Allan Armstrong (RCN) asks why the Pitchford Enquiry into undercover policing does not extend to Scotland.
Last July, Theresa May, Conservative Home Secretary, set up the Pitchford Enquiry into undercover policing in England and Wales. The Channel 4 Programme Dispatches had highlighted the role of the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) in trying to undermine the family of Steven Lawrence, as they pressed for justice following his racist murder in 1993. This knowledge only surfaced, when Peter Francis, former police spy, turned whistle-blower, provided the evidence.
In 2009, following the exposure of the activities of the Consulting Association (CA) in producing blacklists for the building employers since 1993 (also using prior information from the Economic League set up in 1919), the role of the SDS emerged in another arena. It was discovered that Mark Jenner, operating under the name of Mark Cassidy, had infiltrated the rank and file Building Worker Group and the Brian Higgins Defence Campaign. After the Information Commissioners Office made the CA’s secret files available to its victims, it was found that Brian had the longest file. It was also revealed that blacklisting in the building industry was done in collusion with union officials. Is it a coincidence that Jenner/Cassidy joined UCATT at the same time that its London regional official, Dominic Hehir, took out a high court writ against Brian for writing a critical article in the Irish Post?
The further depths to which the SDS have been prepared to go were revealed when the Met was forced to pay a woman, named Jacqui, £425,000 compensation. She was an animal rights activist, whom former SDS agent, Bob Lambert, tricked into having an affair, resulting in her having a child. He then simply disappeared.
It has also been discovered that undercover police operations have been directed against fairly mainstream political activity. Jenny Jones (later Baroness of Mouslecoomb), a Green Party member and Depute Mayor of London from 2003-4, was labelled a “domestic extremist” and targeted by the SDS. This only came to light this January, because another whistle-blower, Sergeant David Williams, said that the police had shredded her records. We can be fairly sure that a much wider range of political groups, particularly socialists, has also been subjected to undercover policing. We are unlikely ever to know the full extent of this.
It is noticeable though that the Pitchford Enquiry does not cover Scotland. Yet, the activities of undercover police, including the Met, certainly have. Back in 2005, the handling of the G8 Summit at Gleneagles was taken out of the hands of the Scottish government. The full range of security services involved is not known, but probably included the CIA, MI5, US Marines and SAS. Only 4 MSPs, Frances Curran, Colin Fox, Rosie Kane, and Carolyn Leckie, all in the SSP at the time, protested against this at Holyrood. They were suspended for a month and received a total of £30,000 in fines. At the anti-G8 protest at Gleneagles, held on July 3rd, the Met (and Greater Manchester police) were collectively very much in evidence, although individual police identifications tags were often covered up. It has been revealed that another SDS undercover agent, Mark Kennedy, with a record of involvement in “tactical love relationships”, infiltrated the protest organisers.
The blacklist certainly operated on Scotland as well as England and Wales. On these grounds, Labour MSP, Neil Findlay, who has been involved in the Blacklist Support Group, has called for the Pitchford Enquiry to be extended to Scotland. Furthermore, undercover police spy, Bob Lambert, later re-emerged as a lecturer in Terrorist Studies at St. Andrews University, until, earlier this year, press exposure forced his resignation. The new head of Police Scotland, Philip Gormley, ran the Met’s SDS from 2003-7. He recruited Mark Kennedy. The SNP government has just ignored this, so keen are they to have a centralised Scottish police force beyond any effective democratic scrutiny, and able to make up its own rules of conduct.
It is also inconceivable that there is no undercover police activity directed against the movement for Scottish self-determination, including the SNP. ‘Project Fear’ was probably only the visible tip of an iceberg, with a whole number of other below-the-radar operations protected under the Crown Powers.
Therefore, there is every reason for having the Pitchford Enquiry extended to Scotland. However, the fate of various investigations in Northern Ireland, especially the Stalker Inquiry into the RUC’s shoot-to-kill policy, has demonstrated the lengths that security agencies will go to cover up their activities when necessary. When it comes to a threat to the very constitution of the UK state, such as that raised by the issue of national self-determination, the gloves really come off. So John Stalker, despite being the Depute Chief Police Constable of Greater Manchester, was subjected to a malicious counter enquiry, to discredit his investigations, whilst the RUC shredded evidence of their activities.
Furthermore, as the collusion of certain trade union officials has shown over blacklisting, it will also be necessary for workers’ organisations to conduct their own independent enquiries, to minimise the damage done by the employers and the state. Such investigations will need to be under rank and file control and not merely the kind of trade union bureaucrat-led internal whitewashes conducted for example by UCATT and UNITE. And, as in 2003, it will be necessary for socialists to continue to investigate and expose the behind-the-scenes operations of the UK state. The British ruling class got a bad scare during the Scottish referendum campaign, and they will almost certainly have stepped up their undercover operations since.
Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, Undercover: the True Story of Britain’s Secret Police, Faber and Faber, 2013
Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, Blacklisted, the Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists, New Internationalist Books, 2016
Frank Doherty, The Stalker Affair, Mercier Press, 1986
Andy Philips, Blacklisting left us broke: The disgrace of families left on the edge by construction scandal in Daily Record, 16.2.16 (http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/blacklisting-left-broke-disgrace-families-7377627#jyDGgpd15oBfEgjz.97)
Paul Hutcheon, New chief constable Phil Gormley linked to Met undercover ‘sex spy’ unit in Sunday Herald, 3.1.16, (http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/homenews/14178774.New_chief_constable_linked_to_undercover_police__sex_spy__unit/?ref=rss)
Brian Higgins, Blacklisted, http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/04/09/blacklisted/
Mark Metcalf, Undercover but within Sites – Infiltration of Trade Unions, http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/03/24/undercover-but-within-sites-police-infiltration-of-trade-unions/
Site Worker, Collusion and Betrayal, http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/01/01/collusion-and-betrayal/
Brian Higgins Anti-Blacklist Campaign updatehttp://republicancommunist.org/blog/2010/09/06/brian-higgins-anti-blacklist-campaign/
Nick Clark, Facing up to the challenge in E&L, issue 11, http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2005/09/13/facing-up-to-the-challenge/
John Wight, Obstructing a Legal Demo, E&L, issue 11, http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2005/09/13/obstructing-a-legal-demonstration/