The secret network of police that come across as more David Brent than Tim Roth in spirit, but who had few scruples in living a double-life.
Two weeks ago the latest report from the police investigation, Operation Herne, confirmed that the Metropolitan Police carried out secret surveillance on grieving families following 18 separate deaths, including those of innocent victims Stephen Lawrence, Ricky Reel and Jean Charles de Menezes. The unscrupulous lengths that undercover officers went to, often on seemingly harmless targets, including the revelation that the Lawrence family were spied on after he was murdered in a racist attack, were first brought to light by journalists Rob Evans and Paul Lewis.
Their book Undercover gets into the detail of a network of spies, not the Thirty-Nine Steps but a state funded bunch of detectives, mainly blokes, who took on their roles to manipulate, deceive and change the lives of citizens, with relish. It was a lifestyle that appealed to the wandering star copper with a hungry heart who could lead a double life armed with a stolen identity of a dead baby, the ready-made back story of a long-distance dying relative that would lead to a quick escape, a van to ferry the perceived poor do-gooders around, a tidy expense account and a James Bond style watch that would record conversations of their new friends and lovers.
The characters were well researched and their plots well planned, although many of their targets covered in the book suggest a huge waste of tax-payers money. The original premise was police could manage their resources for upcoming demonstrations, but it transpires that these were often instigated by their charges in the first place, with the perpetrators of some crimes, including who planted the bomb at the Debenhams in Harrow, at the centre of one deployment, still not brought to justice.
With more than an anecdote from a men’s room that was delivered in Reservoir Dogs these undercover cops had a mechanism for creating whole new personas, fleshed out to cover their tracks. Over 40 years, when the Government were panicking over a demonstration over Vietnam and gave the Met Police licence to start a team that became Stasi like, police units developed their own modus operandi, targeting first small groups in order to get to slightly bigger ones. Through death certificates they always found someone who was born around the same time and had the same first name but died young. They adopted the name and then created their own person, unbeknown to the family who lost the child.
The depth of research and variety of sources in the book gives specific detail to numerous undercover operations that shows several examples of how these secret agents behaved, crossing lines time and again, while proving that any paranoia that may have existed within groups was more than justified.
In fact many of these prolonged deployments seem to be self-fulfilling, exemplified by the protest group that kept on going at one point when, farcically, more than half the small group was made up of undercover agents, including corporate spies. The continued jobs in the field lasted with detectives often spurring on activists whose main motive was raising awareness and positive change: when one mass prosecution was dismissed, the Judge, Jonathan Teare, described the people the police had targeted as extremists as:
“…decent men and women with a genuine concern for others and in particular for the survival of planet Earth. And if I select some of the adjectives that recur throughout, they are these: honest, since, conscientious, intelligent, committed, dedicated, caring.”
So, the question is why were there so many of these expensive and risky operations that violated so many peoples lives while challenging the fundamental right in a democracy for peaceful dissent? The several examples in the book where agents were so engrossed in their new life give a clue that they fuelled fires in their operations and targets so they could continue leading a double-life. David Brent like, middle-aged coppers were growing beards, wearing earrings, playing guitars and embracing the freelove highway.
Meanwhile, the vast expenditure and strategy behind these continued deployments seem to have been unaccountable, or at best gone through a governance process without due diligence.
And considering security services have so much intelligence, including documented recollections and reportage of potential crime as well as access to a whole host of systems that would even trigger alerts when one of their false creations had an identity check across any one of multiple pieces of software, the book leaves the reader wondering how serial perpetrators of serious crime, such as Jimmy Savile, continually avoided justice over decades.
Mel Gomes is the author of the e-book Glory Nights from Wankdorf to Wembley which documents the escape of travelling to watch sport. It is available to preview for free and download in full from Amazon and Smashwords. More details, including photos and links to reviews, here.
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