Undercover: The True Story of Britain's Secret Police, page 1
The True Story of
Britain’s Secret Police
ROB EVANS & PAUL LEWIS
To Caroline. I love you.
Every day I am glad that you are with me. Rob
To Barry and Ramona,
who would have been very proud. Paul
CHAPTER 1 The Secret Unravels
CHAPTER 2 Starter for 10
CHAPTER 3 The Slippery Fox
CHAPTER 4 Fatherhood
CHAPTER 5 McSpies
CHAPTER 6 Going Rogue
CHAPTER 7 Enter Mr Black
CHAPTER 8 Changing Course
CHAPTER 9 Exit Mr Angry
CHAPTER 10 Nothing But the Truth?
CHAPTER 11 Invisible Men
CHAPTER 12 Things Can Only Get Better
CHAPTER 13 The Clown and the Truck Driver
CHAPTER 14 Birth of the Hound Dog
CHAPTER 15 International Playboy
CHAPTER 16 Rock and Roll Star
CHAPTER 17 The Phantom Returns
CHAPTER 18 Business as Usual
AUTHORS’ NOTE AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
About the Author
The Secret Unravels
They were in their safe house, sitting on worn-out sofas in the lounge.
A team of undercover police officers had spent the evening drinking and chatting in the London apartment. It was late one night in 1994.
They turned on the television to catch a news report from Germany. Tens of thousands of Germans were trawling through secret files compiled on them before the Berlin Wall came down. There was a wave of revulsion at the scale of surveillance perpetrated by the Stasi, the East German secret police. They had as many as 100,000 informants; teachers were reporting on their students, neighbours snooping on friends, doctors on patients. Even husbands and wives were found to have been informing on each other. The files also revealed the identities of thousands of professionally trained spies. Men and women had been given new identities before being scattered across East Germany to quietly seek out opponents of the communist regime. The TV report showed the distraught face of a woman in Berlin who had discovered the man she had loved for years was a spy.
There was silence in the lounge. Then one of the undercover police officers said what the others must have been thinking.
‘You do realise, this is going to happen to us one day,’ he said. ‘We’re going to open a book and read all about what we’ve been up to.’
It was a chilling thought. The men lounging on the red sofas were members of the Special Demonstration Squad, a top-secret unit within London’s Metropolitan police. Their undercover work was so secretive that most senior police officers in the land had no idea they even existed. Their job was to monitor British subversives. And to pull it off, they needed to transform themselves into the people they were spying on and live among them for years. Each police officer had forfeited his warrant card in return for a whole new identity, complete with fake passport, driving licence and bank account. Most of them grew beards and long hair, giving rise to the unit’s unofficial nickname, the Hairies.
Twice a week, they met in safe houses to laugh, drink and share anecdotes about their undercover lives. These were bonding sessions. One classified document drawn up at the time defined the purpose of the meetings as the creation of a ‘developed sense of team spirit’. On this particular night, they were in a flat in Chiswick. It was on the second floor of an apartment block called Beaumont Court, which they codenamed West London OP. It was standard practice during these gatherings for the police officers to remain in their undercover roles throughout. It led to some bizarre encounters. A bearded anarchist engaged in angry debate with a fascist skinhead. Animal rights activists tried to persuade their colleagues to give up meat. Campaigners from rival left-wing groups would argue over the finer points of Marxism. But unlike in the real world, when the spies would be expected to clash with each other, the safe house meetings were intended to foster camaraderie.
‘The first time you go to one of the meetings is an experience you never forget,’ says one spy in the Chiswick safe house that night. ‘Nothing can prepare you for it. Whatever your perception of the police is, you lose it when you see them. They simply do not look like police officers at all. One of them even brought his dog with him. It’s the equivalent of turning up at a conference for people selling the Big Issue. Some of them have cans of Carling in their hands because they cannot get out of role.’
He recalls how the television report about the activities of the Stasi in Germany triggered an awkward discussion. Of course, the SDS operation was on nothing like the scale of surveillance perpetrated in East Germany. But some of their methods were perhaps not that different.
‘It was an uneasy conversation,’ the spy recalls. ‘I think we realised that none of us would like to ever see a book about this come out. We were part of a black operation that absolutely no one knew about. Only the police had actually agreed that all this was all OK. We felt one day there would be a reckoning. Would the British public be happy if they knew this was happening?’
It was another 17 years before the reckoning. Even then, the process of realisation was a gradual one. There was no sudden deluge of revelations, no decision from on high to come clean about the dark truth of covert policing. None of those who were spied upon were granted permission to visit a police warehouse, open their file and discover which friends and lovers had betrayed them. All of that is perhaps still to come.
Instead, one of the most tightly guarded secrets the British police had ever kept from the people unravelled slowly, like an old jumper finally worn thin. The first frayed thread appeared in October 2010, when a curious blog post appeared on a website. It was an update on Indymedia, a site used by political campaigners to disseminate news.
The page contained two pictures of a strange-looking man. In the first, he was smiling from beneath a fluffy Russian hat. He had a damaged left eye looking sideways. The second photograph showed the same man beside a river, an idyllic country scene behind him. He had shoulder-length hair and the sun was twinkling off his bright gold earrings.
The caption said it all. ‘Mark “Stone” has been an undercover police officer. We are unsure whether he is still a serving police officer or not. His real name is Mark Kennedy. Investigations into his identity revealed evidence that he has been a police officer and a face-to-face confession has confirmed this.’
Although no one knew it at the time, Kennedy was just the latest in a very long line of undercover police who had been living in protest groups. The history of the infiltration of political campaigns stretched way back, long before even the team of officers who were sitting in that lounge in 1994.
But Kennedy was unique. He was the first spy ever to be identified as a police officer and unmasked in public. He would, within a few months, become Britain’s most infamous undercover police officer, setting in train a cascade of revelations that would shock the establishment to its core.
Kennedy was 41 years old, brought up in the commuter belt of London, and married with two children. His alias, Mark Stone, was a tattoo-covered man of the same age but cut from a very different cloth. Stone was a cocky, gregarious eco-activist with a taste for adventure. Based in Nottingham, he travelled across Europe, infiltrating almost every major anti-capitalist and environmental protest.
Kennedy seemed to have licence to do
Not long after the blog post appeared on the internet, senior police began to realise the severity of the situation. They quickly established that Kennedy had crumbled in front of his activist friends and admitted his real identity. If that was not bad enough, Kennedy had also compromised another police spy, revealing that a woman eco-activist who pretended to work in care homes in Leeds was actually another undercover officer. Kennedy had gone rogue.
A team of senior officers was dispatched to the United States, where Kennedy had gone to ground somewhere in Ohio.
They arrived too late. Weeks earlier, he had picked up the phone and called an activist friend in England. The man on the other end of the line was a lecturer who used a dictaphone to record Kennedy admitting the entire operation had been ‘like a hammer to crack a nut’.
‘I am just so sorry, for everything,’ Kennedy said. ‘It really hurts. I am really sorry … The way I feel, I really want to make amends. I fucking hate myself so much. I betrayed so many people.’
Before he hung up, Kennedy asked the lecturer to tell their mutual friends that he was sorry for what he had done. His voice was trembling.
‘I haven’t just run away, you know?’ he added. ‘I want to face up to what has happened and I want it addressed.’
‘Yep,’ the lecturer said.
‘You are the first person I have really spoken to. I’m glad it’s you because you are a sensible guy. I don’t know. It’s just the loss. It’s been huge. It was my life for so many years. It’s just empty now.’
‘All right, Mark.’
‘I am not going to start blubbing down the phone.’
‘It’s weird, because there is just so much to say.’
‘There is,’ Kennedy said finally. ‘And it has to be said.’
When details of Kennedy’s life undercover began seeping into the newspapers, there was the kind of public uproar that police chiefs have nightmares about. The controversy quickly stretched way beyond British shores. Kennedy had used his fake passport for more than 40 foreign missions, from Poland to New York, and the story of the libidinous British spy was making headlines in France, Germany, Ireland and Iceland.
Eventually, Kennedy sold his story to the press. ‘Both sides have been waiting for my statement – the police and the activists,’ he told a tabloid newspaper. ‘This interview is my statement.’ What followed was a mixture of truth, embellishment and fiction, but all of it helped fan the flames of publicity. ‘People like to think of things in terms of black and white,’ Kennedy said. ‘But the world of undercover policing is grey and murky. There is some bad stuff going on. Really bad stuff.’
Kennedy said he was one of a dozen undercover operatives infiltrating protesters for a squad called the National Public Order Intelligence Unit. Each spy was costing the taxpayer £250,000. Kennedy claimed to have been hung out to dry by his supervising officers. He said he was on the brink of suicide. The picture Kennedy painted was of a rogue police unit abusing its power, hiring luxury apartments and driving around in expensive blacked-out vehicles. ‘If we all had a meeting it looked like the CIA had turned up or something – seven identical flash cars in the car park of a pub,’ he said. Police had spent £7,000 modifying a Casio G-Shock watch so he could use it to record conversations with protesters he was spying on.
Police chiefs were holding daily crisis meetings to deal with the fallout. Each time a new detail about covert operations emerged into the public domain they had to manage the consequences. The throwaway remark about his Casio watch, for example, resulted in an immediate order to undercover operatives across the country who were wearing the same device. Their watches were now compromised. They were instructed to immediately remove them from their wrists.
For police, ordering a new brand of covert listening devices was the least of their worries. Politicians were demanding to know what on earth had been going on. That was a difficult question to answer. Police chiefs had been running their own fleet of spies for a very long time without ever consulting parliament. It was a secret, designed to enable them to keep an eye on the politically troublesome individuals in society. Now the whole operation was starting to come apart at the seams.
Still more threads kept appearing. Each detail made the story seem even more surreal. The female undercover officer who served with Kennedy had infiltrated a community centre in Leeds, before suddenly disappearing to Lithuania. An overweight truck driver who had recently been sleeping with women in Cardiff turned out to be another undercover cop from the same unit. There were disclosures about undercover police with punk haircuts, smoking weed, posing as animal rights fanatics and organising illegal raves. All of them had vanished without a trace. Many had women they left behind. Some had even fathered children.
Controversies involving the British establishment tend to follow a familiar arc. It has been honed over centuries. The first response from those in power is to ignore public disquiet, and wait to see if the storm runs out of energy.
If the pressure builds to a point where the authorities can no longer remain silent, there is a public declaration of wrongdoing and a promise to learn lessons. Individuals are blamed, never institutions. If there is still a demand for answers, the state deploys a potent weapon. It is a technique that has stood the test of time, allowing those in power to duck responsibility and silence critics with one fell swoop and kick a controversy into a field of long grass, where they hope it will be forgotten.
Inquiries are strange phenomena. They lend the appearance of probity, but rarely achieve much, except the avoidance of awkward questions. There are exceptions, of course: full-blown public inquiries like the Leveson inquiry into the press or the Macpherson inquiry into racism in the police. Mostly, though, inquiries take place behind closed doors, allowing those in power to determine what the public should be told, and what must remain secret.
The more a controversy persists, the greater the number of inquiries that are launched. It is a game that can last for years. The overall number of inquiries that are announced can be a barometer of how hard the authorities are trying to quell a scandal.
The first inquiry into undercover policing of protest groups was launched in January 2011, just after the details of Kennedy’s deployment were made public. By the spring of 2013, a further 14 inquiries had been announced. None had come close to answering the most basic questions.
How did Mark Kennedy manage to spend seven years living a double life? How was he found out? Who were the other undercover police officers and what happened to the friends and lovers they left behind? How long has all of this been going on? And why?
Starter for 10
He was one of life’s larger personalities. ‘A big guy with a booming personality’ was one description. Born in 1927 to an army family, educated at a Wiltshire public school and Oxford University, he joined the Royal Marines at the end of the second world war and after a brief stint at a football pools company was recruited to the Metropolitan police. A fortnight later, Conrad Hepworth Dixon was called to an austere police section house in Beak Street in London’s Soho, stripped naked and ushered into a small room. ‘A man in white coat came in and stared at his lower half, examined his feet, and went wordlessly away. Shortly afterwards, Dixon was transferred to Special Branch,’ records his obituary. The branch only selected those it considered to be the finest specimens. In its view, it was the Met’s elite, revered and feared in equal measure, and Dixon was one of its most experimental leaders. It was Dixon, a chief inspector, who first had the ingenious idea of turning police constables into pretend political activists. The story starts with him.
It was 1968, a rather iconic year for protest. It is perhaps difficult nowadays to understand just
In Britain, the establishment trembled as government ministers and police chiefs grew worried that protesters had the power to tear down Britain’s political and economic system. A revolutionary mood was in the air; many young people hoped there was more than a whiff of actual revolution too. They were enjoying the benefits of a good education and the prospect of a good job and they wanted to do things differently to their parents’ generation. They were more idealistic, free-spirited; they felt the world was theirs to shape. They rebelled against a society they saw as intransigent, drab and paternalistic. They distrusted authority – politicians, college administrations and police. It was a time of radical change in the arts, music, film and fashion. It felt like the old certainties were giving way to a new world. For the young, protest was the exciting engine of this change. For the authorities, it was a dangerous and very real risk to the established order.
A mood of panic gripped Whitehall as the protests over the Vietnam War intensified in 1967 and 1968. There were frequent marches in London, but one in particular shook the government: the Grosvenor Square demonstration of March 1968. Following a large rally in Trafalgar Square, thousands marched on the US embassy, which was surrounded by police. There was a standoff as the protesters refused to back down and mounted police rode into the crowd. Demonstrators broke through police ranks and streamed onto the lawn of the embassy, tearing up barriers and uprooting sections of the fence. More than 200 were arrested during a prolonged battle as stones, firecrackers and smoke bombs were hurled at the building.