While the revived ‘Snooper’s Charter’ (Investigatory Powers Bill) will likely see the legitimation of mass surveillance by the UK’s intelligence and security services, the resumption of the Pitchford Inquiry into undercover policing acts as a timely reminder of the underlying political nature of policing. Indeed, you only need to glance at the Inquiry’s list of core participants to see that it reads like a Who’s Who of agitprop over the last two decades or more. Undercover policing targets included workers of all types as well as many political activists/groups – and even MPs. The undercover police officers who form part of the Inquiry are listed as core participants too – but only as coded numbers (even though their identities are already known). Prosecutions of the undercover police officers are still possible, as are legal challenges to the previous decision by the CPS not to prosecute. But one very prominent person – Jeremy Corbyn MP – is not listed as a participant at the Inquiry – which is surprising, given he was spied on by one of the undercover police officers listed and was arguably being ‘groomed’ by a former ‘spycop’ supervisor, whose indiscretion probably – and ironically – helped expose the entire spycop scandal. But Mr Corbyn has an ally at the Inquiry: Ken Livingstone MP – who is listed as a participant. So, in the weeks or months to come we may well see Mr Livingstone (and possibly Mr Corbyn too, if he is called to testify) in the same hearing as not only the officers who spied on the MPs, but also the undercover police officer who turned whistleblower and who will have the opportunity to elaborate further on what is detailed below…
The Pitchford Inquiry has been rightly criticised for its narrow terms of reference. For example, the Inquiry will be restricted to the activities of undercover policing in England and Wales – yet some of the officers concerned operated elsewhere in the UK and with certain individuals outside of the UK too. Nor does it appear that the inquiry will examine the role of those who supervised the undercover police officers – and the authorisations that were given for their activities. Furthermore, the inquiry will not examine the activities of those undercover police officers who, after leaving the police, took up positions in private industry – as ‘intelligence consultants’ for constructions firms, or for private surveillance companies, or in academia.
The main thrust of the Inquiry will be to examine a policing culture that was allowed to ruin and compromise the lives of women with whom these undercover police officers befriended and had formed sexual relationships; to ruin the lives of workers, who simply wanted better working conditions; and to ruin the lives of political activists, who merely sought more justice in our societies.
In the meantime, there is a sub-narrative to the scandal that deserves our attention – if only for the political implications…
B. Jeremy Corbyn and the spycops (and MI5)
First, some background…
In the 1970s and 1980s undercover policing and infiltration of left-wing groups was largely organised by MI5 in co-operation with Special Branch. According to ex-F2 (MI5) staffer (then whistleblower) Annie Machon, F Branch regarded the following well-known individuals worth monitoring:
“John Lennon, Jack Straw MP, Ted Heath MP, Tam Dalyell MP, Gareth Peirce (solicitor), Jeremy Corbyn MP, Mike Mansfield (barrister), Geoffrey Robertson (barrister), Patricia Hewitt MP, Harriet Harman MP, Garry Bushell (journalist), Peter Mandelson (European commissioner), Peter Hain MP, Clare Short MP, Mark Thomas (comedian), Mo Mowlam (politician), Arthur Scargill (NUM leader, who famously had his own recording category: unaffiliated subversive), Neil Kinnock (politician), Bruce Kent (peace campaigner), Joan Ruddock MP, Owen Oyston (businessman), Cherie Booth aka Blair, Tony Blair MP, David Steel (politician), Teddy Taylor MP, Ronnie Scott (jazz musician), Robin Cook MP, John Prescott MP, Mark Steel (comedian), Jack Cunningham MP, Mohammed Al Fayed (businessman), Mick McGahey (former union leader), Ken Gill (former union leader), Michael Foot (politician), Jack Jones (former union leader), Ray Buxton (former union leader), Hugh Scanlon (former union leader), Harold Wilson (politician), James Callaghan (politician), Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian journalist)…. I also came across a file called: ‘Subversion in contemporary music’, which consisted of press clippings about Crass, then a well-known, self-styled ‘anarchist’ band; the Sex Pistols; and, rather surprisingly, UB40.”
And then there were the ‘spycops’…
Mr Bob Lambert was one of the undercover police officers who had spied on environmental and animal rights activists (and who formed relationships with at least two women to advance his intelligence activities). At some point Lambert attempted to associate himself with Jeremy Corbyn MP, who had been placed under surveillance by Peter Francis. The latter was an undercover police officer assigned to Special Branch between 1990 and 2001, and who was subsequently deployed at the Special Demonstration Squad – his manager being none other than Lambert.
In an interview to the Guardian, Francis revealed that between 1993 and 1997 he personally collected information on three London MPs – Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and the late Bernie Grant. Seven other MPs, including former Home Secretary Jack Straw, were also spied on. Francis named a further ten MPs who he had seen files on, including Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone, Dennis Skinner, Joan Ruddock, Peter Hain, Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant and Harriet Harman.
It is generally understood that Jeremy Corbyn and Bob Lambert had met up together in 2005, when the latter headed up the Metropolitan Police’s Muslim Contact Unit, which was set up by Lambert (and Jim Boyling) in 2002 and was involved in helping turn Finsbury Park Mosque away from the radical cleric Abu Hamza.
Lambert retired from the police in 2008. Three years later, in September 2011, he gave a speech – “Partnering with the Muslim Community as an Effective Counter-Terrorist Strategy” – at Chatham House and in that speech references Mr Corbyn. (Here is the full transcript of the speech.) This, incidentally, neatly tied in with the Government’s much-criticised ‘Prevent Strategy’ (see Appendix 2, below) that was launched in 2008.
Of course, this was all part of Lambert’s attempt at creating a new identity – that of a respectable academic, working closely to promote good relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. His new Muslim friends no doubt welcomed his overtures, little suspecting that Lambert’s entire working life had been a fraud.
But Mr Lambert, in his arrogance, clearly forgot some of the basic rules of spycraft and happily – cockily – thrust himself centre-stage.
And, so, it was also in September 2011 that Lambert published a book, “Countering Al-Qaeda in London: Police and Muslims in Partnership’, on police efforts to deal with Muslim extremism in London. The Cordoba Foundation, a London-based Muslim Brotherhood related think-tank, promoted the parliamentary launch of the book, which clearly stated on the book jacket that Lambert had previously worked for Special Branch. This event was jointly organised with the Council for Arab-British Understanding and Jeremy Corbyn MP.
It is assumed that nothing of Lambert’s more ‘colourful’ undercover policing background was known or revealed to those whom he was attempting to befriend and ‘groom’ (i.e. exploit). Indeed, the typical spycops’ modus operandi – which Lambert had mastered both as a police officer and in his new guise – was simple: to be ‘nice’, helpful and to show empathy to those who were targeted.
But it was less than a month after his very public book launch that Mr Lambert was finally – and spectacularly – stopped in his tracks and exposed by activists. Lambert was speaking at a conference, organised by Unite Against Fascism, to promote anti-racism and multiculturalism (again, all fitting in to his new persona). He was outed by members of London Greenpeace. (There is poetic justice here: using the alias “Bob Robinson”, Lambert had posed as an activist in London Greenpeace between 1984 and 1988 and was also responsible for writing the infamous McLibel leaflet.)
It was, perhaps, supremely ironic that one of the leading spycops in his post-policing ambitions not only allowed himself to be outed, but in doing so may well have helped expose his former colleagues in undercover policing and, subsequently, the entire spycops scandal.
C. Corbyn challenges the spycops
Once Mr Corbyn had been made aware of Mr Lambert’s undercover activities he issued the following statement: “I worked with Bob Lambert around Finsbury Park Mosque, he was good in that role. Later I was interested in his book at the time and I was involved in the launch. But for all I know he could have had me under surveillance. I am looking forward to what the inquiry gives me and I think I should be given the full report without any redactions.”
Elsewhere Mr Corbyn gave a speech in the House of Commons on undercover policing, mentioning Mr Lambert:
“The Guardian reported at great length on Saturday the behaviour of two undercover police officers, Bob Lambert and John Dines. Bob Lambert is known to some of us in this House and is a very clever operator—there is no question about that. It is also clear that during the undercover operations used against the Lawrence family and in the McLibel case and a number of other cases, senior officers in Scotland Yard must have known who was doing what and known of the disreputable personal behaviour of such people, and must still know. I hope the inquiry is not restricted within the police force but, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), is open and public, and that heads roll at a high level in Scotland Yard for those who have covered up the truth and allowed smearing and injustice to go on for a very long time. Unless that inquiry gets to the bottom of these matters, there will be no credibility and no public confidence in policing.”
(A full transcript of the Commons speeches on this matter is here.)
In an email to the Islington Tribune, Lambert responded by saying: “I was employed by the Metropolitan Police from 1977 until 2007. To the best of my recollection, at no time during that employment was I involved in any kind of surveillance against Jeremy Corbyn.” But this statement only referred to himself and not to any of the officers under his supervision or within the SDS.
Merrick Badger, an activist with Islington Against Police Spies, commented: “Bob Lambert was running the unit [SDS]. He sent the spies out to do the work and was managing the unit. The spies in the 1990s were modelled into his image, using his methods developed in the 1980s. If spying on MPs was going on and he was the manager, then he is either complicit, or was at best incredibly negligent.”
Meanwhile, despite his fraudulent background, Mr Lambert retains his MBE and his associations with academia.
To date, most of the undercover police officers involved in the spycops scandal have succeeded in avoiding prosecution for how they had severely compromised the lives of women they had relationships with – though many may argue that the CPS decision not to prosecute was seriously flawed and is still open to legal challenge (just as the decision re the Janner case was challenged and subsequently overturned).
As the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS) puts it: “How many other women were similarly abused? How many other children searching for their fathers are doomed to failure because it’s a name a police officer made up or stole from a dead child? How many campaigns were stymied? What other outrages have occurred that none of the known officers committed? At least 500 groups and uncountable thousands of individuals were spied on. They all have a right to know.”
Also, the opportunity remains to prosecute these undercover police officers – and their supervisors – for their activities in perverting the course of justice (to say the least). Indeed, in his opening comments at the Inquiry, Lord Justice Pitchford stated: “Evidence may emerge that an undercover police officer may have committed, by his or her unauthorised action, a criminal offence while performing an undercover role. Unless that officer subsequently receives immunity from prosecution, they will be liable to prosecution.”
The Pitchford Inquiry is anticipated to run for three years. During that time there will be submissions, many testimonies and many examinations of witnesses. These witnesses will include MPs, abused women, trade unionists and political activists wrongly accused (and in some cases jailed) of crimes they did not commit. There will also be present representatives of political campaign groups such as McLibel, London Greenpeace, Colin Roach (campaign), Stephen Lawrence (campaign), Cherry Groce (campaign), Advisory Service for Squatters, Reclaim the Streets, Blacklist Support Group, National Union of Mineworkers, Genetic Engineering Network, the Drax and Ratcliffe accused and many, many more. Legal representation will be provided by some of the top lawyers (solicitors/barristers/QCs) in the country.
It has been estimated that there are at least 1200 undercover police officers at large in the UK: how many of these have also compromised people’s lives via sexual relationships, or by perverting justice, or by miscarriages of justice, or by blacklisting, is yet to be revealed. According to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) there were 3,466 undercover operations in England and Wales between October 2009 and September 2013 alone and that at the most recent count, 1,229 officers in 39 units were trained as undercover officers. On this basis there are likely to be thousands – if not tens of thousands – of victims of politically-motivated undercover policing over many decades.
And so the months ahead are likely to reveal much via the Inquiry, with the tragedies of what happened exposed all over again. But in the end, no one will be satisfied unless justice is done and seen to be done.
Pitchford may well be only the beginning.
Appendix 1: profiles of Bob Lambert
(The following is adapted from Powerbase.)
Bob Lambert was an officer in Special Branch over a period spanning 26 years up to 2006. When as Operational Controller he headed the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) in the 1980s and 1990s he was responsible for a number of undercover police officers (and their activities) such as Peter Black and Jim Boyling. He left the SDS in 1998. Between 2002 and 2007, Lambert ran the Muslim Contact Unit, a Scotland Yard department. He retired from the police in 2007.
After leaving the Met, Lambert became a Research Fellow at the Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies in the University of Exeter’s politics department – a post he held from 2008 until 2011. Whilst at Exeter he set up the European Muslim Research Centre. In 2008 Lambert began teaching, lecturing and supervising dissertations on the e-learning MLitt terrorism studies course provided by St. Andrews University’s Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence. In September 2012, Lambert was hired by the John Grieve Centre for Policing and Community Safety at the London Metropolitan University.
During his undercover work Lambert infiltrated London Greenpeace, the ALF (Animal Liberation Front) and was accused of burning down the Harrow branch of Debenhams department store as part of an anti-fur trade operation, which saw branches in Luton and Romford targeted at the same time on the same night.
In 1995 Lambert was present at a meeting to discuss the sharing of intelligence between the MI5 case officer responsible for monitoring Militant, Peter Francis and other Special Demonstration Squad managers.
(The following is adapted from an article by Islington Against Police Spies.)
These days Robert Lambert works part-time, lecturing on Criminology and Policing at London Metropolitan University. But this ‘expert’ on Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism has a dark past.
Lambert spent the 1980s and 1990s in Special Branch’s now discredited Special Demonstrations Squad, spying on community and activist groups. While pretending to be an activist involved in peace and animal rights campaigns, he acted as agent provocateur, encouraging people to carry out actions that would lead to their arrest. He was eventually named in Parliament as having planted an incendiary device in a Debenhams store in 1987 – one of three simultaneous arson attacks which saw two animal rights activists sent to prison for four years.
Lambert also had sexual relationships with several women campaigners, lying to them about his identity and then disappearing from their lives. This abuse had a severe and lasting emotional impact on those affected (one woman had a child fathered by Lambert).
After acting as an infiltrator, Lambert went on to head the Special Demonstrations Squad, supervising spies in many other political campaigns. Following Lambert’s example, almost all of the thirteen other undercover police so far exposed used their positions to sexually exploit women who were unaware of their real role.
Lambert’s protégés also included undercover police officers who spied on numerous families and campaigns opposing police racism and/or violence and murders, as well as the environmental activist group London Greenpeace, Reclaim the Streets, anti fascist groups and campaigners against genetically modified crops. Lambert was directly implicated in police attempts to spy on, smear and discredit Stephen Lawrence’s family campaign against the police failures to investigate Stephen’s racist murder in 1993.
Lambert was also implicated in the ‘mysterious’ passing of Special branch files to a private company, paid by large construction companies to compile a blacklist of trade unionists active in the building trade – many of whom were consequently fired and victimised.
Appendix 2: (ACPO) Police Prevent strategy document