Trump inauguration – all a bit Rexall ‘N’ Effect

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Community policing, Bristol fashion

Bristol’s answer to the Keystone Kops, the ‘Avin’ It Somewhere Constantly, is in the news today after a couple of its finest managed to Taser a sixty-three year old man, Judah Adunbi, in the face outside his own home on the entirely-legit-honest-guv grounds that ‘he looked like someone on their wanted list’.

Needless to say he was arrested for assault on a police officer and detained for ten hours at Patchway nick after receiving medical attention at the BRI. Charges (“assaulting a constable in the execution of their duty and a public order offence”) were later mysteriously dropped, possibly around the time that a video of the incident filmed by a neighbour surfaced, and probably after some high-flyer in Potting Shed HQ realised that the man in question was in fact a member of one of the ASC’s own Independent Advisory Groups. These are made up of “volunteers drawn from our communities from various backgrounds [who] have an interest in policing and its effect on our communities and offer independent advice.”

Zee Feelth are having a good old crack at turning that frown upside down and presenting this as somehow a win for the force, with Bristol Area Commander Ch Supt Jon Reilly making much of ASC “voluntarily” referring the incident to the Independent Police Complaints Commission in a manner which suggests he thinks we’re incapable of reading the IPCC’s own clear guidance on the issue. (The Commission, meanwhile, is already asking for witnesses to come forward.)

With much chutzpah Reilly even claims that “I’ve met with Mr Adunbi and we had a constructive conversation”. Clearly this protégé of (now retired) Acting Chief Constable John Long will go far!

It all reminds me of an incident a few years back when I watched a copper pepper spray some alkie walking away from him on Stokes Croft. Different weapon, same attitude – no come-back for an unnecessary coshing…until the pictures/videos turn up.

(Oh, and the comments section under the Post‘s Facebook page post on this functions as an excellent fuckwit-detector.)

On Alan Clarke (revisited)…

Ages back I wrote about director Alan Clarke and some of his films.

Recently I found a couple of interesting videos about his work – one featuring an interview with former soldier AFN Clarke, whose military memoir Contact  became the basis for his near-namesake’s tense, almost dialogue-free, television drama about a British Army patrol in Northern Ireland; the other looking at Clarkie’s latter-day fondness for Steadicams and the walking intro. Both are worth a watch.

It’s a mansplainer’s world: how Peter Moffatt, Justin Webb & Radio 4 told a pesky #spycop survivor how she could “better understand” her own experience

I’ve not blogged in a while, but sometimes something just happens and you have to get it down.

This morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme ‘Alison’, who was preyed upon by Metropolitan Police spycop Mark Jenner for five years using his stolen activist identity ‘Mark Cassidy’, criticised the BBC television drama Undercover.

Here is what she said in the brief, prerecorded segment, as it aired:

I think there are things, in the story that are strong. There’s a different story in real life, and the difference is in the banality, if you like, of our experiences. The real life story is about ordinary women who are standing up against injustice. They’re not top lawyers who go on to become the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions]. And I think that for it to be authentic and believable it needs to link up with some of the real facts. The departure from so many of the key facts has changed the nature of the story.

Pretty straightforward. More detailed critiques have been put up by Police Spies Out Of Lies and The Guardian, which expand on this theme and others.

In response Today had presenter Justin Webb give a soft soap interview to screenwriter Peter Moffatt. This was the result.

Justin Webb: Peter Moffatt is here, writer of Undercover as well as similar programmes, Criminal Justice, Silk, as well.

Peter Moffatt (screenwriter): Morning.

JW: Have you let her down, and other women who in the same position?

PM: I really hope not, and I really hope that when she watches the second half of the series, when Sophie Okonedo’s character Maya discovers who her husband really is, confronts him with all that he’s done, and the shocking truth contained therein, that she’ll have a different and I hope better perspective on the programme. The great advantage of writing a fictional version of something over a documentary is that I can have my characters do or say whatever I want them to. So it is possible for Sophie Okonedo’s character to confront him, accuse him of, for example, raping her, because she’s consented to having sex with somebody other than the person she thought he was. Which interestingly, for example, is a different point of view compared with the real DPP, who says it isn’t possible to bring criminal charges any of these undercover police officers for rape. My fictional DPP doesn’t agree with that, and puts that directly to the protagonist played by Adrian Lester.

JW: One of the things that ‘Alison’ was saying in that clip is that the real life stories are ordinary women who have to stand up to these things, well, first face up to that they happened, and then try and get some kind of justice. Your one is a top lawyer, and that in itself is inauthentic and doesn’t tell anything like the true story of what happened to these women.

PM: Well we know that Stephen Lawrence’s friends were spied on by the police. We know that Janet Alder, whose brother Christopher died on a police station floor in Humberside, left alone there with his trousers and pants round his knees by a group of police officers who paid no attention to his choking to death, and Janet was spied on, afterwards, by police officers who infiltrated the support groups surrounding the campaign that Janet ran on behalf of her dead brother. And I was interested actually in writing about institutional racism in the 1990s, deaths in police custody, the cover-ups that almost always follow on from deaths of that nature in police custody…

JW: Do you regret meeting ‘Alison’ to discuss it? Might it have been better I suppose in retrospect to read what happened in the papers…

PM: We had one meeting, it became clear to me and I think her that we were after different things. I was very clear that I wanted to describe a character who had been married for twenty years to the same person and then discovers that he’s not who she thinks he is. That isn’t her experience. I wanted to write about somebody, a character, Maya Cobbina, who’s in the heart of public life, who’s making big choices and big decisions that matter, and is being undermined by therefore by the establishment and by the police because they know what she’s thinking.

JW: But can you sympathise with ‘Alison’ and others, who are so desperate to have their story told, and told in a way that feels authentic, that this is naturally a disappointment, what you’ve…

PM: Well, Adrian Lester’s character adopts the identity of a dead child – that’s absolutely accurate, it’s usually the way that real undercover police officers functioned. He lies consistently to her. I’m just glad I got the opportunity in this drama to put Adrian Lester’s character on the spot and ask him how is his conscience to do this? How is it, what is it like to have a child with someone who you’re also spying on? I don’t think Bob Lambert and Mark Kennedy or any of the real undercover police officers are going to be talking in public about how their consciences feel.

JW: And fall in love with them, and that’s the other issue you raise, isn’t it?

PM: Yeah. I think that’s a really…

JW: So I can imagine if I were one of the women I’d be quite, I’d find that a very difficult area to go into and I could see why they find that a very discomforting thing.

PM: I really understand that, I really understand that, but I think it’s certainly feasible, certainly plausible, that a man who is spying on someone behaving as badly as he is can also be in love with the subject of his spying.

JW: And you were saying right at the beginning the second half of the series you think will do more, if that’s the right phrase, do more justice to the actual truth of what happened to those women…

PM: Well, she says “You raped me!”, she says “You’ve stolen my life!”, she says “You’re monstrous!”, she says “You’re a murderer!” That really does represent some of the pain and anger that women like ‘Alison’ and Helen Steel who’ve done an amazing job of bringing all of this to the public’s attention. But I really think that they’ll feel a lot better, I really hope so, when they’ve watched the rest of the series.

JW: Peter Moffatt, thank you.

Words fail me (as they seemingly do for Moffatt, too).

Audio here:

TRANSCRIPT – Alison vs Moffatt, Radio 4, 28/4/16

Mayday! Mayday! Help needed to fill in the blanks on spycop Bob Lambert’s timeline…

So Bob, how big a lie was it? “About this big...”

Hey Dr Bob, on average how big were the lies you told? “About this big…”

Cross-posted on the URG blog

So just what did former spycop, SDS manager and – to borrow a hackneyed media cliché oft wheeled out for Mayday – so-called academic Bob Lambert get up to in the late 1990s?

After spending rather a lot of time working on a series of articles about our old friend Dr Bob for the Undercover Research Group‘s wiki project, it struck me that it’s just not clear what Lambert did between leaving SDS sometime after August 1998, and the establishment of the Muslim Contact Unit in January 2002.

Biographies – which no doubt he himself supplied – indicate that Lambert remained with Metropolitan Police Special Branch since joining it in 1980. For example, the blurb on Lambert following his article ‘Reflections on Counter-Terrorism Partnerships in Britain’  for the Cordoba Foundation magazine Arches issue number 5 (January-February 2007)  notes that “Bob worked continuously as a Special Branch specialist counter-terrorist/counter-extremist intelligence officer from 1980” until the setting up of MCU at the beginning of 2002).

Certainly, no evidence has so far come up to suggest he was involved in, for example, Territorial Policing; that he was transferred to other Special Branch-equivalent units such as the Anti-Terrorist Branch; or that he transferred to a police force other than the Metropolitan Police Service.

By implication, Lambert seems likely to have been working in a different unit or units within MPSB during this time period. The Arches biography mentioned above notes that from beginning in MPSB in 1980 until 2006 or 2007, Lambert had dealt “with all forms of violent political threats to the UK, from Irish republican to the many strands of International terrorism.” Whilst his work on international terrorism at E Squad has already been noted, an involvement in Irish republican matters would suggest time served in B Squad (though it is by no means clear whether that would have occurred at this point of his career or in Lambert’s pre-SDS years).

One further hint at what Lambert got up to in the interregnum between his times at SDS and MCU is in his colourful description of watching the September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center:

As the first twin tower shrunk to the ground, anti-military and anti-globalisation campaigners abandoned a picket of an international arms fair in London’s docklands. Inside New Scotland Yard’s public order control room attention switched from screens with departing protesters to the televised attack on the World Trade Center. No one could quite comprehend the enormity of what was happening in New York and Washington.*

Whilst the passage is written opaquely, it implies that Lambert was himself “inside New Scotland Yard’s public order control room”, surveilling the September 2001 Disarm DSEi protest against a biennial arms fair. Activist groups participating included Campaign Against Arms Trade, the WOMBLES, Earth First!, Reclaim The Streets and others. If Lambert was in the control room watching over the demonstrations, then it would further imply that he may have been working in C Squad, the MPSB body interested in what would now be termed ‘domestic extremism’, or S Squad, the parent unit of SDS which specialised in surveillance and intelligence gathering.

(As an aside, at least two undercover police officers were involved on the ground at the 2001 DSEi protests: ‘Jason Bishop’, believed to be working for Lambert’s old unit SDS, and ‘Rod Richardson’, thought to be one of the first infiltrators to be deployed by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU). According to Rob Branbury, an activist targeted by Bishop, the undercover officer called him that day when news of 9/11 broke to sound him out, “as if he wanted to know what people thought about the attack to the Twin Towers.”)

But anyway, what about Dr Bob?

Come on, hivemind – let’s fill in those missing years 1998-2001!

* Lambert’s claim that “campaigners abandoned a picket” of DSEi in this way is simply not true. American 11 hit 1 WTC at 0846, New York time – around a quarter to two in the afternoon in London. United 175 hit 2 WTC at 0903. 2 WTC collapsed at 0958, and 1 WTC a half-hour later at 1028. Many protesters at DSEi were aware of all this – the news having been broadcast around the site on a soundsystem – and some watched a live feed of the second airplane crashing into the World Trade Center on a screen in a media organisation’s outside broadcast van.
Whilst many reporters swiftly left the site, the anti-arms fair actions continued at the West Gate until at least half past four (more than an hour after the second tower collapsed), when a large group moved off en masse. A smaller group, with a large ‘POLICE AGAINST THE ARMS TRADE’ banner, remained at West Gate until at least 6pm. See, for example, IMC-UK, ‘Fiesta for Life in the Docklands 2001’, Indymedia UK, 11 September 2001; or Andy Robertson, ‘DSEI Arms Fair. September 11 2001’, Squall, September 2001 (accessed via Archive.org).

The murky world of private security and its involvement in spying on ‘enemies of the state’: the road protest years

What follows is a skeleton summary of the involvement of private security firm Brays – amongst others – in monitoring anti-roads protesters on behalf of the state (at great public expense, almost entirely unaccountably, and largely in secret) during the Thatcher and Major administrations’ massive expansionist programme of building. It is mostly based on Hansard – the official Parliamentary record – and is offered here by way of rekindling interest in the topic, especially as it brings together both the issue of construction industry (and activist) blacklisting, and the use of long-term police (and private) infiltrators.

The Brays Detective Agency was hired to monitor roads protesters during the 1990s – variously by the Department of Transport, the Highways Agency (an Ibbs/Next Steps ‘Executive Agency’ under the purview of DoT) and the Treasury Solicitor.

There is no clear overall picture of exactly how much money was spent, as the various overlapping, conflicting or otherwise obfuscatory Ministerial and Agency replies to Parliamentary questions over the course of three years show:

  • 25 February 1993: £7,000 (detective agency fees to Brays on M3/Twyford Down protests)
  • 26 February 1993: £7,000 (detective agency fees to Brays on M3/Twyford Down protests)
  • 18 March 1993: £7,000 (detective agency fees to Brays on M3/Twyford Down protests)
  • 11 May 1993: £35,000 (detective agency fees on M3/Twyford Down protests since February 1992)
  • 18 January 1994: £256,211 (total manpower costs of security and policing in 1993 for M11 link road)
  • 23 February 1994: £200,000+ (additional costs of police operation on 16 February at M11 link)
  • 23 February 1994: £470,075 (total manpower costs of policing and security since September 1993 at M11 link)
  • 4 March 1994: £228,000 (payments to Brays by DoT from March 1992 to end of January 1994)
  • 4 March 1994: £193,875 (£165,000 ex VAT) (total cost of legal fees to date at Twyford Down)
  • 22 April 1994: £16,163 (additional manpower costs – NI contributions and overtime but not basic pay – for policing at M11 link/Wanstead Common in January)
  • 25 April 1994: £760,000 (total spend with private detective agencies by DoT since 1991)
  • 4 May 1994: £250,829.52 (detective agency fees on M3/Twyford Down protests)
  • 1 July 1994: £253,800 (£216,000 ex VAT) (total legal fees on M3/Twyford Down protests)
  • 14 July 1994: £100,000 (sum set aside to cover HA’s solicitors’ payment to private detective agencies in relation to Batheaston/Swainswick (Solsbury Hill) bypass protests)
  • 14 July 1994: £21,000 (payment due to be made to private detective agencies by HA’s solicitors in relation to Batheaston/Swainswick (Solsbury Hill) bypass protests)
  • 14 July 1994: £71,450 (expenditure to date by HA with Bray’s relating to M11 link, A11 (Norfolk) & Batheaston bypass)
  • 12 December 1994: £1 million (approximate security cost to HA of operation the previous week at M11 link protest site)
  • 12 December 1994: £100,000 (approximate cost to HA of site clearance at Claremont Road M11 link protest)
  • 12 December 1994: £3 million (approximate cost to HA for security staff at M11 link/Claremont Road from September 1993 to date)
  • 12 December 1994: £185,000 (fees paid by HA to Brays for Claremont Road/M11 link)
  • 12 December 1994: £180,000 (approximate legal fees payable by HA for Claremont Road/M11 link)
  • 12 December 1994: £500,000 (estimated monthly cost to HA for security at Claremont Road/M11 link)
  • 12 December 1994: £25,000 (estimated monthly cost to HA for engaging Brays at Claremont Road/M11 link)
  • 12 December 1994: £4,000 (estimated monthly cost in legal fees to HA at Claremont Road/M11 link)
  • 27 February 1995: £267,377 (total sum paid to Brays by DoT up to end of contract 31 July 1994)
  • 21 March 1995: £276,000 (total legal fees payable by HA for M3 Twyford Down protests)
  • 23 March 1995: £310,930 (total expenditure by Treasury Solicitor to Brays for work sponsored by DoT)
  • 5 April 1995: £294,000 (payments to Brays by HA, M11 link)
  • 5 April 1995: £25,000 (monthly payments to Brays by HA, M11 link)
  • 5 April 1995: £150,000 (payments to Brays by HA, Batheaston bypass)
  • 5 April 1995: £259,000 (payments to Brays by HA, M3 Twyford Down)
  • 5 April 1995: £1,500 (payments to Brays by HA, M65 Blackburn)
  • 5 April 1995: £200 (payments to other detective agencies by HA, M65 Blackburn)
  • 5 April 1995: £300 (payments to Brays by HA, A34 Newbury Bypass)
  • 5 April 1995: £450 (payments to Brays by HA, A11 Besthorpe-Wymondham)
  • 5 April 1995: £705,450 (total payments to Brays & other detective agencies by HA in relation to road protests)
  • 9 January 1996: £950,588 (total expenditure by HA’s solicitors on services supplied by Brays)

John Denham, MP for Southampton Itchen raised some interesting points in his adjournment debate of 2 December 1994:

Twyford down was, as far as I can establish, the first time that widespread surveillance was carried out on British people by private detective agencies acting on behalf of the Government. Secondly, the Government have played a direct role in the retention of private security guards who used violence against protestors. Thirdly, the Government are now pursuing, at taxpayers’ expense, a punitive legal action against people who allegedly took part in protests of the most innocuous and innocent form.

Brays detective agency was hired, for what turned out to be a cost of more than £250,000, to take photographs of protesters and to serve papers on them. As far as I can establish, that scale of surveillance has never been undertaken by any Department. The privatisation of surveillance and snooping should therefore have been approached with great sensitivity and care—but far from it.

There are no guidelines, either in the Department of Transport or in the Government, as to the use of private detective agencies. I asked the National Audit Office to investigate the hiring of Brays, and the Comptroller and Auditor General confirmed to me in a letter dated 18 October that expenditure on Brays was allowed to grow from an initial £836 allowed within delegated authorisation to £250,000.

Expenditure reached nearly £100,000 before a proper written contract was let—albeit then without competitive tendering. It was only after I had tabled parliamentary questions about contracts that any formal contract was let. The Comptroller and Auditor General concluded: Whilst the Department felt they had to respond quickly to the escalating protest action it is still important for them to follow authorised contract procedures … in this case, however, the Department neither established a contract when the scope of the work changed from a one-off action to an on-going surveillance operation, nor held a competitive tender exercise once they recognised the extent of the work involved. The rules of the Department were not followed.

The National Audit Office was clearly not initially convinced that expenditure on Brays was even legal. The Comptroller and Auditor General wrote to me, saying: there were no special guidelines in place on employing private detective agencies; our financial auditors have looked into whether this expenditure should have treated as novel and contentious, and therefore subject to Treasury approval. I understand that the Treasury has now ruled that the expenditure was allowable, and there I suspect that the issue will remain unless it is challenged in the courts.

I must say that I doubt whether Parliament has ever knowingly voted money to the Department of Transport for such a use of private detective agencies. I hope that we can be told what the role of Ministers was in the affair. Were all the decisions taken by junior civil servants rattling around out of control, or were Ministers involved in the decisions on the surveillance? If so, which Minister took the decision to use Brays in this role, to overrule normal contracting procedures and to spend £250,000 of public money? I hope that the Minister for Railways and Roads can tell the House the answers.

Exactly who Brays were/are is an interesting question. The company has a surprisingly light internet footprint, comprising mostly an array of corporate records (such company and director filings) which are difficult to hide, being legally required documentation and made available for free by Companies House licensees such as Duedil, or else references on listings sites derived from scraped content from same.

A moderately detailed search on Brays will tell you that it began as a detective agency in 1929, but with little or no more detail than that.

In terms of Brays’ involvement in the monitoring of roads protests, the first reference to them comes on 11 November 1992, again via John Denham MP, during a debate on the Rio Agreement:

Are there no limits on how far the Government will sink in the promotion of environmental destruction, including the hiring of a private detective agency, Bray’s detective agency of Southampton, to photograph peaceful protesters at Twyford Down? Does the Minister have any limits as to how far the Government will go in destroying the environment and suspending the basic civil liberties of Her Majesty’s subjects?

On 18 November 1992 Roads & Traffic Minister Kenneth Carlisle MP acknowledged that the Department of Transport “has employed Bray’s Detective Agency (Southampton) Ltd. to serve papers on people who have trespassed on the Department’s land and to photograph trespassers” in relation to protests against the M3 extension at Twyford Down.

Carlisle further admitted that Brays “has been employed from time to time since March this year on an hourly basis at its standard rates, plus expenses,” an arrangement he envisages “will continue to be employed on this basis for as long as necessary.” (A statement by Carlisle on 4 March 1994 confirms that Brays was engaged by the DoT in March 1992, adding that “its contract runs until the end of July 1994”.)

A week later, on 25 November, Carlisle states (whilst describing the range of work for which the DoT might use private detectives) that “the cost of tracing an individual is usually in the range of £60 to £90 per case.”

The first reference to the specific cost to the tax payer of the DoT’s arrangement with Brays in relation to roads protests is, as noted in the list above, on 25 February 1993, when Mr Carlisle states that Brays – recommended to the Department by the Twyford Down engineer (presumably WS Atkins) – has up until that point “been paid approximately £7,000.” The £7,000 figure is repeated in Carlisle’s response to Bob Cryer MP the next day (26 February 1993), and then again on 18 March in response to a question from Mike Gapes MP.

Yet in just over a month, the cost of doing business had jumped up six-fold to £35,000, according to Carlisle’s 11 May response to Denham, snowballing yet further to £228,000 by the end of January 1994 (according to a subsequent Carlisle statement on 4 March), and then £250, 829.52 a couple of months later (see written answer on 4 May 1994 by Carlisle’s successor as Minister for Roads & Traffic, Robert Key MP).

Curiously, by 25 April 1994 Key was telling Martyn Jones MP that the Department of Transport had spent a whopping £760,000 on private detective agencies since 1991. No breakdown was offered of when, where and with whom this vast amount of spy cash was doled out.

The government did not even seem to be getting value for money, regardless of the constitutional or ethical ins and outs of spying on the citizenry. In his 11 May 1994 comment, Carlisle stated that Brays had by then served papers on “an additional three individuals” to the three served at the time of his 12 March statement (serving papers being – according to Denham himself on 25 February the sole reason for engaging Brays in the first place). In other words, by its own figures the government was paying a private company nearly £6,000 to serve papers on each protester accused of committing a civil offence of trespass.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

REBOOTING… On #spycops, and more

NORMAL SERVICE WILL BE RESUMED SOON

It has been a fair old while since last I posted; it’s been a busy old time. But I will endeavour to start updating this ol’ blog more assiduously now things are back on an even keel.

Firstly – belatedly – I should point you to the website of the Undercover Research Group, which was launched a couple of months ago to serve as a platform for URG’s detailed investigations into the use by police of long-term infiltrators within political movements.

It is still very much a work-in-progress, so please excuse the odd typo, as we strive towards both keeping up with current events (for example, the announcement of the public inquiry into undercover policing, the Hillsborough inquest, construction industry blacklisting, the convergence of private and state intelligence agents, etc), and publishing detailed profiles on the themes, units, individuals and documents associated with the topic. We are a small team, but already we have put in many thousands of work-hours. We hope that the fruits of our labour, which we shall make publicly available as soon as possible, will help civil society make better, well-informed sense of this subject.

And secondly, I hope also to return to my less serious online projects on film and comics as soon as time and work pressures allow. Because there has to be more to life than just digging into barrelfuls of rotting apples.