Undercover: The True Story of Britain's Secret Police, page 28
There was a sombre mood at the Iona school the next morning. Activists had intermittently driven past the power station through the night and each time the three police cars were still there. It looked like they were on the verge of having to pull their plans. It was 8.30am on that Sunday morning when Kennedy told activists he would make one last visit to the power station to see whether police were still guarding the facility. He left the school in a taxi. Away from the activists, he would have been expected to call his superiors at the NPOIU, and explain that the protest was about to be called off because activists had seen police guarding the station. At that point, police could have chosen to arrest the dozen depressed-looking activists sat around the school. They could be sure they were arresting some of the key organisers, before all the other protesters had even started travelling to Nottingham. Instead, they chose a different course of action.
When Kennedy returned to the school 90 minutes later he was smiling. ‘They’ve gone,’ he told the other activists. ‘There are no police there. No cars. No nothing.’
The other campaigners were ecstatic. With police apparently no longer outside the power station, there was still a chance they could get inside. They sent messages to the minivan drivers: the protest was on again, and they should bring the activists to Nottingham as soon as possible. Tom recalls the irony of that decision: ‘We did not know we were phoning up activists across the country and telling them to come to Nottingham for what was essentially a police trap.’
Kennedy walked away to find a quiet corner of the room where he could not be heard. He rolled back his sleeve and lifted his watch to his mouth. ‘I am an authorised undercover police officer engaged on Operation Pegasus,’ he whispered. ‘This weekend, Easter weekend, I am together with a group of activists that are planning to disrupt Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station.’ He paused. ‘Shortly gonna go, to record briefings that subsequently take place throughout the day … The time on the watch is 10.06am.’
Kennedy’s reports to the NPOIU record what happened next. ‘People arrived at the school throughout the day. I recognised many people and knew them from various parts of the UK, including London, Bristol, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Nottingham and Scotland.’ What Kennedy omitted from this report was that these people were by now his friends; some were pals from the Sumac Centre, including Logan.
The school was transformed into a buzz of activity by the arrival of the activists. Small parties arrived throughout the afternoon, unloading sleeping bags and carrying stocks of food into the school, while others slipped out of the back, to burn bundles of incriminating paper at a nearby allotment.
By the evening, all 114 activists were gathered in one room in the Iona school to hear a briefing about the planned protest. It was around that time that the pot-bellied police chief was briefing the riot squad in a warehouse a few miles away, preparing them for the impending mass arrests. In just a few hours, these two worlds would collide.
Kennedy was sat with his fellow activists in the school and, for the second time, activated his watch to work as a recording device. It picked up the excited murmur of more than a hundred campaigners against global warming packed into a single room. It was now dark outside and everyone who needed to be at the school had arrived. Above the chatter, the watch strapped to Kennedy’s wrist captured snippets of his brief discussion with a man sat next to him.
‘Gonna get a bit hot in here as well, ain’t it?’ Kennedy said.
‘Yeah, in about an hour’s time,’ the man replied.
‘There’s no air flow and there’s lots of people.’
The conversation was interrupted by the sound of applause. Someone at the front of the room had stood up and was beginning to talk in a deep voice. It was one of the five organisers.
‘Everyone bear with us a bit. It has been a long night and this is amazing,’ he said. ‘The basic plan – there is a big power station over there, it emits 10 million tonnes of CO2 every year. That’s more than the 41 lowest-emitting countries in the world. We’re gonna go and shut them down for seven days.’ The man’s voice was drowned out by the sound of cheering and clapping.
Taking turns, the five activists explained various aspects of the plan. They stressed that even though people had travelled for miles to reach Nottingham, they should not feel obliged to participate in the protest. Each person had to decide if they wanted to be involved and agree to abide with strict safety procedures, avoiding interference with the water flow system and the potentially toxic cooling towers.
The direct action was laid out with clockwork precision. At precisely 3am, they would climb into their allotted vehicle and head to the power station in teams. The convoy of vehicles would first drive to a 24-hour café for truck drivers that was perhaps a mile from the power station. They would wait a few minutes and then drive off in a pre-planned order. Activists were divided into colour-coded groups, each assigned a different role. At the front of the convoy would be the people carrier and transit van containing the orange team. Their job was to force their way through the gate and ensure the other vehicles could get in. Once everyone was safely inside the grounds, they would use arm locks made out of fire-extinguisher shells to form a human barricade across the entrance, preventing police from accessing the site and buying time for everyone else.
The bronze team, dressed in suits, would make a beeline for the power station control room and calmly inform managers that a peaceful protest was underway, demanding they turn off the furnaces for the safety of those involved. Meanwhile, the blue team would head toward the nearby river – used to channel water into the cooling towers – and lock themselves to the pump facility. They were instructed not to tamper with the water pump mechanism – their role was simply to distract police and security guards by causing a nuisance. The silver team was also a decoy. Tasked with creating the ‘illusion of chaos’ inside the power station, they would splinter into small groups and lock themselves to any components they could find. When police arrived they would be baffled by the mayhem and forced to attend to activists locked on to various parts of the plant.
All of which was the perfect distraction, allowing the two most important teams in the protest to get on with their work. One was the black team, which would be driven to the power station in the back of Kennedy’s truck. Its role was crucial: immobilising the enormous conveyor belt that delivers coal into the four furnaces. It was a tricky climbing task. When Kennedy parked his truck inside the grounds of the power station, the back doors would be flung open and activists would come streaming out wearing harnesses and helmets and carrying rope equipment. Halting the conveyor system by pressing an emergency button, they would clamber on top and wrap their ropes around the huge, car-sized teeth used to scoop up the coal. Once secure, they planned to suspend themselves underneath the conveyor belt, preventing the power station managers from turning it on. Police would arrive to find a handful of protesters dangling 20ft off the ground and the furnaces would be starved of fuel and turned off.
If the protest went to plan, the ground would be prepared for the most important group of all: the green team of specialist climbers who by then would have scaled one of the four towering chimney stacks. High above the rest of the power station, they would be able to see the glow of Nottingham beyond distant hills, and a snake of cars making its way along the nearby M1 motorway. These activists would harness themselves to the stack to avoid being blown over in the wind and then begin the delicate procedure of entering the chimney, abseiling down and suspending their bat tent. By the time the sun appeared over the hills, they would spot the first TV satellite vans parked down below, as news spread of the occupation. Whoever was inside the tent would turn on a small laptop and begin broadcasting live around the world.
The bubble was popped shortly after midnight, when most activists were inside their sleeping bags in the school, trying to get to sleep. ‘Bang,’ recalls Tom. ‘Something gets smashed. Then we just se
‘Sir, there is a locked door here,’ an officer shouted.
‘We’re going to enter here by force, OK,’ said another. ‘We haven’t got a key.’
Inside, some activists were hurriedly trying to eat scraps of paper containing their notes. Moments later, a senior police officer stood in the middle of the room and said: ‘You are all under arrest on suspicion of being involved in a conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass and/or criminal damage at a power industry facility.’ One activist began singing Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and, slowly, everyone joined in. Then they began a chorus of Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5 (What a Way to Make a Living)’, to mock the banality of police work. ‘It was a surreal moment,’ one activist remembers. ‘But it lifted everyone’s spirits.’
The police raid was unprecedented. Throughout the history of the SDS and NPOIU, police always waited for a protest to happen before arresting the suspects. Sometimes there would be clever ploys to disrupt a planned demonstration. But never before had riot police stormed in to arrest this number of activists before they had even begun. This was the birth of a new strategy: wait for activists to gather in one place and then pre-emptively arrest them on charges of ‘conspiracy’. Kennedy had just facilitated the largest pre-emptive arrest – for any type of crime – in modern policing history.
Over the next few hours, activists were frogmarched, one by one, into the school gym where they were searched and made to pose for a police camera. Among the less co-operative was Kennedy, dressed head to toe in black and still wearing his watch. The arresting officers had no idea he was a police spy.
‘You’re being mass-arrested mate, just face here,’ a policeman told him. ‘You’ve been arrested and now you will be individually arrested by this officer.’
Kennedy turned to one side and stared into the middle distance. He looked drained. He was handcuffed and taken with the others to the waiting police vans parked outside the school to be transferred to a police cell. Among the last to be escorted out was Penny. ‘I remember walking out the school and there were so many flashing police vans,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t see anything but blue.’
The barn in Herefordshire was packed to the rafters with a drunken crowd. A bunch of veteran activists were turning 40 and this was their joint party: a weekend celebration in honour of eight old-timers who had been born in a year synonymous with protest: 1969. They had formed a rock band for the occasion called ‘The 69ers’, and the amateur musicians were about to take to the stage. They were all wearing black T-shirts printed with an image of a couple going down on each other in the so-called ‘69’ position. It was five months after the raid on the school, and many of the people in the barn were on bail over the planned occupation of the power station. Now, though, they were in a mood for partying. Logan looked the part on drums, his purple hair draped over his shoulders. So too did Kennedy, who was wearing a black trilby hat and posing with an electric guitar.
Kennedy had been waiting for this moment for months. It was the peak of his six-year deployment, a final moment in the spotlight for Mark Stone, his alter ego. Kennedy was the person who first suggested the joint 40th birthday bash for him and his friends. A trail of email correspondence reveals quite how much the party meant to the undercover police officer. One of the first emails came from Logan: ‘Following a suggestion from the venerable Flash Mark, over the last year or so we’ve made noises about having a joint party in 2009 for all those of us turning 40,’ he wrote. He summarised the idea of the weekend party, a kind of Earth First without the politics. To prevent ‘a ruck with the cops’ they would hire a venue instead of squatting in a field. It would be a family affair, with space for camping and activities for guests with children. Logan wanted to incorporate just a bit of political activity as ‘a great affirmation of our common politics’.
Kennedy could not conceal his excitement. He promised to DJ a ‘flash drum and bass set’ and even offered to pay for a Croatian band called Analena to fly over to perform a set. ‘Eastern Europe anarchist punk,’ Kennedy told his friends. ‘It keeps you young, a must-have for any 40th.’ He didn’t like Logan’s suggestion of adding politics to the mix, but told the others they could ‘crack on if you feel the need to wave banners in front of something’. Transport Mark promised to ‘rustle up’ a marquee from his Activist Tat Collective and said he would take care of logistics for the weekend. ‘Whatever we want,’ he told his friends. ‘It’s all possible.’
The police spy promised to write some poems for the occasion and said he would buy everyone themed printed T-shirts, joking he could get them from an ethical supplier who would guarantee ‘water, food, a bike and education for a family of 16 in Mozambique’. The celebrators calculated they could fit around 350 of their closest friends on the farm. Kennedy’s list of potential guests was testament to the friendships he had forged during his years undercover; it was filled with the names of hundreds of activists, including some from Germany. A flyer produced for the party was composed of pictures of John Lennon and Yoko Ono and a hippy confronting police with a flower.
In the dozens of emails Kennedy sent to his friends in the lead-up to the party, there was one topic he mentioned more than any other: the 69ers band. When his friends agreed to form the rock group ‘for one night only’, Kennedy replied: ‘Excellent, excellent. I have a lead guitar and an amp, I’m sure we can borrow drums from the bands that play. I also have a banjo and a large bongo. Or so I am told!’ He added: ‘I have lyrics already forming in my head for a bit of a song about all of us and 69 and crazy times.’ A few months later he told his friends he had been practising guitar ‘until my fingers bleed’ and learned ‘a bunch of tunes I can thrash out in an angsty punk style’. He seemed obsessed.
Of course, thoughts of his imminent debut on stage as a rock artist distracted Kennedy from darker thoughts. Dozens of his closest friends were on bail over the planned occupation of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station. As a result of his betrayal, they were facing the prospect of jail. ‘I just felt so bad, I felt fucking awful,’ Kennedy reflected months later. ‘I did my job very well but I had got to a point in my deployment where it was becoming very hard to do those things against people who really meant a lot to me on a personal level.’ At the back of Kennedy’s mind, he knew that he may have to help prosecute his comrades. If that were to happen, it would be a significant departure for the NPOIU which, like the SDS, always avoided its officers appearing in court. ‘I’d be facing people I’d known for seven years – and who were really good friends – across a witness box,’ he said.
Even if the case against the activists never reached court, Kennedy was increasingly paranoid that activists would work out he was the mole in the Ratcliffe protest. Out of all the 114 activists who were arrested that night, Kennedy was the only one who was not represented by the same firm of London-based lawyers, Bindmans. Kennedy was furious with the NPOIU, who did not want to risk one of their operatives being represented by the human rights firm. ‘I said: look, everybody else has got a solicitor, Mark Stone hasn’t – it looks really odd,’ he said.
If Kennedy was compromised by being the only activist without a lawyer, the situation was made even worse when prosecutors began deciding who out of the 114 should be charged. A decision was taken to let most of the activists walk free, to concentrate on bringing charges against a smaller group for conspiracy to commit trespass. In a terrible error, Kennedy was placed in the smaller group who potentially had to go to court. When police realised the mistake, the case against Kennedy was suddenly dropped. He believed that made him stand out even more. Kennedy felt suspicious eyes were turning toward him. It was a concern that may have been shared by his supervisors at the NPOI
The truth is that Kennedy was not quite as exposed as he feared. Everyone knew Mark Stone as an eccentric character with a dodgy past, and he had a good excuse not to want to share the same lawyer as everyone else. Other people were suspected as possible infiltrators, but not him. When the birthday festivities got underway on the farm in Herefordshire on a warm September Friday, Kennedy must have felt reassured that his friends still trusted him. It was an impressive turnout for a 40th celebration.
Although Kennedy had not wanted a political festival, it was impossible to escape the fact this was a party for veterans of the radical protest movement. The menu consisted of black-eyed bean, nut and parsley stew with rice and green salad, and food was supplied by Veggies and the Anarchist Teapot, two collectives which had been feeding protest camps for years.
During the day, friends lounged on bales of hay and drank organic local cider in the sunshine. There were egg and spoon races, football matches, a mud-wrestling contest, a traditional Gaelic céilidh dance, cabaret and a barbecue. Inside one of the barns, Logan had pinned up photographs of all of the 40-year-olds, showing how much they had changed over the years. It was the first time that most of Kennedy’s friends had seen images of his previous life. One showed Kennedy as a young boy in the 1970s, stood next to his brother. Another, from the 1990s, captured a dazed-looking Kennedy at the end of a long-distance running race, caked in mud and wrapped in a blanket. His hair was bleached blond, separated by a centre parting and held back with a headband. Finally, there was a photograph of Kennedy a few years older, around 2002. It was the old Kennedy, the man as he was just before he went undercover in Nottingham. He was wearing the same dark sunglasses that helped to conceal his injured eye, but his hair was shaved short and his arms looked naked without the tattoos.