Former Special Demonstration Squad officer – and later unit chief – Bob Lambert is to be investigated by police over allegations he firebombed a department store.
Stealing the identity of a dead child called Bob Robinson, Lambert went undercover to infiltrate animal rights groups in the mid-1980s. In 1986 he co-wrote the McLibel leaflet that triggered the longest trial in English history, though his involvement was kept secret from court throughout.
The following year Lambert was part of a small, secret group of animal rights activists who planted incendiary devices in branches of fur-selling department store Debenhams. They were set to ignite during the night, triggering the sprinkler system and dousing the stock – it was designed to be economic sabotage rather than an attack on people.
One night in July 1987, three Debenhams stores were targeted simultaneously. The other two activists, Geoff Sheppard and Andrew Clarke, went to target the Luton and Romford stores. Lambert was to plant devices in Harrow.
The three shops were visited and £9m of damage was done. Acting on Lambert’s information, police caught Sheppard and Clarke red-handed making the next round of devices and they were both jailed.
Lambert denied it, saying
It was necessary to create the false impression that I was a committed animal rights extremist to gain intelligence so as to disrupt serious criminal conspiracies. However, I did not commit serious crime such as ‘planting an incendiary device at the [Debenhams] Harrow store
This raises the question of who did actually plant the Harrow devices. There appear to be only two explanations. Either:
- There was a fourth firebomber. Though this person was part of the group, neither Lambert, Sheppard nor Clarke mentioned them at the time, nor at any time since. Despite getting the other two jailed, Lambert let this one get away scot free, unnamed and unaccused; or
- Lambert is lying and he planted the devices at Harrow.
Whichever, it undermines the resulting court case. In the cases of climate campaigners the Ratcliffe 20 and the Drax 29, people were convicted despite crucial evidence from undercover officer Mark Kennedy being kept from the court. After Kennedy’s exposure, it was clear these were miscarriages of justice and all 49 have now had their convictions overturned.
Lambert’s involvement in the convictions of Sheppard and Clarke is an identical situation. It has been more than two years since the convicted men submitted their appeal against conviction, yet still no decision has been made.
It is not clear why it has taken the Metropolitan Police four years to get round to investigating Lambert’s involvement in burning the Debenhams store. It is difficult to imagine any other person being left alone so long after being credibly accused of causing hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage for animal rights.
Perhaps the Met were previously unwilling to look critically at someone with thirty years’ service in their force, and who collected an MBE for services to policing on his retirement. But maybe the time has come when even the Met cannot fight the rising tide of opprobrium.
In 2014 they paid record compensation to an activist Lambert deceived into a relationship and had a child with.
Last year, another woman similarly deceived by Lambert was one of the group who received compensation and an unprecedented apology from the Met.
There is perhaps no more toxic issue for the Met than their treatment of the family of Stephen Lawrence. Earlier this year, the Independent Police Complaints Commission report into spying on the Lawrence family – an activity overseen by Lambert as Special Demonstration Squad manager – found that if he were still in the force he would be facing misconduct charges.
With this growing catalogue of abuse, as outrageous as it is undeniable, it seems the Met may finally be ready to face the truth over Bob Lambert, even if Lambert himself is not.