I lived with an undercover officer – this BBC series gets it all wrong

Alison,’ one eight women who sued the police over being deceived into relationships with undercover cops, has spoken out in criticism of the BBC’s new drama series ‘Undercover.’ She had a relationship with ‘Mark Jenner’ an undercover cop she knew as Mark Cassidy (pictured).

Mark Jenner - former SDS undercover officer
Mark Jenner – former SDS undercover officer

She has written a piece in the Guardian, saying that despite advising the screenwriter Peter Moffat some years ago, she feels that the story he is portraying is misleading and inauthentic. It misrepresents “the deceitful individuals involved” and misunderstands “the power dynamics and sexual politics” that underpin the deployment of officers by these units.

‘Alison’ explains that “There is no precedent of officers having families with their targets then sustaining a happy marriage for two decades under the guise of their state-sponsored identity”. Instead, since 1996 all officers have been required to have wives and possibly children in their lives. Many officers cheated on, lied and exploited both their wives, and their activist lovers, with their dual domestic role.  ‘Alison’ feels that their “true stories… were sufficiently dramatic without requiring elaboration,” and that Undercover is a sensationalised misrepresentation of how the Met Special Demonstration Squad operated, and hopes that because of this it does not miss the opportunity to spark viewers to find out about the true stories of “abusive relationships condoned by the police in the name of law and order.”

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Statement in Australian Parliament demanding John Dines cease teaching Police in Sydney

Helen Steel has flown to Australian to confront John Dines, an undercover officer in the UK who she was tricked into a two year relationship with. She has tracked him down after years piecing together his real identity. This was revealed today in an exclusive in the Guardian.

She also revealed that he was working teaching Police in Sydney. Helen said “John was part of the … special demonstration squad which spied on trade unionists, anti-racists and environmental campaigners…. I was extremely concerned that he might now be promoting the kind of tactics that have been used on us in the UK…. I felt it was important to come here to expose what happened in the UK in case these discredited tactics are being promoted in other countries.”

As a result of Helen’s work, David Shoebridge, a Greens Member of New South Wales Legislative Council in Australia, read out the following statement in Parliament today. It highlights the abuses committed by John Dines, and calls for him to be removed from his teaching position. (Scroll to the bottom of the statement for a pdf version.)

UK undercover police teaching in Australia

In 1968 a young boy called John Barker, only 8 years old, died from leukaemia. 19 years later an undercover UK police officer called John Dines stole John Barker’s identity.

Using the stolen identity of a dead boy, and a complete lack of principles, John Dines then sought to infiltrate British environmental and left-wing movements. John Dines wasn’t working alone. He was just one of a number of undercover police employed by the UK Special Demonstration Squad using the stolen identities of dead children to infiltrate protest groups.

The SDS was established in 1968 and operated until 2008. Its purpose was to infiltrate left wing groups using undercover police officers, who provided intelligence to MI5. It has been revealed that the SDS used the names of at least 80 dead children to create the false identities for its agents. Many of these agents then entered into long term personal and sexual relationships with protest organisers and activists to gain trust and increase their access to information.

John Dines started attending Greenpeace meetings in 1987 as a member of the squad, using the name of “John Barker”. As part of his undercover activities he, and other members of this squad, entered into close and often intimate relationships with the activists that they were spying on.

In 1990 John Dines entered a serious relationship with activist Helen Steel that continued until 1992 when he simply disappeared. Helen, who is present in the  chamber tonight, spent years searching for Dines. In 2011 Helen was informed that he had been an undercover police officer.

The first case similar to this that came to public attention was portrayed by the police as just being a rogue officer, but this was not an isolated incident.  8 women including Helen, then took legal action against the police as a result of being deceived into relationships with 5 different undercover officers who infiltrated environmental and left-wing movements over a period spanning 25 years, strongly suggesting an institutional practice.  Theirs are not the only cases being taken over these relationships.

There have been a large number of legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Service as a result of the SDS actions. This includes a £425,000 payment to a woman whose child was fathered by undercover police officer Bob Lambert when she was a 22 year old activist. When her child was 2 years old his father vanished, she only found out his real identity 25 years later through reading a newspaper article.

The Metropolitan police now accept this practice was morally and legally offensive. In a public apology issued in November 2015, they said:
“officers, acting undercover whilst seeking to infiltrate protest groups, entered into long-term intimate sexual relationships with women which were abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong”

It is hard to truly understand the impact that this would have on someone’s life. In Helen Steel’s own words:

“I certainly feel violated by what they have done. It’s about power. We didn’t consent, and wouldn’t have consented if we had known who they were. They’ve allowed this to happen in a unit of mainly male officers, in a culture where sexism is undoubtedly at play. Politicians and police officers have tried to justify it on the basis that it’s ‘necessary’, or that we deserved it in some way … The whole thing just demonstrates institutional sexism. The assumption is that, as a woman, you haven’t got the right to make a fully informed decision about who you want a relationship with, or have sex with – and that basically it’s not a problem for police to use women in this way.”

Why am I raising this case in the NSW Parliament? The answer is disturbingly simple. John Dines is now teaching police in Sydney. He is currently attached to Charles Sturt University. Since at least 2012 he has been at the Australian graduate School of Policing & Security at that University, and  is now Course Director for the Mid-Career Training Programme.

This program is intended to provide senior level guidance to police officers. The learning outcomes of the unit include providing students with advanced knowledge in areas including:

  • Identifying and sharing good practice
  • Human Rights
  • Gender Sensitivity

It is offensive in the extreme that John Dines can be involved in teaching these matters to police in this State. This is a man who professionally and systematically abused human rights as a police officer in the UK and showed a culpable lack of gender sensitivity. He has no place teaching police in NSW or in any country that says it respects human rights.

We need to ensure that similar abusive political undercover policing tactics are not replicated here or abroad. This must start with an investigation into whether NSW police have been trained by any officers from these UK units.

As part of the Metropolitan Police’s public apology, a spokesperson said:

“I acknowledge that these relationships were a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma. I unreservedly apologise on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Service. I am aware that money alone cannot compensate the loss of time, their hurt or the feelings of abuse caused by these relationships. […] The Metropolitan Police recognizes that this should never happen again and the necessary steps must be taken to ensure that it does not.”

Was Charles Sturt University aware of John Dines past when they employed him? Are the NSW police aware of the history of this man?

Whatever their knowledge before now, this much is clear, he must cease any involvement with teaching police in this state, before a similar apology is needed by the NSW Police.

PDF of David Shoebridge Statement – Police, Helen Steel and John Dines

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Recent media coverage

As we announced yesterday, the women and their legal team are examining the two reports that were released yesterday, and the announcement of a public inquiry. In the meantime here is a select list of media articles on the events…..

BBC Newsnight 6/3/14 (available for 7 days from broadcast date)

BBC – “Undercover police – what have we learned?”

BBC – “Stephen Lawrence police ‘spy’ prompts public inquiry”

BBC – “Police spying and corruption at heart of Lawrence case

Bristling Badger Blog : “What kind of public inquiry?”

The Guardian – “Undercover police could face criminal charges over relationships with activists”

The Guardian – “How the scandal of Scotland Yard’s secret spy unit emerged”

The Guardian – “Scotland Yard undercover unit condemned in home secretary’s report

We would urge supporters of this case to use the lens of the Where We Stand statement when scrutinising reports.

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Fighting police secrecy: recent developments (alongside this case)

Today we announced that the next hearing in this case will take place in mid-March. Alongside this case, here is a round-up of other developments in the struggle for justice and accountability over undercover policing – and how they link to this legal action:

– This Monday 27 January, in Southwark Crown Court, John Jordan, The Guardian, the BBC and the Press Association will be “challenging a decision by prosecutors to hush up a miscarriage of justice”. John Jordan’s conviction was quashed when it was revealed Boyling (who one of the officers involved in this case had given ‘evidence’ without revealing his true identity. Rob Evans of The Guardian reports: “Jordan will be seeking to compel prosecutors to tell him why his conviction was unsafe, with the help of his barrister, Matthew Ryder. The three media organisations will also argue that there is a very strong public interest in disclosing to the public the confidential reasons behind the quashing of the conviction.” Read more here.

– Individuals, organisations and lawyers affected by undercover policing or representing those who have been affected (including the women involved in this case and their solicitors), have joined voices to express their lack of confidence in Operation Herne (the police inquiry into the operations of the Special Demonstration Squad), and to call for a full public inquiry. A public meeting is to be held in London in February. Read more here and at Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS).

– Peter Francis, the whistleblower former undercover officer (who has given support to women in this case), has not been offered protection by Operation Herne, and instead is being threatened with legal action under the Official Secrets Act. Channel 4, who aired a documentary with Francis’ testimony is facing legal action demanding that it hand over tapes to Operation Herne – even though Herne is supposed to be investigating the police operations themselves, not those who are trying to bring the issues to light. Read more here.

– This week, the Drax protesters had their convictions quashed, yet even here police tried the patience of the courts over their secrecy. Lord Chief Justice Thomas said “When a court is asked to overturn convictions in a case of potential police misconduct, it is not satisfactory that the police should decide which sections of documents to redact and which to make public. That should be a decision for the courts not the police.” These concerns echo those of the women taking this legal action, as their upcoming hearing will be a bid by the police to keep documents secret.

All of the above developments underline growing concern over lack of progress for accountability, justice and openness.

The women involved in this case concluded last August that they could not co-operate with Operation Herne, due to the police’s ongoing insistence on their Neither Confirm Nor Deny (NCND) policy. This legal action has faced attempt after attempt to have the case thrown out or heard in secret [link to the case so far], and this March they face a fresh battle, as police lawyers attempt to have their common law claims struck out – again, over NCND.

We urge all our supporters to do what you can [link to Act Now] to show support for this case and for the other actions for accountability and justice. The battle goes on.

To keep updated about developments in this case, please follow us on facebook, twitter, and/or sign up to our supporters email list (see top right of this website). If you are a journalist or blogger, send an email request to be added to the press list: contact#@#policespiesoutoflives.org.uk (remove hashtags which are there to prevent spam)

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