Note: for almost 12 months during the Persons Unknown prosecution, the author’s home was placed under electronic surveillance by Special Branch. The author subsequently played a part in the closure of the 70-year-old blacklisting and espionage agency, the Economic League.
The Tory government is progressing a bill to legalise the criminal activities of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) who work with the police, MI5, and other state agencies. It passed its second reading on the 5 October, with Labour, under Starmer, mostly abstaining.
But it is possibly one of the most dangerous bills to be put before the country in decades, legalising highly discredited practices. This article gives extensive background to some of these practices and shows why this legislation needs ditching, not amending.
The bill provides for:
an express power to authorise CHIS to participate in conduct which would otherwise constitute a criminal offence.
This is not a new capability; the Bill provides a clear legal basis for a longstanding tactic which is vital for national security and the prevention and detection of crime.
Bodies that can authorise agents to infiltrate or act as informants will include police forces from all four UK countries; police from MoD, Royal Military, Royal Navy, RAF, and British Transport; HMRC, the Home Office, and the National Crime Agency. According to the College of Policing, CHIS can include: ‘victims, witnesses, suspects, colleagues such as local and field intelligence officers, community sources including community and race advisers, local councillors, religious leaders and members of the community’.
Reprieve, the Pat Finucane Centre, Privacy International, the Committee on the Administration of Justice, and Rights and Security International have jointly criticised the bill. In particular, they point out:
There is no express prohibition on authorising crimes that would constitute human rights violations, including murder, torture (e.g. punishment shootings), kidnap, or sexual offences, or on conduct that would interfere with the course of justice;
The Bill relies on the Human Rights Act as a safeguard, despite the Government making clear that it does not believe that the Human Rights Act applies to abuses committed by its agents, even torture.
the Bill provides for the unprecedented ‘legalisation’ of even serious crimes by covert agents. Authorised criminal offences committed by CHIS would be rendered ‘lawful for all purposes’.
They also said:
The Bill also bars survivors of abuses, such as the victims of the ‘Spy Cops’ scandal, from seeking redress through the courts, by protecting those who commit authorised crimes from civil liability forever.
Licence to kill?
But in a debate in the Commons, the solicitor general was keen to respond to the claim that the bill provides a licence to kill:
covert human intelligence sources will never be provided with unlimited authority to commit all or any crime. They will never be provided with an authorisation that is contrary to our obligations under the Human Rights Act. The Bill makes that specifically clear. This is not a “licence to kill” Bill.
Home Office minister James Brokenshire explained how criminal conduct authorisation to a source:
may be granted only where it is necessary for one of three statutory purposes: national security, the prevention or detection of crime, or in the interests of the economic wellbeing of the UK.
He also said:
We do not believe, however, that it is appropriate to draw up a list of specific crimes that may be authorised or prohibited.
Labour’s Zarah Sultana disagreed and was forthright in her condemnation of the bill:
This Bill must be opposed. It places no limits on the crimes that state agents can be authorised to commit. It does not prohibit torture. It does not prohibit murder. It does not prohibit sexual violence.
Sexual and relationship abuse
With regard to the last point, it’s known that some undercover officers (UCOs) formed long-term sexual relationships with women activists to provide cover. More than thirty women are believed to have been exploited in this way.
For example, UCO Robert Lambert (cover name Bob Robinson) had relationships with four women and used those relationships to spy on animal rights and environmental activists. Here’s the story of Lambert’s son, fathered with ‘Jacqui’:
Mark Kennedy (cover name Mark Stone) also exploited women to provide cover: with ‘Lisa Jones’ over six years; with Kate (‘Lily’) over two years; with ‘Naomi’; and with Sarah Hampton. ‘Lisa Jones’ and Kate (Wilson) explain what happened:
The Met was forced to issue an apology to the women and a spokesperson added:
it has become apparent that some officers, acting undercover whilst seeking to infiltrate protest groups, entered into long-term intimate sexual relationships with women which were abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong.
However, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) ruled that no UCO would be prosecuted for “having non-consensual sexual relations with any member of the public”.
When infiltration goes wrong
Many spycops were identified by the Undercover Research Group and other researchers. Some were members of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), a Special Branch unit that infiltrated political groups between 1968 and 2008. Around 100 covert identities used by the SDS to infiltrate organisations have been identified.
HM’s Inspectorate of Constabulary revealed that 3,466 undercover operations took place in England and Wales between October 2009 and September 2013 alone. These operations were carried out by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) – the successor to the SDS. It also found that by 2014 a reported 1,229 officers in England and Wales were trained as UCOs. Here is a searchable list of political groups and the known UCOs who spied on them.
Kennedy was part of the NPOIU) – the successor to the SDS. He infiltrated and participated in the activities of numerous protest groups in the UK and across Europe (such as Scotland, north of Ireland, Irish Republic, Germany, Denmark, France and Iceland among other places). They included “Dissent!, Rising Tide, Saving Iceland, Workers’ Solidarity Movements, Rossport Solidarity, Climate Camp, Climate Justice Action and others”.
Two of the protest actions Kennedy participated in were Operation Aeroscope and Operation Pegasus. The latter saw 29 protesters convicted of various offences in 2009 after they blocked a train carrying coal heading for the Drax power station, North Yorkshire. Aeroscope resulted in a pre-emptive raid by police of a meeting to plan the invasion of the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station and the arrest of 114 protesters. 26 people were accused of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass and 20 were convicted, although not jailed.
A further six of the accused, who were running a different defence and were therefore facing a separate trial, exposed Kennedy’s role in the action. The prosecution abandoned the trial when asked for more details about the UCO who played a part in “organising and helping to fund the protest”.
Furthermore, it transpired the CPS knew all along of Kennedy’s role in the action and during the trial of the 20 it ensured that:
Kennedy’s evidence was kept from court. Moreover, the Independent Police Complaints Commission later found that the CPS also knew about the activists’ plan, not only before it happened but before many of the activists themselves. Furthermore, Felicity Gerry, the prosecutor in the trial of the 20, had been informed about the existence of an undercover officer and had known Mark Kennedy’s true identity a week before any of the activists did.
Consequently, the 20 also had their convictions quashed. The activists who targeted Drax power station also had their convictions quashed as a result of Kennedy’s role. Here are extracts of transcripts the CPS had in its possession months prior to the Ratcliffe trial, but held back from the defence team: Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5, Appendix. (Note: defendants’ names are redacted by this author for privacy purposes).
Both the Ratcliffe and Drax cases were overseen by Nick Paul, based in the London CPS office that he shared with director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer. Starmer refused to accept that the problems Kennedy’s role presented was systemic, even though there was plentiful evidence to the contrary
Indeed, COPS (Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance) claims:
If the other 150 or so officers have similar tallies [as Kennedy], it means about 7,000 wrongful convictions are being left to stand. Even if we conservatively estimate just one false conviction per officer per year of service, it adds up to about 600. It may well be that spycops are responsible for the biggest nobbling of the judicial system in English history.
In 2008, a group of environmental activists were arrested in France. Nine people, known as the Tarnac 9, were initially charged with terrorism. Essentially they were accused of participating in sabotage attacks against high-speed TGV train routes. They were alleged to have done this by obstructing power cables with horseshoe-shaped iron bars, that delayed 160 trains. A judge later ruled that they wouldn’t be tried for terrorism.
One of the defendants, Julien Coupat, contacted a UK source for further information and the entire dossier (which concerns transcripts by Kennedy) was supplied. On page 27, dated 13 June 2008, Kennedy was instructed to: “put 5×5 on re Halpin visiting Julien at his Farm”. This is shorthand for 5x5x5 intelligence reports on page 20. ‘Halpin’ is Harry Halpin, a US citizen and core participant of the Undercover Policing Inquiry. On page 29 of the dossier, dated 4 June 2008, Kennedy confirms he received “concise instructions” regarding Julien (Coupat), Halpin, and others. That information, including names of authorising officers, was relayed to the Tarnac support group by this author:
And there was this DM:
It’s not all about UCOs
Intelligence is not only sourced by UCOs but other actors. For example, a report by Desmond de Silva QC into the murder of north of Ireland lawyer Pat Finucane in front of his children blamed “agents of the state”. Referring to the British army’s Force Research Unit that worked closely with the paramilitary UDA (Ulster Defence Association), SDLP MP Mark Durkan said:
Between special branch, FRU and secret services we had a culture of anything goes but nobody knows.
And there was the ‘black ops’ unit Zeus Security, managed by Peter Hamilton. Zeus was reportedly contracted by MI5 to spy upon environmental protesters who tried to halt the building of Sizewell ‘B’ nuclear reactor in Suffolk. Gary Murray explained that Hamilton was:
a former member of Army Intelligence, where he held the rank of Major. Documents and tapes in my possession link this man to the highest echelons of British Intelligence.
During my investigation I successfully recorded conversations with Hamilton admitting his services were being utilised by the Economic League.
This author discovered that Zeus was financed by James Goldsmith (named in an unpublished version of ‘Spycatcher’ by former British spy Peter Wright as one of several persons who sought to ensure the Labour Party would not return to government). Zeus was owned by Antonio von Marx, Goldsmith’s nephew. Murray claimed that the murder of Sizewell B protester Hilda Murrell was conducted by “private investigators or security consultants acting on behalf of a government department”.
Lord Chalfont joined the board of Zeus in 1981, but once his role was revealed (again, by this author) he was forced to resign his position as head of the Independent Broadcasting Authority.
There’s also the private operators
Chalfont was also linked to private surveillance operator Paul Mercer, who infiltrated various campaign groups. In 2007, Mercer was exposed for his role in monitoring the Campaign Against Arms Trade. His contract was via Global Open (GO), a private surveillance firm. GO included Kennedy and Rod Leeming (formerly of Special Branch). Between 1987 and 1991 Mercer served as the Conservative Borough Councillor in Charnwood.
At a January 2011 meeting organised by think tank Policy Exchange, Mercer claimed to have “covered and having been on pretty well every major public order disturbance in London over that period”, including the Poll Tax Riots of 1990 and Mayday 2001.
Not forgetting blacklisting
During the Commons debate on the CHIS bill, MP Nick Thomas-Symonds referred to a Metropolitan police’s investigation into police collusion in blacklisting that concluded:
on the balance of probabilities, the allegation that the police or special branches supplied information is ‘proven.’ Material revealed a potentially improper flow of information from Special Branch to external organisations, which ultimately appeared on the blacklist.
The EL collapsed after activists published internal documents showing it was financially unviable. It’s estimated that at least 40,000 workers were blacklisted by several hundred companies subscribed to the EL. One victim was actor Ricky Tomlinson, who was previously a plasterer. He was secretly targeted by prime minister Edward Heath with the assistance of the Information Research Department (IRD), a Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) funded propaganda unit.
Here’s Tomlinson’s story:
More blacklisting collusion
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) suggested that police colluded in the Consulting Association’s blacklist, saying it was “likely that all special branches were involved in providing information”.
Indeed, it’s known that detective chief inspector Gordon Mills of the NPIOU’s sister unit, the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU), met with the CA. Here is a leaked copy of notes from that meeting.
Ditch the bill
As shown, the deployment of human intelligence sources can easily lead to relationship abuse. And infiltration can also result in miscarriages of justice. Such sources may also, wittingly or otherwise, provide information that can contribute to blacklisting of one sort or another.
Despite government caveats, the CHIS bill is possibly one of the most dangerous to be put before parliament in decades. It should not be amended but ditched.
Featured image supplied with permission