that October, the pressure was on the police to gather intelligence to prevent a repetition – and it was this which directly lead to the setting up of the notorious spycop unit,the Special Demonstration Squad under Det. Ch. Insp. Conrad Dixon.

1968 was also important because it was the year radical student politics came into its own. At the heart of this was the Revolutionary Socialist Students Federation (RSSF). Again a broad church coalition many of its leading lights came from the same Trotskyist milieu as the VSC. The core of the activists was based in and around north west London – Camden, Hampstead, Kilburn and the like.

Studying ‘John Graham’ has been a fascinating exploration of the history of the time, allowing us to examine rarely seen archives which documented some of the internal workings of the VSC. For anyone looking at an understanding of the history of protest at the time, our profile is possibly worth a read for that reason alone.

Founding of the Special Demonstration Squad

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Three New Spycops Named – But Others Get Hidden

COPS logoRepost from Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance, 14 August 2017.

The public inquiry into undercover political policing has published three new names of spycops and, for the first time, they’re new names rather than just confirming what activists, whistleblowers and journalists had already revealed.

However, among the hefty tranche of new papers from Inquiry Chair Sir John Mitting are grave indications of that he is seeking to prevent the full truth coming to light.

Having dragged out the process of beginning the inquiry for years, earlier this year the Metropolitan Police were given a firm timetable for applying for ‘restriction orders’ for the anonymity of undercover officers.

As expected, the Met are pushing for maximum secrecy, arguing that it would make officers worried and sad to be publicly known for what they’ve done. The Met also argue that the officers would be at risk of violent reprisal, despite nothing of the kind happening to the swathe of officers who have been very publicly exposed since 2010. With deadlines passing, the Met have had their hand forced and, finally, we are getting a small measure of new information from the Inquiry.


As had been suggested by some victims, the new names are all from the early days of the Special Demonstration Squad in the late 1960s and early 1970s. With those involved being of advanced age, there’s some merit in tackling these cases first. Indeed, one of the three newly named officers is already dead.

Read on at the COPS website 

Updated list of known spycops, it’s still only 23 out of at least 144.

‘Was my friend a spycop?’ publication now out


A guide to the do’s and don’t’s of investigating if a comrade was an undercover police officer is released today,

In this 24 page booklet, we have brought together all the lessons we have learned to help you do your own investigation.

It covers how to start investigating and the sorts of questions that need answering. Equally importantly, we discuss how to support each other or deal with situations which are inconclusive. It takes you through the process step by step, so even if you have already started your own investigation there is help with what to do once you have come to a conclusion.

Supporting each other

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Rod Richardson – a pivotal spycop

spycop Rod Richardson

Undercover police officer ‘Rod Richardson’, who infiltrated protest groups from 1999 to 2003.

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. Continue reading

Rod Richardson: #spycop was used to undermine protest

former #spycop Rod RichardsconEveline 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. Continue reading