Tag Archives: AFA

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

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‘Undercover’ book: lists revisited, and thoughts on a first flick through

Undercover - The True Story of Britain's Secret Police

So, I have been flicking through Undercover, the spy-cops book by Paul Lewis and Rob Evans. Some interesting stuff in there, much of it unfamiliar – notably the material on Mike Chitty AKA ‘Mike Blake’. They certainly kept him under wraps for a long time.

But first – the numbering issue. The best I can make out is that the Dispatches methodology excludes ‘Rod Richardson’ and both ‘Officer 10’ (who reportedly had a child) and ‘Officer 11’ (who reportedly took on the identity of a child killed in a car crash). This may be on the grounds either that there was not enough corroborating evidence to confirm that they were a police spy (in the case of ‘Richardson’, who in the book is referred to only as a “suspected police officer”), or for other reasons, such as not wanting to implicate a source. ‘Wellings’ appears to be the unnamed tenth officer in silhouette. It may be that there were rights issues over using the existing pictures of him, all of which appear to have been taken by Globalise Resistance people. That takes our twelve down to nine; then we add Chitty/‘Blake’ to take us back up to ten.

Of course, it may be that Chitty/‘Blake’ (presumably the “South African resident” mentioned in the acknowledgements) is either ‘Officer 10’ or ‘Officer 11’ (though more likely the latter than the former given the lack of any reference to a child fathered by him whilst on deployment).

Undercover - The True Story of Britain's Secret PoliceSo, the book. Of interest to many will be exactly whom the SDS, NPOIU and other police units were targeting.

In terms of anarchist groups, the book claims (at least) three in the early 1990s – one in the Direct Action Movement (a key component of Anti-Fascist Action, it should be noted), and two in Class War. Peter Francis/‘Pete Black’/‘Peter Daley’/‘Officer A’ was also to have been deployed into the anarchist milieu, but was retasked to anti-fascist/anti-racist groups at the last minute:

As Black prepared to start his covert mission, senior officers in the SDS were deciding on his future undercover role. They were constantly working out which political groups needed infiltrating and which officers would make suitable spies. Initially, Black was lined up to become an anarchist. At least three SDS officers had already been embedded in anarchist groups in the early 1990s. One was in a small anarchist group called the Direct Action Movement (DAM), which had existed since 1979. Its associates believed capitalism should be abolished by workers organising themselves at the grassroots level, a political philosophy known as anarcho-syndicalism dating back to the late 1890s. Oneconfidential Special Branch document states that a detective constable who worked as an SDS spy ‘successfully’ infiltrated DAM between 1990 and 1993.

Another group of interest to the SDS was the better-known Class War, which achieved some notoriety after it was set up in the 1980s.

…The SDS viewed [Ian] Bone and his friends as considerably more sinister. The unit posted at least two undercover police into the group.

There then follows a chortle-worthy reference to former MI5 ‘whistleblower’ David Shayler, who ruffled feathers in the late 1990s with his various claims. Adopting the stance of a courageous campaigner for a more efficient, more effective spy service, Shayler – who along with his girlfriend Annie Machon had worked on the counter-subversion F Branch desk – had characterised Class War as being very much full of crustie-with-a-dog-on-a-string types (suggesting ineffectiveness or dilettantism), whilst at other times claimed it had been riddled with informers.

When those such as Larry O’Hara (and others) have called on him to back up his claims, or asked him to explain the issue of the proven attempts of sometime-fascist Tim Hepple AKA Tim Matthews to infiltrate the orbit of Green Anarchist, and the interconnected targeting of effective Class War organiser Tim Scargill through smears and other such activity, Shayler has never responded satisfactorily.

Anyway, let’s continue with the story:

One was in place in February 1992 when he had a meeting in a London safe house with David Shayler, the MI5 officer later jailed for breaking the Official Secrets Act after leaking details of alleged incompetence in the secret services. Shayler had at that time been assigned to investigate whether Class War posed a threat to British democracy. The SDS officer supplied intelligence to the Security Service, and had become an official MI5 informant, designated the code number M2589.

According to Shayler, the ‘peculiar arrangement’ in which the SDS officer lived the life of an anarchist for six days a week, returning only occasionally to his friends and family, had ‘affected the agent psychologically’. Shayler recounts: ‘After around four years of pretending to be an anarchist, he had clearly become one. To use the service jargon, he had gone native. He drank about six cans of Special Brew during the debrief, and regaled us with stories about beating up uniformed officers as part of his “cover”. Partly as a result, he was “terminated” after the 1992 general election. Without his organisational skills, Class War fell apart.’

According to Black, the true story was a little different. He says the SDS officer in question was a ‘top end’ operative who served the unit well. During the encounter with the MI5 officer, he acted the part of a coarse anarchist because he had little time for Shayler, who was perceived to be a ‘desk wanker’ – though Black concedes that ‘some MI5 desk officers who came out to talk to us were superb and we had a very, very good relationship with them’. A second SDS officer was later sent into Class War, but it became apparent the group was fading out. Rather ignominiously for the anarchists who wanted to tear down the state, the SDS concluded they could no longer justify spending money to infiltrate them.

Ultimately Francis found himself (via the ‘stepping stone’ method) in Militant’s Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE) group. This was at a time when the SWP had resurrected the Anti-Nazi League, and even the Labour Party had its own front, the Anti-Racist Alliance (ARA) (notable for calling for a pointless Trafalgar Square demonstration on the same day that YRE and the ANL announced their ‘Unity’ demo would ‘shut down the BNP bookshop’ in Welling). And, of course, the aforementioned AFA – which was definitely of interest to the state for both its willingness to engage in physical conflict with fascists on the streets and its robust, resolutely working class politics.

There is very little mention of AFA in the book – which is strange, really, considering how effective its record was on the streets at this time, and how much more ‘of interest’ it became when members of Red Action (another constituent part of AFA) were convicted for involvement in Irish Republican bomb campaigns. But then the small mention that there is does seem to be rather illuminating:

The key group the SDS believed was involved in confronting the far right was called Anti-Fascist Action (AFA). Formed in the mid-1980s through a loose alliance of anarchists and left-wingers, the SDS said it was now subject to a political rift. In a trait painfully familiar to radical politics over the decades, there was an alphabet soup of competing organisations campaigning against racists. To make matters more complicated, each group was often just a front, controlled by another political faction.

Beating The Fascists - The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist ActionIt doesn’t betray a great deal of understanding of AFA or what was going on in the organisation at the time (for that see Beating The Fascists), but it does give an indication of why Francis was deployed where he was, and what the ultimate objective – in a best case scenario – was.

The book continues:

Black was told he should penetrate Youth Against Racism in Europe, better known by its acronym YRE. It was a front for the revolutionary left-wing group, Militant. The head of the SDS believed there was a new anti-fascist alliance forming ‘within the loose confederation’ of the YRE, a second Trotskyist group and ‘sundry ad-hoc student and Asian youth groups’. The SDS boss identified an obscure anti-fascist group at a further education college in Camden, north London, as a possible stepping stone into the YRE.

The SDS technique was to identify a key individual within a political group and get close to them. In Black’s case, the target was an anti-fascist campaigner at Kingsway College. Black was instructed to attend the college and befriend this particular individual, who had connections with the YRE. ‘This allows an entry into the YRE and possibly AFA,’ his boss wrote.

Again this lends itself to the interpretation that deployments were not defined by a single target organisation, but by political currents. London Greenpeace appears to have been infiltrated in order to build up legends for the spycops involved as much as it was a specific target of interest in itself. From that platform the infiltrators could then explore other groups and tendencies – such as those acting under the ALF banner.

Similarly whilst not doubting the sincerity of YRE activists, and notably their stewards’ group, clearly AFA was an even more prime target – as also suggested by the targeting of DAM. Trying to reach AFA both through having a pedigree within the physical anti-fascist left, and through DAM, seems entirely plausible given the evidence here and elseewhere.

Another intriguing titbit comes directly after this:

If this failed, there was a plan B: Black could penetrate ‘an autonomous group of anarchists’ based in Hackney, east London who had been previously infiltrated by the SDS.

As we have seen, Hackney – and Stoke Newington, and then also Haringey – was a prime hunting ground for the spycops. I feel certain we shall be returning to this issue.

A brief, incomplete but hopefully somewhat illustrative contextual timeline of spycop infiltrations around London Greenpeace and beyond throughout the 1980s and 1990s

Put together purely from information in the public domain. Broadly chronological. A ‘rough cut’.

  • The Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) infiltration/provocation programme began in 1968
  • London Greenpeace – an avowedly anarchist environmentalist group – is set up in 1971 in opposition to French nuclear testing
  • Dave Morris began regularly attending London Greenpeace meetings in 1979
  • In the early/mid 1980s, animal rights and environmental activist groups were a high priority target for Special Branch, the SDS and other similar police units
  • In 1983 local activists, including Dave Morris, set up the North London anarchist group Haringey Community Action (Steel later joins)
  • Special Branch officer Bob Lambert AKA ‘Bob Robinson’ was infiltrated into the London activist scene in 1983 – and almost immediately entered into his first on-deployment long-term sexual relationship, with an activist woman ‘Charlotte’ (she was 22 and he 10 years her senior, and secretly married to another woman)
  • Lambert infiltrated London Greenpeace in 1984
  • In 1985 ‘Charlotte’ gave birth to a son by Bob Lambert
  • In 1985 London Greenpeace begins a non-violent campaign highlighting issues such as animal abuse, advertising, nutrition and labour conditions at McDonald’s.
  • In 1986 the initial Animal Rights National Index (ARNI) was set up by Special Branch in Essex – a database tracking animal rights activists and actions
  • Activists from London Greenpeace – including Bob Lambert, but not Dave Morris or Helen Steel – wrote the ‘What’s Wrong With McDonald’s’ factsheet in 1986
  • In 1987 Bob Lambert knowingly instigated a long-term sexual relationship with a non-activist woman, Karen/’Sarah’/’Jenny’, to further build up his cover
  • In 1987 three incendiary devices are set at department stores around south-eastern England as part of an ALF campaign – two men are arrested, prosecuted and convicted based on Bob Lambert’s inside intelligence; subsequently he is accused of having set the third device
  • In 1987 Special Branch sergeant John Dines (AKA ‘John Barker’) is sent in to Hackney to infiltrate political groups including London Greenpeace
  • Activists from the now winding-down HCA in 1988 set up Tottenham Against The Poll Tax, one of the first English AntiPoll Tax Unions; it is followed by the Hornsey & Wood Green and Green Lanes APTUs, and subsequently all three come together as the Haringey APTU
  • By the end of 1988 Lambert comes to the end of his deployment and disengages from his relationship with ‘Sarah’/’Jenny’ – who despite not being an activist had had her home raided by Special Branch purportedly looking for Lambert as part of the ALF firebombing dragnet
  • ARNI was further established at Scotland Yard in 1989
    McDonald’s security bosses Sid Nicholson and Terry Carrol – both former senior Met borough officers from Brixton police station – attend meetings with Special Branch in relation to London Greenpeace and anti-McDonald’s protests from 1989, and possibly earlier
  • From 1989, McDonald’s contract at least two separate private investigation agencies (Bishops Investigation Bureau/Westhall Services and Kings Investigation Bureau) to infiltrate and spy on the London Greenpeace to ascertain who wrote the ‘What’s Wrong With McDonald’s’ fact sheet; the infiltration continues until at least 1991
  • In 1990 McDonald’s issues libel writs against five named London Greenpeace activists, including Morris and Steel, for distributing the fact sheet; three offer apologies and give an undertaking not to further distribute the leaflet but Morris and Steel decide to defend the case
  • In 1990 John Dines begins a relationship with ‘Clare’ AKA Helen Steel which will last the rest of his deployment
  • In 1991 the remit of ARNI was extended so that it could now act operationally (i.e. it is no longer simply running a database)
  • The Earth First!-aligned road protest group Reclaim The Streets emerges in 1991 through the Claremont Road resistance to the M11 Link Road in East London
  • Following the success of the anti-Poll Tax campaign, in 1991 the three local groups which comprise HAPTU first use the joint banner ‘Haringey Solidarity Campaign’ and look towards wider community organising; in 1994 the three groups formally come together as HSG, with Dave Morris one of the driving forces
  • After a five year period spent infiltrating not just London Greenpeace but also squatter groups, anti-Poll Tax unions and other anti-capitalist groups in Haringey, Hackney, Stoke Newington and elsewhere, in 1992 John Dines is exfiltrated suddenly, to the distress of Helen Steel, who at the time is embarking on the start of the pre-trial period of the McLibel defence campaign
  • Stephen Lawrence is murdered in 1993; police infiltrate Peter Francis AKA ‘Peter Daley’ AKA ‘Pete Black’ into anti-racist groups, police watch-style campaigns and leftist politics in the lead up to the October ‘Unity’ demonstration, as well as the M11 anti-roads campaign; he leaves his undercover posting in 1997
  • Following several years of legal arguments – which see the defendants denied legal aid or a jury trial – the McLibel trial proper begins in 1994
  • Special Branch’s remit is extended to include environmental activists
  • In 1995 police officer Mark Jenner AKA ‘Mark Cassidy’ is infiltrated into the north London activist scene; he targets the Colin Roach Centre in an attempt to get close to Red Action/Anti-Fascist Action, as well as the anti-blacklisting Building Workers Group, and the Hackney Community Defence Association – he has a relationship with an unwitting local woman ‘Alison’ from 1996-2000, when he disappears
  • RTS starts down a very different road to its previous actions and hosts the first of its street parties in Camden High Street in May 1995, followed swiftly by other ones in Islington and elsewhere
  • Special Branch officer Andrew James Boyling AKA Jim Sutton is deployed into the London activist scene in 1995, and starts by working his way into hunt sabotage before finding himself in RTS
  • By 1996 the RTS ‘Street Party’ tactic has found itself replicated autonomously across the UK and abroad; the London RTS group reaches out beyond the environmental movement and forges links with the striking Liverpool dockers, militant RMT unionists on the London Underground, and elsewhere – culminating in a two-day long period of solidarity actions in and around the Merseyside Docks where jobs and safety are at stake as the private employer enforces casualisation
  • The final submissions to the court in the McLibel case are heard in December 1996 after 313 trial days, leaving the Judge unable to estimate when he will have a ruling
  • In early 1997 the repercussions of the McLibel trial are felt elsewhere, with arms fair company COPEX backing down from a libel case threatened against Peace News and Campaign Against Arms Trade, who decide to follow the example of Morris and Steel and not back down; COPEX pay out over £30k in costs
  • Similarly by Summer 1997 John Lewis plc backs down from a libel action against the National Anti-Hunt Campaign, who sought advice from the McLibel defence campaign
  • The Liverpool dockers and RTS come together again in 1997 for the ‘Reclaim The Ballots’ event in central London where despite police efforts thousands hold an open air party-cum-protest (though not at the planned location and minus much of the propaganda materials)
  • The National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) is set up at Scotland Yard in 1998, bringing together ARNI and other similar police intelligence units into a single unit focused on animal rights activists
  • In 1998 RTS and the rest of the PGA network coordinate a ‘Global Street Party’ to mark the G7 summit taking place in Birmingham with international protest
  • The remit of the NPOIU is extended to include the wider environmental movement in 1999
  • 1999 sees more RTS/RMT actions on the London Underground, before the second ‘Global Street Party’, marking the G8 summit in Cologne; in the UK this means the J18 Carnival Against Capitalism – Andrew James Boyling is a driver of an RTS blockade vehicle, which he deliberately fails to secure
  • Later in 1999 members of RTS and other groups, including Class War and London Greenpeace, organise the UK end of the third Global Street Party, ‘N30’, marking the World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle; the UK events are more diffuse than previously, with lower numbers, more locations and a more proactive police presence that culminates in the first proper British kettle outside Euston train station
  • A longer series of events, actions, meetings and bookfair in London for Mayday 2000 are coordinated by a group including RTS, ending in the ‘Guerilla Gardening’ event on Parliament Square and an attempted kettling; under extreme pressure from police and with the media pursuing ‘organisers’, some from RTS issue a televised statement
  • In 2000 Andrew James Boyling leaves his infiltration of RTS, as does Mark Jenner; meanwhile ‘Rod Richardson’ goes in, followed by ‘Simon Wellings’, Mark Kennedy AKA ‘Mark Stone’, ‘Lynn Watson’, ‘Marco Jacobs’ etc…

Edited 24/6/13 to tidy up, add in Peter Francis’ real name