Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Undercover: police spies in South London

'Undercover: the True Story of Britain's Secret Police' by Rob Evans and Paul Lewis is primarily about the work of the Special Demonstration Squad, a London-based police unit set up to infiltrate radical and not so radical movements. Of course the police Special Branch and other agencies have been using informers and undercover police officers for many years. The SDS, seemingly formed in the aftermath of the anti-Vietnam protests of the late 1960s, took this to a new level by deploying cops to live amongst activists, and indeed as activists, for long periods. During their deep cover deployments, they took a key role in organising protests and had sexual relationships, some times having children with women while pretending to be somebody else (using the identities of other, dead children). The SDS closed down in 2008, but its work has continued since in the guise of various shadowy groups such as the National Public Order Intelligence Unit.

If you've been following the authors' unfolding revelations in the Guardian and elsewhere, there probably won't be too many surprizes in this book. But gathering so much of the material together in one place does show how sustained and widespread the practice was (and presumably still is), bearing in mind that only a few undercover spies have been definitely identified out of a much larger number deployed.

Some of the South London connections mentioned in the book have been covered here before, including 'Rod Richardson', a presumed policeman involved in organising the May Day 2001 protests at the Elephant and Castle, and Jim Boyling/Jim Sutton, who lived in East Dulwich while infiltrating Reclaim the Streets.

Jim Boyling (real name) aka Jim Sutton of Reclaim the Streets
'Undercover' also includes other details, including the revelations from Pete Black that he took part in the violent anti-BNP protests in Welling in 1993 and that he was one of several spies deployed to try and dig dirt on the Stephen Lawrence campaign.The attempt to find information to discredit the Lawrence family supporters shows clearly that the undercover operation was not just targeting groups believed to be involved in direct action, but was used to undermine people who threatened to expose police wrong-doing.

Another revelation in the book is that at one time - and certainly in around 2001 - the clandestine HQ of the SDS was ' a rundown office block on Camberwell New Road... situated above the nondescript City Office Superstore stationers'. This was at 303-309 Camberwell New Road London SE5 0TF - now the home of the TFC Supermarket, next to St Marys Greek Orthodox Church.

TFC in Camberwell New Road - once a secret police HQ
If the practice has led to emotional abuse of activists, the strains of living a double life may not have done some of the cops any favours either. Dulwich-born Mark Kennedy seems to have ended up being abandoned by his former handlers after being exposed in 2011, as well as being deeply mistrusted by the activists who he spied on. Another case covered in the book is that of Mike Chitty/Mike Blake who infiltrated the Streatham-based South London Animal Movement in the 1980s, and continued to try and hang around with people from that scene after his police deployment had been ended.

Eight women  who were 'deceived into long term intimate relationships with undercover police officers who were infltrating environmental and social justice campaign groups' are now taking legal action against the police. Supporters from 'Police Spies Out of Lives' are calling for a picket of the Royal Courts of Justice at the next court hearing, expected to be on or about the 19th March.

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