Friday, March 07, 2014

What I Meant To Say Was

I went on last night's Newsnight, on the day the Home Secretary announced a public inquiry into Britain's secret police. It was deeply moving - to the point of painful - to be sat by Neville Lawrence as a report showed pictures of the murderers and talked of how Stephen would be 40 today, then followed with footage of his now ex-wife welling up in parliament as she talked about their son.

After that we had the story of one of the women who had a long term life-partner relationship with a man who turned out to be an undercover police officer, Mark Jenner. As we watched it, waiting for the panel discussion to begin, presenter Kirsty Wark exclaimed when "Alison" said Jenner was married. I told her they all were - it was a matter of policy, as married parent officers had more to come back out for and were less likely to go native.

The other two on the panel were chair of the Metropolitan Police Black Association, Janet Hills, and ex-copper rentagob Peter Kirkham.

Earlier in the day Kirkham had tweeted that

most protests can't control themselves and rapidly descend into violence (or get taken over by violent thugs)

In my experience most protests are small and rapidly descend into boredom or get taken over by an urge to have a trip to the pub. But Kirkham underlines the point I made in the sliver of time I spoke - that protests of all kinds are treated as a dangerous threat to be contained by force. Dissent is, in and of itself, a problem.

The targets of secret police reflect the establishment's values, not any moral objectivity. When Stephen Lawrence was murdered it was still radical to be overtly anti-racist. Even five years ago at Climate Camp we were infiltrated by police as well as set upon by riot officers because we called for an end to the building of coal fired power stations, something that is now settled government policy.

A rich irony is the two kinds of police met at the first Climate Camp and undercover Mark Kennedy was given a proper kicking by uniformed officers that were - unknowingly - only there because of his tip-offs. Kennedy needed surgery afterwards. Still, only targeting the extremists, eh?

The stately, weary gravitas of Neville Lawrence was as crushingly sad as it was humbling. So imagine being weasel enough to tell him that his family were a legitimate target for police spying. Kirkham said it wasn't the Lawences themselves of course, but the shady people at the fringes who might have used their campaign.

Yet the main witness to the murder, Stephen's friend Duwayne Brooks, was prosecuted on trumped up charges that officers had spent hours trawling footage of him to try to get to court. He was so hounded and the charges so ridiculous that he won record compensation and - a much rarer event - an apology from the police. Police bugged a meeting with Brooks and his lawyer long after the MacPherson Inquiry.


I said that it isn't a rogue officer or rogue unit, in fact as the fracking protesters at Barton Moss can testify, the casual beating up, fitting up and harrassing of people who dare to voice dissent is the clear task of uniformed officers. It's not just the secret police, it's a policing culture that cannot distinguish between a threat to national security, a threat to corporate profit, a threat to government policy and a threat to police credibility. In their eyes Neville Lawrence is practically the same as Al Qaeda.

Victims of police wrongdoing are a threat so must be legally obstructed and pre-emptively smeared. Remember how Jean Charles de Menezes was suddenly a rape suspect? Remember the drunken ticketless Liverpool fans who forced the gates open at Hillsborough before robbing bodies and pissing on valiant cops? You know, the kind of valiant cops who suffered a hail of bottles as they tried to rescue heart attack victim Ian Tomlinson. A poll in January showed the majority of people in Britain think the police have a culture of cover-ups. This week's revelations aren't changing peoples' opinion of the police, they're confirming it.

The Newsnight report's factual errors were annoying too - saying that officers like Kennedy were in the Special Demonstration Squad when they were in a different unit, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, set up in 1999 by New Labour. They also said the Drax 29 case collapsed when a police officer lied in court, but in fact no officer was in court and all 29 were given convictions that were only quashed five years later.

More to the point was the implication this was a historical piece, whereas the secret police units have morphed and amalgamated and are still very much with us as the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit, and today's political secret policing is now run by Counter Terrorism Units who we've no reason to think aren't using the same methods to target the same kinds of groups.

I thought it'd be short so tried to slim what I wanted to say down. As Woodrow Wilson said,

If I am to speak for ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.

But all I got was a ten second point and an interjection on the copper.  So here's a blogpost brainpurge of all the stuff I was thinking. It repeats a little of what I've said in the last couple of days, but hey.


The Lawrence family were not the only black justice campaign targeted by the secret police. The partner of 'Alison', Mark Jenner, infiltrated several. They need the truth.

Justice is needed for the women like 'Alison' who suffered the most complete invasion of privacy that it is possible for the state to enact. Several of the officers had children with women they targeted. Had Bob Lambert not been exposed by activists his son would still be on a fruitless search for his dad Bob Robinson.

In Germany it's illegal for spies to have sexual relations with targets. What threats to national security do we have that they don't? What does our policy - something described by a policing minister as 'important' that officers be allowed to do in a statement still not withdrawn by the government - protect us from that Germans suffer? 

We need justice for the bereaved families who whose dead children's identity was stolen. The Home Affairs Select Committee has demanded that the families be told. The police are flatly refusing.

We need justice too for the thousands of blacklisted construction workers denied a living because they raised health and safety concerns or wanted to join a union.


You didn't even need to be a construction worker to be on it - one person was a teacher who was included because they had been involved with an anti-BNP demo. Around 200 environmentalists including me were on it. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has said it was a routine Special Branch task to illegally supply the blacklist with information. Officers from yet another secret police unit, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, met with the blacklisters.

Add to this the court cases like Drax and Ratcliffe where police and prosecutors withheld evidence that exonerated defendants and it's clear that this was not police officers upholding the law. It was police officers breaking the law to uphold something else - a policing vision that cannot differentiate between a threat to national security, a threat to government policy, a threat to corporate profit and a threat to police credibility.

So we need the inquiry to cover all secret police units, not just the SDS. The only reason we've got this far is because of events following from the exposure of Mark Kennedy. He worked for a different unit, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, doing identical work by identical methods. It's absurd to say the SDs warrant an inquiry but the other units don't. The people violated don't give a damn what acronym it was done under.


Beyond the police, we need to look at satellite bodies like the Independent Police Complaints Commission - largely staffed by ex-coppers and who see police as their main customers to please - and the Crown Prosecution Service. We've already had one judge's inquiry, Sir Christopher Rose's report into the collapsed trial that catapulted the Kennedy case into public view. Rose said the police and CPS prosecutors withheld evidence accidentally, not realising that the eyewitness testimony and recordings made by the only police officer present might be useful. Failings were 'individual, not systemic'. But tally it with the findings of the IPCC report into the same issue and there's a clear picture of police and CPS collusion.

Furthermore, in January another 29 convictions were quashed in a very similar case. The only things they had in common were the officer - Kennedy - and the overseer from the CPS, Nick Paul (who the Rose inquiry didn't even talk to). That means it wasn't a one-off. That means it was systemic.

That's 55 wrongful prosecutions and convictions from Kennedy alone, and that in turn is just the ones we know he was responsible for. If the other secret police officers did the same number, it's around 8,000 miscarriages of justice since the secret police began in 1968. Even if we are very conservative and say one per officer per year, it's about 600. In terms of sheer numbers, this would be the biggest nobbling of the judicial system in British history.

This is before we come to the officers who were prosecuted under their false identities, attending defendants' meetings with lawyers and lying in court. Again, this is not officers upholding the law, it's officers breaking the law to uphold something else.


We need to investigate the private spying companies, largely set up and staffed by ex police officers. At the time of the McLibel trial, every member of McDonald's security department was ex-police. The head said that his staff got information from friends still on the force. It was also revealed that there was a two-way illegal exchange between them, including police giving the personal details to McDonald's of people who ended up being named on the McLibel writs. Just as construction won't be the only industry iwth a blacklist, just the only one caught, we know for certain that Mcdonald's aren't the only company to act like this.

Mark Kennedy was caught because he came back to the same activists after he left the police and they found documents in his real name. He worked for a company called Global Open, set up by ex Special Branch officer Rod Leeming, who hired Kennedy even before his police contract ended. How close must contacts have been for that to happen? How many other officers have done that?

We also need to not limit it to historical units. What reason have we got to think any of it has stopped?


All of this is what, when the big questions are who and why. Who invented our counter democratic secret police? Why were they given free rein to conduct illegal activity? Why was such a long operation above the law? Its higher purpose should be named.

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