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Monday, 19 March 2018

UNDERCOVER POLICING ENQUIRY UK: "Why is undercover officer N109 so afraid?" #spycops

Why is undercover officer N109 so afraid? Join our search

Pitchford Inquiry logoEveline Lubbers, Undercover Research Group, 18 March 2018
Sometimes, our work is like solving mysteries, from only a very small amount of clues. When one of the undercover officers claims to be terrified of being outed by former colleagues, our curiosity is raised. When at the same time, the Undercover Policing Inquiry seems concerned that The Guardian will publish further details from a secret police report in their possession, it grabs our full attention.
What is going on? Are the two events related, and if so how? Sifting through the few details available, and trying to see them in the light of what was going on at the time, we are trying to find some answers.
On 21th March 2018, the Undercover Policing Inquiry will hear the applications for anonymity of twelve further spycops. As before, the Inquiry Chair, John Mitting, is ‘minded to’ restrict publication of both the cover and the real names for most of them. And as before, we are given only the barest amount of detail on their undercover deployment and their careers since, rendering it impossible to make any sensible submissions, as the barrister for those spied upon, Phillippa Kaufmann, QC, stated clearly at the last hearing.
Why is N109 so afraid?
One of the twelve officers who applied for anonymity is known by the cipher N109. What caught our eye is that N109 is extremely concerned about their name being revealed in public. To understand more of the situation, we look at what N109 says (or rather: what we are allowed to hear about that) and hold it against what we know about that period of time at the SDS.
N109’s application for anonymity comes with two documents. The first is the ‘open risk assessment’, which is in fact a gisted version of what N109 has told a risk assessor and what the latter has been able to confirm. The document is full of repetition, using slightly varying sentences to summarise N109’s words. Then there is N109’s personal ‘impact statement’, redacted and gisted to the extent nothing of interest remains. We know next to nothing about them, including their gender.
There is not much about N109’s deployment undercover to be found, other than that it was ‘in the 1970s’ and: ‘N109 stated that the group(s) involved contained violent elements. Also: ‘N109 believes that there are photograph(s) of N109 during the deployment in existence.’ Neither seem to be an issue in assessing the risks.
Manager role
The only other – albeit minimal – source of information we found on N109 comes from the Stephen Lawrence Independent Review. This authoritative report on the SDS targeting of black justice campaigns was produced by Mark Ellison, QC, in 2014 after whistle-blower officer Peter Francis revealed he had been tasked to find dirt on the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.
Ellison quotes N109, vehemently denying these claims:
‘There was never any reference made to “smearing” in relation to the Lawrence family. Deployments into the support campaigns surrounding Stephen Lawrence were specifically to build a picture of the public order background… Any meeting I was involved in was never about any family member. It was done to protect the family.’ (Ellison, p.211).
The Ellison Review also says that in 1995 N109 was a Detective Inspector with the SDS – the rank that would have run the unit day-to-day. The risk assessment says that N109 ‘returned to the SDS as a manager in 1980/1990s running operational aspects of SDS work’.
It seems fair to say that N109 worked as a supervisor from the late 1980s until 1995 – which is quite a long time.
At this point we return to the ‘open risk assessment’.
‘N109 returned to the SDS as a manager in 1980/1990s running operational aspects of SDS work.’
N109 sees their ‘dual role as an operative and manager of the SDS as a reason for increased interest of the media and of interest groups’. That is no different for many other spycops, although N109 seems extremely nervous about this: ‘N109 reported being absolutely terrified of psychological harm through trolling on the internet.’
However, N109 is even more afraid having been a manager of individual undercover officers who will be of interest to the Inquiry. Some of them ‘may be hostile towards N109’, while their ‘partner was terrified of other named SDS officers and was deeply concerned with regard to the interview with the risk assessors. N109’s partner fears harassment from a named individual and others when interest in the Inquiry is likely to increase.’
The partner’s fears go even further, they think that other spycops may want to expose their name, which indeed would make the entire risk assessment superfluous:
Other SDS officers could identify N109, and N109 believes that these officers may ‘out’ N109. The Risk Assessor assesses that N109 wold be ‘high on the list’ of those officers, should they wish to ‘out’ their colleagues. The Risk Assessor provides two reasons for this. This could render discussion about protecting N109’s identity academic.
Apparently, N109 has done things to infuriate former colleagues so much that they might still hold a grudge – so many years later.
‘N109 returned to SDS during a lively period for SDS with N109 being a manager of the unit.’
The late 1980s/early 1990s was indeed a ‘lively period’. The end of the Cold War will have cause significant changes, while the unit was also extending into other areas such as animal rights, the environmental movement and the far right.
Many of the spycops exposed to date were active during those years. Mike Chitty had been the first undercover going into animal rights in south London, 1983 – 1987. Bob Lambert had started a few months later in north London and finished his deployment in December 1988, leaving behind ‘Jacqui’ with their toddler son, and having acted as an agent-provocateur in a campaign against fur. John Dines’ deployment ran from 1987 – 1992, while ‘Andy Davey’ and ‘Matt Rayner’ went into animal rights in 1991. Peter Francis infiltrated Youth Against Racism from 1993 onwards, along with other undercovers in groups associating themselves with black justice campaigns, by which time Lambert was back as manager.
Apart from the spying on black justice campaigns, Peter Francis told The Guardianabout contemporary SDS officers who had infiltrated opposing right-wing groups such as the BNP and Combat 18, as well as other far-left groups. It was a time of extreme racial tension and violent clashes with the police and spycops would find themselves confronting each other as members of rival groups.
 ‘During N109’s time as a manager, there was an ‘appetite for supervision’.
 ‘N109 was made responsible for ensuring compliance with regard to the regulatory framework, governing operations of numerous UCOs, including those of interest to the Inquiry.’
The mention of a regulatory framework is very interesting as such, as not much is known about the existence of anything like it. We are more aware of the absence of any rules; the 2014 HM Inspectorate of Constabulary review of undercover policing was particularly honest about that.
More than that, N109 seems to be aware of breaches of the regulatory framework. The personal statement reveals that their ‘role as a manager included addressing concerns which caused issues with some of the officers in role at the time’.
 ‘As a manager N109 dealt with some difficult nominals, and oversaw a disciplinary procedure.’
We won’t speculate who of the spycops N109 found difficult to work with, and if they include the ones causing N109 and his partner so much fear after all these years.
As to the disciplinary procedure N109 oversaw, there is only one we know of in that period. Coincidently or not, a secret report crucial to that procedure also came up in the run up to the March hearing – we look into it below.
Crucial witness
All in all, what we have here is a crucial witness for the Inquiry. N109 was a supervisor during a critical period in the history of the SDS. Many of the issues key to Inquiry’s investigation come together in these years. And even more so, N109 has revealed there indeed were rules, and that it was not easy to keep a tight rein.
Nevertheless, Mitting has indicated that he is minded to grant HN109 anonymity and shield both their cover and real name. It is notable that, despite N109’s extreme fears, the risk to N109 is assessed to be exceptionally low. Yet the Chair thinks N109 needs protecting. What’s the point of having risk assessments if Mitting is allowed to make his own rulings and refuse to explain his reasons?
The ‘Lambert Report’
Also in the run-up to the March hearing, Mitting made a curious move raising the issue of a secret police file dubbed ‘The Lambert report’. Finalised in 1994, it is a 45 page investigation into Mike Chitty, who was going back to spend social time with the animal rights activists he had previously infiltrated as ‘Mike Blake’, seeking to continue his relationship with a female activist there.
The report was written by Bob Lambert who had been undercover in the same period and who had been asked by SDS managers to investigate Chitty in 1992; he would finish it in 1994.
When the Metropolitan police decided Chitty should face a disciplinary hearing, Chitty wrote a letter to the Commissioner complaining of his treatment by the SDS, and threatening to go public. In his report, Lambert made the point that if Chitty did that, then former undercovers would be at high risk, and that if exposed they could expect postal bombs to their homes. Eventually, Chitty took legal action against the Met in 1995, but the case was dropped; he was awarded an ill-health pension and moved to South Africa.
We know about the Lambert report as Guardian journalists Rob Evans and Paul Lewis quote it in detail in their 2013 book Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police(pages 82 – 100).
Mitting knows that too. He writes that it is obvious that the authors had a copy of the report. He also says that in how they reported from it, ‘as responsible journalists’, they did not break the Official Secrets Act. He then invites The Guardian, the Met Police Commissioner and the police lawyers to say if Rob Evans would be entitled to publish further extracts from the report.
It is hard to understand how the Inquiry believes it has any jurisdiction over what The Guardian publishes using material obtained completely independently of the Inquiry and prior to its founding. Without going into the legal details, from the arguments submittedby The Guardian and the police it appears that Mitting is grappling the law around possible breach of confidentiality. Even in the hands of a third party, some of the information in the Lambert report might still come under the law on confidentiality. What Mitting wants to find out is whether The Guardian is bound by confidentiality in this particular case; if so, that would mean they are unlikely to publish further details because they would risk to be sued.
However, if they are not bound, then granting a restriction order would be effectively meaningless. And Mitting does not want to grant an order that would be so easily undermined.
At first sight, it is complete mystery as to how this issue has arisen, and why. As to the question ‘why now’ it is worth noting that N109 in his managerial position at the time would have had oversight in some way of the Lambert report – which if nothing else is an crucial reason for releasing the details of N109. This is all part of a very important period, and N109 should not be allowed to hide.
As a side note, Evans and Lewis write that:
Chitty was probably never given the contents of the SDS report into his conduct, nor informed about the lengths the unit was going to, behind his back, to try to work out the reason for his discontent. It is reasonable to assume that he would be particularly shocked if he knew the role played by Lambert, who was pretending to be on his side while he was on sick leave. Chitty was dissuaded from going public back in the day; he might not be any longer if the report or more details of it would come out.
Is this what N109 is so afraid of?
There is one more question that comes up: what in the Lambert Report would be bound by confidentiality? Names of SDS officers involved in the investigation into Chitty most likely.
Scottish hotelier
There is another former undercover officer who is quite possibly tight into this mystery. In a next batch of applications for anonymity, Mitting brings up HN155, saying ‘The real name of HN155 is known to responsible journalists, who have written to him in that name.’
There are more indications that there is a connection. Like with the Lambert report, Mitting is not sure whether it is even worth trying to stop these ‘responsible journalists’ from publishing the name. His language is unusually strong in this case:
Publication of it by them from information already in their possession would not infringe any restriction order under section 19 (3) of the Inquiries Act 2005, if made. I am not minded to make futile orders.
And like with N109, the treatment of HN155 is different from all other undercover officers. Mitting writes that ‘[t]he threat posed to his physical safety by former members of the group and/or sympathisers is nil or negligible’. Yet he would be willing to protect HN155 from unwelcome media attention – if it weren’t for the ‘responsible journalists’ at The Guardian. Mitting asks for oral submissions on how to deal with this.
We think it’s fair to conclude that the two cases are linked, and that HN155’s name is in the Lambert Report. Indeed it would explain Mitting’s curious move to ask if further publishing from it would be a breach of confidentiality, as detailed above. Again, if it would be considered a breach, then there is no need for Mitting to make an order to protect anyone named in the Lambert report.
Who is HN155?
What do we know about about HN155? The only thing the Inquiry has released is this:
HN155 is in his 60s and married. He was deployed against one left-wing group between 1980 and 1983. Publication of his cover name, which will occur, may prompt members of the group or others to provide evidence about his activities during his deployment.
Mitting also said that the ‘responsible journalists’ have written to HN155. Now from the book Undercover – the final paragraph – we know that Evans and Lewis reached out to both Mike Chitty and to someone described as ‘the Scottish hotelier’. He is the former undercover officer who Chitty went to see for advice when he had no one left to turn to. The Undercover book has detailed quotes from the secret report with Lambert voicing his disapproval of the man. It would be weird if the report would not include his name.
There is a second passage in Undercover book that ties the hotelier to Chitty and the Lambert report, including confirming the year his deployment ended. The Scottish hotelier is mentioned in a list of undercovers who left the unit with a dispute:
A second, mutinous spy infuriated the command of the SDS for a different reason. He completed his undercover tour in 1983, but was dismissed from the Met police two years later over an alleged assault. Like Chitty, he wrote a letter to senior officers, threatening to run to the papers and expose the squad’s dirty secrets unless his dismissal was reversed. He too said he suffered psychological difficulties as a result of the covert work. His appeal over the disciplinary inquiry for assault was upheld. This was the officer who relocated to Scotland, and who had consoled Chitty during his breakdown, much to the annoyance of Lambert
It would be very interesting to hear what the Scottish hotelier can tell the Inquiry. And maybe we will then find out if he is one of former undercovers N109 is so afraid of.