Organising against Spycops in Scotland

On Saturday, 23rd June 2018, 100 people gathered in the Pearce Institute in Govan to discuss spies. Not the James Bond type of spy; but the real kind who stole the identities of dead children, and targeted women activists to form close relationships for years and then abandoned them when their mission was done.

The first speaker to address the ‘Scotland, Surveillance and Spycops’ conference was Tilly Giffford. In 2009, as an activist with Plane Stupid which campaigned against the environmental damage caused by airport expansions, she was arrested. Police targeted her with a mixture of promises and threats and tried to make her spy on her friends. With a hidden audio recorder, Tilly bravely turned the tables. Along with then Guardian journalist Paul Lewis, she and her fellow campaigners publicly exposed one example of political policing in Scotland.

On 19th and 20th July in court in Edinburgh, Tilly is bringing a Judicial Review. It will examine the case for reviewing the decisions by both UK and Scottish Governments to refuse to carry out a Public Inquiry into the role of undercover police in Scotland. There is no current mechanism for justice on this issue as the existing Inquiry covers only England and Wales; and the Scottish Government accepted a widely derided internal police report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary Scotland (HMICS) which claimed there was no problem, so there is no Scottish Inquiry. The HMICS report was limited to the years from 2000 (although the Sycops units were set up in 1968); and it ignored every deployment of undercover Met officers in Scotland, including at the G8 protests. Tilly described the report as “an insult to anyone affected by these issues.”

Eveline Lubbers is an investigative journalist has reported widely on spycops. She works with the Undercover Research Group who assist activists to expose spycops and compile profiles where possible. Originally from Amsterdam, she investigated similar cases where corporate and police spies infiltrated environmental and justice campaigns and tried to wreck them from within. Her book: Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark (2012) is a detailed account of this earlier research.

In her talk, and in a later workshop designed to help activists carry out their own guided investigations, Eveline emphasised the crucial importance of gathering concrete information about any suspicions of spying, and not relying on rumours.

Eveline argued for a Scottish Public Inquiry because women activists and their families were spied on by undercover police who came to Scotland under false pretences; and information from spycops was fed into blacklists of trade unionists; and known Met spycops were deployed at the G8 protests. Without constant campaigning and research, she said,nothing would be known. There remains a need “to challenge the State.”

Neil Findlay MSP has a strong record of supporting the Blacklist Support Group, and the recently successful campaign by ex-miners and the National Union of Mineworkers to win an Independent Inquiry into the role of police in Scotland during the bitter 1984-85 miners strike. 30% of miners charged on picket lines were from Scotland; yet, only 10% of the mining workforce were in Scotland. Shop stewards and other union activists were targeted, smeared, and prosecuted – even when police made clearly contradictory statements under oath. Stella Rimington, who became the Director General of Mi5, was Assistant Director of Mi5s ‘counter-subversion branch’, and visited picket lines in Scotland.

Stella Rimington described her role in the book Open Secret (2001): ‘My time working in counter-subversion spanned a period of very considerable political upheaval – the miner’s strike, the Greenham Common protests, the height of CND, the growth of Militant Tendency and its activities in Liverpool and a Socialist Workers’ Party very active in universities.’ All of these activities are protected by human rights legislation, yet all were spied on by the State; and it is now known that spycops were a part of this anti-democratic activity.

Neil spoke about his sponsorship of the two Scottish Parliamentary debates of undercover policing. Coupled with campaigns and other news stories, this led to the Scottish Government commissioning the HMICS report, but this was only “the police investigating the police. I am not anti-police” said Neil “but they have to be accountable to the public”.

“These are all class justice issues. Genuine organised conspiracies.”

“Scottish people’s human rights were abused on Scottish soil.”

“I didn’t support Independence. I campaigned against that. But I will defend to the end people’s right to campaign for that.”

“The Scottish Independence campaign could have ended the British State. I think it is inconceivable that campaign wasn’t infiltrated.”

When Neil asked in the Scottish parliament if Scottish Justice Minister Michael Matheson if he thought the security services had spied on his party (the SNP), Matheson stood up and replied: “I’ve no idea”, then sat down.

‘Andrea’ spoke about falling in love with a man she knew as Carlo Neri. They lived together for two years and then he left, after an apparent mental breakdown. 10 years later, she discovered that he was a police spy. She described herself as “an accidental activist” and said: “When you feel that the police have infiltrated your life in such an astounding way you cannot not” campaign.

She met Carlo Neri in 2002 on a demo. He said he was a locksmith and had a cover story about why he was not in touch with his family. He became active in campaigns, attended picket lines, and was a good friend of Steve Hedley, the RMT leader, who was also shocked to later find out that Carlo was a police spy.
Carlo visited Scotland several times with ‘Andrea’ to visit her family but she never got to see his parents – there was always an excuse. “I want to know why Carlo was part of my life.” What was his role when he visited Scotland?

‘Andrea’ praised the Lush campaign for getting the spycops story out to the wider public. She said that when she saw that some people were attacking the campaign, she thought of Peter Francis: “a very courageous man, and we stand by him as a whistleblower”. He explained that undercover police officers were trained to lie.
Andrea explained: “I was chosen because the people around” campaigns she was in “trusted me.” And that was used by Carlo to gain their trust. “There’s something very cold and manipulative” about doing that.

“Rogue officers they are not! There is a whole system.”

“Class, race and sex are at the heart of this.” There are 18 family justice campaigns like the Lawrence family who were targeted by spy cops.

She described the psychological impact: “You have a 2 year relationship that turns out to be false. There’s almost a disconnect to reality.” She tries to be optimistic as the other targeted women do, to avoid going to “a very dark place”.

Campaigners “have to stand together and use that solidarity. In being connected we have a massive amount of power.”
In the afternoon, there were further speakers and workshops. Ellenor Hutson, an environmental activist who works for an SNP MP, spoke about finding she was on a blacklist and that she knew 5 people who turned out to be undercover police officers. “It’s like a spy movie, but a really crap one.” She considers herself lucky as she did not have a close relationship with any of the spies.

Pat Egan, a former miner, spoke about Scottish mining communities facing the “full weight of the State” during the 1984-85 strike. Security services attended Cabinet meetings; and there are still 15 Home Office files which have not been placed in the National Archives. The NUM believes that these files contain information about security services infiltration of the strike.

Pat said he was “pleased by the Inquiry (into role of the police during the miners strike), but also dubious as it can mean issues get kicked into the long grass.

“I feel that Mr Matheson (Scottish Justice Minister) may get a tap on his shoulder and told: the inquiry has gone far enough!’

There will be public hearings during the independent inquiry. These could provide an opportunity to raise issues like spycops infiltrating strikes.

Dave Semple, PCS Scotland Chair, spoke about the history of State interference, spying and wrecking, in his union and in it’s predecessor: the CPSA. State, Right wing labour MPs, Tories, and management have all colluded against militant trade unionism. “These attempts to smash my union have not gone away.” The PCS fully support calls for a Scottish Public Inquiry into the role of spy cops.

Also speaking in the afternoon were Billy McAllister from Northwest Community Alliance, who spoke about family members blacklisted in the 1930s blacklisted as Communist Party members. “It is a class war. It is about capitalism.” And Paul McLaughlin, from Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (MOJO) pointed out that the Lush campaign poster ‘Paid to lie’ was simply a statement of fact. “For the safety of us all we should call out when policing goes wrong.” He pointed out that all the papers about the arrests of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four are withheld under the 75 years rule.

Paul emphasised that the undercover police were: “trained, sanctioned and instructed by their bosses over decades. We must have an inquiry into this.”

Through the existing Inquiry covering England and Wales, there has been 50 possible miscarriages of justice because of the role of undercover police. In Scotland, we have no way of knowing how many similar cases should be dealt with.

Plans were made to carry the campaign forward, and Paul Heron – the campaigning lawyer spearheading the Judicial Review preparations – called for a united campaign to fight for the truth to come out, no matter what the results of the court hearings. He argued that these issues are a matter of defending fundamental human rights.

Comments (6)

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  1. Willie says:

    The big question is why are the Scottish Government not interested in all of the spying, blacklisting, and other stuff that goes on.

    Why also are they complicit in the iron surveillance system that has been out in to monitor every aspect of a citizens life.

    Chipping people like dogs or cattle is all that is about left to put in place. Or are we just comfortable in the knowledge that we have a paternalistic state committed to fairness and our welfare.

  2. SleepingDog says:

    There are presumably many people wondering if people close to them are agents or informers of the State (let alone corporations, or whatever). Without knowledge of the rules of engagement that the State has presumably laid down, and of the actual practice, these doubts will continue. Perhaps that is intentional: if you cannot trust anyone, you cannot organize effectively. UK state security appears to have various overlapping levels and functions: the amount of secrecy and censorship is itself secret. Secrecy is used to cover up crimes, vice and incompetence; to preserve careers and placate foreign and domestic powers. Heavily-indocrinated civil servants take official secrets to the grave (and if willing to break their omerta, perhaps that journey has been hastened in some cases).

    At some point the secret state will move beyond mild cognitive impairment into full-blown dementia, and dysfunctional decision-making will lead to such mass tragedy as to make our current woeful government seem like light comedy. But presumably there are effective actions an informed populace can take, and probably there is a handly list of these pinned up in spy central with the heading “anti-subversion priorities”.

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