It sounds like an elaborate film plot. The man you loved and thought of as your committed partner is in fact an undercover police spy attempting to infiltrate your activist group.
You live together, you go on holiday together. Perhaps you are even engaged to be married. You share intimate details with this man, who does not exist - at least not as the person you think he is. His name is not his real name - it is most likely the name of a deceased child, whose identity your partner is now using.
You believe you are in a loving relationship. In reality, your boyfriend is passing information about the activities of your activist group back to his handlers. When he’s not with you, he goes home to his wife and children. Eventually, he disappears without a trace, and you never hear from him again.
For the women tricked into sexual relationships with undercover police officers, stories like these are all too painfully real. They are the results of activity by units such as the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), which was a secretive undercover branch of the Met police, designed to infiltrate British activist and campaigning groups. It was set up 50 years ago, in 1968, and groups like these operated nationwide.
In 2010, an environmental activist called Mark Stone was revealed as being none other than PC Mark Kennedy, an undercover policeman. He had been undercover for seven years, before his true identity was finally discovered by the activists he had been infiltrating, and he confessed when they confronted him.
Mark Kennedy’s is not the only case, and while the profiles of a further 20 undercover infiltrators have been discovered, the Undercover Research Group claims that in reality, hundreds of undercover police were deployed. Some of them were deployed before Mark Kennedy, some after.
Now, the people - most often women - left traumatised by what they call the “spy cops,” are demanding answers.
Behind the stories and allegations, a public inquiry first set up in 2015 by the then Home Secretary Theresa May is taking place into undercover policing. However, many of those who have been spied upon feel such a lack of confidence in the approach of the Inquiry, that they staged a walk out at a hearing earlier this year (21st March, 2018).
But they did not go quietly. These people are campaigners and activists - fighting for justice lies at the heart of everything they do and believe in and now, campaigning groups Police Spies Out Of Lives (PSOOL) and Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS) are working together to take a stand.
The campaigners have laid out their demands, and are now joining together with Lush to get their message spread further.
PSOOL and COPS have already launched a petition asking the UK’s new Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, to make some major changes to the current public inquiry.
In addition, Lush stores across the UK are now stocked up with postcards addressed to him, which members of the public can sign. The postcards call for a panel of experts to be instructed to assist the Chair of the Inquiry, and for the Inquiry to be extended to include Scotland. They also ask for three things to be released: the cover names of the officers, the names of the groups they spied on, and the personal files of victims.
In the public interest
To begin with, campaigners want to see a panel of experts instructed to assist the chair of the inquiry, Sir John Mitting, in whom many of the campaigners say they have little faith, due to his previous decisions.
For example, whilst the campaigners say there is a massive - and justifiable - public interest in the cover names of the undercover officers being released, Mitting disagrees and instead, has granted anonymity to a large number of former undercover officers.
Without the names being released, the campaigners say it will be impossible for people to come forward to give any evidence about the activities of those individuals.
Police Spies Out Of Lives campaigner, Carolyn (who does not want her surname used) warns: “We’re not going to get their real name, we’re not going to get their cover name, and so we’re not going to ever know what they got up to undercover, because no-one’s going to be able to come forward with evidence."
She goes on to explain that in instances where the cover name was disclosed, campaigners who remember that particular undercover officer were able to come forward with information.
“If we don’t get any information and we don’t get the cover name, that evidence simply can’t come out,” she says. “It would be much better to have a panel of people to accompany Sir John Mitting and not to have just one person making these bad decisions. If there’s a group of people, they might make better decisions.”
The campaigners are also asking for the list of groups spied upon to be released, and for victims to be given their personal files.
“We don’t know exactly how much information they’ve collected about any of us or what’s happened with that information,” Carolyn adds.
Currently, the Inquiry only covers England and Wales. So the campaigners are also asking for it to be extended to Scotland, and a Scottish COPS campaign will be launched at an event on 23rd June 2018 in Glasgow. Finally, they want undercover activities that took place abroad to be included in the Inquiry too.
“If we got all those things it would be amazing,” Carolyn says.
She wants officers to come forward and speak truthfully about what they were sent to do, what they were authorised to do, and who authorised them to do it. Did the Home Secretary at the time know about the Units? Were the sexual relationships authorised, or did they happen regardless?
“Finding out the identities of the individual spy cops is one thing, but what’s really important is finding out the wider picture,” Carolyn stresses.
Despite being launched three years ago, the Inquiry is still stuck in the early stages, and there is likely to be a long wait before any evidence of any kind will be heard. As the Inquiry stands now, Carolyn is concerned that everything is being done in secret and says that unless it is a full and thorough investigation, conducted in a transparent way, the truth with never be discovered.
Carolyn is also adamant that the severity of the situation has not been properly understood. The victims - many of whom are her friends - need information in order to heal and find closure.
“Ultimately, these police officers were the perpetrators of human rights abuses and so shouldn’t be given anonymity or some kind of free pass. There needs to be some kind of accountability,” she states.
Spied on for taking a stand
“The group I was in that’s led to me becoming a ‘core participant’ in the Inquiry is a group called Reclaim The Streets,” Carolyn explains as she starts to tell the story of her own involvement.
This was an environmental group, most active in the ‘90s and early 2000s, which started off by criticising car culture and then moved towards challenging wider environmental issues and capitalist systems. The group famously occupied the M41 motorway in London in 1996, for a street party.
As she talks about their activities, including opposing the oil industry, Carolyn says: “It’s obvious to me that’s the reason Reclaim The Streets would have been a target for the spy cops to infiltrate. Because we were very effective, we were taking direct action and we were influencing lots of people. We were changing how people thought about things.”
According to Carolyn, the groups infiltrated by undercover police were “pretty much every social movement that’s existed over the last 50 years that’s had any impact.” They include those protesting about environmental issues, animals rights abuses, employment concerns, and those standing up to racism. There were groups fighting human rights abuses, and people protesting about war and the weapons trade too.
“You don’t have to do very much to end up on a police file, and potentially be labelled a domestic extremist. There are lots of people who don’t even have criminal records and have never been arrested, but the police have got a file on them, because they’ve taken part in demonstrations,” Carolyn says.
When Mark Kennedy was unmasked, it was the first time Carolyn knew for sure that she had been in contact with a spy cop.
Carolyn knew Mark Kennedy, who went by his cover name of Mark Stone for about five years. He was part of a local activist group, and core to the logistics team organising transport. This meant he was right at the heart of operations, often getting much more information than other activists taking part. Carolyn says Mark had relationships with friends of hers during that time.
“It’s a massive betrayal,” she says. “At the time I thought, it’s not me who’s been most betrayed here, it’s the women who loved him, who thought he was their partner, who were going to live with him for the rest of their lives.”
Mark Kennedy was not the only undercover officer that Carolyn came into contact with, and more undercover police came and went, many having sexual relationships with the women they were spying on. Of the names which have been revealed, Carolyn says she has met at least six of the men.
When the women spoke to each other, Carolyn says, they realised there were similarities in the way the men disappeared from their lives. Many would claim to have been having a nervous breakdown, or say they had to leave the country to evade the British police, or to take up a new job. And then they would disappear without a trace, never to be seen again.
Carolyn explains that some friends of hers even feel they have had their years of fertility stolen, because they planned to have children with a man that turned out to be fictitious.
“For some of them, finding this out has put a lot of doubt in their minds about trusting anyone in any relationship ever again.”
All this adds up to what Carolyn describes as the police’s institutional sexism, affecting not only the women deceived by undercover policemen (and Carolyn says they usually were men), but also the wives that knew nothing of the true activities of their spy cop husbands.
While she claims that undercover spying is still happening, the last thing Carolyn wants is for people to be put off campaigning. Instead, she encourages anyone with suspicions about potential spies to look up the Undercover Research Group’s guide, Was My Friend A Spycop?, which gives information about investigating that concern and about emotional support should that turn out to be true.
There is also something to celebrate. In spite of 50 years of police infiltration, activists have stayed strong, and continued to take a stand. For this reason, COPS is organising a 50 Years of Resistance celebration on the weekend of 7th and 8th July 2018 in London, and all are welcome.
For the women (and potentially men) who have suffered these abuses, and who have been deceived into becoming props in undercover identities, this latest campaign will be a way to demand genuine accountability from the State.
The Spy Cops campaign will run from 1st to 18th June 2018 in Lush UK stores and online. Join in the conversation using #spycops. You can sign the petition here.