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.

THREE NEW SPYCOPS

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.

Spycop liberated chickens, and other updates on Andy Coles

Andy Coles undercover with Gulf War Resisters at Fairford, 1991. Photo Noor Admani; (c) Peace News.

Donal O’Driscoll, Undercover Research Group, 6 June 2017

Since the exposure of Andy Coles as the former spycop Andy ‘Van’ Davey, more information on him has been steadily trickling in. We’ve collected the most important updates:

  • Infiltrating the anti-war group ARROW
  • Another allegation of inappropriate behaviour
  • Andy’s role in a 1993 chicken liberation;
  • Questions over possibly illegally obtained police warrants.

New discoveries: infiltrating anti-war groups

Peace News has revealed that prior to infiltrating animal rights groups, Andy Coles targeted the small but highly visible anti-war group Gulf War Resisters, later Active Resistance against the Roots of War (ARROW). As Andy Davey, he attended their meetings and demos throughout 1991. Peace News also unearthed the first proper full face photo of Andy undercover (shown above), and two of him on a protest.

Davey’s time as an anti-war protester preceded his tour in animal rights, but his cover was already in place – he would wear the clothes, and use the same pager and the van he would appear with later on. To the anti-war activists he made out that he was already involved in the Animal Liberation Front – not true as far as we know –  which he used to add an aura of mysteriousness about his background. In Peace News Emily Johns explains she found this very weird at the time:

He told me, to impress me I thought, that he was a press officer for the ALF (Animal Liberation Front).

I remember thinking: ‘What kind of a fool do you take me for? Or what kind of a fool are you to tell me that?’ The ALF was and still is a very secretive group, carrying out direct action against animal exploitation. Either Andy was not a press officer for the ALF, and he thought that I was the kind of person who would be impressed by that boast, or he was an ALF press officer breaking the secrecy of the group with someone he barely knew.

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Finding Andy – ex #spycop now Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner

former #spycop Andy Coles currentlyDónal O’Driscoll and Eveline Lubbers, Undercover Research Group, 12 May 2017

Today we expose Andy Davey who was undercover in the animal rights movement in the early 1990s. His real name is Andy Coles, and he is currently a Tory councillor and Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner.

Simon Israel at Channel4 News at 7pm has an interview with ‘Jessica’, the woman Coles groomed into a relationship when she was just 19, and in the Guardian Rob Evans has Jessica calling for Coles to resign.


Update 
Breaking – Andy Coles resigns as Deputy Police Commissioner for Cambridgeshire, our blog, 15 May 2017.
Rob Evans, Cambridgeshire deputy police commissioner resigns over spy claims, The Guardian, 15 May 2017


Finding Andy

Each discovery of a new undercover police officer in protest movement comes with its own unique twists and turns. For Andy Coles, it began with a small paragraph in the autobiography of his more famous brother, the former popstar (The Communards!) Rev. Richard Coles. From there we were able to track not only what he got up to undercover, but also where he is now. These days, he is a Tory councillor and Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

The painstakingly unravelling of a hidden identity and documenting the activities of spycops is a process that usually takes months and months. More often than not, what you are left with after excruciating amounts of sifting out false positives is only 95% certainty that someone had indeed been a spycop.

Finding Andy Coles was a very different story: it moved much faster. His undercover persona Andy Davey, also known as Andy ‘Van’, was first outed by his former animal rights comrade Paul Gravett online in 2014. At the time, little was known other than that Andy fitted the pattern of spycops discovered to date. However, the investigation began in earnest when in January 2017 we got a little help from some friends. Someone reading Fathomless Riches, Or How I Went From Pop to Pulpit, the autobiography of the pop star, broadcaster and Anglican priest Richard Coles, spotted the following intriguing paragraph:

My older brother, Andy, brought his own drama with him. He looked like he had just walked out of the woods, his hair long and shaggy, with a straggly beard, his ears rattling with piercings; but his disarray was not like mine, an outward sign of internal distress, but suffered in the line of duty. He had joined Special Branch and was undercover, living a double life, infiltrated into some sinister organisation while his wife and baby daughter made do with unpredictable visits.

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Why did Operation Herne publish obviously wrong dates on #spycop Roger Pearce’ career?

Operation HernePeter Salmon and Eveline Lubbers, Undercover Research Group, 11 April 2017

Recently the Pitchford Inquiry confirmed Roger Pearce as a former undercover police officer (as ‘Roger Thorley’); the Undercover Research Group had already exposed him last year. We had managed to identify him based on details released the first report from Operation Herne, the police’s own investigation into the abuses by notorious spycop unit, the Special Demonstration Squad. And as our profile of Pearce demonstrates, he did not shy away from talking about undercover policing publicly – coming forward to justify relationships and the theft of identities of dead children.

We have since learned there are some anomalies in the information the police released, apparent mistakes with dates that are difficult to explain… According to Operation Herne, N85 – as Pearce was referred to – was an undercover from 1978 to 1980, and subsequently Director of Intelligence from 2000 to 2004, in which role he was also head of Special Branch.

However, Rob Evans over at The Guardian has understood that Pearce’s tour of duty as a spycop lasted from 1979 to 1984. Additionally, the Metropolitan Police recently confirmed to us that Pearce was Director of Intelligence from November 1998 to March 2003.

These anomalies raise several issues. Continue reading

Roger Pearce confirmed as spycop

Roger Pearce, former Head of Special Branch and spyco

Roger Pearce, #spycop, head of the Special Demonstration Squad and of Special Branch, and now an author.

Dónal O’Driscoll, Undercover Research Group, 29 March 2017.

Today, the Pitchford Inquiry into undercover policing confirmed that former Special Branch commander Roger Pearce had been a spycop. This was something that the Undercover Research Group had first publicly identified in October 2016, having stitched together material from various sources.

It was the police’s own Operation Herne which led the way, giving us the nugget of information that N85, a Special Branch commander had previously been an undercover officer and leading us to the identification. However, when we delved into Pearce’s public appearances, there were plenty of other clues, not least in the way he publicly spoke about spycops.

Defending the indefensible

When the undercover scandal broke, he was vocal in defending the indefensible – theft of dead children’s identities and sexual relations with activists. We now know the horrendous activities that the undercovers got up to on their deployments. Yet, he went on television to state:

The people I know and knew, the people who were selected for Special Branch and above all those who were selected for SDS, with very, very few exceptions who were known about, were people of integrity and honour and fired up by a sense of mission, to protect the country actually.

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1993: the year the Grand National was sabotaged – with help from Special Branch

Chris PlowmanOne of those stories that make you wonder why political groups were infiltrated at all. Apparently protecting the identity of the undercover officer – Matt Rayner – was more important than sharing the intelligence he had gathered about the plot he was involved in to disturb the Grand National horse races. One for the Pitchford Inquiry to look in to… Must have happened more often, how often?

Repost of RedBlackGreen blog
Originally posted 10 April 2016

How an undercover police officer played a key role in an action which cost the betting industry over £70 million.

Yesterday about 100 people demonstrated near the entrance of the Grand National against the cruelty of horse racing. Good though this turnout was – and not to mention another demo there on Friday and also one in London outside Channel 4 who broadcast the race – these protests will not by themselves bring about the end of the world’s most infamous steeplechase.

Many years ago, however, activists decided to do just by sabotaging the race. In 1993 they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams as it had to be abandoned and became “the race that never was”. The animal rights dimension has largely been written out of the story, however. Now for the first time online you will hear what really happened and also it will be revealed how an undercover police officer played a key role in an action which cost the betting industry over £70 million. Continue reading

RC a #spycop? Police refuses to confirm or deny…

NCND letter from police
Donal O’Driscoll and Eveline Lubbers,
Undercover Research Group
4 February 2016

Today we release a profile of an animal rights activist based in Bedford 2002-2006, whom former colleagues (including a member of URG) now believe was a undercover police officer.

However, the final, definitive bit of documentation that would 100% confirm this person as a police officer is missing. For that reason we refer to him solely as RC, and no pictures of him are included.

This is less than ideal and the responsibility for it lies squarely with the police, who continue to frustrate attempts to uncover injustices in the spycop saga. In response to our request for confirmation, the police ‘intend to maintain the principle of neither confirming nor denying the issues raised‘. However, remaining silent is not an option: firstly, there are potential miscarriages of justice associated with RC being a police officer and secondly, those affected will be hampered from being core participants in the Pitchford Inquiry.

If we are wrong, we will publicly apologise, but we believe we have sufficient evidence to take this step.

In this blog post we explain how we came to the decision to publish an anonymised version of the profile, explaining the way we worked on this case and summarising the evidence at the end against our List of Fifteen Questions.

Please read this first before going to the profile on RC

Resolving a dilemma Continue reading

Another #spycop exposed: Carlo Neri confirmed as an undercover

Carlo Neri

Donal O’Driscoll and Eveline Lubbers / Undercover Research Group
18 January 2016

Today we can reveal that Carlo Neri, who was active in the Socialist Party between 2001 and 2006, was in reality an undercover police officer in London, mostly likely deployed by the Special Demonstration Squad.

We have been working on this case since last summer, after people who knew him came to us with their suspicions. Following a long and sometimes winding investigation we were able to identify his real name, and to locate documentation that had his occupation down as police officer at the time he was undercover.

The story goes live today on Newsnight and in The Guardian. The Undercover Research Group presents an in-depth profile detailing Neri, his tour of duty, his relationships and the activities he was involved in.

This expose could not have been done without the efforts of Carlo’s former friends and partners. We salute their efforts in bringing this grim truth to the public scrutiny it deserves. Carlo systematically used people and betrayed trust; he deliberately sought out relationships as part of his cover. We hope in exposing him that some resolution can be found.

This blog post has – for the first time – a detailed account of our investigation. Yet again, the people affected by undercovers in their lives had to go through the painful process of uncovering the truth. Something that could have been avoided if the Pitchford Inquiry would release the list of cover names of undercovers from the Special Demonstration Squad.

Go to the Carlo Neri profile

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The Fifteen Questions we work with

typewriter partPeter Salmon and Eveline Lubbers / Undercover Research Group,
2 November 2015

As we noted in a recent blogpost on how we work, we have a list of questions that we have developed from close study of the undercovers exposed so far. If someone comes to us with a suspicion about someone in their group, we put these questions to them, to see whether their suspicions are well founded. If many boxes are ticked, there are strong grounds for further investigation.

Here we set out the questions we work with, putting them context (thanks for people taking part in our meeting at the London Anarchist Bookfair for their input!). Some questions are specifically related to the undercover tradecraft. Others are things about what infiltrating officers get wrong, or what we’ve picked up from our own analyses.

  1. Is their background missing?

Generally, the undercover has very little in the way of background story. They will often have a Continue reading