Policing Hillsborough: What the new Thatcher papers reveal

Repost of Evan Smith’s highly recommended blog Hatful of History, 10 January 2017.

The newly released files discussed here confirm what the Hillsborough campaigners have always maintained: ‘For the Thatcher government in the wake of Hillsborough, the focus was on crowd control and dealing with unruly elements of football crowds. The actions of the police, at this point in time, were never questioned by the government.’

Evan (@Hatfulofhistory) is an Australian-British academic interested in history, politics and criminal justice issues mostly related to activist and left-wing past and alternative scenes.


In my previous post looking at the policing of acid house parties in the late Thatcher period, I noted that the Home Office complained:

No amount of statutory power will make it feasible for police forces to take on crowds of thousands on a regular basis. We cannot have another drain on police resources equivalent to policing football matches.[1]

Screen Shot 2017-01-10 at 9.00.33 pm.png

In the same tranche of documents released by the National Archives at the end of last year was a Prime Minister’s Office file dedicated to the policing of football hooligans and the Hillsborough disaster of April 1989. The file is primarily concerned with the Football Spectators Bill that was first debated in Hansard in January 1989. This Bill was wide-ranging and had been in development for three years, responding to the recommendations of the Popplewell Inquiry, which investigated the Bradford City fire and the riot at Birmingham’s St Andrews ground in May 1985. As well as proposing new criminal offences related to hooliganism, the extension of exclusion orders for convicted ‘hooligan’s from football grounds under the Public Order Act 1986 and electronic tagging for particular offenders, the Bill included a membership scheme, which meant that only registered members could attend matches and tickets for away fans to be highly restricted.

While this Bill was still in development, the Hillsborough disaster occurred and the Bill was temporarily shelved, although as the Hillsborough Independent Panel has shown, the Prime Minister and some of her colleagues wanted to press ahead with pushing the Bill through parliament, despite the need for an investigation into the disaster.[2] Continue reading

Policing Acid House Parties in 1989: What the new Thatcher Government papers reveal

Repost of Evan Smith’s highly recommended blog Hatful of History, originally posted 31 December 2016.

Evan (@Hatfulofhistory) is an Australian-British academic interested in history, politics and criminal justice issues mostly related to activist and leftwing past and alternative scenes.

The policing of house parties is of interest for the history of the undercover policing, because the roots of the #spycops units are in the policing of travellers, a scene that had quite a bit of overlap with free party one. The papers Evan saw did not contain any reference to the Northern or the Southern Intelligence Unit though.
We may have to go the the National Archives to see the none digitised files for that.


The latest round of papers from the Prime Minister’s Office have been released, relating to the final years of Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1989-90. While files on several topics have been opened, this post will look at the file dedicated the policing of ‘acid house parties’ (also known as raves) in 1989. screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-4-39-25-pm

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the phenomenon of acid house swept across the UK in the mid-to-late 1980s and while a number of clubs, such as the Hacienda in Manchester and Shoom in London, attracted large crowds for their club nights, raves exploded into open areas that were typical venues – warehouses, fields and other places left vacant by Thatcherism. For a number of reasons, including the noise generated by these parties and the use of drugs, these raves started to draw the ire of the police and of the authorities. One briefing note stated that the ‘main problem with acid house parties is the nuisance caused by the noise’ and curiously, stressed ‘[d]rugs are not the main issue’.[1] In a letter to the Leader of the House of Commons, Sir Geoffrey Howe, the new Home Secretary David Waddington wrote that there was also a concern that ‘criminal elements [were] becoming involved’.[2] This concern, ‘coupled with the need to reassure the public that the existing law can be made effective’, Waddington argued, required a new approach.[3] He also noted that 223 parties had been held in London and the South East in 1989, with 96 stopped by the police and another 95 prevented from going ahead.[4]

And so, after a localised and haphazard response by local councils and the police, in late 1989, the Thatcher government proposed a co-ordinated and nationwide effort to clamp down on these ‘illegal’ parties. Continue reading

Support Our Pitchford Project 2017!

250 Undercover Research Group, 3 January 2017.

The Undercover Research Group aims to dedicate the next two years to the Pitchford Project, to make the most of the current independent Undercover Policing Inquiry.

The Inquiry was called by Home Secretary (now PM) Theresa May to investigate uncover policing in England and Wales since 1968, and is chaired by Lord Justice Christopher Pitchford. Over 150 political activists and social justice groups overcame their scepticism and are now involved as ‘core participants’; more will be called as a witness.

The Pitchford Inquiry offers a narrow window of opportunity to get insight into decades of political policing and the associated human right abuses, and the Undercover Research Group wants to make the most of it. For those targeted by the spying truth finding is essential, and our Project is set up to maximise the options for disclosure under the 2005 Inquiry Act. Continue reading

Scotland – A total lack of independent scrutiny

Stephen Whitelock, Lead Inspector at HMICS

Stephen Whitelock

Recently the Scottish government announced HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland would review the activities of controversial Special Branch undercover police units in its territory. Two weeks ago it was announced the review would be carried out by HMICS’ Stephen Whitelock.

In this article we demonstrate how Whitelock has been a key player in a network of officers in and around Strathclyde Police intelligence units and the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency over the last two decades. Some of these networks continue to exist to this very day, and include links between the notorious spycop units and the top echelons of Police Scotland. Many of these individuals would have known of spycop activity taking place in Scotland. So much for independent scrutiny.

Dónal O’Driscoll, Undercover Research Group, 27 November 2016

Mark Kennedy’s visit to Scotland

Not long ago, the Undercover Research Group learned that spycop Mark Kennedy went out of his way to visit Scotland in 2004-2005. At one point he drove friends several hundreds of miles to go to a meeting just south of Glasgow. As he was not involved in the meeting himself, it was seen as a remarkably generous thing to do, and it cemented his reputation as a helpful comrade. However, what we have learned to date is that more than likely he was interested in Faslane Peace Camp as well as upcoming protests for the G8.

This was not a simple trip with friends, but a visit to a place of interest to the political police. It has the hallmarks of a targeted operation, conducted with the knowledge of local Special Branch chiefs who would have played some role in authorising it. Intelligence he gained would  no doubt have been shared with Strathclyde and Ministry of Defence Police, who between them had oversight of policing of the regular protests in and around the Faslane naval base, where a permanent peace camp had been established.

Kennedy would be back repeatedly in summer 2005, as part of his role as a logistics co-ordinator for G8 protests. He was certainly back on Strathclyde’s patch as Glasgow hosted national meetings to prepare the protests, and during the G8 itself at the important protest convergence centre in the city. Other undercovers from the NPOIU spycop unit were present in Glasgow that year as well, including Jason Bishop.

The HM Inspectorate of Constabulary Review

Fast forward a decade to the present. The spycops scandal has exploded, after the exposure of Kennedy. The Pitchford Inquiry is now investigating activities of undercover officers. However, it is limited to England and Wales despite many abuses taking place abroad, particularly in Scotland. This has led to considerable pressure on the SNP Government to get Scotland included in the Pitchford Inquiry or to launch its own independent one.

Having been knocked back by Theresa May when it came to getting into Pitchford, the response from the Justice Minister, Michael Matheson was to pass the buck to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS). Another debatable decision as HMICS is – like its English & Wales counterpart – mostly staffed by police. Furthermore, the new head of Police Scotland, Phil Gormley is someone who used to oversee one of the spycop units, and his wife Claire Stevens is also an Inspector with HMIC in England.

Last weekend a series of new issues emerged with HMICS when the Scottish Herald uncovered that the man leading the review for HMICS was one Steve Whitelock, who had been involved in overseeing covert policing for the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA). This led the government rush to reassure campaigners that HMICS was independent.

We strongly beg to differ. Here is why. Continue reading

Official: Marco Jacobs and Carlo Neri were #spycops

neri-police-officerBirth certificate of Carlo's youngest, 
born while his father was undercover.

It took the police almost a year to confirm that Carlo Neri was indeed an undercover officer who spied on anti-racist groups and the Socialist Party. After people who had known him and worked with him came to us for support in their investigation, together we exposed him as a spy in Newsnight and the Guardian.

It’s not an easy process to investigate someone you trusted so much, and we have a huge respect for how the people involved pursued their case until they had the answers they were looking for. First and foremost undercover research happens for the people who have been spied upon. It remains a question why the police and the Pitchford Inquiry needed so long to acknowledge something that was proven beyond doubt in January this year.


Repost of Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance, 18 November 2016

UCPI Carlo Neri announcement

Is this the end of the Metropolitan Police stonewalling about the identity of spycops? Yesterday we got official confirmation of the identity of a fifth spycops officer, Carlo Neri, only days after we got the fourth, Marco Jacobs.

The announcements came from the Pitchford Inquiry into undercover policing, rather than the Met themselves, but it amounts to the same thing. Continue reading

Bob Lambert and his work with Muslim Communities

Bob Lambert

The Undercover Research Group, 15 November 2016

Added to the Undercover Research Group portal today are three more profiles on the works of Bob Lambert:

Subsequent to his retirement from police service in 2007, Bob Lambert – previously an undercover officer with and then operational commander of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch’s Special Demonstration Squad – pursued a second career as an academic, until his exposure as a police spy in October 2011 slowed things down.

The page Bob Lambert and the Muslim Community summarises the many groups and people Lambert associated with in his capacity as a former-police-officer-turned-academic specialising in Islamophobia and de-radicalisation, building on his work with the Met’s Muslim Contact Unit. The other half of this page is Bob Lambert and the Academic Community. Also see Bob Lambert Writing and Speaking.

The intention is to show how Lambert worked his way into networks and discourse subsequent to his retirement from the Metropolitan Police in a manner consistent with the way he did whilst a serving officer, particularly during his time in the Special Demonstration Squad. It also aims to map how he used a relatively small number of individuals to effect his passage into and through much larger numbers of organisations.

 Muslim Contact Unit

A Metropolitan Police anti-terrorism unit set up in 2002 in the UK after the September 11 attacks to ‘thwart extremist attempts to recruit young British Muslims to violent jihad, by working with Islamic communities.’ The unit worked closely with the Muslim Safety Forum in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings of July 2005. Similar units were subsequently established by other police forces. In October 2008, the MCU it became part of Counter Terrorism Command and it was “merged into the community engagement team” in 2016.

A pilot to work closely with Muslim communities to push out jihadi recruiters and prevent them from taking over the Finsbury Park and the Brixton Mosques, the Unit has been criticised for its choice of partners to reach this goal.

Furthermore, the MCU was set up by Bob Lambert, the former undercover officer and head of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS). At least two other members of the Unit were former SDS as well. After the undercover scandal broke and Bob Lambert was exposed, the MCU’s focus on building trust has been questioned – as to how much of it was in fact a sophisticated intelligence operation.

Most of what is known about the MCU is taken from the writings of its founder Bob Lambert, most notably his book Countering Al-Qaeda in London: Police and Muslims in Partnership (2011). As a result this profile may be one-sided at points. If you have additional material please get in touch (PGP key available if you wish).

Spycops Stealing Dead Children’s Identities

Barbara Shaw, holding the death certificate of her son Rod Richardson

Barbara Shaw, holding the death certificate of her son Rod Richardson

Repost from the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance blog, 11 November 2016.

Last week Pitchford asked families who think their dead child’s identity may have been used by spycops to get in touch. This may be a prelude to names being published, then again Pitchford might decide to keep them under the wraps. It’s a real test of whether the Inquiry is going to side with the police or expose the truth.

This is the new post on the COPS blog looking at what Pitchford is doing, why dead children’s identities were stolen, and the Met’s stonewalling of anyone and everyone on the issue – even bereaved families who are 100% certain their child’s identity was stolen.

Parents who want to know if their dead child’s identity was stolen by undercover police officers have been invited to ask the Pitchford inquiry into undercover policing.

Anyone whose child was born between 1938 and 1975 can do it, as long as they have somehow stumbled across the invitation (ucpi.org.uk  > Preliminary Issues > Deceased Children’s Identities > scroll to the bottom of a list of 16 PDFs > click the last one) .

The issue came to light when activists exposed their comrade ‘Rod Richardson’ in 2013. The people who had unmasked Mark Kennedy had become suspicious of someone else they had known who now appeared to have been Kennedy’s predecessor. They found that the real Rod Richardson had died as a baby. Continue reading

Delay: Police try to shield former #spycops from Pitchford Inquiry

Pitchford Inquiry logoEveline Lubbers and Dónal O’Driscoll, Undercover Research Group
First published at openDemocracy, 31 October 2016

In 2010, Mark Kennedy was exposed as an undercover police office by fellow activists who no longer trusted him. A lot has happened since then. We now know that the Special Demonstration Squad has been infiltrating political campaigns since, in 1968, a demonstration against the Vietnam War got out of hand. Fifteen more so-called spycops have since been uncovered. Using the birth certificates of children who died young, they each adopted a fake identity to live the life of an activist each for about five years.

After a dozen internal police inquiries, and the Metropolitan Police refusing to acknowledge what had happened, then home secretary Theresa May was forced to announce a judge-led independent inquiry into undercover policing in March 2014. The tipping point was the confirmation that Doreen and Neville Lawrence had been spied upon when campaigning for justice for their son killed in a racist attack, as had a lot of other bereaved black family campaigners. So far, the Metropolitan police has done nothing but frustrate efforts to hold spycops to account. A case filed by eight women who were deceived into intimate relationships by these officers ended in an unreserved apology and an undisclosed financial settlement a year ago now. Nonetheless, the end to the court case also meant the police managed to evade disclosure on these secret operations. To this day, the Met still refuse either to confirm or deny whether the men actually were police officers.

While there would not have been an Inquiry without the tireless efforts of those spied upon, whether it is going to bring some truth and justice remains to be seen. The Undercover Research Group supports people in investigating their suspicions about possible undercover officers. Our aim is to know what has happened, to find truth and get justice. The people spied upon found out their groups and their lives had been infiltrated because they no longer trusted someone in their midst. What started with the exposure of Mark Kennedy in late 2010 began an outpouring of revelations of the undercover policing, a scandal which eventually led to the launching of the Pitchford Inquiry, intended to investigate any wrongdoing. It is important not to forget that without these investigations, we would not have an independent inquiry in the first place.

The public inquiry into political undercover policing is already a year in and little progress has been made. The Metropolitan police are engaging in major delay tactics. They are making applications they must know that the inquiry’s Chair, Lord Justice Pitchford, will reject. The latest and most astonishing so far is this one: the police producing anonymous risk assessments arguing for their own anonymity. Continue reading

Ireland Commissions Another Police Self-Investigation

Mark Kennedy (centre) at Shell to Sea protest in Co Mayo

Mark Kennedy (centre) at Shell to Sea protest in Co Mayo

Repost of the COPS blog, 23rd October 2016, Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance.

The Irish government has ordered a report on British undercover officer Mark Kennedy’s activity in the Republic. Any hope that this might be useful is obliterated by the most cursory look at the detail.

The police will investigate this police wrongdoing. They will only look at Kennedy, even though three of the other 16 known officers – John Dines, Jim Boyling and Mark Jenner – were also in Ireland. Who knows how many of the remaining 100+ unknown officers went there too?

This self-investigation mirrors the Scottish government’s recent announcement – get implicated police to investigate, give them a narrow remit that is incapable of seeing the full picture, nobody gets disgraced by their systematic human rights abuses being exposed. Continue reading

How the Met failed their #spycops – until the Pitchford Inquiry came along

SpecialbranchfileslogoEveline Lubbers, Undercover Research Group, 5 October 2016

Quite a few retired undercover officers carry a serious grudge against their former employer, that much the Metropolitan police acknowledge in submissions to the Pitchford Inquiry. In applications currently under review, however, the Met spells out the efforts made to gain the trust of these spycops and the subsequent time spent on mental support.

We think there is a bit more to say about this sudden concern for the wellbeing of the long-lost spycops. As a matter of fact, the submissions reveal how little the police cared so far. Until late last year, the Met had no clue whatsoever where to find their most secret former employees. In addition, the details published now confirm that the Met has failed their undercover officers for decades. They had no welfare policy in place, and even after Mark Kennedy was exposed and the scandal broke, nothing happened – until the Pitchford Inquiry came along.

The revealing submissions to the Inquiry come from two officers tasked by the Met with locating and liaising with former spycops, known as ‘Operation Motion’. Code-named ‘Karachi’ and ‘Jaipur’, the pair were chosen because of their long careers in Special Branch – careers very similar but not identical to that of the undercover officers (or so they say). This closeness is said to be essential to build rapport with the spycops. Continue reading