Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Undercover with the Bushwackers

Yesterday's Telegraph had an interview with James Bannon, who infiltrated Millwall firm the Bushwackers as an undercover cop in the late 1980s:

'At 7pm on Friday April 3 1987, two novice undercover police officers left Brockley police station for a drive down the Old Kent Road in south London. These were grim miles of looming tower blocks, shuttered shops and graffitied trains clattering above looming arches. It was also the territory of Millwall Football Club and their hooligan firm the Bushwhackers. It was just gone 8pm when the two men entered one of the Bushwhackers’ favourite pubs, The Old Castle...

...total infiltration wasn’t as simple as a handshake. Over the coming months, the two men had to prove their worth. Bannon won the trust of several key individuals by joining them in planned violence in pubs and backstreets. Chris accused his partner of enjoying his role too much.

“Was I a football hooligan?” Bannon asks of himself. “Yes. But I never lost sight of the fact that it was a job. There were parts of it where I laughed more than I’ve ever laughed before. I met people I’d quite happily have had as lifetime friends. But it was a job. You create a role and you live that role – to a point.” But where, exactly, is that point? If he’s drinking with thugs, singing their songs and fighting in the streets with them, how is he not one of them? “If I pick a bat up and run at a load of West Ham fans, there’s no justification in that,” he says. “But if I’m with a group of Millwall fans and a West Ham fan is running at me with a bat, I’m totally within my rights to hit him. That’s the difference.”' (The Undercover Football Hooligan, Telegraph,18 November 2013).

Bannon has written a book about the operation, 'Running with the Firm'. On his account there were four full time undercover cops infiltrating Millwall fans in this period. Alongside recent revelations about infiltration of political activist circles, this is further evidence of the widespread use of this tactic. Similar questions arise - were they just keeping watch, or were they joining in, maybe even initiating trouble as 'agent provocateurs'? And what about the emotional abuse of people they developed relationships with? Bannon says he didn't have a sexual relationship despite falling in love on duty, but it appears from his book that he strung along a woman he identifies as 'Steph'.

This made me laugh in the Telegraph interview: 'Bannon, 48, asks to meet at a cafĂ© around the corner from the now-empty Brockley police station, above which his small team was based in its earliest weeks. With its artisan flapjacks, this middle-class establishment is not the sort of place that existed when he patrolled the streets in the mid-Eighties. Bannon, it’s easy to tell, is of the old pre-gentrification order...'. Assume they went for a coffee at The Broca, or maybe Browns.

See previously:

May Day 2001: A police spy at the Elephant and Castle
Undercover in East Dulwich

1926 and all that...

Naturally Bannon's book includes accounts of conflict between Millwall and West Ham. And how does he explain this rivalry? Yes this old chestnut: 'hostility developed between two shipyards on either side of the Thames. To the north you had the workforce of the Royal Docks (the claret and blue of West Ham) and to the south, the Millwall, London and Surrey docks (the blue and white of Millwall). When the Millwall shipyard broke the 1926 dockers strike, the anger across the river raised the tensions to boiling point' (p.126).

No, no, no! As shown at Transpontine before, there is no evidence of Millwall or South London dockers breaking the 1926 General Strike. And what's more Millwall dock was on the north bank of the Thames - the club moved from the Isle of Dogs  to South London in 1910 but the docks didn't!

1 comment:

Nigel said...

A similar myth exists to explain Saints & Pompey's rivalry. Claims that Southampton dock workers were strike breakers is also untrue. Both scenarios are born of competing dockyards, however.