Content tagged with "Harriet Wistrich"

Spycops and Strikers: From Grunwick to Now

Grunwick pickets in front of policeSpycops and Strikers is a public event in London on 15th February, part of a series of Grunwick 40 memorial events.

In 1976, six workers walked out of Grunwick Film Processing Laboratory in Willesden and ignited an historic two-year dispute which united thousands to demand better rights for poorly treated workers. The workforce had a significant number of Asian women who were at the forefront of the struggle.

The events of 1976-78 are still remembered as an important moment not just in local history, but in the fight for equal rights for women and ethnic minorities. They brought people of different races and backgrounds together in support of the rights of migrant women workers, shattered stereotypes about Asian women in Britain, and changed the face of trade unionism. Grunwick 40 was set up to commemorate this vital moment.

Such a large, diverse and unified movement attracted serious attention from the Metropolitan Police.

Since the exposure of Mark Kennedy as an undercover officer inside the environmental movement in 2010, many more ‘spycops’ have been found out by the activists they spied upon. We now know that since 1968, the Special Demonstration Squad infiltrated political and activist groups that they considered a threat, including the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, anti-apartheid movement and CND.

We also know that prominent supporters of the Grunwick strike were bugged and followed and that there were attempts to infiltrate the strike committee. There is now a judge-led Inquiry into Undercover Policing, the Pitchford Inquiry; should Grunwick strikers and their supporters be involved to find out more?

People supporting the Grunwick Strikers remember the heavy surveillance back in the days. Jack Dromey, secretary of Brent Trades Council at the time of the strike, recalled that:

‘I discovered after the dispute, from good policemen who talked to me in the thirty years since, that I was bugged at home, that the trades and labour hall was bugged, that there was a period that, we were followed, some of us in the dispute, and also attempts were made to infiltrate the strike committee, so there was a high degree of surveillance.

‘It was an extraordinary period of political paranoia, the security services tended to put two and two together and make Moscow.’

In 2006 the Metropolitan Police released an inch-thick file on the Grunwick Industrial Dispute (1976-78), following a Freedom of Information request by journalist Solomon Hughes. The Met confirmed the existence of six relevant files, but decided to only disclose part of the documents. Ever since the Met have tried to bury the papers, even making previously disclosed files secret again.

What was released, is now shared at the Special Branch Files Project, a live-archive of declassified files focussing on the surveillance of political activists and campaigners.

The Grunwick files consist of a collection of Special Branch reports, police reports, and additional memoranda, documenting the policing of the Grunwick pickets, surveillance of strikers and their supporters between June and October 1977.

Join us to discuss political policing and how we should respond to the Inquiry.

SPEAKERS

Eveline Lubbers (Undercover Research Group)
Solomon Hughes (journalist who uncovered secret files on Grunwick)
Harriet Wistrich (lawyer for people spied upon)
Marcia Rigg (Sean Rigg Campaign)
Kevin Blowe (Netpol)

DATE – Wednesday 15 February 2017, 19:00-21:00

VENUE – Malet Suite, Student Central, 2nd Floor, Malet Street London WC1E 7HY

Free entry, though places are limited so it’s advisable to reserve a seat in advance.

Help spread the word with the Facebook event

Organised by Grunwick 40 in co-operation with the Special Branch Files Project, the Undercover Research Group and the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance.

Women Speak Out on Spycops

We’ve just uploaded video on our Youtube channel of four women speaking about their different involvement in the undercover police scandal at a seminar in Manchester earlier this year.

‘Alison’ gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on her experience of having been deceived into a five year relationship by undercover officer Mark Jenner, and previously told her story to Newsnight in 2014. As she emphasises here, the overwhelming majority of Jenner’s time was not spent on political work, but on domestic time with Alison and her family.

 


Harriet Wistrich, Human Rights Lawyer of the Year 2014, represents numerous women (including Alison and Helen Steel) who had relationships with officers and successfully brought legal cases and obtained an apology from the Metropolitan Police. She also represents others that will be giving evidence to the Undercover Policing Inquiry.

 


Dr Eveline Lubbers is a member of the Undercover Research Group who do a peerless job of researching and exposing Britain’s political secret police, and has published research on the activities of undercover police officers. She is also the author of Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark: Corporate Spying on Activists and Battling Big Business: Countering Greenwash, Front Groups and Other Forms of Corporate Deception.

 


Helen Steel was deceived into an imtimate relationship by ‘John Barker’, aka Special Demonstration Squad officer John Dines. Her story follows a startlingly similar trajectory to those of Alison and the other women, showing that this was no aberration by rogue officers but a long-term deliberate strategy by an institutionally sexist police force.

 

Tlks given at Undercover Policing, Democracy and Human Rights seminar, University of Manchester school of law, 14 April 2016. Video by Reel News.

Police Apology for Relationships: Where Next?

L-R: Kate Wilson, Helen Steel, Belinda Harvey and their lawyer Harriet Wistrich at their press conference, 20 November 2015 (Pic: Danny Shaw, BBC)

L-R: Kate Wilson, Helen Steel, Belinda Harvey and their lawyer Harriet Wistrich at their press conference, 20 November 2015
(Pic: Danny Shaw, BBC)

It’s an extraordinary statement by any standards. Even when the police pay large compensation, they usually do so with no admission of culpability for anything. But last Friday they issued a detailed, unreserved apology for the abuse of women who had relationships with undercover police officers.

Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt even made a video of the admission, bluntly stating for the record that the relationships were

abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong. I acknowledge that these relationships were a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma…

Most importantly, relationships like these should never have happened. They were wrong and were a gross violation of personal dignity and integrity.

 

The outrageousness and severity of how these women were treated is finally an acknowledged, settled fact.

MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS

Some of the harrowing, heart wrenching impacts were spelled out by Lisa Jones – partner of Mark Kennedy for six years and whose discovery of his true identity brought the issue to light – when she gave her first ever interview on Friday.

As “Rosa”, who had children with undercover officer Jim Boyling, said,

This has affected my whole view of the state and it went as deep as my womb

 

Kate Wilson’s description of what was done to her was similarly powerful, and her highlighting of the continuing lack of transparency – “the police have made no effort whatsoever to provide any kind of answers” – shows that all this is far from over.

It echoes what was said a year ago when the Met settled the first such case. Jacqui, who had a child with Bob Lambert, received £425,000 compensation but said

The legal case is finished but there is no closure for me. There is the money, but there is no admission by the police that what they did was wrong, there is no meaningful apology and most importantly there are no answers.

 

Although Friday’s apology is a major historic victory, it is only confirming that what the women already know to be true. There is so much more still hidden from view.

TIME TO TAKE CHARGE

The Met’s admission of their officers’ serious abuse must surely mean that the Crown Prosecution Service have to revisit last year’s extraordinary decision not to bring charges against these officers for sexual offences.

As Gayle Newland starts her eight year sentence for creating a false identity to deceive someone into a sexual relationship, it’s pretty clear that if this gang of men weren’t police officers they would already be behind bars. Nobody else would get away with just giving an apology and a cheque from public funds.

The CPS also decided not to prosecute them for other offences, explaining

In order to prosecute misconduct in public office, the prosecution would have to show that an officer knowingly abused their position in order to bring a sexual relationship about

 

It is hard to see how anyone could say anything else now. The Met have just conceded that the relationships didn’t just happen but

none of the women with whom the undercover officers had a relationship brought it on themselves. They were deceived pure and simple…. [it was] an abuse of police power


STRATEGIC INSTITUTIONAL SEXISM

But even now, the Met can’t quite admit the whole truth. They

accept that it may well have reflected attitudes towards women that should have no part in the culture of the Metropolitan Police

They still can’t bring themselves to use the word ‘sexism’. The Met is institutionally sexist as well as institutionally racist. This cannot ever change if they refuse to fully face the facts, and in this apology they just shied away once again.

Police say relationships were never authorised in advance and were never used tactically. But the overwhelming majority of known officers – all but two – did it. Most had long-term, committed life-partner relationships. One of them, Bob Lambert, lived with a woman and fathered a child before going on to run the unit, overseeing protegee officers who did the same thing, including ones involved in this week’s settlement. He must surely have known.

Sometimes officers were deployed together. Certainly, Lambert, Marco Jacobs and Lynn Watson saw colleagues having relationships. So, did they fail to report this ‘grossly unprofessional, never allowed’ behaviour to their seniors (thereby placing themselves at risk if they were ever found out)? Or did they report it but their bosses didn’t intervene? Or was it, as it appears, an established, accepted tactic?

PULLING BACK THE SHROUD OF SECRECY

Three years ago police lawyers said relationships weren’t authorised, trying to blame individual ‘rogue officers’ and shield managers from responsibility. But then it was pointed out that if this was unauthorised behaviour then it wasn’t covered by the rules governing surveillance in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. If that were so then any case would be heard in open court instead of a secret tribunal where the womens’ side weren’t allowed. So those same lawyers went back to the same court and argued that relationships were actually authorised after all.

That was just one twist in the course of the four years and hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ pounds police spent trying to stop these women bringing the facts to light. The blanket use of “Neither Confirm Nor Deny” to refuse to even admit anyone was a police officer was an additional insulting hurdle to make the path to truth more gruelling.

It’s a pattern familiar from so many other justice campaigns – there’s the injustice of what the police did, then the double injustice of the cover-up, smearing and legal obstacles that follow.

The apology statement rightly mentioned the extra distress caused by the protracted legal case and paid tribute to the tenacity and mettle of the women.

Even now, having just paid compensation and apologised to the women abused by John Dines and Mark Jenner, the police have not actually confirmed they were Special Demonstration Squad officers.

Nonetheless, the apology, like the agreement to be liable for damages paid to people spied on by Marco Jacobs, is effectively an admission that these men were police. It is another hammer blow to the devious, farcical tactic of Neither Conform Nor Deny. With the public inquiry still to come, that is significant.

A GRAIN OF TRUTH – TIME FOR THE HARVEST

All the appalling abuse these women suffered came from just five police officers. Even this isn’t the end of it – there are several other similar cases are still ongoing, including more partners of Mark Kennedy and Marco Jacobs.

We only know of the exposed officers due to the investigations and luck of activists and journalists. These are not necessrily the worst of them, merely what chance has revealed. There is so much more beyond. We have the names of around a dozen officers, less than 10% of those known to have worked undercover in the political secret police units.

How many other women were similarly abused? How many other children searching for their fathers are doomed to failure because it’s a name a police officer made up or stole from a dead child? How many campaigns were stymied? What other outrages have occurred that none of the known officers committed? At least 500 groups and uncountable thousands of individuals were spied on. They all have a right to know.

If these seven women deserve justice, so do the rest. If the public deserves the truth it deserves the whole truth, not somewhere under 10% of it.

Chair of the forthcoming public inquiry, Lord Pitchford, says

The Inquiry’s priority is to discover the truth

The only way we will get the truth is if those who were targeted tell their stories. The only way that can happen is if they know that their former friend and comrade was in fact a police spy. If the Inquiry is to serve its purpose, and if the Met are truly contrite, then they must publish the cover names of all undercover officers from the political policing units.

Police Forced to Admit Spies Identities

Jim Boyling whilst undercover in the 1990s

Jim Boyling whilst undercover in the 1990s

For the first time ever, the Metropolitan Police have named undercover officers. Following last month’s court hearing, the Met have been compelled to admit that two Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) officers who deceived women they spied on into long-term relationships were, indeed, police officers.

Bob Lambert, who was undercover as Bob Robinson using the identity of a dead boy, had sexual relationships with four women he targeted including a four year relationship co-habiting and having a planned child with one.

Jim Boyling infiltrated Reclaim the Streets under the name Jim Sutton and caused a miscarriage of justice by going through a court case under his false identity, ended up marrying a woman he’d been sent to spy on.

GENUINE LIES

The Met claims the relationships took place against the guidance of managers and were women were the result of ‘mutual attraction and genuine personal feelings’.

Belinda Harvey, who had a relationship with Lambert, said

How can a relationship be genuine when it is based on a massive web of lies? He pretended to be a man with noble ideals and political commitments, when in reality he was a police officer spying on our friendship network.

He pretended he was committed to the future when he always knew he would go back to his real job and wife and kids. That doesn’t show genuine feelings; it is abuse and I would never have consented to such a relationship had I known.

After his deployment, Lambert went on to run the Special Demonstration Squad’s operations. He was Boyling’s mentor and overseer, the very manager who the Met are implying was ignorant of the dangers of sexual relationships. Yet again the Met take a transparently implausible stance and defy the people they abused to disprove it, compounding their already horrific level of personal damage.

In a press release on the Police Spies Out of Lives site that speaks for eight women bringing the case against the police, their lawyer Harriet Wistrich said

The police have been pulled, kicking and screaming, to this first extremely significant development in the litigation brought by the women in their long battle for justice and accountability. It represents a partial victory with the police being forced to acknowledge the identities of undercover police officers who committed serious violations of women’s rights. However, the confirmation does not go far enough, it is mealy mouthed, offensive and lacking in any acknowledgment of the huge abuse of power and harm caused to my clients.

IF LAMBERT GOT IT WRONG, HOW CAN HE BE RIGHT?

Bob Lambert whilst undercover in the 1980s

Bob Lambert whilst undercover in the 1980s

When the SDS was still a secret unaccountable unit, Bob Lambert was seen as a role model. ‘He did what is hands down regarded as the best tour of duty ever,’ said a former officer. But as their activities get dragged into the light of public scrutiny and mainstream morality, they are seen for what they are. Not even the Met can defend their actions and claim that what happened to those women was in any way acceptable.

Lambert currently holds academic posts at London Metropolitan University and the University of St Andrews, trading on his ‘counter terrorism’ experience. The police proclamation that sexual relationships are unethical further undermines his credibility as an authority on undercover policing. Either he used sexual relationships as a tactic or else he coincidentally got over his ‘mutual attraction and genuine personal feelings’ at the same time as his deployment ended and abandoned his own child without any support from his well remunerated job.

Rather than being trusted to train the next generation of infiltrators, Bob Lambert is more like a case study in how wrong it can go. His continued employment discredits the institutions that hire him.

TWO DOWN, TWO TO GO

Helen Steel

Helen Steel

Whilst the Met’s admission of undercover officers’ names is historic, it is the minimum they could get away with. They are still refusing to concede the identity of two other officers in the case, behaviour that’s just as absurd as their earlier refusal to admit the identities of Lambert and Boyling.

Everybody has known for years that Mark Cassidy was the undercover officer Mark Jenner. Everybody has known for years that John Barker was the undercover officer John Dines. The real John Barker was an 8 year old boy who died of leukaemia whose identity was stolen by Dines.

How long can they insult their victims and obstruct justice with such transparent nonsense? It is time to admit what they’ve done.

Helen Steel, who had a long-term relationship with John Dines, told this morning’s Radio 4 Today programme

These guys were saying that they loved us, that they wanted to be in our lives for the rest of their lives and yet they knew that their posting was going to be ending in just a few years time and that they were going to disappear from our lives and leave us bereft. That is not love, that is abuse.