British police secretly operated outside democratic control for years
2013-08-09 0:00

By Annie Machon | RT

In the wake of the ongoing Edward Snowden saga, a smaller but still important whistleblower story flared and faded last week in the UK media.

Peter Francis revealed that 20 years ago he had worked as an undercover cop in the Metropolitan Police Force’s secret Special Demonstrations Squad (SDS). Francis said he was tasked to dig up dirt which the Met could use to discredit the family of murdered black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, and thereby derail their campaign for a full and effective police investigation into his death. The Lawrence family correctly believed the original investigation had been fumbled because of institutional racism by the police at that time.

The fact the secret police squad were posing as activists to infiltrate protest groups will come as no shock after the cascade of revelations about secret policemen in 2011, starting with DC Mark Kennedy/environmental activist "Mark Stone". Kennedy was uncovered by his "fellow" activists, and nine more quickly emerged in the wake of that scandal. This has resulted in an enquiry into the shadowy activities of these secret officers, accusations that the Crown Prosecution Service suppressed key evidence in criminal trials , and a slew of court cases brought by women whom these (predominantly male) police officers seduced.

But the disclosures of Peter Francis plumb new depths. In the wake of the Stephen Lawrence murder, many left-wing and anti-Nazi groups jumped on the bandwagon, organising demonstrations and provoking confrontations with the far-right British National Party. There was a clash near the BNP’s then bookshop in south London in 1993. So, sure, the Met Police could potentially just about argue that the undercover officers were trying to gather advance intelligence to prevent public disorder and rioting, although the sheer scale of the operation was utterly disproportionate.

However, what is completely beyond the pale is this apparent attempt to smear the traumatised family of a murder victim in order to derail their campaign for justice.

The role of undercover cops spying on their fellow citizens who are politically active is distasteful in a democracy. And the fact that, until the original scandal broke in 2011, the reconstituted SDS continued to target peace and environmental protest groups who offered no threat whatsoever to national security is disgraceful - it smacks of the Stasi in East Germany.

To make matters even worse, when details emerged two years ago, it became apparent that the SDS Version 2.0 was operating outside the formal hierarchy of the police, with what little democratic oversight that would provide. In fact, it emerged that the SDS had been renamed the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) and had for years been the fiefdom of a private limited company - the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). Within a notional democracy, this is just gobsmacking.


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Annie Machon is a former intel­li­gence officer for the UK’s MI5, who resigned in 1996 to blow the whistle. She is now a writer, public speaker and a Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

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