Content tagged with "Rick Gibson"

Protecting Abusers from Embarrassment

Excerpt from officer HN23’s risk assessment

The Undercover Policing Inquiry has announced five new applications for anonymity from former undercover police officers. The police want the real and cover names to be withheld in all five cases, and the Inquiry intends to comply.

The officers’ risk assessments, published in heavily redacted form, cover a number of elements of their deployment. 

The controversial use of dead children’s identities for cover names is addressed, and none of the officers say they did it (one says they didn’t even have a cover name). They are all asked if they had relationships with people they spied on, and none of them admit to this either.

PROFESSIONAL LIARS

The problem is that we’ve seen this before. Officer HN297‘s risk assessment said he didn’t have any known relationships.  His cover name, Rick Gibson, was brought to the attention of the Undercover Research Group by people from the groups he infiltrated. Their subsequent joint investigation found that he had sexual relationships with at least four women that he spied on.

Exceprt from HN297 risk assessmentWithout us knowing the cover names, we cannot check the veracity of their claims. It is the key prerequisite of us being able to get to the truth of what these trained liars did yet, despite proof of lying, the Inquiry is believing them and keeping cover names from us.

Once again we see inexcusable exceptionalism being granted to police. No other group of proven miscreants gets their answers taken at face value, in secret, then used as the basis for whether their victims get told the truth.

No other institution is allowed to be the custodian and archivist of the files that incriminate them. The Met are asked by a public inquiry to do searches and provide the results. It would be unacceptable even if there wasn’t, as in this case, a history of them destroying the files to avoid culpability.

But with the police we not only take their word, the Inquiry seeks to protect them from feeling upset at being caught. This trait is startlingly clear in the statement of officer N348. In a searing dissection, The Canary described it as ‘already a contender for the most ridiculous thing you’ll read in 2018’.

PROTECTION FROM EMBARRASSMENT

Deployed in 1972-73, N348 is now in her 70s. She says she cannot remember the cover name she used, but is confident it had the first name of Sandra.

She infiltrated the Women’s Liberation Front (affiliated to the Women’s Liberation Movement). A group of no more than 12 people, they met at a member’s house in North London to discuss women’s rights and Maoist ideas.

It seems the infiltration of these groups may have been prompted by an incident mentioned repeatedly in the paperwork, the direct action taken against the 1970 Miss World contest when it was broadcast live from the Royal Albert Hall.

‘N348 described the faction as vocal but aspirational only and taking part in demonstrations with placards and banners. She witnessed no violence displayed by the group’

N348 says she would be ’embarrassed’ if one of the group she spied on found out she was a spycop. Her current work worries her, too.

‘It makes my heart sink to think of my colleagues there knowing.’

The risk assessor concludes that there is no concrete threat from anyone in the Women’s Liberation Front in any way.

‘The risk would likely be confined to harassment and/or intrusion, but would be effective enough to potentially adversely affect her employment status and standing in the community; both would affect her income.’

Why would it affect her employment, unless she is in a job that her employer would think is unsuitable for someone with her history? Why would the community think less of her, unless she has done something wrong?

The risk assessor doesn’t think police can justify what N348 did.

‘It could be argued that the deployment of N348 into such a non-violent group was disproportionate and may feed a media angle.’

N348 says

‘I think we live in a time of an intrusive media… I worry about not being in control of this situation.’

The media attention they fear is the justified interest in the actions of a public servant. Her wish to be shielded from that is not a valid reason to hide her identity.

The risk assessor concedes that if her true identity were disclosed there would be no risk of physical threat and a low risk of interference with her family and personal life, yet they still want her name to be withheld. This is all a further example of spycops seeking freedom from accountability.

There is no human right to protection from embarrassment, yet N348 is effectively being granted one.

PROTECTION FROM PRIDE

Conversely, HN23 says

‘I am very proud of the work that I did and acted with integrity throughout my career. I believe that the work I did had a significant positive impact and I did it knowing that it was not something I could boast about or reveal.’

At last your chance has come to step up and receive the acclaim you so rightly deserve for your flawless and exemplary work, HN23. Let your friends and family see the glory of your true life and share in your pride.

‘I am worried that they will not understand the reasons for this and will see it as a betrayal which will affect both friendships and relationships with family.’

That’s the opposite of HN348’s embarrassment, yet arguing for the exact same secrecy.

POLICE RIGHTS BEAT HUMAN RIGHTS

The police applications for anonymity include a cut & paste paragraph saying that releasing an officer’s name would ‘amount to a disproportionate interference with his/her right to a private and family life,’ and even in one instance adding ‘risk of loss of life or torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment’.

These are the same two human rights the Met admitted were breached by spycops themselves in these deployments.

The police who invaded the lives, homes and families of active citizens are seeking anonymity to avoid intrusion into their own lives and families. They are saying ‘it would breach my right to a private life to be known as the person who breached your right to a private life’. If the arrogance is gobsmacking, the hypocrisy is sickening.

The Met go further, saying it is not only for the benefit of their officers but ‘in the public interest’. The state infiltrating political groups who pose no threat to public safety is not just abuse of the citizens that were spied on. It is a counter-democratic attack on freedom of association and expression. It is plainly against the public interest.

Naming anyone for anything obviously increases the chance of press interest and vigilante action, yet the media (often supplied by police) give out people’s details every day. It is not seen as a breach of the right to a private life.

TIME TO ANSWER

Officers from secret police units around the world have been reluctant to come clean. None imagined having to face the people they undermined and betrayed.

But their desire for comfort pales beside their victims’ right to the truth and the public’s right to justice. They did this in our name. We all deserve answers.

It’s been a long time coming and the officers of the Special Demonstration Squad know that better than anyone. Though it was never on the scale of the Stasi, Britain’s political secret police’s purpose and methods were startlingly similar to their East German counterparts.

As Paul Lewis & Rob Evans described in Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police

‘A team of undercover police officers had spent the evening drinking and chatting in the London apartment. It was late one night in 1994.

‘They turned on the television to catch a news report from Germany. Tens of thousands of Germans were trawling through secret files compiled on them before the Berlin Wall came down… The TV report showed the distraught face fo a woman in Berlin who had discovered the man she had loved for years was a spy.

‘There was a silence in the lounge. Then one of the undercover police officers said what the others must have been thinking. “You do realise, this is going to happen to us one day,” he said.’

The Undercover Policing Inquiry is not here to extend the abusers’ belief that they would never get caught. It exists to reveal the truth. Police officers act as public servants and should be publicly accountable.

A cloak of anonymity for the officers would also fall across the facts and justice itself. It’s absurd for them to ask for such secrecy, and outrageous that the Inquiry wants to grant it.

Three New Spycops Named – But Others Get Hidden

Troops Out Movement demonstration at military recruitment office

Troops Out Movement demonstration at military recruitment office

The public inquiry into undercover political policing has published three new names of spycops and, for the first time, they’re new names rather than just confirming what activists, whistleblowers and journalists had already revealed.

However, among the hefty tranche of new papers from Inquiry Chair Sir John Mitting are grave indications of that he is seeking to prevent the full truth coming to light.

Having dragged out the process of beginning the inquiry for years, earlier this year the Metropolitan Police were given a firm timetable for applying for ‘restriction orders’ for the anonymity of undercover officers.

As expected, the Met are pushing for maximum secrecy, arguing that it would make officers worried and sad to be publicly known for what they’ve done. The Met also argue that the officers would be at risk of violent reprisal, despite nothing of the kind happening to the swathe of officers who have been very publicly exposed since 2010. With deadlines passing, the Met have had their hand forced and, finally, we are getting a small measure of new information from the Inquiry.

THREE NEW SPYCOPS

As had been suggested by some victims, the new names are all from the early days of the Special Demonstration Squad in the late 1960s and early 1970s. With those involved being of advanced age, there’s some merit in tackling these cases first. Indeed, one of the three newly named officers is already dead.

We’ve been given only the officers’ cover names, but not their real identity. These three releases have major redactions, including whether the officer had intimate relationships or was arrested. Given the long history of SDS officers having such abusive relationships and instigating miscarriages of justice, these are very serious omissions.

John Graham‘ was deployed in 1968, the first year of the Special Demonstration Squad, to infiltrate the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (Kilburn and Willesden Branch), and says the worst thing anyone in the group ever suggested doing was jumping on the back of a police officer. He also spied on the Revolutionary Socialist Students Federation.

In 1969 his deployment was cut short when he refused a senior officers instruction to attend a certain meeting, feeling it would have exposed him. He was moved to other duties shortly after. The Undercover Research Group have produced a profile of John Graham.

Rick Gibson‘ spied on left wing groups between 1974 and 1976. He infiltrated socialist feminist campaign/newspaper Big Flame, and became a prominent member of the south-east London branch of the Troops Out Movement which campaigns to end British involvement in Northern Ireland.

The police say that in 1976 Gibson was confronted by a Big Flame activist who had become suspicious of him and discovered that he was – as was standard for spycops at the time – using the identity of a dead child. Gibson said that he was indeed using a false identity as he was on the run from the police, and his comrades could not be certain that he was a spy. His deployment was ended shortly afterwards. He is now dead.

Doug Edwards‘ was one of the earliest Special Demonstration Squad officers, deployed between 1968 and 1971. He infiltrated anarchist groups, and says that ‘some of them were quite nasty pieces of work’. He then moved on to the Dambusters Mobilising Committee, a coalition opposed to the huge Cabora Bassa dam project in the then-Portuguese colony of Mozambique, a collaboration between apartheid South Africa, Rhodesia and Portugal to supply electricity to South Africa.

Like so many of his colleagues, he was very active in groups he infiltrated, becoming treasurer of Cuban-founded group Tricontinental. He also describes going to a wedding, showing that ‘collateral intrusion’ into the lives of those around the spied-upon has always been part of how spycops work.

He continues

‘Some of the people in these groups were really nice, pleasant, intelligent people. They were different politically in their views, but in this country you can have different political views.’

He says

‘I think the whole thing has been blown out of proportion… I don’t have anything to hide and I’ll answer all questions, I won’t mind’

But then he immediately backtracks with

‘I don’t want all this dragging up though when it was 50 years ago… I don’t want the interference at my stage of life.’

 

These three bring the total of exposed undercover officers to 23 out of a total of at least 144.

DOORS CLOSING BEFORE THEY OPEN

The three newly named spycops are among 28 whose anonymity has been considered by the inquiry. The Inquiry has published a brief profile of each of them, with a position on their anonymity.

Of the 25 still unnamed:

  • 2 aren’t being named yet but the Chair intends to release the cover names soon
  • 3 are dead with no known cover name, their real names will be published later
  • 2 have no known cover name and the Inquiry won’t release the real name
  • 3 have both cover and real names known and the Chair intends to withhold both
  • 1 has already had the cover name confirmed, and the Chair intends to withhold the real name
  • 3 are undecided pending further information
  • 3 are having secret hearings with the Inquiry before a decision is made
  • 1 has been given more time to apply for anonymity
  • 7 were backroom staff so had no cover name, their real names will be published later

Put another way, they have taken decisions on eight officers and are withholding the cover names of three. This is not a good ratio. Without the publication of the overwhelming majority of cover names we cannot know who was spied on, so we cannot hear from victims and establish the truth.

Mitting is giving a lot of weight to the possible psychological impacts on spycops if they are named, but since when are abusers given protection because exposure would be detrimental to them?

As Pitchford Watcher’s analysis of Mitting’s statement explained

‘In one case, that of ‘HN7’, he has already given a unilateral order for anonymity on the basis of HN7’s mental health. For others, he is accepting that the minimal risk of press intrusion may be sufficient for such anonymity orders, even when there is no risk to safety. In another instance, his main concern is the effect on the widow of an undercover.

‘He also appears to be of the opinion that he can do what he needs to meet the terms of reference of the Inquiry, just by reference to cyphers and cover names, an approach that increases secrecy and further limits participation by those targeted by the undercovers. These core participants believe that in doing this, he is completely disregarding their needs and that they are being denied the right to the truth.’

THE LAWRENCE FAMILY SPY

Of the three officers applying for full anonymity who will have secret hearings before a decision, one is officer N81, who spied on Stephen Lawrence’s family as they campaigned for justice for their murdered son.

Doreen Lawrence has been very clear about the need to know who spied on her, telling the Guardian in 2015

‘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.’

This is the key issue at the moment for many of the people targeted. The cover names of the officers and the names of the groups they spied on are not optional or incidental. They are the sole foundation on which the truth can be established. Whether to publish them should not be an issue to wrestle with, it should not be the focus of the discussion, it should be a given.

Inquiry core participant Carolyn Wilson told Pitchford Watcher

‘The police tend to tell us “If you’ve nothing to hide, then you’ve got nothing to fear”. People are trying to come to terms with the very real trauma of finding out they’d been deceived into intimate relationships with cops from these secret units. They are desperate for information so they can deal with what’s happened, and heal their lives.

‘How dare those same cops now have the nerve to claim that they face being “traumatised” by details of their past activities being brought out in public? If they haven’t done anything wrong, why would they be embarrassed about their neighbours and families finding out about it all?’

This inquiry is not about arbitrating between equals. It is about establishing the full truth about the known abuses of power committed by these disgraced units against citizens and democracy. If it does not publish the overwhelming majority of cover names it defies its purpose, protects the guilty and betrays the victims.

How Many Spycops Have There Been?

Poster of 14 exposed spycops among 140 silhouettes

Political spying is not new. The Metropolitan Police founded the first Special Branch in 1883. Initially focusing on Irish republicanism in London, it rapidly expanded its remit to gather intelligence on a range of people deemed subversive. Other constabularies followed suit.

But in 1968, the Met did something different. The government, having been surprised at the vehemence of a London demonstration against the Vietnam War, decided it had to know more about political activism. The Met were given direct government funding to form a political policing unit, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS).

About twelve officers at a time would change their identities, grow their hair and live among those they spied on for years at a time. They would ‘become’ activists, each infiltrating a particular group on the far left, far right or in other areas of dissent such as the peace movement and animal rights. They were authorised to be involved in minor crime.

The police and the secret state have always used informers, and even private investigators, as part of their surveillance work. However, the SDS was unique in being a police unit set up to focus on political groups with extended periods of deployment. The model was rolled out nationally in 1999 with the creation of the SDS off-shoot, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU).

The Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance is primarily concerned with these dedicated political secret police – the long-term, deep-cover officers of the SDS, the NPOIU, and the successor units that subsumed them and their roles.

It’s generally accepted that there have been around 150 of these undercover officers since the SDS was formed in 1968. This figure comes from work by the Undercover Research Group and activists, and extrapolation from details in official reports.

Operation Herne, the Met’s self-investigation into the spycops scandal, said in July 2013

‘To date Operation Herne has verified one hundred and six (106) covert names that were used by members of the SDS.’

This is just the SDS. Last year, Mark Ellison’s report into spycops causing miscarriages of justice asked about the NPOIU, which ran from 1999-2011.

‘Operation Herne has identified fewer than 20 NPOIU officers deployed over that period’

However,

‘Operation Herne’s work to investigate the nature and extent of the undercover work of the NPOIU was only able to begin in November 2014 and has barely been able to ‘scrape the surface’ so far’.

There may well be more spycops from either or both units.

Other, similarly hazy, approaches arrive at a similar number. The SDS ran for 40 years and is understood to have had 12 officers deployed at any given time, usually for periods of four years. This would make a total of 96 undercover officers. However, it’s known that some officers were active for a fraction of the usual time, so the real figure will be somewhat higher.

Assuming the same scale for the NPOIU gives a total of 36 officers. That is a fuzzy guess though – the NPOIU was a new, national unit and may have deployed more officers.

[UPDATE July 2017: There are now known to have been at least 144 undercvoer officers – see detail at the end of this article]

The Operation Herne report from 2013 said that, of the 106 identified SDS officers, 42 stole the identity of a dead child, 45 used fictitious identities, and 19 are still unknown. The practice of stealing identities was mandatory in the unit for about 20 years until the mid-1990s. The NPOIU, starting in 1999, is only known to have stolen a dead child’s identity for one officer, Rod Richardson.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

There are certainly some more spycops from the successor units.

The Met merged its Special Branch (including subsidiaries like the SDS) with its Anti-Terrorist Branch in October 2006 to form Counter Terrorism Command. They reviewed and shut down the SDS in 2008.

Although the NPOIU used a number of Met Special Branch officers, from 2006 it was overseen by the Association of Chief Police Officers as part of their National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU). In 2012, the NDEU was also absorbed into the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command. At the same time, the NDEU changed its name and stopped having any responsibility for undercover officers.

Last November the Met’s Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt issued an abject apology to eight women deceived into relationships with undercover officers. Two months later Carlo Neri, another officer who had similar relationships, was exposed. Assistant Commissioner Hewitt assured the BBC that the Met

‘no longer carries out ‘long-term infiltration deployments’ in these kinds of groups but would accept responsibility for past failings’

That appears to contradict a 2013 report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary. It plainly says today’s spycops are deployed by the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command and similar regional units.

‘The NDEU restructured in January 2012, and now operates under the umbrella of the MPS Counter Terrorism Command (which is known as SO15). NDEU has also recently been renamed, and is now called the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit (NDEDIU)…

‘The NDEU’s remit changed at the same time as its restructure and no longer carries out any undercover operations. All deployments of undercover officers which target the activity of domestic extremists are coordinated either by the SO15 Special Project Team (SPT), or by one of the regional SPTs…

‘The SPTs are in the North West, North East and West Midlands Counter Terrorism Units, and the Counter Terrorism Command in London.’

HOW MANY SPYCOPS ARE KNOWN?

There are 17 [UPDATE October 2017: now 24] spycops who have been named. There are strong suspicions about several more. Fifteen of the seventeen have been exposed by their victims. One has been exposed by journalists, one by the officer himself – Peter Francis, the only whistleblower. None have come from the police.

Journalists – notably Rob Evans and Paul Lewis at the Guardian – have substantially fleshed out the activists’ research. The Met recently claimed to be having trouble even sorting their records into order.  If that is true then perhaps the best bet would be to allow these tenacious activists and journalists, who have done such sterling work despite police obstructions, to come and have a go.

Although the 17 spycops’ identities are properly established, with most of them having extensive details and numerous photos in the public domain, the Met are reluctant to give any further information.

Until the cover names are known, the majority of people targeted don’t even know it happened. Waiting for victims to investigate and gather evidence is a denial of justice. This is why most people granted ‘core participant’ status at the forthcoming public inquiry – mostly activists confirmed as significantly affected – have called for the release of all cover names and the names of the groups who were spied upon.

The Met say they must ‘neither confirm nor deny’ that anybody was ever an undercover officer (for a demolition of their ‘policy’ of Neither Confirm Nor Deny, you cannot do better than Helen Steel’s superb speech to the Pitchford Inquiry into undercover policing). On many occasions they have even refused to refer to Mark Kennedy by name, as if it’s still a secret. This came long after he hired Max Clifford to sell his story for a tabloid front page splash, which is about as unsecret as it’s possible to get.

After three years of legal wrangling, in August 2014 courts forced the Met to admit that Jim Boyling and Bob Lambert were spycops (again, long after both officers had personally talked to the media).

In March 2014 the Met’s Operation Herne produced an 84 page report concerning SDS whistleblower Peter Francis’ revelations about spying on the family of Stephen Lawrence. It said it

‘will not confirm or deny if Peter Francis was an undercover police officer’

As if they might devote all that time and effort to the ramblings of a fantasist.

It’s an insult to those who have been abused. It’s also a double injustice familiar to other victims of state wrongdoing – there’s what the state does, then how it pours resources to smear, lie and obstruct justice for its victims.

This doesn’t bode well for the forthcoming public inquiry.

Today, Kennedy, Lambert and Boyling are still the only three spycops the Met will officially admit to. Here is the list of 17.

WHO ARE THE SPYCOPS?

  1. Peter Francis AKA ‘Peter Daley’ or ‘Pete Black’
    SDS. Self-disclosed. Initial exposure March 2010, real name given June 2013
  2. Mark Kennedy AKA ‘Mark Stone’
    NPOIU. Exposed by activists, October 2010
  3. Jim Boyling AKA ‘Jim Sutton’
    SDS. Exposed by activists, January 2011
  4. Marco Jacobs (alias)
    NPOIU? Exposed by activists, January 2011
  5. Mark Jenner AKA ‘Mark Cassidy’
    SDS. Exposed by activists, January 2011. Real name given March 2013
  6. Bob Lambert AKA ‘Bob Robinson’
    SDS. Exposed by activists, October 2011
  7. Lynn Watson (alias)
    NPOIU? Exposed by activists, January 2011
  8. Simon Wellings (alias)
    SDS? Exposed by activists 2005, publicised March 2011
  9. Rod Richardson (alias)
    NPOIU. Exposed by activists, February 2013
  10. John Dines AKA ‘John Barker’
    SDS. Exposed by activists, February 2013
  11. Matt Rayner (alias)
    SDS. Exposed by activists, 2013
  12. Mike Chitty AKA ‘Mike Blake’
    SDS. Exposed by journalists, June 2013
  13. Jason Bishop (alias)
    SDS. Exposed by activists, July 2013
  14. Carlo Neri (alias)
    SDS? Exposed by Undercover Research Group in conjunction with activists, January 2016
  15. RC (full alias withheld)
    NPOIU? Exposed by Undercover Research Group in conjunction with activists, February 2016
  16. Gary R (full alias withheld)
    NPOIU? Exposed by Undercover Research Group in conjunction with activists, July 2016
  17. Abigail L (full alias withheld)
    NPOIU? Exposed by Undercover Research Group in conjunction with activists, July 2016

UPDATE March 2017:

18. Roger Pearce AKA ‘Roger Thorley’
SDS. Self-disclosed under real name 2013, full identity confirmed by UndercoverPolicing Inquiry, March 2017

UPDATE May 2017:

19. Andy Coles AKA ‘Andy Davey’
SDS. Exposed by Undercover Research Group in conjunction with activists, May 2017

UPDATE July 2017:

20. Mike Ferguson
SDS. Exposed in BBC True Spies documentary, 2003 [transcript, video]

UPDATE August 2017:

21. John Graham
SDS. Exposed by Undercover Policing Inquiry, August 2017

22. Rick Gibson
SDS. Exposed by Undercover Policing Inquiry, August 2017

23. Doug Edwards
SDS. Exposed by Undercover Policing Inquiry, August 2017

UPDATE October 2017:

24. William Paul ‘Bill’ Lewis
SDS. Exposed by Undercover Policing Inquiry, October 2017



UPDATE July 2017: How many spycops have there been?

In February 2017 the National Police Chiefs Council told the Inquiry

The current position is that there are believed to have been 118 undercover officers engaged in the SDS, and a further up to 83 management and ‘backroom’ staff.

In April 2017 the Inquiry said

The Inquiry has written to 54 former members of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit who are believed to have been either undercover police officers or cover officers (26 undercover officers and 28 cover officers).

This makes a total of at least 144 undercover officers in the two units (it should be noted that the Inquiry may not have written to al NPOIU officers).