Digested Summary by some Non-State, Non-Police Core Participants

Introduction to this Summary

What follows is a summary of the Interim Report published by the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI) on 29th June 2023. This summary was produced by Core Participants in that Inquiry. The report itself is long (95 pages plus annexes), so we hope this summary is useful for people who cannot commit to deciphering such a dense document.

The UCPI is mainly examining the conduct of two undercover policing units: the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) from 1968-2010, i.e., over 42 years.

This Interim Report covers the first 14 years of the existence of the SDS (initially called the Special Operations Squad, of SOS), a Metropolitan Police Unit tasked with assisting control of public order.

It is important to stress that Lord Justice Mitting’s Inquiry is ongoing, and that this Interim Report barely addresses many of the reasons why the Inquiry was set up. By way of example, there is not a single mention of the practice of ‘vetting’ or ‘blacklisting’ workers for their political allegiances, and no examination of spying on trade union activities, both of which are well established as having occurred.

There is also a lack of any critical analysis of how these findings so far relate to contemporary issues facing the police, such as institutional racism (as identified by the Macpherson Inquiry); institutional corruption (as identified by the Daniel Morgan report) and emerging revelations of institutional misogyny following the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard and identified in the Casey Report. We can hope that this is because the Inquiry is still ongoing, and that judgement on those issues, and on the overall unlawfulness of the operations, is being deferred until all the evidence has been heard.

The most important takeaway from the report are the conclusions that it was very quickly clear these spying operations were not justified, that some of the worst practices (such as theft of dead children’s identities and abusive relationships with members of the public) were present from the very beginning, and that the units should have been shut down in the early 1970s.

These were clearly unjustifiable operations, deploying unethical and illegal tactics, which the Police and Home Office deliberately kept secret to avoid public outcry.

This will be important going forward, as the Inquiry will have to consider how these practices were able to continue for fifty years, surviving new Police Commissioners, changes in Government, the end of the Cold War, the introduction of the Human Rights Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and the creation of a new unit in 1999.

These events must be looked at from an institutional learning perspective. This report contributes by recognising that questions ought to have been raised all the way up the Police’s chain of command into the Home Office.

Please note that the summary is based on  the wording of the Interim Report. Hopefully it’ll be obvious where we have added our own comments.

SUMMARY OF UCPI INTERIM REPORT

This is the first “open”[1] interim report to be published by the Mitting Inquiry. It covers the Special Operations Squad (SOS)[2] from its foundation in 1968 to early 1982, a period which the Inquiry has called ‘Tranche 1’. The report contains only partial conclusions based on the evidence presented to date.[3]It contains a Foreword from the Chair, Sir John Mitting, which stresses that the report is part of a work in progress, and that some issues are not being addressed until all of the evidence has been heard.

Those include some of the most serious aspects:

  • The impact of the conduct of male police officers on women deceived into sexual relationships, and on the families of those officers;
  • The impact of the theft of deceased children’s identities;
  • The purpose of gathering intelligence on family “justice” campaigns for people killed in police custody;
  • The attitude of police officers and managers towards deceitful sexual relationships;
  • Wider issues such as the possibility that the SDS was one of the instruments set up by a conservative state to suppress the aspirations of those who wished to produce radical change by political means.

The Introduction explains the background to the Inquiry, established on 12 March 2015 in reaction to wide-ranging concerns and serious allegations of misconduct by undercover officers that were brought to the public eye by journalists and activists, including, notably, women who had been deceived into sexual relationships, and police whistleblower Peter Francis.

Chapters 1-5 offer an account of some of the evidence examined, in chronological order, starting with the Formation of the Special Operations Squad (SOS) in July 1968. The initial purpose was to gather intelligence about a  demonstration to be staged in October 1968 by the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (VSC), known as the “Autumn Offensive”, by pretending to be supporters of the demonstration. The SOS was a small unit with no more than 16 deployed officers at the date of the October demonstration.

Chapter 2 examines the decision to continue The Special Operations Squad after 27 October 1968, subsequent applications for funding and changes to the way the unit operated. The continuation of the unit was by no means a given and many expected the SOS would be wound up.

However the unit’s founder Conrad Dixon, the Security Service (MI5) and high-ranking officers such as Chief Superintendent Arthur Cunningham, Commander Ferguson Smith, Assistant Commissioner Peter Brodie, and the Commissioner John Waldron himself, took steps to extend funding and approval for the unit’s continued existence. James Waddell, the Home Office’s Deputy Under Secretary with responsibility for policing, gave Home Office approval for continued funding of the squad.

On 26 November 1968, Dixon produced a study paper setting out his template for the future conduct of the unit: the primary objective should be to provide information in relation to public order problems, and that service should continue for no more than one year except in special circumstances.

However, the purposes of the unit quickly expanded into “gathering and recording information for long-term intelligence purposes.”[4] Mitting identifies a number of tendencies in this period: deployments were not limited to twelve months; a wide variety of left-wing groups were targeted which did not pose an immediate threat to public order; there was no prohibition on accepting official positions within a group; and there was emphasis on gathering information about individuals.

Chapters 3, 4 and 5 deal with the SOS 1971 and the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) 1972 to 1973; 1974 to 1976 and 1977 to 1982, in which periods the above tendencies continued to deepen.

Between 1971 and 1973 the standard duration of a typical operation settled at about four years, with an increasing focus on spying on political “subversives” rather than policing public order. A number of themes emerge that will be important to the Inquiry going forward:

  • Failings go right to the top of the Police
  • The role of the Home Office
  • The relationship with MI5
  • Random and pointless tasking of operatives
  • Positions of influence in target groups
  • Intrusive reporting
  • Sexual relationships
  • The theft of dead children’s identities
  • Impact on the families of undercover officers
  • The decision not to spy on the far right

These issues are examined in more detail below.

Chapter 6 presents Mitting’s analysis and conclusions. He identifies four key issues that should have been addressed by those overseeing and funding the unit from the outset:

1.  Long-term deployments into political groups inevitably led to intrusion into the lives of many hundreds of people (including deceitful sexual relationships which the report finds were “common knowledge among many of them” [C4,§43]and were to become “a perennial feature of the SDS throughout the remainder of its history.” [C4,§8]). There was no justification for this.

2. Gaining entry into private homes of members of infiltrated groups by deceit might make an undercover officer a trespasser. At the very least, this would have had to have been considered.

3. Positions of responsibility within infiltrated groups, such as branch treasurer or membership secretary, routinely involved the gathering and distribution of confidential information (such as bank details) and reporting the personal details of people engaged in legitimate activities. Positions involving “direction setting and incitement” also meant influencing political activity and helping to organise unlawful activity.

4. Theft of deceased children’s identities should have been referred to senior officers within the Met and to Home Office officials because it would have been bound to give rise to legitimate public concern and embarrassment to the Commissioner and the Home Secretary had it become public.

None of these issues appears to have been addressed by senior officers or Home Office officials during this period. Mitting is clear: “they should have been addressed at the highest level”. [C6,§27] If that had happened, he considers it would have resulted in the closure of the SDS.

Notwithstanding his (often controversial) pro-establishment approach, it is Mitting’s view that only three out of the hundreds of groups targeted might be considered a ‘legitimate target’ for undercover policing of any kind, let alone the intrusions of the SDS. He concludes “The question is whether or not the end justified the means […]. I have come to the firm conclusion that, for a unit of a police force, it did not; and that had the use of these means been publicly known at the time, the SDS would have been brought to a rapid end.” [C6,§29]

Themes Emerging in the Interim Report

Failings go right to the top of the Police

The early reports from the SDS were passed to Commissioner John Waldron, and informed his meetings with the Home Secretary. His successor, Commissioner Sir Robert Mark, is known to have visited the unit and is described as taking a “close personal interest in SDS activities.” [5] [C4,§1]Annual reports seeking renewal of its funding were made by Assistant Commissioners.

The role of the Home Office

The Home Office approved funding for the unit over and over again. The Report notes common threads in the various memos supporting applications for this continued Home Office approval:

  • Although there had been no serious outbreak of public disorder in 1969 and 1970, it would only take an emotive issue to give rise to one; and a number of potential issues were identified, including Vietnam, Northern Ireland and sporting ties with South Africa.
  • It would be difficult to restart an effective undercover unit if circumstances should require it.
  • Gathering of intelligence about extremists was a worthwhile and justified end in itself.

There is little documentary evidence of which documents were sent to the Home Office, or read by James Waddell or other senior officials, because the Home Office file that would have contained all retained documents about the SOS, QPE/66 1/8/5, is inexplicably “missing”. [C2,§12]

A search of all Home Office archives failed to find a single document relating to the SDS, despite the Home Office directly funding it for over 20 years. Fortunately, the Metropolitan Police had kept some copies.

The report concludes that it is inconceivable that James Waddell – the Deputy Under Secretary with responsibility for policing from 1968 to 1975 – was not aware, throughout, of the general nature of the activities undertaken by the SDS. [C2,§12]

The Report notes that contemporaneous documents suggest that the Home Office took little, if any, interest in the activities of the SDS after 1977 and received little information about them. However, letters seeking annual renewal of funding were still sent by the Assistant Commissioner (Crime) to the Deputy Under Secretary, and the Home Office continued to sign off on funding despite this apparent lack of information.

On 16 July 1984, Roy Harrington wrote to Peter Phelan that he had reported on his reading of the annual report to Michael Partridge and Sir Brian Cubbon, the Permanent Under Secretary, and that both were entirely content with the way that the squad’s role had been adapted to changing circumstances, and also with the arrangements for liaison with the Security Service. [C5,§7]

The relationship with MI5

From the early 1970s onwards, there was a shift in focus towards gathering information for MI5, also known as the Security Service.

“John Clinton” (HN343) understood, from the start, that the purpose of his deployment was twofold: to provide advance intelligence of events that might disturb the public order; and to gather information about subversive activity and those participating in it, which would be provided to the Security Service.” [C3,§26]

“Bob Stubbs” (HN301) understood the function of the SDS to be gathering intelligence about those who posed a threat to public order, but that it “gradually morphed into more of a general intelligence-gathering unit”. [C3,§29]

Chapter 2 ends with a comment about the “Terms of Reference for a Special Branch” which included responsibility to assist the Security Service (MI5) in gathering intelligence. Mitting makes no comment on the appropriateness of that tasking, noting only that more senior officers must have known about that document and that with the shifting focus of the SOS in this period towards long-term intelligence gathering they were already fulfilling that task. [C2,§38]

Chapter 4 dedicates some space to the definition of “subversion” and the “task of the Security Service: to defend the realm from internal dangers arising from actions of persons and organisations which may be judged to be subversive of the state”. [C4,§2]

This is because from inception, much of the written intelligence reporting generated by the SDS was forwarded to the Security Service (MI5). From 1974 there were six-monthly meetings between the managers of both services to discuss targeting and operational requirements. From November 1974 to March 1985, SDS reports were sent by courier direct to MI5 and put on file. Indeed, most SDS undercover officers understood that their written reporting would be forwarded to the Security Service. These links deepened in 1976 when a Security Service liaison officer was provided with an office at Special Branch for frequent use. [C4,§6]

Surviving records of the interaction between the Security Service and the SDS between the end of 1974 and early 1979 are sparse, however it is clear that the relationship became stronger after 1979. In 1981, it was stated that the extreme left-wing section of MI5 worked in close liaison with the SDS and that monthly targeting meetings were held. [C5,§2-5] The Security Service frequently expressed appreciation and gratitude, particularly for SDS coverage of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) from 1977 onwards, and it seems that most SDS effort was being put into targeting the SWP. [C5,§2]

Random and pointless tasking of operatives

A key difference identified in the report between the way the SOS and Special Branch operated was that, while Special Branch officers were typically instructed to attend specific public meetings, from the very beginning SOS officers joined the groups on which they were reporting and then “sorted out their own tasking”. [C1,§8]

They would begin by attending public (advertised) meetings and then attend private (unadvertised) meetings, some in private homes. The report notes that none of the undercover officers cited received any training, beyond reading the reports of deployed officers and speaking to them, and once deployed into a field, many chose their own target groups. It is remarkable how haphazard the targeting was and how little seems to have been achieved. For example:

“[“Douglas Edwards” (HN326)] chose his own targets. None of them posed a threat to public order or to the state, as his reporting and oral evidence demonstrated.” [C2,§20] Despite that, the groups he targeted were specifically identified as three of the groups considered to be the main threat to public order in applications for continued funding for the unit in 1969.

  • “HN333 was tasked to infiltrate a left-wing group […]  but it posed no threat to the state.” [C2,§21]
  • “The passage of time may have dimmed [“Dick Epps” (HN336)] memory of the detail; but what is clear is that he was largely left to his own devices about which groups to infiltrate and did not encounter or report on anything that posed a serious threat to public order or to the state.” [C2,§24]
  • Jill Mosdell (HN346) infiltrated anti-apartheid and anti-racist movements. “Surviving reports, from November 1971 to June 1972, deal with plans for peaceful demonstrations…  None of these plans posed any real threat to public order.” [C2,§32]
  • Mike Ferguson (HN135) and “Sean Lynch” (HN68) reported on Irish Republican groups of ‘potential interest’. However, even here it seems there was little in the reporting to justify the intrusion. “Both undercover officers reported on the bitter disagreements which occurred within and between the groups – about the alleged misappropriation of funds and about the politics of leading members.” [C2,§33]
  • “Alan Nixon” (HN340) was not tasked to infiltrate any particular group, but was encouraged to attend a public meeting, and went on to be invited to others. “Nothing of significance occurred… On his own initiative, he took over the role of tea club secretary of the group, to find out members’ surnames.” [C2,§34]
  • On the infiltration of the Women’s Liberation Front the Report notes “[“Sandra” (HN348)] did not question the justification for her deployment at the time, but in hindsight does so. Her contemporaneous reporting must have made it clear to her superiors that the groups on which she was reporting posed no threat to public order or to the state.”  [C3,§12]
  • “Alex Sloan” (HN347) was tasked to report on a small Maoist group, the Irish National Liberation Solidarity Front (INLSF). “The reason and justification for the deployment … is far from clear. It was, and was throughout known to be, no real threat to public order or the state.” [C3,§21]
  • “Stewart Goodman” (HN339) followed “Douglas Edwards” (HN326) in infiltrating the Dambusters Mobilising Committee. (DMC) “reports contain no reference to any past or prospective breaches of the criminal law. In hindsight, he believes that he was tasked to infiltrate this group as a means of gaining entry to a more militant group. He may be right. It is difficult to conceive of any other justification for infiltrating the DMC.” [C3,§22]
  • HN299/342 (“David Hughes”) deployment lasted five years (1971-1976) “he did not witness or participate in any public disorder.” [C3,§28]
  • HN349 and “Peter Fredericks” (HN345)[6]had short deployments, which appear to have achieved nothing.” [C3,§30]
  • “None of the groups on which “Jim Pickford” (HN300) reported were a legitimate target of undercover policing. Despite that, all three featured, by name, but not by description, in the 1974 annual report” [C4,§28]

Mitting notes that from the early 1970s until the late 1990s, Trotskyist groups were regularly infiltrated by SDS undercover officers. “None of the Trotskyist groups posed any threat to the safety or well-being of the state. […] The annual reports […] do not suggest that advance warning of specific threats by undercover officers made a material contribution to dealing with [threats to public order].” [C4,§23]

The Interim Report specifically deals with reporting on some public disorder events such as the mass picketing of Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories in June and July 1977, the “Battle of Lewisham” clash between fascists and anti-fascists, and the anti-fascist demonstration on 23 April 1979 on which Blair Peach was killed by police.

Mitting stresses that it is not within his Terms of Reference “to enquire into how or by whom [the fatal injuries] were inflicted, nor into the manner in which the MPS handled the subsequent investigation”. [C5,§41]Instead he notes that this and other events provide examples of the lack of value of SDS reporting to the policing of events, having provided only a “marginal contribution,” [C5,§44] and that “SDS reporting contributed little of value to the overall assessment of the likelihood of disorder.” [C5,§45]

The infiltration of the Stop the Seventy Tour (STST) is also examined in detail, including the evidence of Professor Jonathan Rosenhead and Lord Peter Hain. In December 1969, Mike Ferguson (HN135) began to infiltrate meetings of the Ad Hoc Organising Committee which met in Peter Hain’s parents’ home. [C2,§25-30] 

Mitting cites Hain’s two-part criticism that there was a lack of clarity about the unit and a lack of checks and balances within it; and that this led to an institutional culture of inappropriate and highly politicised surveillance.

He considers the first criticism is justified; and claims that the second criticism is only partly justified, on the grounds that managers appear to have believed there was a need to infiltrate a body of extremists bent on exploiting any emotive issue to create public disorder.

In his memorandum of 18 November 1970, Phil Saunders made the following observation:

“When there was a sufficiently emotive issue – such as the ‘Stop the Seventy Tour’ campaign which guaranteed broad-based support and the attention of the mass media [–] the extremists were able seriously to threaten the maintenance of order, making it imperative that advance information of their plans was available.” [C2,§30]

However, Mitting states that “Even without the benefit of hindsight, his observation is difficult to understand or to justify. It may reflect his fears of what might have happened had the tour not been called off, but it is not an accurate reflection of what in fact occurred.” [C2,§30]

This is a rare example in the report of Mitting actually criticising a member of the SDS, albeit one now deceased. In it Mitting tacitly accepts that the SDS were guilty of overstating the risk to public order posed by the target groups. In any case, he concludes that this fear of ‘extremists’ “was an inadequate explanation for most serious incidents of public disorder on the infrequent occasions on which they occurred; and it did not begin to justify the infiltration of groups which posed no such threat.” [C2,§36]

Several paragraphs are also devoted to the withdrawal of a number of undercover officers after “David Robertson” (HN45) was recognised at a meeting of a Maoist group. It is notable that Mitting disregards the evidence, given by Diane Langford, that “Robertson” threatened a member of that group – stating his personal belief that “it is very unlikely that ”Robertson” made a threat… She had nothing to fear from him and he knew nothing that could have caused him to believe that such a threat might be effective.”[7]

It is also notable that while the MPS reports suggest the reason for the withdrawal was the personal safety of their operatives, Mitting concludes that “the true reasons may have included a wish to protect the secrecy of the SDS within the MPS and the reputation of the MPS.” [C3,§16]

Positions of influence in target groups

The report describes how, from the outset, officers not only attended and reported on meetings, but may also have taken part in voting on decisions. One early meeting of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign was attended by at least nine MPS undercover officers from the SOS and Special Branch. [C1,§11]

An examination of reporting on Trotskyist groups, particularly the SWP, reveals that most of the reporting was about the routine functioning of those groups and that many undercover officers took key roles in the organisations they infiltrated.

For example:

“Michael Scott” (HN298) infiltrated the Putney branch of the Young Liberals. Within a fortnight, he was elected membership secretary of the branch. [C3,§33]

“Jeff Slater” (HN351) was designated the organiser of newspaper sales for Socialist Worker in the Tottenham branch of the International Socialists (IS). [C4,§21]

“Roger Harris” (HN200) joined the Twickenham branch of the IS in, or shortly before, October 1974. He was appointed contacts secretary and produced regular reports on the activities of the branch from December 1974 until late October 1975. Most of these concern organisational details and political topics. [C4,§22]

Richard Clark (“Rick Gibson” HN297) was instrumental in setting up the South East London branch of the Troops Out Movement (TOM), was elected unopposed as secretary, and was repeatedly selected to attend TOM London Liaison Committee meetings on behalf of the group. He was later selected to stand and subsequently elected to the post of TOM London organiser.  [C4,§33-34]

Vincent Harvey (“Vince Miller” HN354) approached the International Socialists (IS, by then renamed the Socialist Workers Party, or SWP) by buying its newspaper. He became a member of the Walthamstow branch. He was elected branch treasurer in or soon after June 1977, treasurer of the Outer East London district in late July 1977, and elected to the branch committee on 26 April 1978. He had access to the financial and membership records of both branch and district and reported on both throughout his deployment. [C5,§9]

Like many other undercover officers, “Geoff Wallace” (HN296) was elected to branch offices (also in the SWP) which gave him access to details of branch members and those with whom they were in contact. By May 1976, he had become treasurer; by July 1976, he had become organiser for local sales of the Socialist Worker newspaper; and in January 1977, he was elected organiser for distribution of Flame, another SWP publication. On 2 April 1978, he agreed to become one of a three-member committee to manage logistical arrangements for an Anti-Nazi League (ANL) carnival on 30 April 1978. [C5,§12-13]

Intrusive reporting

The Interim Report contains some interesting analysis of tendencies in SDS reporting. For the calendar year 1972 a total of 634 written reports were retrieved.

  • 182 (28%) deal with the identification and lives of individuals;
  • 456 (71%) deal with the political activities and organisation of the groups.
  •  Only 160 (25%) contain any reference to activities which might have something to do with public order. [C3,§5]

A similar analysis of documents from April 1975 to May 1978, shows that of 2600 documents retrieved:

  • The majority 53.8% deal with the identities and lives of individuals;
  • Only 7.6% (200 out of 2,600 written reports) contained any information which might have had an impact on public order. [C6,§8]

A striking feature of the reporting of almost all SDS undercover officers is the extensive details about individuals – their political views, personality, working life, relationships with others, and family and private life. This was not an accidental by-product of reporting on public order issues. [C6,§8]

Sexual relationships

Chapter 4 also notes that it is in this period that the evidence establishes the occurrence of sexual relationships between some male undercover officers in their cover identity and women they encountered during their deployment. Mitting notes that this “was common knowledge among many of them” and that it was to become “a perennial feature of the SDS throughout the remainder of its history.” [C4,§8]

  • “Jim Pickford” (HN300) is described as having “fallen in love” with one of his target group by an officer who gave evidence to the secret, closed hearing, and confirmed by “Pickford’s” second wife and daughters, who state that during his deployment he began a relationship with a woman who sometimes referred to him as “Jimmy”. She became his third wife after he left the SDS.

Unsurprisingly, his managers claim to have no recollection of any of this. “Angus McIntosh stated that he had no recollection of such a meeting and believes that the deployment of “Jim Pickford” (HN300) ended without incident”

Mitting is perhaps unreasonably generous in offering his opinion that McIntosh “was doing his best to tell the truth as he remembered it” however it is clear that “his memory of these events is imperfect.” [C4,§29-30]

An officer who knew Richard Clark (“Rick Gibson” HN297), testified in closed hearings that he was told by him that he had conducted sexual relationships with two different women, to whom he had given different accounts of his background, leading to his discovery and the end of his deployment. It is not in doubt that Clark conducted sexual relationships with at least two and probably four female activists.

The evidence given by SDS managers Geoffrey Craft and Angus McIntosh, who dealt with this incident, is incoherent and highly questionable. Mitting describes it as “two honest witnesses, doing their best to recall what happened […] neither recalls serving with the other” [C4,§9]However, he concludes, they did serve together and took part in the events described. 

Fortunately we have a more rounded picture of these incidents because “Unusually in this era, there are two living witnesses able to speak in detail about his activities from the standpoint of activists who knew him” (Richard Chessum and “Mary”) [C4,§31-40]

  • “Graham Coates” (HN304), a “careful, plainly truthful, witness”, described the exchange of sexual banter between some SDS undercover officers at the regular twice-weekly meetings. Richard Clark (HN297) had a reputation for being a “ladies’ man”. “Jim Pickford” (HN300) had a reputation as a philanderer (as confirmed by the evidence of HN200 and others). [C4,§41]
  • “Phil Cooper” (HN155) is recorded as having had two or three (possibly more) sexual relationships “and that the encounters would have followed drink.” He gave conflicting evidence to risk assessors and to the inquiry, however Mitting accepts that these relationships did take place. [C5,72-78]
  • HN302 records how early in his deployment a friendship developed between him in his cover identity and a female activist. After an evening in a pub both went to his cover flat, where they had protected sexual intercourse by “joint agreement”. Mitting states that he has “not heard from the female activist”, without recognising that as his inquiry has chosen to restrict HN302’s cover name, there is no way this woman would even know she was deceived in this relationship. In the absence of her potential evidence, Mitting chose to believe that HN302 was telling the truth. [C5,§79]
  • HN21 was married when deployed. He said that he had protected sexual intercourse on two occasions with a woman attending a course. He admitted to kissing and fondling another woman on the same course. The Inquiry has made efforts to trace the woman concerned, without success. Subject to the possibility that she may be traced and may contradict his account, Mitting chose to believe that the evidence given by HN21 was the truth. [C5,§80]
  • Two officers who gave evidence in secret, closed hearings spoke about sexual relationships. [C5,§79]
  • Vincent Harvey (“Vince Miller”, HN354) joined the SDS in early 1976 and reported on the SWP and trades union activity. In his written witness statement, Harvey admitted that he had, as he put it, four “one night stands”, two with female activists. [C5,§67-71]

One of them, “Madeleine”, provided a written witness statement and gave oral evidence. She was a member of the same SWP branch and district as him and believed him to be a fellow activist. Mitting accepts that where her evidence conflicts with his, hers is to be preferred. Their sexual relationship continued for up to two months. During that time, they would have sexual intercourse in her room approximately once a week, and he would always leave before dawn.

The evidence relating to Harvey is particularly important because of how he was subsequently rewarded by the police in his career. He went on to head the National Criminal Intelligence Service.[8]

Despite recognising that the extent to which managers knew about the relationships and/or tolerated them is a matter of controversy and conflicting evidence, in a touching act of seemingly blind faith, Mitting concludes: “The evidence … does not establish that [sexual relationships] were deployed as a tactic generally used by undercover officers to gain acceptance by infiltrated groups; and I am satisfied that their managers would have disapproved if they had done so.” [C4,§43]

It is curious to note that managers claim relationships would have been a serious disciplinary matter, yet although relationships were a “perennial feature” of SDS deployments from the very beginning, nobody can cite a single instance of disciplinary proceedings ever having occurred.

Miscarriages of justice and participation in crime

One deployment, that of “Mike Scott” (HN298), is examined in considerable detail in Chapter 3 (and also Chapter 4). He joined the SDS in 1971, received no formal training and was not tasked to infiltrate any particular group. He infiltrated the Putney branch of the Young Liberals and also attended meetings of what Mitting describes as “an ineffectual group of libertarian anarchists.”

On 12 May 1972 he took part in an action outside the Star and Garter hotel in Richmond, as part of an anti-Apartheid campaign against a South African sporting team staying there. Fourteen were arrested for a sit-down protest and charged with blocking the highway and obstructing a police constable in the execution of his duty. The facts and circumstances of the arrest and pending court proceedings were reported to a Detective Inspector Matthew Rodger – the then Commander of Special Branch, and Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ferguson Smith.

It was suggested that “Scott” would probably have to apply for legal aid and attend meetings with all those arrested and discuss tactics. He participated in the proceedings under his cover name and pleaded not guilty with the other defendants. There are at least two reports made by “Scott” of defendants’ meetings he went to – a police spy breaching lawyer/client confidentiality.

Mitting says “This is the first occasion on which a deliberate decision was made not to disclose to the prosecutor or the court the participation of an undercover officer in the events, which gave rise to the contested case”.[C3,§40]  The case was referred to the Home Office by the UCPI as a miscarriage of justice (the convictions have now been overturned.)[9]

The Report also notes that “Barry/Desmond Loader” (HN13) was arrested on two occasions for public order offences and prosecuted in his cover name. On both occasions, managers attended court and privately told court officials that ”Loader” was a police officer or “a valuable informant in the public order field”. [C5,§52-54]

The deployment of “Stewart Goodman” (HN339) ended abruptly after he crashed his SDS car into a tree when returning, intoxicated, from a meeting with activists in a pub. Uniformed officers attended the scene. He told them who he was. He was charged with driving without due care and attention and pleaded guilty. Detective Chief Inspector Phil Saunders attended court and took steps to ensure that “Goodman” was not compromised. [C3,§23]

Theft of dead children’s identities
Chapter 4 notes that it is probable that the first officer to research and in part adopt the name and date of birth of a real person was “Michael Scott” (HN298), in 1971.[C4,§32] By early 1974, it had become the established practice for SDS undercover officers to be sent to Somerset House to research the date of birth and death of a child, with a view to adopting the name of the child as a cover name.

No surviving SDS manager has been able to explain when or for what reason the practice was started and there is no evidence that anyone gave any thought to the propriety of its use. [C4,§7]

Richard Clark (“Rick Gibson” HN297) abruptly departed his deployment because he was confronted by two members of the Socialist group, Big Flame, with the birth and death certificate of “Rick Gibson”, the dead child whose identity he had stolen.[C5,§35]

Impact on the families of undercover officers

The deployment of “Graham Coates” (HN304) is reported as having had a major impact on his family, his wife and two young children. “His own view is that he was divorced because of the stresses and strains caused by it.” [C5,§57]

“Michael James” (HN96) joined the SDS in late 1978. At his suggestion, his superiors, Michael Ferguson and Angus McIntosh, introduced themselves to his then wife and reassured her that they would look after the security of her husband. This is the first evidenced instance of a visit by SDS managers to the spouse of an undercover officer about to be deployed. [C5,§58]

The decision not to spy on the far right

This period saw the first reporting on the far right, and it is striking because it was not a police or Security Service tasking. In 1975 “Peter Collins” (HN303) was instigated to report on extreme right-wing groups, the Legion of St George and the National Front, by the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP), which he was infiltrating at the time. Mitting notes “It is evident that HN303 found this aspect of his deployment uncongenial.”  [C4,§15]

No undercover officer was directly deployed into an extreme right-wing group during this period.The reasons given are that “Special Branch already had excellent sources within the extreme right” and “infiltration carried with it an unacceptable risk of violence – either to the officer or in which he might be required to participate to prove his credentials.” [C5,§64]

The Report does not address the obvious questions this raises about why the police would infiltrate groups that posed no risk of violence, instead of groups recognised to be violent.

Mitting offers his opinion that “the fact that in this period no decision was made to infiltrate right-wing groups did not result from political bias on the part of those responsible for targeting” [C6,§29]However, he offers no supporting evidence about political bias, so  it is hard to understand what that conclusion is based upon.


[1] This published interim report only refers to evidence presented in open sessions. A separate, closed interim report has been written and will be presented to the Home Secretary.

[2] The original name was the Special Operations Unit and it changed name several times, but is generally referred to as the Special Demonstration Squad or SDS.

[3] Tranch 1 evidence was heard between 2 Nov 2020 and 22 Feb 2023. Lists of witnesses and copies of the evidence considered can  be found on UCPI website www.ucpi.org.uk

[4] Memorandum proposed by Chief Superintendent Arthur Cunningham dated 20 May 1969  suggesting aims going forward.

[5]  In later correspondence Commissioners such as McNee continued to take a close interest in the unit, and a number of subsequent commissioners and other senior officers are known to have visited the SDS’s safehouse.

[6] Characteristic of his treatment of the officers, Mitting’s examination of the evidence relating to Fredericks goes to some pains to “reflect no personal discredit on him”. No mention at all is made of his disgusting and revealing comments in his oral evidence about UCOs engaging in relationships: “If you ask me to infiltrate some drug dealers, you can’t point the finger at me if I sample the product. If these people are in a certain environment where it is necessary to engage that little more deeply, then, shall we say, I find this acceptable, but I do worry about the consequences for the female and any children that may result from the relationship.”

[7]    This rejection by Mitting of the possibility that a police officer might threaten a member of the public is indicative of a more general trend in his report: to believe that cops are basically decent, don’t really make errors and certainly don’t lie. It makes for quite awkward reading as he seems to want to absolve almost all individual officers of any wrongdoing, yet his conclusions point to institutional failings and unjustifiable operations that ought to have been ended almost as soon as they began.

[8]  https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/spy-officer-who-slept-with-activists-went-on-to-top-job-ttpsslx6f

[9]  https://ccrc.gov.uk/news/anti-apartheid-protesters-historic-convictions-overturned-by-crown-court/

Summary of UCPI Interim Report – June 2023