That May, as London was settling into spring, Lindsey wasn’t expecting anything quite like Carlo. It wasn’t love at first sight by any means, but it didn’t take long. And he loved her! Yet Carlo, her Carlo, was so far from being what he seemed.
There’s a hazy fog over some of her memories now, some of the details have frayed around the edges. Maybe her mind is protecting her from the worst of the pain. But as she sits in a room in London, telling me her story, she remembers every emotion she felt. She remembers what it was like to be with Carlo, and how his deception changed everything.
He came into her life quietly. That was him all over - modest, understated, gentle. It was a friend, Anna, that had first told her about him. Lindsey doesn’t remember exactly how Carlo first arrived on the scene, perhaps at a Socialist Party stand somewhere in Hackney. Wherever it was, he wanted to help Anna and her comrades in any way he could. Everyone instantly loved him. It wasn’t long before Anna and Carlo were firm friends.
“He’s single,” Anna had told Lindsey. In fact, Carlo had made no secret of being in the market for a new romance.
Lindsey, too, was single. She was fresh from a recent heartbreak, but those wounds were starting to heal. Perhaps it was time to trust someone new. Why not him?
They fell for each other fast, and the three or four nights a week they spent together at his sparsely furnished flat hardly seemed enough.
London life felt good. As she sat at the beer-sticky table of the local pub, Carlo close to her on one side, Anna on the other, her socialist friends picked over the stories of the day. Another round of drinks arrived, sloshing onto the table and soaking into beer mats, and Shaggy’s latest hit boomed from the pub hi-fi; his protests of “It wasn’t me” barely audible under the Friday night chatter and clinking of coins in the fruit machine. Liverpool, Lindsey’s hometown, felt so far behind her now. She’d been in London for five years, and it no longer felt new to her. She might have surrounded herself with Socialist Party friends, but her own days of campaigning were behind her. She had spent so much of her teenage years on the activism frontline, but other parts of life had steadily taken over. But it still felt good to be so close to the politics she believed in, and to know that people like her friend Anna were politically active.
And in Carlo, she had found a man that believed in the cause too; a man who looked at the world through the eyes of a socialist, albeit one that was new to political activity. It was touching really, his modesty. But he was always available, ready to drop anything to be with their friends at anti-racist demonstrations, and offering up his car to drive activists around.
Lindsey looks down at the photograph in her hand, an image now curled at the edges from Carlo’s touch. A little boy, barely 18-months-old. A life born of a fleeting relationship. He looked just like Carlo, and she could see the Italian heritage in his deep eyes, staring out at her.
“This is Paulo,” he had said, softly. (Name has been changed to protect identity.) His eyes were planted firmly on Lindsey’s, as his hands knotted together.
“What should I do?”
She took in the boy’s features. This innocent being who was lost to his father, and risked growing up without him. Carlo wanted Lindsey’s help, her guidance on whether he should seek out the boy he’d lost contact with. How could there be any doubt in her mind?
“This is your child. You have to see him,” she said, beyond all certainty. She couldn’t and wouldn’t be the one to stand in his way.
Carlo was still. Maybe he was regretting telling her. Maybe he was scared about what he needed to do. He didn’t want anyone else to know, he’d made that clear from when he first showed her the photograph. He took the picture back, smoothing it out and gently storing it away.
That this was Carlo’s son, that his name was Paulo, was probably the only true thing he ever told her. She doesn’t remember exactly how the conversation ended, but she knows Paulo’s name came up, again and again.
As Lindsey’s 31st birthday neared, Liverpool was calling. The world was reeling from the 9/11 attacks, and perhaps it felt even more important to be close to loved ones. She went out into the night for a drink with a few of her old friends.
As she stepped into the bar in Liverpool, with her old socialist comrades Laura and Will leading the way, every face turned her way. Maybe in a film people would have jumped out from underneath the tables and yelled, “Surprise!” But just seeing them all there, a bar full of people she knew, was enough. Her family, her oldest friends, activists she’d spent her teenage years campaigning alongside, had turned up to surprise her. And Carlo. Her wonderful Carlo was there too, all the way from London. Another round of drinks, another hug from a long lost friend, another “cheers” for her 31 years. And all the time, Carlo at her side.
He showered her with gifts. A camera, a set of drums they’d been talking about, and a stack of political books. Carlo the generous ...
By the time the summer leaves started to fall, Lindsey and Carlo were deeply in love. And when December came around, Carlo had another surprise that would make Lindsey believe, without any doubt, that he was completely devoted to her.
“Venice?!” Lindsey asked, staring at the tickets in disbelief.
“I’ve never met anyone like you,” Carlo said, his hands on hers. “I want to be with you.” She remembers him saying this over and over, that he told her all the time how much she meant to him.
It was the epitome of a wonderful romance. This man was taking her to the country where he had grown up, where some of his family still lived. Everything was paid for.
They arrived to a bitter chill, and a cold bright light bouncing off a floating city that was almost deserted. It seemed that everything was just for them. Wrapped up in thick jumpers and gloves, arms around each other, they shivered through the December air towards their home for the weekend - a room in the centre of the city.
They walked hand-in-hand along the still canals, Murano glass glinting at them through shop windows. Lindsey took out her camera - the one Carlo had given her for her birthday - and took a photo of Carlo with his back to the architecture of the city. Thick jumper and jeans, sunglasses perched on top of his head. The cold was too deep to stay out for long, and every couple of hours they returned to their room to keep each other warm. It was a holiday of passion, Lindsey remembers.
Looking back at the photographs, her memory skips over each moment, snapshots of what she thought at the time was a supremely happy holiday. She remembers drinking Italian coffee in little street cafés, and Carlo telling her how much he wanted to be with her. She also remembers something that seemed strange at the time - his resistance to speak Italian, the language which was supposedly his mother tongue. It all makes perfect sense now.
Another spring arrived, but as the memories of Venice started to fade into the past, their relationship started to falter. Carlo became withdrawn, and the time they spent together became increasingly rare. For days at a time, he was completely silent.
Just weeks ago, they’d been practically living in each other’s pockets, with Carlo telling Lindsey he’d never known another woman like her. How could this happen so suddenly?
“This is just for now,” he started telling her, over and over again. Lindsey was still deeply in love with Carlo, but her world with him was very slowly falling apart.
Then, Carlo vanished. They were supposed to be meeting up. Lindsey called, texted, called again. Desperate to find out what was going on, she was terrified the relationship was suddenly over but she was determined not to be ignored; she needed to know what was happening.
One evening, without really planning it, she found herself standing in front of Carlo’s flat. On the journey there, her imagination had run riot with the fantasy of falling back into his arms, forgiving everything. Those dreams melted away, as she stood on the street looking at empty, dark windows. His car was gone.
He’s really ending things, she thought, clutching the cold metal of his house key in her pocket. This was his way of saying it was over.
She doesn’t remember leaving, but she wrote in her diary that she cried on the night bus, all the way home. She was crushed, consumed with guilt. Had she driven him away?
It took six months before she could bring herself to tell Carlo how she really felt. The pen shaking in her hand, even after all that time, she poured her emotions into a letter.
I still love you a great deal and I probably will always feel something for you. You said you'd never met anyone like me...
If you had had the bottle to say it was definitely over from your point of view then I'd have moved on. I couldn't understand why you could fall out of love so easily. I can't do that.
A month later, and she finally knew for sure Carlo had moved on. Sitting in the corner at a party, there he was with another woman. Their eyes locked on each other. It was over. And for Lindsey, that felt like a knife in the stomach.
The years passed, and life took Lindsey back to Liverpool. Carlo had been out of her life for 13 years, and he was now nothing but a memory - the end of their relationship still an unsolved mystery.
Anna had come to visit. It was almost like old times. The difference was that now Lindsey shared her home with a new love - her son. Lindsey had moved on from Carlo, had other relationships, and a child with someone else.
Anna reached over to top up Lindsey’s wine, and as she set the bottle back down again, took a deep breath.
“Look, there’s something I need to talk to you about, and it might come as a shock,” Anna said. “A couple of people are investigating Carlo’s identity.”
For a brief second, time stood still. Had Carlo, the man she’d loved and trusted, lied about who he was? Then that second passed.
“That’s ridiculous,” Lindsey said, forcing a laugh, shrugging off the idea.
They both knew it was impossible. How could Carlo have been anyone but who he had claimed to be? He was so genuine, so real. What would he need to lie about? But Anna had made this trip to Liverpool to visit Lindsey for a reason, and that was to be the messenger. Enough of her activist friends had suspicions for it to be worth investigating. They thought Carlo was an undercover police spy.
A month passed before she heard Carlo’s name again. When Anna phoned, she could hear the chill in her voice straight away. Lindsey’s chest squeezed across her heart, and she could barely hear Anna’s words against the thudding in her ears.
“I’m coming to visit you,” Anna said.
It was all a lie, a manufactured story. Carlo was not really Carlo. All the time he’d been with Lindsey, all the time he’d been with the woman after her, he was working as an undercover policeman. There was no love there, everything was a sham. All he had wanted was information.
Why Lindsey, why her? Why did he take her to Venice, why did he tell her how much he wanted to be with her? It can’t have all been a lie, she told herself. He must have felt something. When he’d kissed her, she had felt love. It took a long time to shake this belief.
Lindsey looked at the information in front of her. A child’s birth certificate - Paulo - but this time with his real surname, and the evidence needed to know Carlo’s real surname.
So that one thing was true - he really did have a son. But he was not long lost, far from it. Paulo, all this time, had been safe at home - the home where Carlo and his wife lived. His wife. All that time, he’d been going home to a family, who knew nothing about Lindsey. He was not a socialist, he had not grown up in Italy.
There was nothing that could have prepared her for this.
Lindsey jerked awake, her exhausted mind not letting her sleep for more than a few moments at a time. Every phone call she’d made to Carlo, every text she’d sent, every tiny piece of information she’d ever shared with him, had been seen by a back office of people, pouring over the private details of her life. She could feel all those eyes on her, like she was stripped naked. And as her eyes grew heavy again, and she started to drift off into sleep, another distant memory of Carlo flashed through her head, along with a sickening surge of panic.
Such a stupid, bloody idiot, she thought, furious at herself for being such a fool.
The next morning, exhausted from a restless night, she forced her hands to stop trembling, pulled herself out of bed, and tricked herself into acting out a normal routine. She had a five-year-old son to take care of. How could she ever explain any of this to him? Anxiety hit her when she least expected it. If she didn’t know she was being watched back then, how would she know if it was happening now? In a new digital world, the threat of surveillance felt ever closer. In Liverpool, she was so far from anyone else and the circles that Carlo had infiltrated. She would have to deal with this alone, and she didn’t feel in control.
The anger that she felt at herself started to lessen its grip - and turned, not towards Carlo, but to whoever had ordered this to happen. Deep inside her, was a burning need for justice. She had to know why this had happened, what information about her was stored in some file somewhere? And she had to know who had sanctioned this. Who had told Carlo he could come into her home, and into her bed, as part of his cover? Who was at the top of the tree? She would not let this lie.
The anger is still there, and it is fuelling her. Lindsey is once again immersed in the world of political activism, and says she has not let Carlo and that awful experience break her spirit.
Where once she felt so alone, now she is surrounded by other people who understand, because they have had a ‘Carlo’ of their own. Lindsey began attending meetings about the Undercover Policing Inquiry, and now she is a core participant, alongside countless other people who are fighting for the cover names of officers to be released, to find out which groups were spied on, and to get back their personal files. She is fighting for the truth.
Today Lindsey has told her story. She has picked through her memories, looked at photographs and re-read letters. She is determined that she will get answers, and that one day she will be in a position to tell the full story to her son. About how his mother’s life was infiltrated by an undercover police spy, and how, eventually, she took control of getting what she needs most: the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
All the names in this story have been changed to protect identities, except for Carlo. Carlo Neri has been confirmed by the Inquiry as a cover name and it has been confirmed he spied on groups including The Socialist Party and No Platform/Antifa between 2000-2006. While his surname was a covername, ‘Carlo’ is his real first name.