Sunday, December 28, 2014

Book Review: One Blood by Chris Penhaligon

This is one of those books that once you put it down it’s hard to pick up again.

Going under the name Chris Penhaligon, the author tells of being a uniformed copper in the 1980s and 90s who then became a private detective/paid informer.

It reads like a first draft of something by someone who’s never really written before, which is exactly what it is. It’s published by Author House, Random House’s print on demand imprint. That is to say, you send them a PDF and pay them a bit of money, they knock up a cover, give it an ISBN and put it on Amazon.

Even the interesting stories are missing hooks and told arse about face. Pretty much everything that could make a piece of writing grasp your imagination is absent, and the actual point of the book is largely missing. If you don’t know why the main character is doing anything, you cannot have any connection or sympathy.

At least it’s fairly short. I’ve done the heavy lifting for you and got to the end. I hope to save others from a similar fate.


The book was published in July 2010, four months before Mark Kennedy was outed, and indeed in the week after Kennedy’s story detonated in the press in January 2011 Penhaligon wrote a piece for the Guardian.

What is interesting– presuming Penhaligon is telling the truth – is that the Met's Special Branch pay long-term private infiltrators to go into political groups autonomously with no oversight. 

He writes of being in some politically iconic circumstances. He says that as a squaddie he was so close to a 1977 Belfast car bomb that he never fully recovered his hearing. He then guarded Hitler’s deputy fuhrer Rudolf Hess in Spandau prison. In the police he was posted at the notorious Stoke Newington police station at the height of its controversy for racism, brutality and corruption. 

As a VIP protection officer he guarded General Pinochet. He worked alongside President Mubarak’s secret police. As a private security contractor he worked for Greenpeace protecting them from Amazon loggers’ death squads, then as an informer paid by Special Branch he spied on Greenpeace. 

He may be puffing himself up a bit. Certainly his claim of the car bomb being the first such remote controlled device in Northern Ireland is contradicted by documented cases as early as 1972.


Beyond the precise truth, there’s a bigger question. How does he feel about those events, what do they mean to him and other people?

We have no idea because it seems that he has no idea either. There is a dearth of self-analysis or even self-awareness, no clue as to his motivation and you’re left with the distinct impression that there simply is no underlying philosophy. The space where most of us put morality and ethics is occupied by a subconscious evaluation of who’s got the most money and power, coupled to automatic presumption that those people are right and good. 

He makes comments such as ‘I felt it was time for a change,’ or ‘he was one of the best detective sergeants on the squad,’ without any indication why. There is no questioning of authority’s power or motivations, only of its reliability and efficiency in exercising that power.

Like many children of police and military families, he has disdain for politics yet strong allegiance to an ill defined idea of queen and country. Obedience is felt to be a virtue, even though it’s obeying the top brass they complain about and say they have little respect for. State authorisation – the enactment of the politics they dismiss – makes it all feel justified, so they can then get on with the personal satisfaction of excitement. It also helps alienated people such as army kids feel wanted and useful. Personal alienation is key to the effectiveness of the undercover officer.

There is simply no questioning of the morality of his work. His aim is just to climb a ladder that he imagines exists, to be working for the most powerful people possible. So when Greenpeace offer a job, he takes it. But Special Branch are more powerful than Greenpeace so he switches sides – working as a double agent and presumably paid by both sides – with no compunction.

He cringingly prefaces the book with a poem in block capitals telling us


But who is this deadly foe that he protects people from? Amazonian loggers? Greenpeace opposing the Amazonian loggers? His double paycheques say it’s both. The only conclusion is; the foe is whoever the most powerful person prepared to pay you says it is.

When MI5 approach him to sort of get close to some Russian people with the implication of some sort of dodgy connections – though we’re never told what – well, that trumps Special Branch. He has no moral judgement at all beyond the instinct that the British state and its agents are always politically right.

This may be because, like Kennedy and other undercover officers such as Liam Thomas, Penhaligon has never known a life outside those institutions. Like Kennedy, his dad was a police officer, like Thomas he had a military career before joining the police. Like the police officers who, as a matter of policy, all had spouses and families (bosses felt this reduced the risk of them ‘going native’), Penhaligon says has a family that he is absent from much of the time. 

These men were of a generation who saw The Sweeney on telly when they were too young to realise Jack Regan is an anti-hero, not a role model.

Signing up to protect Greenpeace and then spend years betraying them doesn’t bother him in the least. Again this is reminiscent of Kennedy, hiring Max Clifford to sell his story to the Mail on Sunday, complete with the first public naming of his traumatised son, stabbing any back within reach if there’s money in it.


Born in early 1958, he grew up in Lambeth. Joining the army at 16, he served with 2 Para in Northern Ireland. In mid 1979 he left the army to join Thames Valley Police. Soon after, he signed up for the Territorial Army and swiftly felt greater commitment to the latter.

In the mid 1980s he left the police to be a ‘security consultant’  and approached

a South London based PI company run by a load of typical ex Flying Squad wide boys…  looking for an undercover operative to into a scenario long term.  

They were investigating thefts from a food company and Penhaligon got a job to see if he could find out which workers were responsible, supervised by the Regional Crime Squad. The crossover of an ex-police private company working in conjunction with the police is noteworthy.

Penhaligon steals some donuts and fish fingers and gets arrested as part of his pre-authorised further theft. He is released without charge to be met and congratulated by the manager of the private firm alongside at least one Regional Crime Squad officer. 

This mix of public and private investigation – ex-cops deploying other ex-cops in conjunction with actual cops who grant immunity from prosecution to the private spies – shows how well used the revolving door between police and private spies is. It’s a crossover dealt with in forensic detail in Eveline Lubbers’ compelling and essential book Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark.


Penhaligon rejoined the police in 1990, attending the Metropolitan Police’s Hendon training college. Eight months after qualifying he went to the notoriously brutal Tactical Support Group (TSG). He talks of their ‘old-style’ approach saying, ‘there were limits, if only morally’. Not so much legally, then. He served in the TSG riot squad for the Notting Hill Carnival in August 1994.

On 10 October 1992 he arrived at the TSG’s headquarters, Paddington Green Police Station, which also housed high-security units for terrorist suspects. He was caught in the blast from an IRA bomb in a phone box outside the station.

After a brief secondment to Essex police, he returned to the Met to what he refers to as the ‘infamous Stoke Newington’ station. The base for police renowned for profound corruption and racism, in January 1983 Colin Roach had been shot dead in the entrance. Despite the inquest jury following the coroner’s direction to record a verdict of suicide, Roach had not entered the station with a gun and the crime scene was comprehensively inconsistent with suicide. 

The long litany of wrongdoing at Stoke Newington - drug trafficking, perjury, racketeering, brutality and racism - is not mentioned by Penhaligon beyond that initial use of ‘infamous,’ then a later complaint that ‘good hardworking officers’ got confronted with ‘offhanded attitudes and allegations of being a bent copper from Stoke Newington, the place where people were murdered and abused and fitted up’.

I suppose that’s one of the unpleasant side effects of being part of a team from a place where people are murdered and abused and fitted up.

Around 1994 he tried to join the Met’s covert operations group SO10 – the one that would later be responsible for the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes - but was refused as he was felt to be too old at 36. 

He sought to capitalise on the intertwined worlds of police and private spying, saying,

I had accumulated a seriously strong core skill-base with a high amount of courses under my belt that were not obtainable outside of government circles. If I could transfer those skills outside of the police, I would.

But before he could do that, he had a successful application to join SO16, the diplomatic protection group. He says he became interested in General Pinochet’s house arrest at Wentworth so managed to get deployed there. We have no clue why he was interested, nor do we get any information about Pinochet apart from him being tall and well built, and that the alleged ill health that was used to fight his extradition may or may not have been true.

In October 2000 he left the police. In 2002 he’s chief instructor at a military base near Nasr in Egypt. It was run by the brother of a senior officer in President Mubarak’s secret police. He says he became good friends with this man and spent time at their base learning about ‘counter terrorism’. Again, no further detail or analysis.


An ‘ex-SBS officer’ working for a private security firm recruits Penhaligon. It's not clear what he means as, in classic copper style, he loves using acronyms without explanation. The SBS is the Special Boat Service, like the SAS Special Air Service but they didn't get the Iranian Embassy gig so didn't get the publicity. However it seems more likely that it's a typo for either SB - Special Branch - or perhaps the SDS, the Met’s secret Special Demonstration Squad of political infiltrators.

Whatever, Penhaligon says he was hired to provide specialist driving training. Such firms certainly exist, such as Global Open, set up by Rod Leeming, the Special Branch officer who ran the Animal Rights National Index, and who inked a contract with Mark Kennedy before he'd even finished with the police.

His first client was a Greenpeace official – for some reason, he is amazed that it was a woman of slight build. They were working in Manaus against Amazonian deforestation and had received death threats from the loggers. Before he goes, Special Branch officers hire him to spy on Greenpeace. 

For most of us, this would provide a stark moral dilemma; one role works to support Greenpeace, the other to undermine them. Penhaligon has no qualms of any kind, appears to be unaware that there could even be a conflict.

On return to the UK, Greenpeace recruited him to their Actions Unit. As anti-fascist direct action group Antifa found with Mark Kennedy, having a small, centralised group of activists means that it only takes one mole to get a clear overview of what is going on.

Special Branch are pleased with this new role and, at last, we have a passing mention of the conflict. It was ‘weird’ to be training people to do what he was doing against them. And that’s it. The fact that Greenpeace ‘caused many headaches with their antics within government circles’ is all we need to know that stifling them is vital work.

He reports on a brainstorm-meeting idea to

identify and embarrass players from Chelsea football club, some of whom were known to use Range Rovers, and obviously carbon emissions were on GP’s agenda and so became a target. From a legal point of view I had an obligation and a duty of care to protect life, and so SB were informed of the attentions of GP against Chelsea.

Quite how embarrassing a Range Rover driver is a threat to life isn’t clear. As with the secret police themselves, Penhaligon seems unable to distinguish between a threat to life and a threat to the reputation of the powerful. Regarding a non-plan to do something harmless as life-threatening is bizarre.

Perhaps it’s relevant that, of the 14 Special Branch political undercover officers exposed, we know the football allegiance of four, three of whom – Mark Kennedy, Jim Boyling and Bob Lambert  – are Chelsea fans.

Then in November 2005 comes his part in what his grandiose back cover blurb calls ‘an attack on Downing Street’. He drives a truck of coal that is to be tipped at the end of the road. Interestingly for a private operator, he says Special Branch gave him a signed document giving him immunity from prosecution as long as he doesn’t act as agent provocateur.

On a subsequent action he is annoyed at the limited immunity he’s offered and says he felt it was

a system of “use and burn” – in simple terms, they want you on the job for everything they can get, yet would leave you open to anything, and they wouldn’t give a toss if you got nicked or your business was ruined.

Ah, the glamorous life of the copper’s nark.

Soon after he had a falling out with a senior Greenpeace official and bitterly says Greenpeace UK have never employed him since. Yet he claims that within weeks he was hired by Greenpeace International to go to Turkey to train Greenpeacers from around the world.

Rather like the way that post-police Mark Kennedy stayed with the activists he knew as a private spy and ran a training session on dealing with infiltration at the 2010 Earth First summer gathering, Penhaligon teaches ‘research, intelligence and investigation’. He describes his hacking of Greenpeace computers providing material not only for UK police but Interpol and foreign police forces too.

The camp was infiltrated by journalists who he spots and exposes.

Here I was working for SB against Greenpeace, and then working for Greenpeace against the international press, what a situation – it was win-win all the way for me, I couldn’t lose!

I can’t help but wonder what he’s winning apart from money. Certainly, he’s not winning friends, integrity or any advances in coherent philosophy.

And here, having unmasked the journalist, 89 pages in, we have a mention of self-doubt, albeit instantly dismissed with an attempt at humour.

I resorted back to my original task of getting intelligence for SB, and not GP. People have asked me if I have identity crises, to which I simply reply, “only at weekends, when my name’s Veronica”.

Savour it, people. It’s not only the extent of his wit but also as deep as he goes for political analysis or personal beliefs in the career he’s devoted his life to. 


After 130 pages he justifies the deceit, saying,

all these roles are only what a terrorist has done before and may do in future, so what government agencies do in response is not out of perspective at all.

As if ‘they do it too’ justifies anything. As if we’re supposed to believe his main focus, Greenpeace, put deep cover spies into BP or national governments. As if Greenpeace and their ilk qualify as terrorist.

He talks of Greenpeace parties where

the use of cannabis was rife, leaving the air thick and acrid with the possibility of absorbing the drug through passive means. This was a dangerous factor to me as an operative and left me vulnerable, so I faked being asleep in the corner.

This comes half a page after describing drinking ‘cases of beer’ at the same events that presumably left him sober and of sound judgement. Like many of the undercover police officers - Kennedy, Lynn Watson, Rod Richardson – here’s someone who eschews illegal drugs but is a big drinker. He later says ‘I personally have a zero tolerance [sic] of drug abuse in any form,’ without irony.

In June 2005 Penhaligon accepts an offer of personal protection work for a wealthy American attorney in Russia and Ukraine. The client was ‘clearly a man of great wealth who had earned this by sheer hard work and not through an inheritance,’ as if there are no other ways to acquire money.

On return to the UK he briefs Special Branch and British security services on his work. This is a private spy volunteering information got from a private contract with an American lawyer to British government officials. Again, he has no inkling that anyone might have ethical quandaries about such duplicity, let alone legal qualms.


The book moves into its final, frankly bizarre, act. UK secret services want him to make contacts with some Russian people. It’s strongly intimated they are mafia, though they may be secret services, it’s never really made clear. What they are planning is never even hinted at. He spends a long time meeting and remeeting someone called Ludmilla. Eventually she takes him to meet some men who have a circumspect conversation about his skills. 

She comes to the UK so he rents a flat and they spend a week together. They have superficial chats, they go sightseeing. They don’t form a close personal bond, nor have any offers of any shady work. He spends a lot of time shopping. What he looks for and what he thinks about it aren’t disclosed. Maybe I’m not consumerist enough but using the single word ‘shopping’ to write off hours at a throw, time after time, is staggeringly vague. 

He calls himself ‘an important cog in the machinery of political murders and espionage,’ which is somewhat overstating his position as a minor informer who isn’t even directly employed. His repeated complaints of being left unsupported by MI5 hardly seems like the treatment of vital agent would receive. This mission is ‘the pinnacle of my efforts,’ but you’re left wondering ‘efforts to do what?’


Where does this all leave him?

Undercover work is much a game of minds and bluffs, but the risk you run with that is someone can come to believe what they have been rehearsing is actually true. The human body does not allow for complete alienation from emotions and feelings, and, at first, in some cases, that switch cannot fully be switched off or on.

It’s the first genuinely interesting thing he says. What does he do to unpick this tangle and maintain a balanced life of clarity? All we get is advice to take a day to get into character.

He later positions himself as Britain’s hope for Olympic gold in the men’s freestyle vagueness event by explaining

if you don’t recognise or read a situation coming, you are likely to be embroiled in a heap load of crap and in a situation you cannot get out of no matter how hard you try.

Well, thanks for that.

As with interviews by exposed undercover police officers Mark Kennedy – whose use of language is strikingly similar - and Bob Lambert, the cagey lack of bean-spilling leaves you with the feeling that you haven’t actually been told anything, just heard an indistinct hubbub.

Even when he is detailed, Penhaligon’s inability to make a clear point or be able to pace a story leaves you just as bewildered as those hush-hush half-told anecdotes. Put together, they make for a frustrating, tedious and largely pointless book.


The title itself, One Blood, is hollow, oblique and irritating. Nothing in the book explains or alludes to it, and given the vision of a riven society, it makes no sense at all.

It could be used by the editors’ union as evidence of the need for their role. Occasional typos and grammatical errors are what happen when writing goes unchecked. This blog, like every other, undoubtedly has many. But when 184 pages drip with them it gives a stuttering flicker to your reading that wears you down.  The writing is a self-sabotaging obstacle to understanding, rather than its vehicle. 

A full stop in mid sentence breaks the flow, especially when you’re bored already. The lack of a comma changes meaning, as in, ‘they were in black overalls, both had tashes five foot eight inches tall’. That really is a hell of a tash. 

The malapropisms and homonyms also trip you up. Your South London locale is a manor, not a manner.  Metaphors are mixed – ‘remaining firmly on the fence as a safety net’ is an especially choice image - and the whole thing is desiccated by an absence of adjectives.  Hopefully he’s sold enough copies to save up and buy himself a bag of paragraph breaks, because two pages without one is a hefty ask of the reader.

He further alienates with unexplained jargon and that particular copperspeak that gives everyone dry personal identifiers such as ‘the female approached me and...’. This, in turn, leads to unwitting racism when he only notes ethnicity of people who deviate from the norm of being white. 

With trademark clumsiness he explains

the techniques used in the art of undercover work or surveillance is not an exact science, mainly due to the fact that these operations are human orientated and of course involves humans at some point.

Quite when they don’t involve humans isn’t explained. 

His arrogance grates too, deceiving people and then ‘I smiled to myself and had a laugh at their expense’, or ‘laughing your socks off inside thinking what an idiot they are’ for simply not knowing that they’d been lied to.

His sexism hardly endears him to you either, talking of ‘woman type chores’ and how 'East European women are well endowed in the looks department’.

Copperspeak also includes extraneous and/or overuse of Latin-rooted words. You or I might walk down the road but a copper proceeds upon the highway in an orderly manner.

I have been accused many times of either analysing people or talking to them like a police officer. That part of it, I am glad to say, does not in any way form part of my personality now,

he says, self-underminingly.


In doing the googling for links in this post I discovered that a new book appeared in February with the same stories entitled True Lies: The incredible true story of the man who infiltrated Greenpeace, with a summary article in the Mirror in March.

This time the protagonist is named as Ross Slater. Published by John Blake who specialise in ghost written material such as Jordan’s “autobiography”, it credits a co-author, Douglas Wight.

Oh fuck, do I have to wade through that one too?


Salmon said...

South London private investigators full of ex-Flying Squad, sounds a lot like Southern Investigations where Daniel Morgan was working when he was murdered in 1987, and was later caught up in various hacking and corruption scandals.

And Stoke Newington, interesting bunch there, then run by DCS Roy Clark who would design the Met's anti-corruption strategy before taking over the South East Regional Crime Squad Clark was also a close colleague of spycop John Grieves (then in neighbouring Bethnal), both serving in SO11, Scotland Yard's Intelligence unit which also ran informants - see Graeme McLagan's book Bent Coppers

Phil said...

It's always been a bit of a shock to realise that somebody in a position of power just isn't very bright. I'm just about used to politicians being dim by now, but you do expect spooks to have a bit about them (as Bob Lambert, to be fair, clearly does). This guy, though, seems not so much unintelligent as anti-intelligent - he's trained himself not to think at all. Maybe the memoirs of his SB handler would be more interesting!