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.
By this time Lambert had distanced himself emotionally from Jacqui. She told Parliament
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.
even when he left I could not imagine that it had finished because we loved each other so much. I wanted to go on the run with him. I was prepared to do that for him.
Letters from Spain arrived at both women’s houses. Then no more letters came. Lambert had returned to his wife and children who knew nothing about the partner and child he’d abandoned.
A former SDS officer says that it was ‘hands down regarded as the best tour of duty ever’.
BECOMING THE BOSS
In November 1993, Lambert returned to run the SDS as operations manager. Around ten officers would be deployed at any one time. It’s now known that they gathered intelligence on at least 18 different family justice campaigns.
Lambert oversaw the deployment of officer Peter Francis who says he was tasked to ‘find dirt’ to discredit the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence – another allegation that Lambert has flatly denied, though Francis has said he is quite prepared to repeat it under oath.
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.
Since the exposure of Mark Kennedy, senior police have repeatedly told us that officers shouldn’t have sexual relations with citizens they spy on. Three months after we caught Kennedy, Jon Murphy from the Association of Chief Police Officers said
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.
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.