“the law has been abused…by the State”: ex-spycop on UK counter-extremism

Just over two years ago, Gordon Mills, a former sypcop who liaised with the blacklisting agency The Consulting Association, penned a thesis that was primarily about animal rights activists and the undercover units that monitored them. The 300+ page dissertation by Mills, who was a senior police officer attached to the National Extremism & Tactical Coordination Unit, provides a useful insight into the often convoluted history of undercover policing of that time. It is also punctuated with criticisms of the more extreme Government practices that he witnessed (and which in more recent years have evolved into an even more reactionary agenda). Let’s explore further…

Mr Mills, via his thesis, set himself up as an apologist for the extremist undercover policing that, subsequently, was widely discredited and is now the subject of a national inquiry (see below). While the bulk of the thesis staunchly defends this kind of policing, occasionally Mills breaks off, somewhat disingenuously, to offer criticism – and it is these less guarded comments which have been highlighted, in context, below.

Here is the link to Mr Mills’ thesis (entire document is downloadable).

A. Introduction

Let’s rewind… In 2008, according to an article in the Guardian there is “compelling evidence of a flow of information between the police and the blacklisting operation [run by The Consulting Association]. The two-page document contains minutes of a meeting between six representatives of construction companies, including Sir Robert McAlpine and Costain, with detective chief inspector Gordon Mills at the Bear Hotel, Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

Gordon Mills of the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU) denies passing on information to The Consulting Association, which was headed by Ian Kerr. TCA held a database of 3,213 names of persons – mainly trade unionists. The role of the TCA was to ensure these persons became unemployable, regardless of the consequences. The TCA was raided by agents of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and subsequently closed down in 2009. The TCA destroyed all its files before court action could proceed. The two-page leaked document contained the minutes of a meeting between six representatives of construction companies, including Sir Robert McAlpine and Costain, with detective chief inspector Gordon Mills at the Bear Hotel, Woodstock, Oxfordshire. Those who attended the meeting included Mike Harrison of Vinci, Tony Crowther of AMEC, Alan Audley of SIAS Building Services, Vinci, Bob Chapman of Skanska, David Hillman of Sir Robert McAlpine and a representative from Emcor.

The minutes of this meeting suggest at least a link between the blacklisting industry and the police – specifically, undercover police, including NETCU. (Note: earlier this year, former undercover police officer Peter Francis revealed how as a member of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) he and other undercover officers spied on trade unionists for over 40 years.)


NETCU  was largely concerned with combatting animal rights activism. To quote Mills (from his thesis): “NETCU provides tactical advice and guidance on policing single-issue domestic extremism. The unit also supports companies and other organisations that are the targets of domestic extremism campaigns. NETCU reports through the National Coordinator for Domestic Extremism (NCDE) to the Association of Chief Police Officers Terrorism and Allied Matters – ACPO(TAM) committee.”

NETCU was subsequently subsumed into the National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU) of the Metropolitan police, which in turn was merged into the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command (SO15).

Several former NETCU officers are now working in ‘risk control’ – particularly for the pharmaceutical companies, such as Novartis and Glaxo-Smith-Kline. Superintendent Stephen Pearl, who was the head of NETCU, is now a non-executive director of Agenda Resource Management (ARM), which carries out vetting of applicants for jobs in animal laboratories. ARM includes Agenda Security Services (ASS), which boast “teams of ex-police, ex-military, desktop researchers and security analysts”.

ASS also states that it works with Government Institutions, global corporations and small to medium sized businesses. One of its main services is employee screening (i.e. blacklisting). So, full circle, as it were.

C. Criticisms

Back to Mills’ thesis…

In Chapter One Mills pointed out that the initial impetus for the creation of NETCU came about as a direct result of pressure from Japanese pharmaceutical companies based in the UK and who had threatened to move their industries overseas unless the activities of animal rights protesters were curbed. Mills’ thesis largely explores animal rights activism and ‘associated extremism’ between the period 2004 – 2010 and Mills argues that during this period animal rights protests significantly shifted up a gear. Mills explains how several operations were deployed to combat these protesters. What is interesting, however, is that Mills concedes that the clampdown on their activities, particularly those protests that in hindsight were regarded by the courts as ‘legitimate’, may have gone too far. Indeed, Mills comments:

“However, the success of this initiative has had far reaching implications for human rights and the ability of people to protest in a democratic society. The operational success has also led to more sophisticated tactics being used by extremists and a displacement abroad to ‘softer’ targets. This perversely orchestrated even more restrictive laws being passed…”

Mills also adds how in some cases…

“…the law has been abused and applied disproportionately by the State, thereby fundamentally affecting freedom of assembly and free expression for all UK citizens.”

For a former senior police officer to make such a statement is damning, to say the least.

Interesting, later in the thesis, Mills adds:

“The author also believes that… the government and police have in some cases deliberately set out to thwart protest and prevent it; however the dangers in doing so are obvious. The danger in seeking to outlaw and to limit direct action is that the response of the law has been to cast too wide a net and in doing so, whether by design or by oversight, has captured far more political activity than is appropriate and balanced in our democracy.”

That statement could equally apply to other policing or monitoring agencies (re. the latter, GCHQ and its mass surveillance comes to mind).

D. Spycops: the Mark Kennedy case

The thesis also makes references to undercover operations that have subsequently received prominent news footage and, in time, led to the setting up of a national inquiry – the Pitchford Inquiry. One such operation Mills refers to is that which involved the notorious spycop, Mark Kennedy (aka Mark Stone).

Mills comments: “A section within the NPOIU – the ‘Confidential Intelligence Unit’, which
controlled assets such as covert human intelligence sources (CHISs) had failed to properly
manage a police undercover officer (UC) Mark Kennedy, who had been placed within an
environmental activist group planning to carry out an incursion into Ratcliffe On Soar
Power Station.” 114 activists were arrested and a smaller number were subsequently charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass. However, it emerged that Kennedy had offered to give evidence on the campaigners’ behalf and, consequently, the trial collapsed. Mills commented, “[As a result HMIC]suggested that there should be a clearer definition of DE [Domestic Extremism] to determine whether an undercover deployment was the most appropriate tactic.”

Mills further commented on the Kennedy operation:

“…there are individuals and groups who ‘will be looked at’ simply because they are asserting their democratic right to protest. The author believes on the evidence provided that the national agency response operated beyond its operational and ethical remit”.

E. And now…?

Mills’ thesis is well worth reading in its entirety, if only to see what he has to say about other undercover police operations and their controversies in the period in which he himself was a spycop. The thesis also reveals the often muddled thinking behind the Government’s responses to public order challenges and political protest in general.

Finally, this year we are likely to see the resurrected and controversial ‘Snooper’s Charter’ from a Tory Government – specialising in economic extremism – that is determined to ensure that blanket – not targeted – surveillance remains the norm.

Note… Between 2013-2014 Mills worked as a part-time Lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, where he taught ‘English Legal System’ and ‘Management theory’. Following a protest organised by the Blacklisting Support Group and the GMB Union, Anglia Ruskin announced they would no longer employ Mr Mills as a lecturer. Since that time Mills has worked as a planning investigation and enforcement officer for South Cambridgeshire District Council. (To see more details about former undercover police who have joined private industry as security consultants, or in similar roles, click here.)

See also:

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9 Responses to “the law has been abused…by the State”: ex-spycop on UK counter-extremism

  1. Pingback: “the law has been abused…by the State”: ex-spycop on UK counter-extremism | markcatlin3695's Blog

  2. Pingback: “the law has been abused…by the State”: ex-spycop on UK counter-extremism | UndercoverInfo | sdbast

  3. Merrick says:

    Excellent piece, and important to flag up Mills’ role. There are two points to correct though:

    1) Mark Kennedy did not offer to give evidence at the Ratcliffe trial. The media initally ran with the romantic idea of a spy switching sides, but it is completely untrue. In a conversation with an activist that he didn’t know was being recorded, he said ‘I’d like to help’, and this line has been taken out of context.

    At no time has Kennedy offered any help to activists, let alone helped anyone but himself. The trial collapsed because the defendents asked to see whatever reports Kennedy hade made and, rather than hand them over, the state withdrew the charges. So it was, in fact, Kennedy’s diligent reports as a police officer that cause the trial to collapse, rather than any turncoat behaviour.

    2) Gordon Mills had stopped teacing at Andrea Ruskin long before the approach from the Blacklist Support Group, and Ruskin merely confirmed that he did not teach there and they have no plans to rehire him.


    • Undercover1 says:

      Very useful comments.
      Yes, those reports about Kennedy being ‘helpful’ didn’t fit, so good to get some clarification on that.
      I have no additional info re Mills and Anglia Ruskin, but others involved might want to comment.
      Best wishes.


  4. Peter Salmon says:

    Fuller bio on Gordon Mills and his relationship with Anglia Ruskin here


  5. Pingback: CPS intervened at every stage to ensure no spycop was prosecuted: the evidence | UndercoverInfo

  6. Pingback: The spycops experiment: from blacklisting agents to social pariahs – and next? | UndercoverInfo

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