Former undercover officers from Britain’s political secret police are demanding anonymity from the public inquiry.
They claim having their real names published puts them at risk of harassment and physical harm from those they spied on, and also presents ‘a real risk to employment and reputation’.
Though police give the media details of countless accused but unconvicted citizens every day, they seem to feel officers from these disgraced units are a breed apart who deserve much greater privacy.
Boyling has not been subjected to any organised campaigning. Rather, he complains that on two occasions people he spied on have bumped into him and briefly remonstrated with him, and even he says that isn’t actually intimidation, let alone violence. He suggests that when two cars in his street got damaged it might have been the work of vengeant activists, even though there was nothing to indicate who did it or that it was aimed at him.
Bob Lambert and Andy Coles have both been the subjects of organised campaigns. The focus has not been them as individuals, but them being in roles which are wholly inappropriate – the list of incidents compiled by the police’s own lawyers plainly shows this.
Meanwhile, Lambert complains that he has been called a rapist. Whether his, and other spycops’, sexual abuse amounts to rape is something that is still untested in law. However, many of the deceived women have made it clear that they did not and could not give informed consent.
Jacqui, who was deceived by Lambert into a two year relationship and having a child, said:
‘I was not consenting to sleeping with Bob Lambert, I didn’t know who Bob Lambert was… it is like being raped by the state. We feel that we were sexually abused because none of us gave consent.’
The rest of the things on Lambert’s list of supposed intimidation he’s suffered all happened to him in his public roles, with the possible exception of two incidents of being ‘confronted by hostile activists while travelling to work’. He says himself that, like Boyling, he has not been subjected to any violence.
It seems both Lambert and Coles failed to tell their employers about their past, implying that they knew the people hiring them would take a dim view of it. In other words, they know the reasonable citizen is likely to see them as abusers. As soon as he was exposed in May this year, Coles resigned as Cambridgeshire’s Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner without any prompting.
This is not about officers being hounded by rabid activists out for revenge, it’s an unwillingness to face the justified shame and scorn they would receive as people who have committed appalling acts.
We don’t see people in other walks of life even attempting this sort of thing. No bank robber has been found guilty and then asked to be kept anonymous as it will upset them if their neighbours find out or it might make future employers think they’re untrustworthy. The spycops aren’t asking for protection from harassment, they are really demanding immunity from accountability.
AFTER THE SPYCOPS
When he was exposed in 2011, Lambert was teaching a new generation of police managers at universities (he resigned in 2015). Coles, who sexually groomed a teenager whilst undercover, is a City Councillor and school governor.
Another one is John Dines, who abused Helen Steel whilst undercover in the 1990s. Because she knows his real name, Steel discovered he is training political undercover police in Australia.
These men all grossly abused their positions of power to violate the citizens they are supposed to protect and undermine the democracy they are supposed to serve. No other public servant could act so shamefully, so far from the intended purpose of their agency, and expect to be shielded from the discomfort of public opprobrium.
The other exposed officers, despite having perpetrated similar abuses which many would think justifies their being confronted, have been not challenged like this at all – quite the opposite.
The activists who exposed Mark Kennedy went to great lengths to protect the identities of his family (which Kennedy then published when he sold his story to the Mail on Sunday). The group who exposed Carlo Neri withheld his real name to protect his children. They have even withheld the full cover names of officers ‘RC‘, Gary R and Abigail L.
Numerous officers’ current whereabouts are known to activists and researchers. As far as we know, none of them have been threatened with any physical harm and no effort has been made to confront them in their private life. They have only been targeted if they are in roles for which, as one journalist put it, they are ‘uniquely unqualified‘.
If anything, the campaigners have engaged in the lawful democratic processes that the spycops sought to suppress and undermine. The institutions Lambert and Coles are involved in have been leafleted and spoken to, dealing in facts. Since Lambert resigned from his teaching roles he appears to have been left alone. The same is likely to happen to Andy Coles once he bows to the inevitable and relinquishes his remaining positions of civic trust.
THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH
Publishing a spycop’s cover name still leaves the officer hidden, but it lets those who knew them while undercover come forward and tell us what happened. It is the essential prerequisite to getting the truth.
Just having a cover name published does not lead to an officer’s real identity being known. Indeed, that is the whole point of a fake identity. Long-exposed officers such as Rod Richardson and Lynn Watson are still living in anonymity because, unlike the others, they did not give their real names. But when an officer remains unknown to the public, what else is being hidden?
Without the real names, we would never have known that Lambert was using his disgraced past as a platform to pass on his ideas to his successors. We would not know that Andy Coles, who groomed a naive teenager for sex, has positioned himself in inappropriate roles in which he’s endorsing agencies trying to protect older teenagers at risk of sexual exploitation. Who knows how many other ex-spycops are still perpetuating their abuses?
The Catholic church has been condemned for its former practice of dealing with abusive priests by paying off victims and moving the offender to a new parish where the unaware congregation was left vulnerable to further abuse. Withholding spycops’ real names has a similar effect.
Even if we believe exposing them really would put them at risk, it is still not necessarily a reason to grant them anonymity. As Phillippa Kaufmann QC pointed out to the Inquiry last month, the state is used to dealing with such things in witness protection schemes, providing assured security for people at far greater risk – and a lot less guilty – than spycops.
Doreen Lawrence, whose family’s campaign was spied on, said:
‘They were doing the deception. Why should they be allowed to be anonymous while people like me had their faces all over the newspapers ? These people were not innocent. They knew what they were doing.’
Those officers who have done nothing wrong have nothing to fear. Those who have done wrong should be held to account. It cannot begin to happen without the release of the cover names. It cannot properly happen without the release of the real names.