Monday, September 22, 2014

Why Use Dead Children?

The British police officer who used Rod Richardson's identity at a riot at the G8 summit in Genoa, July 2001

Beyond whether it's distasteful or dangerous for police to steal the identity of dead children, there is another question. Why would they do it?

Police self-investigation Operation Herne looked at political secret police unit the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) and reported that

As outlined in the SDS Trade Craft Manual, the practice of using a genuine deceased identity was developed to create a plausible covert identity that was capable of frustrating enquiries by activists

It later reiterates

the subject chosen had to have an 'existence' to show up in case of basic research by suspicious activists

How many times have you looked up a friend's birth certificate because you thought they were actually someone else? It is the rare act of someone with a deep distrust. A real birth certificate woulldn't allay the reasons for that suspicion. More than that, if an activist is suspicious enough to look for a birth certificate, they can find a death certificate too.

There are many reasons why someone might not have a British birth certificate. They may have been born abroad, they may have been adopted. There is, however, no reason for someone who comes round to your house to have a death certificate.

Far from making a plausible, robust cover story, using dead children's identity leaves absolute proof that it's fake waiting to be discovered in documents that are just as easily found as the birth certificate.

In the furore after the tactic was revealed, Met police chief Bernard Hogan-Howe said

At the time this method of creating identities was in use, officers felt this was the safest option.

Yet Herne quotes the SDS Trade Craft Manual describing the practice as 'unsafe'. Conversely, what was unsafe about inventing a fictitious name? By 2014, it seems most officers doing this work have used made-up names yet have not been rumbled.

SDS officers started doing the 'Jackal Run' - stealing a dead child's identity as popularised in the Day of the Jackal - around 1971, the year the book was published. In 1973 it was made into a hit movie, complete with assassin 'the Jackal' walking down the Strand going to get a dead person's certificate, just as these officers did. It put the concept into the public mind. If it ever had been a good idea for covert identity, it was now too well known.

Having found Rod Richardson's birth certificate, the next thing I did was search for and find his death certificate and I immediately knew my friend had in fact been a fraud. After Helen Steel found her partner John Barker's birth certificate, she found his death certificate. It confirmed to us that these men were police spies.

Yet the SDS did it for decades. In their book Undercover: The True Story of Britain's Secret Police, Rob Evans and Paul Lewis describe whistleblower officer Peter Francis' choice of identity. Taking a child whose father had been a Royal Marine serving abroad, Lewis and Evans describe how

the birth certificate was therefore kept in a more obscure overseas registry and would have been almost impossible to find. [Francis said,] 'I made it so hard - I could only just about find it myself afterwards'.

Choosing a child who had died overseas was the kind of ruse SDS officers liked to use. Undercover officers never wanted the birth certificates of the dead children to be too easily located.

Yet we've been repeatedly told that the whole point of using a real identity was precisely because it could be easily located. A real certificate in an unfindable registry would be the same as having no certificate at all.

Less than half a page later Francis explains that by the time someone begins looking for the officer's certificate their cover is irreparably damaged, irrespective of whether they find a certificate or not.

If someone has checked you out that much, you need to go anyway, your time is up.

This flat contradiction is acknowledged by Operation Herne, telling us that

the SDS practice of using deceased children's to construct their covert identities was phased out starting in November 1994... This was not only good for ethical reasons, but it also reduced the risk of compromise, particularly where an officer might be confronted with 'their' own death certificate

We may confidently disregard 'ethical reasons' as a motivation for the SDS. So why did they move away from it?

Herne quotes an officer - probably Roger Pearce - who was an SDS undercover officer from 1978-80 and then Head of Special Branch from 2000-04.

This was long term political infiltration which was seen as justified. It was for Queen and country and peace and democracy. It was the way it was done. A registered birth was the strongest foundation; other methods were not available at the time.

We've already established it's really not a strong foundation for identity. But that last bit is interesting - there were no other methods of creating a fake identity.

Herne asserts that

A genuine identity of a deceased person was needed, as there was no viable means of inserting a fictitious entry into the records of births.

This suggests that, since they've given up the practice, such fake entries can now be made. However, it's interesting to note that Mark Kennedy didn't have one when we looked, some nine months after he left the police.

But back to the initial reason for stealing identity, Herne says the Trade Craft Manual talks of a birth certificate 'giving access to a range of necessary documentation in support of the covert identity'.

It continues

Before the transition to computer based records, although a birth certificate was never intended to be an identification document they were regularly used to apply for other documents, such as driving licenses or passports.

In the absence of any other documentary proof, birth certificates were used as effective identification. Indeed before modern developments they might be the only proxy identity document that most members of the public would possess

In other words, it looks like they were used by police to fraudulently apply for bank accounts, passports and the like. If so, that's a few more crimes to add to their list.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Spycops Using Dead Children

Barbara Shaw with the death certificate of her son Rod Richardson

One aspect of the undercover policing scandal that has waned from public attention is the use of the identities of dead children by undercover officers. It wants looking at because the police's stated reasons for doing it don't bear scrutiny and in fact contradict one another. I'll explain more about that in tomorrow's post, but for now let's go over what happened.

In the earlier days of the political secret police unit the Special Demonstration Squad - from the late 1960s to the 1990s - officers would go on 'the Jackal Run'. Named after a technique made famous in Frederick Forsyth's 1971 novel The Day of the Jackal, they'd trawl the registers of deaths looking for someone who had a similar birth date who had died young.

They also needed the child to have the same first name in order to preserve their cover, as there's an instinctive way you respond when called out to by name. They'd look for a surname that wasn't unusual but wasn't too common either, such as Robinson, Daley or Barker.

Offiicers didn't just use the name, they resurrected the identity. They would visit the town and home of the child to familiarise themselves and so help build a backstory full of genuine details. It gave their stories an authenticity that would be crucial if they ever happened to meet someone from their supposed home town.


This isn't merely distasteful and ghoulish. As Anthony Barker - whose brother John Barker died aged 8 of leukaemia aged 8 before his identity was stolen by police officer John Dines - pointed out, it puts bereaved families at risk. After Dines ended his deployment and disappeared, his worried and bereft activist partner Helen Steel traced John Barker and went to the house listed on the birth certificate.

Now, imagine that policeman had infiltrated a violent gang or made friends with a volatile person, then disappeared, just like this man did. Someone wanting revenge would have tracked us down to our front door – but they wouldn't have wanted a cup of tea and a chat, like this woman says she did.

One of my former activist mates was Rod Richardson. After we exposed Mark Kennedy, we realised Rod fitted the same mould. I went looking and found his birth certificate. Unlike Kennedy, it was in his real name. For a second I had a flash of guilt that he was real, that we'd suspected a genuine comrade of betraying us. Then I looked him up in the death register. Rod Richardson had died aged two days.

Our friend was actually a police officer. The night we'd celebrated his birthday with tequila and sledging over black ice on a tea tray to the karaoke in the pub wasn't his birthday at all. It will have been a very sombre night indeed for the real Richardsons.


The police know this identity theft is morally indefensible. A few days after we published details of Rod, Pat Gallan - Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Met and, at that point, head of the police's profligate arse-covering self-investigation Operation Herne - gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Gallan said that they had found a solitary case of dead child ID theft but the combined efforts of Herne's 31 staff had failed to find any more in the subsequent five months until we came forward with the evidence of Rod.

Gobsmacking incompetence or reluctance to admit the embarrassing truth? You decide. Either way, she was removed from Operation Herne four days later.


Showing what Operation Herne can actually do with that sort of time period, five months after Gallan's brassnecked performance, in July last year, Herne published a report on the topic of dead children's identity theft [PDF here].

Of the 106 fake identities used by SDS officers, it had found that 42 were of dead children, 45 were fictitious and 19 were unknown. It said that identities were stolen from the early 1970s and used for more or less every officer until November 1994, with instructions given in detail in the SDS Trade Craft Manual.

It is absolutely clear that the use of identities of deceased children was an established practice that new officers were ‘taught’. It was what was expected of them, and was the means by which they could establish a cover identity before they were deployed.

So much for Pat Gallan's one isolated case, then.

The SDS apparently phased it out in the mid 1990s. But it seems that when the new National Public Order Intelligence Unit was set up to do similar work in 1999, they initially used this anachronistic tactic. As he was deployed the same year the NPOIU was set up, the officer who stole Rod Richardson's identity must have been one the first NPOIU officers, if not the very first.


The real Rod Richardson's mother, Barbara Shaw, made a complaint to the police. It was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission in February 2013 and they handed it back to the police but said it would be a 'supervised investigation'. It was then downgraded to a straightforward police self-investigation known as Operation Riverwood.

When it was completed the police announced that no action would be taken against any officer. They are still refusing to publish the investigation's report.

Barbara Shaw's lawyer Jules Carey said

The families of the dead children whose identities have been stolen by the undercover officers deserve better than this. They deserve an explanation, a personal apology and, if appropriate, a warning of the potential risk they face, in the exceptional circumstances, that their dead child's identity was used to infiltrate serious criminal organisations.

The harvesting of dead children's identities was only one manifestation of the rot at the heart of these undercover units which had officers lie on oath, conduct smear campaigns and use sexual relationships as an evidence-gathering tool. Ms Shaw has told me that she feels her complaint has been swept under the carpet.

In March 2013 the Home Affairs Select Committee declared

Families need to hear the truth and they must receive an apology. Once families have been identified they should be notified immediately. We would expect the investigation to be concluded by the end of 2013 at the latest.

The police have ignored it.

A number of bereaved families contacted police to ask if their child's identity had been used. Police refused to answer. A Freedom of Information request was made asking for the ages of the dead children, not even the exact dates or their sexes. At least with that barest detail, many worried families would be able to rule out their children if there wasn't a match. The police refused to do even that.

Last month the Information Commissioners Office declared that the police must release the list of ages. It is not yet known if the police will appeal that decision. But, as they've shown in the legal battle with the women who were subjected to prolonged psychological and sexual abuse by the secret police units, they will take any opportunity to withhold information, avoid accountability and deny justice.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Independence Day

With any argument against Scottish independence, the simple test is to apply it to Ireland. 

Did Irish independence betray the internationalist ideal? Did Ireland manage OK with shared currency? Would it be better for Ireland if they'd stayed in the UK? Did we 'turn neighbours into foreigners'? Even UKIP don't mind Irish immigrants, calling them 'our kith and kin' earlier this year.

So it's a rich irony having an Irish UK resident like Bob Geldof calling for a No vote. In fact it's weird that Obama is too, unless both go back to their home countries and advocate rejoining Britain.

A Yes vote won't create a new border. That border is already there for many issues. It will increase its strength, but that isn't exclusionary. A country where, backed by a significant proportion of the population, the leader openly calls for greater immigration is not a place with those issues. Compare that with the main UK parties.

If we want to consider xenophobia and exclusion, imagine this: the Tories lose the next election, Cameron's out and they install a Eurosceptic. A deal is struck not to compete with UKIP. This coalition wins in 2020. Even without this nightmare scenario, if the tories win we're promised an in-out referendum on the EU. It's quite possible that in five or ten years the UK could be out of the EU whilst an independent Scotland is in.

The Labour Party talking about how Scottish independence is a bad thing because it puts up borders between people. That's the same Labour Party whose 2010 manifesto had a 'Crime & Immigration' section, like the two things belong together. The same Labour Party who sent a Home Secretary to help out nicking stowaway immigrants at Dover to show how tough they are on foreigners.

Gordon Brown says voting No is the only way to save the NHS. This is the same Gordon Brown, chancellor who presided over the marketisation of the NHS and the introduction of Private Finance Initiative where we pay private companies several times the cost of a school or hospital before we're allowed to pay any staff. PFI is credit spree timebomb, getting new buildings today by promising tomorrow's budgets.

The Labour Party, who only survive by saying "vote for us to keep the Tories out", are telling people in Scotland to vote against permanently keeping the Tories out.

A Yes vote is a vote for Scottish nationalism, but a No vote is for British nationalism. I know which one I'm more uncomfortable with. As Billy Bragg said on Tuesday

the most frustrating aspect of the debate on Scottish independence has been the failure of the English left to recognise that there is more than one type of nationalism. People who can explain in minute detail the many forms of socialism on offer at any demo or conference seem incapable of differentiating when it comes to nationalists

It's not just that both votes are nationalists, but of different kinds. It's that one of them is imperialist. Not only do most No arguments apply to Ireland, a large proportion apply to any country going independent from the British Empire. It's no surprise that a country that's consistently voted against Tories yet been ruled by them most of my lifetime feels like it's under imperial rule.

Imagine if you could have one vote on one day and banish Tory rule forever (and no, it won't mean the rUK gets permanent Tories). Anyone with compassion could only give one possible answer.