Special Branch – A History: 1883 – 2006,
by Ray Wilson and Ian Adams (Biteback, August 2015)
Peter Salmon/Undercover Research Group.
15 October 2015
Despite being one of the best known and long-lived police units, books providing detailed histories of Special Branch are thin on the ground. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the secret nature of its work. On the other hand, one sees quite a few histories of its counterpart, MI5. So perhaps it is often, and mistakenly, seen as the poor relation in the spook family, despite the fact that it pre-dates most other spook organisations in the UK.
The last book which offered a comparable insight was Nigel Allason’s The Branch: A History of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch, covering the area 1883 – 1983 and containing deliberate obfuscations. (N.B. the author is better-known of his writing as “Nigel West”).
Thus, I was looking forward to seeing what this book had to offer, not least as the authors were two former members of Special Branch. That they are not professional writers is immediately obvious; this book is not something you would sit down with for an enthralling read.
Given that the authors are both former Special Branch officers, Continue reading
The book Blacklisted, the secret war between big business and union activists finally hit the shelves this week. Authored by Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, Blacklisted tells the controversial story of the illegal strategies that transnational construction companies used to keep union activists away from work. We have the honour to publish an extract, and we selected something from chapter 9, Under constant watch. Dealing with spying on activists it ties in with the work of the Undercover Research Group.
This particular piece shows how the authors found out that information gathered by undercover officers ended up in the files of the Consultancy Association, the secret blacklisting service set up by the large building companies. It was a matter of meticulously going through files, after campaigning to get access to the material seized by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), who in turn had acted upon an article in the Guardian written by Phil Chamberlain. Interviews with those blacklisted, with whistle blowers and people professionally involved in blacklisting added a further layer of understanding.
The story published here adds some interesting detail to our profile of Mark Jenner spying on the Colin Roach Centre in Stoke Newington, London, in the mid 1990s, the same time as his former colleague and now whistleblower Peter Francis was also infiltrating left wing and anti-racism groups in London.