How would you feel if you found out the person you had been in a long-term relationship with had been acting out a fictional persona, using the name of a dead child, under the direction of the state and subsidised by the tax payer?
That is what male undercover cops have done to unknown numbers of women according to this important Guardian investigation. Since the late 60s, “sleeping with the target” has been a central tactic of the police in their surveillance of political groups.
Nick Herbert, Tory minister for police and criminal justice, thinks the tactic is justified. A specific ban on undercover officers having sexual relationships would he said, provide “a ready-made test for the targeted criminal group to find out whether an undercover officer was deployed among them”.
Chief Constable Mick Creedon, who is leading an inquiry into undercover policing, has said that it is a bit like men lying about whether they are married: “It happens.”
Not so, says Alison (not her real name), who is one of 11 women suing the police for planting an undercover cop in her life: “The betrayal and humiliation is beyond any normal experience... This is not about just a lying boyfriend or a boyfriend who has cheated on you.”
At least with normal lying bastards you can be sure there was some affection involved. None of these women can be sure. Having become aware of the state-sponsored deception, they half-believe the emotional commitment was also pretence; understandably the apologies and emotional outpourings of the scumbags who deceived are unconvincing.
This was, in fact, state-sponsored abuse.
But it was not the only dirty tactic that undercover police operations resorted to over the years.
Under the Special Demonstration Unit and (from 1999) the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, cops have infiltrated the anti-apartheid movement, animal rights groups, the left, anti-racist and anti-fascist groups, Greenham Common, anti-capitalist and environmental campaigns.
In those groups they have sniffed round trying to find dirt (including as has been widely reported on the Stephen Lawrence family campaign), point the finger at “innocent” activists (as suspect police), egg on groups and individuals to break the law, broken into premises, and done lots of other illegal stuff themselves (which has been retrospectively authorised by their handlers).
Knowledge about these operations came to light after the partner of undercover cop Mark Kennedy — who had led activists into a police trap during a protest at Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station — found his real passport. Further knowledge has been provided by ex-undercover cop and whistle blower known as Pete Black. With these starting points Lewis and Evans have done a great job at putting together the evidence.
So how to spot a political policeman/woman? They will arrive on the scene unannounced. They will have money. They will make themselves useful fetching and carrying. They may volunteer to be a treasurer. They will form a long-term relationship, the better to appear solid and authentic and real. After a few years they will fake a breakdown or family bereavement and go to live on the other side of the world. You will feel sorry for them when you receive a postcard from Canada, South Africa or wherever. Don’t be fooled!
The government will resist calls for a public enquiry on the undercover police. Cameron’s response to the evidence in this book and in particular the embarrassing revelation that the Lawrence family were spied on, is to say the police-led enquiry should be expanded (anything to ensure that the police will always police the police).
But the left has more fundamental demands here. In the first place we want the disbanding of the political police — undercover units, Special Branch, anti-terrorist units — all of it. In that context we want to talk about who the police are, what they do and whose interests they serve.
• A 2011 account of acquaintance with the undercover cop Mark Cassidy who infiltrated anti-fascist activist circles in Hackney in the late 1990s