Yesterday saw another blow to the police’s obstruction tactics for legal cases brought by targets of undercover officers.
The police have been saying they can ‘neither confirm nor deny’ (NCND) that anyone was (or wasn’t) an undercover officer. They claim this is a long standing policy that cannot be deviated from. But, as is pointed out by the eight women in the Police Spies Out of Lives case who were deceived into relationships with officers, that is simply not true.
The Met have even tried to claim NCND about officers who have given numerous media appearances talking about their work. Even more farcically, in one hearing they admitted that Jim Boyling was a Metropolitan Police officer but not that he was undercover, as if he might have had his alter ego of committed activist as a some sort of off-duty hobby.
Yesterday, three people from Cardiff Anarchist Network who were spied on for four years by an officer known as Mark ‘Marco’ Jacobs came to the High Court in London to challenge the use of NCND in relation to their claim for damages. Two had sexual relationships with Jacobs, the third is a man who was the partner of one of one of them and was very close friends with Jacobs.
Mr Justice Mitting asked the police’s counsel what the point was of asking the claimants to prove that Jacobs was a police officer. There was a long, resounding, painful silence, ended only by Mitting asking another question.
Whilst the police did not say they were dropping the use of NCND, they said that they would not contest the assertion that Jacobs was an officer, and if damages are awarded then the police will be liable to pay.
THE REAL ABUSE
Mitting did question the position of the man in the case, Tom Fowler, saying it amounted to saying ‘you stole my girlfriend by deceit,’ a position that wouldn’t hold water in a marriage case, let alone with unmarried people. Leaving aside his anachronistic clear distinction between married and other couples, it shows a fundamental failure to understand what these spies have done.
As other women deceived into relationships with undercover officers have been at pains to point out, it’s not so much the sexual contact that’s the issue, it’s the intimacy, the trust, the intertwining of lives and plans for the future. To then find out that the person you were so close to was only ever there as a paid agent to betray you and the values you hold most dear, that their presence in your life was controlled by an unseen group of other state agents, is a profoundly traumatising shock.
Whilst we may hope our closest relationships don’t end, we’re always aware of the possibility. It happens to a lot of people at some time and it’s happened to most of us before. But the profound invasion of privacy, the sustained manipulation and the abuse of trust that were meted out to all three people in this case is not something anyone would ever expect of their partner, their best friend or their government.
Whilst the Metropolitan Police’s effective admission that Jacobs was their officer is good news, not bringing the evidence out in front of them means we lose hope of shining a light up the ladder in this case and see who sent Jacobs to spy, what they asked him to do, and how much they knew of his abuse of those he targeted.
Nonetheless, it is a victory and bodes well for NCND to crumble away from future cases and the forthcoming public inquiry.
The undercover political police units did not write much down. Training in the Special Demonstration Squad was in-house, on the job, with someone who’d done it before. Of course, much of what did actually get documented has been shredded. The only way we’ll ever get the truth is by the testimony of those who were there.
Peter Francis was an SDS officer in the 1990s under the management of Bob Lambert. He spied on the family of Stephen Lawrence and has described how he was tasked to ‘find dirt’ to discredit them. When the MacPherson Inquiry into the Lawrence case took place in 1998, Francis advocated testifying about the SDS spying but was overruled by his superiors.
Peter Francis is unique among former officers of Britain’s political secret police. He is the only one to come forward unbidden, rather than after being exposed by other people (his first interview was in 2010, even before the exposure of Mark Kennedy started the slew of revelations). He has volunteered a whole lot of information that has made life harder for the Met as it tries to hide the truth, doing so has made life harder for himself too. This is in stark contrast to other officers who have either lied in self-protecting interviews or not spoken up at all.
The police’s self-investigation into undercovers, Operation Herne, asked him to talk to them but refused to give him immunity from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. So, mindful of the fact that any divulging of his work is a breach of the Act – and presumably also aware of Herne’s cover-up nature – he didn’t co-operate.
The resulting 84 page Herne report about his allegations was such a whitewash that it
will not confirm or deny if Peter Francis was ever an undercover police officer.
He’s continued to speak out and assist those who were spied on to agitate for disclosure and justice. So far, he’s still the only one. Without dispensation from the Home Secretary or the Metropolitan Police, every time he does so, he is committing a criminal offence.
I will appear before the new Home Secretary’s public inquiry and I will tell them everything I should have done in 1998 no matter what the legal and personal consequences are to me this time.
It’s certainly a brave stance, but he should not have to face the threat of prosecution for whistleblowing out about universally acknowledged wrongdoing. Beyond that, others need to be encouraged to come forward and speak up too instead of seeing the sword over Francis’ head and deciding not to step into the same spot.
This is not asking for immunity from prosecution for anything Francis or others did as undercover police officers. This is about allowing them to talk openly about what they saw and did so that we can get the fullest picture and those responsible can be held accountable.
The threat of the Official Secrets Act is an institutional gagging tool to suppress the facts about undercover policing, like throwing the blanket ‘neither confirm nor deny‘ policy over court cases. Far from protecting the nation, it exacerbates the damage done to it by these counter-democratic secret police units.
If you want truth and justice for those targeted by Britain’s political secret police, please sign this petition and share it widely.
It cannot be credible unless the Home Secretary and the Chair of the Inquiry, Lord Justice Pitchford, meet with those affected by the spying before drawing up the inquiry’s Terms of Reference, and they must act on their suggestions and concerns.
Nor can it be parcelled off to particular units or cases. It cannot be merely limited to the Special Demonstration Squad or their era of 1968-2008. The most notorious officer, Mark Kennedy, did not work for the SDS and was spying later than that, and clearly the inquiry must cover him and his unit the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, as well as other allied political policing units such as National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit and the National Domestic Extremism Team.
The family justice campaigns, the women deceived into relationships by officers, the construction workers blacklisted with the help of police, the families whose dead children’s identities were stolen by officers as well as the campaign groups spied on must all have a voice. They need to be there both in the drawing up of the terms of reference and to be afforded proper representation at the inquiry itself.
Nor should the inquiry ignore the ongoing issue of officers selling knowledge and experience acquired while undercover with these units to the private sector, and whose activities have caused ongoing upset and disruption to the lives of individuals being targeted. Partial justice is not justice.
Attempts to uncover the truth in court cases and by journalists have been stymied by the police wilfully preventing justice by asserting a policy of ‘neither confirm nor deny’ when confronted with the wrongdoing of officers. The obstructive, at times farcical, tactic must have no place in the inquiry.
The inquiry should happen without delay rather than waiting for completion of partisan, discredited police self-investigations such as Operation Herne.
Former officers must be encouraged to come forward as whistleblowers and protected from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.
Senior police officers past and present, especially former Met Commissioners and Special Branch Commanders since 1968, must be held to account for any wrong doing attributed to the units under their command.
We fully endorse the draft Terms of Reference submitted to the Home Secretary by laywers representing eight women who were deceived into having intimate relationships with undercover officers.
The new book Blacklisted: The Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists tells the controversial story of the illegal strategies that transnational construction companies resorted to in their attempt to keep union activists away from their places of work. This is a story of a bitter struggle, in which collusion with the police and security services resulted in victimization, violence and unemployment, with terrible effects on families and communities.
Drawing on first-hand accounts of the workers, Blacklisted reveals how, when major construction projects were unionized, those involved were unlawfully victimized. From the building sites to the High Court, this is a story of ordinary working people taking on some of the most powerful transnational companies in the world.
With a full inquiry promised by the Labour party, the practice of blacklisting is set to become a hot topic in the May general election.
The book also reveals how blacklisting extended beyond construction activists to environmental campaigners, journalists, politicians and academics. And it adds an international perspective with related stories from America and Europe.
There is a launch on Thursday March 12 in Committee Room 15 at the Houses of Parliament, 6-8pm. It’s free and all are welcome. There will be drinks and book signing afterwards at the Red Lion, Whitehall. Other events are being planned around the country and will appear on this website’s calendar as they are confirmed.
On 5 March COPS held a meeting at the University of St Andrews, where former Special Demonstration Squad officer (and later boss) Bob Lambert now lectures. As with the meeting in November at his other employer, London Metropolitan University, we wanted his students and colleagues to know who they are dealing with.
Here is video and a transcript.
One of your lecturers is Dr Robert Lambert. I would like to take a few minutes to tell you what is known about him.
He joined the Metropolitan police in 1977 when he was 25. In 1983 he was deployed by the secret unit within Special Branch, the Special Demonstration Squad. He took the identity of Bob Robinson from a child close to his own age who had died aged 7 of a heart condition. The theft of the identities of dead children was mandatory in the unit at the time.
He was sent into the animal rights movement, which was a new frontier for the SDS. Early in 1983, he was at a demonstration outside Hackney Town Hall that lobbied to get the council to sign up to a charter against animal cruelty. There he approached an activist called Jacqui who, at 22, was ten years younger than him. They soon began a relationship, her first serious one.
Like many in the group, Jacqui was teased by Lambert for not being committed enough and not doing direct action. As with so many other officers before and since, he made a personality trait of encouraging a more confrontational approach that would bring those involved into conflict with the police.
He joined London Greenpeace – a small group whose action mostly involved meetings and leafleting – and he co-wrote the famous What’s Wrong With McDonald’s leaflet that triggered the McLibel trial where McDonald’s sued two activists for distributing the leaflet. The trial became the longest in British legal history. His involvement, and the fact of undercover officers being in the group, was kept from the court.
He would leaflet and harangue customers at butchers’ shops, and was arrested and prosecuted for it. He says he can’t remember if he was convicted. Either way, it is alarming that somebody can swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth then lie and lie and lie to the court. If the court did not know his real identity then it raises serious questions about perverting the course of justice and perjury.
He moved in with Jacqui and she became pregnant. She had no idea that he was already married with children. And of course, she had no idea that he was only in her life as a paid agent to undermine her and the values she held most dear. He was by her side as she gave birth and he held their son before she did.
Given the prevalence of the relationships – 13 out of the 14 officers exposed had them – it tests credulity to see it as anything other than a strategy. The love letters from the various officers read remarkably similarly. In 2013 Lambert was asked by Channel 4 News if his managers knew about his relationships. He refused to answer, and then refused to explain why he was refusing to answer.
THE DEBENHAMS ARSON
Animal Liberation Front activists had been using small incendiary devices to target department stores that sold fur. They were placed under items of furniture that would ignite in the night which, in turn, would set off the sprinkler system. As with almost all other ALF actions, they were aiming to maximise property damage rather than to hurt any people.
Nonetheless, it was major criminal damage and the use of fire introduces a dangerous and uncontrollable element that has to be taken very seriously indeed.
Lambert was one of a cell of three, with Geoff Shepherd and Andrew Clarke, who planned simultaneous attacks on three branches of Debenhams in July 1987. Shepherd and Clarke went to Luton and Romford, Lambert’s job was to target the Harrow store. All three stores had devices planted and eight million pounds of damage was caused.
Two months later, acting on Lambert’s intelligence, police raided a flat where Shepherd and Clarke were assembling another round of incendiary devices. They were both jailed.
Both are bringing cases to have those convictions quashed because, as with the 50 other convictions recently overturned in similar cases, prosecutors withheld evidence from undercover police officers that may have been helpful to the defence. If, as seems likely, their convictions are quashed it means that the self-declared pinnacle of Lambert’s career, the thing he uses to justify the deceit and damage done to others, was a miscarriage of justice.
Perhaps more serious is the allegation that Lambert planted the devices at the Harrow store. It is a charge he has strenuously denied. Of course his accuser Geoff Shepherd, a man who spent years in prison because of Lambert, cannot be seen as an impartial figure.
But the question remains; if it was not Lambert, who was it? Was there really a fourth person who neither Shepherd nor Lambert have mentioned before and who Lambert – despite getting the other two caught red handed in the crowning achievement of his deployment – allowed to get away unmentioned. It’s that, or else it was Lambert. I can see no third option. I leave it up to you to decide which you believe.
With the benefit of hindsight I can now see how he orchestrated breakdown of our relationship. It was very hard time for me. He continued to visit our son after he moved out and we continued an intimate relationship until one day when he said he had to “go on the run” to Spain, owing to him being involved in the firebombing at the Debenhams store in Harrow. He promised he would never abandon his son and said that as soon as it was safe I could bring our baby to Spain to see him.
He abandoned me to support our son alone and to explain to him the disappearance of his father. I felt guilty. At that time I blamed myself a lot for the break up and for the fact that my son had lost his father. I tried to track Bob down countless times over the years but those efforts were doomed to failure as I did not even know his real name.
In the final period of his deployment he began a relationship with Belinda Harvey. He also had brief sexual relations with two other women he spied on. Belinda Harvey wasn’t even an activist yet was not only targeted for emotional intrusion by Lambert, but he also had her flat raided by Special Branch saying they were looking for the hardcore animal rights activist Bob Robinson. You don’t need to be an activist to be a target of these squads.
Lambert told Belinda and Jacqui – who was oblivious to his relationship with Belinda – that the police were on his trail and he needed to flee the country. He told them, separately, that they could come and join him once he’d settled in. He spent a week with Belinda in Dorset in December 1988.
That shocking allegation caused the Home Secretary to order a full public inquiry into undercover policing.
Lambert told Channel 4 News, ‘I left in 1998 which was round about the time of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry’ and he says at no time was the SDS concerned with smearing the Lawrence family or their campaign.
However, the main witness to the murder, Stephen’s friend Duwayne Brooks, was twice prosecuted on trumped-up charges after Francis says he spent hours trawling footage to get something useable. Brooks walked free from court without uttering a word, and received an apology and record compensation from the Metropolitan Police. If they tried to assassinate Brooks’ character, why would they not try with others around the campaign?
Despite Lambert saying that the SDS was not concerned with spying on the Lawrence campaign, in March last year the Ellison Report – commissioned by the Home Secretary after the allegations of spying were made – made reference to nine different officers who gathered intelligence on the campaign.
Where is the threat to life and limb from these campaigns? What terrorists might there be hanging round the Lawrence family and others like them? The only threat they posed was one of embarrassment. They would discredit the police, not by any libellous means but simply by showing them up for what they had actually done.
It is grossly unprofessional. It is a diversion from what they are there to do. It is morally wrong because people have been put there to do a particular task and people have got trust in them. It is never acceptable under any circumstances … for them to engage in sex with any subject they come into contact with.
Last year the Met’s self-investigation Operation Herne, usually known for its defensive approach, nonetheless condemned it in powerful and unequivocal terms, saying
there are and never have been any circumstances where it would be appropriate for such covertly deployed officers to engage in intimate sexual relationships with those they are employed to infiltrate and target. Such an activity can only be seen as an abject failure of the deployment, a gross abuse of their role and their position as a police officer and an individual and organisational failing.
It is of real concern that a distinct lack of intrusive management by senior leaders within the MPS appears to have facilitated the development and apparent circulation of internal inappropriate advice regarding an undercover police officers engagement in sexual relationships.
That last bit is a reference to a memo apparently sent round by Bob Lambert when he was the unit manager, advising the use of condoms.
If Lambert did think of fathering children with activists and lying in court as bad ideas rather than good tradecraft, it seems he did little to inculcate these feeling in his underlings.
Jim Boyling was deployed by Lambert into an environmental group called Reclaim The Streets. He not only fathered children with an activist he spied on, like Lambert he also went through a prosecution under his false identity. This police officer was in lawyer-client meetings with the defence. Whilst Boyling was acquitted, one activist, John Jordan, was convicted. That conviction was a miscarriage of justice and was finally quashed earlier this year.
AS WITH MCLIBEL, SO WITH THE LAWRENCES
Shortly after, the MacPherson inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence case published its report, famously declaring the Metropolitan police as ‘institutionally racist’. Despite the inquiry being supposed to shed light on the Met’s response to the case, there had been no mention of the SDS intelligence-gathering. Just like the McLibel trial which concluded a year earlier, Lambert and the SDS’ important role were kept hidden from the state officials tasked to find the truth and administer justice.
A team at the Met were crafting the Commissioner’s response to the Lawrence inquiry. On 14 August 1998, Lambert brokered a meeting between an SDS officer under his command who had gathered intelligence on the Lawrence campaign and Detective Inspector Richard Walton from the team formulating the official response. There was a lot of pressure at the time as calls came from many people, including Doreen Lawrence, for the Commissioner to resign.
The Ellison Report’s findings reserve some of their strongest criticism for this action, calling it ‘wrong-headed and inappropriate’. They found that the SDS officer that Lambert deployed
was, at the time, an Metropolitan Police spy in the Lawrence family camp during the course of judicial proceedings in which the family was the primary party in opposition to the Metropolitan Police…. for a meeting to then be arranged to enable an in-depth discussion to take place about the Lawrences’ relationship with groups seeking to support their campaign, in order to help inform the… submissions to the Public Inquiry, was, in our assessment, a completely improper use of the knowledge… gained by the deployment of this officer.
Though Lambert had overseen the spying and brokered the ‘wrong headed’ meeting, Ellison notes that he was probably not the instigator. ‘Mr Lambert has claimed that he was asked to arrange it by senior management within the SDS.’ Nonetheless, he played a pivotal role and the officer’s work shows that this was no aberration but rather the culture of the squad that Lambert devoted fifteen years to.
Lambert retired from the force in 2006, collecting an MBE for ‘services to policing’ in 2008.
In October 2011, Lambert was speaking at a conference where he was confronted by activists he had spied on in London Greenpeace many years earlier. He refused to respond. Afterwards he issued an apology for spying on London Greenpeace. He also apologised to Belinda, the woman he had a relationship with in the final months of his time undercover.
His apology made no mention of the far more involved relationship with Jacqui, nor of their son. It appeared to be merely dealing with the things that he’d been exposed for and ignoring other obviously far greater, but still secret, misdeeds.
Eight months later, in June 2012, Jacqui came home and opened the newspaper and saw a headline about an undercover police officer called Bob Lambert being named in parliament as the bomber of a Debenhams store. It had a vintage picture of her long-lost partner from 24 years earlier, Bob Robinson. The impact devastated her. She says ‘I was not consenting to sleeping with Bob Lambert, I didn’t know who Bob Lambert was,’ going on to say it feels ‘like being raped by the state’.
He only extended his public apology to her after she went on television. But as she pertinently says, what if she hadn’t seen that article? She believes that Lambert would have taken the secret to his grave.
True contrition would look very different. It would involve apology of his own volition, rather than waiting to be caught. It would involve full disclosure, rather than having to respond to each new revelation, and even then refusing to answer key questions. His avoidance of the truth did not end when he left the police. It continues to the present.
WHAT MORE IS THERE?
The SDS was closed down in 2008 after counter terrorism officers came on board and realised what had been going on. It stands thoroughly discredited. Doreen Lawrence, victim of a swathe of appalling and despicable police practices, has said that the SDS’ spying on her family tops it all.
If all of this isn’t enough to damn a person and make them unfit as a role model, I wonder what else you need. Whatever it is, I suspect you may well get it. The Met is mired in the SDS scandals that, despite their best efforts to conceal, are still emerging.
Bob Lambert was a serial abuser of women. He had fathered a child knowing he would soon abandon it. Then there is the question of whether he planted an incendiary device in a department store – again, I stress that he denies that. He had made a personality trait of encouraging others to take more confrontational illegal action.
This is not a one-off error, nor the actions of a young naïve person. This was years of deliberate, strategic abuse of citizens and undermining of legitimate campaigns. He told Channel 4 News that we mustn’t think his behaviour was typical; yet we know that most officers behaved similarly, notably those in his charge as manager where he seems to have used his methods as a blueprint. So he not only committed but for years he directed a raft of officers whose actions were – to use the words of police who’ve looked into it – morally wrong, completely improper, gross abuses of their role in deployments that were abject failures.
The blame for this litany of inexcusable intrusion into people’s lives and counter-democratic undermining of campaigns must lie either with the managers who authorised and ran it or, if officers were acting on their initiative, then the officers must take the blame along with managers for their negligence. In all cases, as both an officer and manager, Bob Lambert stands guilty.
Every one of us has done things we are rightly ashamed of. Though Lambert’s are on a scale that few people reach, he is nonetheless entitled to his private life and also to not have it affect some of his other activities. Were he at academic institutions as a lecturer in microbiology or Russian literature, or as a cleaner or gardener, it could be argued that his past should have no bearing on his position.
But Bob Lambert is at the London Metropolitan University and the University of St Andrews based on what he calls his ‘counter terrorism’ experience. It appears that he failed to tell his employers about the true nature of his past. He deceived the universities the same way he deceived the activists, his family and everyone else around him.
Officers and managers from the Special Demonstration Squad should be part of such courses only as case studies in how it can go wrong.