activists call for inquiry after revelations about undercover Police
groups that were targeted by infiltrators plan legal action to obtain access
to police files after disclosures by Officer A
activists have reacted with anger to revelations in last week's Observer
that their organisations were infiltrated by an elite undercover unit of
the Metropolitan police. Members of one of the groups demanded a public
inquiry after the Observer disclosed that a former member of Special Branch,
known as Officer A, had infiltrated far-left organisations in the mid-1990s
to gather intelligence about potentially violent demonstrators. He was regularly
involved in brutal confrontations with uniformed police officers and activists
from the extreme right. On numerous occasions he engaged in violent acts
to maintain his cover.
activists suspected they were being infiltrated by the state at the time,
but it is only now that their suspicions have been confirmed. One target
of Officer A, a former student union leader who has asked not to be identified,
told the Observer: "I suspected that my phone might have been tapped.
I believed that there might have been some police spies at the demonstrations
that I attended. But however paranoid I was, I never imagined they would
go so far as to invest the level of resources needed to give someone a completely
new identity for five years and have them spy on someone like me. It really
A was part of a secret unit of the Met known as the Special Demonstration
Squad (SDS), which since 1968 had 10 full-time undercover operatives inside
so-called "subversive" organisations to disrupt their ability
to create disorder on the streets of London. While Officer A targeted the
far left, other SDS members were simultaneously infiltrating the far right.
By the end of his four-year deployment he had become a branch secretary
of a leading anti-racist organisation, Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE).
He used this position to assist in making contact with smaller groups that
had a reputation for being involved in violence.
Sell, national secretary of the YRE at the time of Officer A's deployment,
remembers him well but is furious at the implication that the group was
involved in violence. "We organised mass peaceful protests against
racism and the BNP. In doing so we often faced violence from the far right
and the police."
understands that many of the tactics now used by police in public order
situations were developed in response to SDS intelligence about the best
way to control potential troublemakers. This includes the controversial
tactic known as "kettling", in which protesters are hemmed in
on all sides by police, a technique many believe only heightens tensions.
Austin, YRE chair at the time of Officer A's infiltration, told the Observer:
"We believe there should be a public inquiry into police tactics at
demonstrations. It should be independent, not one where the police investigate
themselves. We want to know about their use of spies and whether this unit
is still operational."
for an inquiry come amid fresh criticism of heavy-handed police tactics
at the G20 protest in London last April, when newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson
died of a heart attack soon after being struck by a police baton and pushed
to the ground. It has emerged that plainclothes officers from City of London
police mingled with the crowd to gather intelligence. Many former activists
who believe they were SDS targets intend to take legal action in an attempt
to obtain any police intelligence files about their activities.