Trade unionists were spied on by undercover police officer ‘for decades’ undercover police inquiry hears
- Friday 6 November 2020
In his opening statements, (made today 6 November) on behalf of trade unions represented at the Undercover Policing Inquiry chaired by Judge Mittings, Lord John Hendy QC has revealed that undercover police officers were spying on trade unionists for four decades.
Decades of infiltration
Such infiltration dates back to at least 1973. There are references in the files of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), the body which undertook the vast majority of the undercover policing to the Pentonville 5 (the five London dockers who were imprisoned in 1972 for contempt of court for refusing to obey an order to stop picketing).
In an even more sinister development the 1974 annual report of the SDS states that the Shrewsbury Two defence committee had been “infiltrated to a lesser extent”.
The Shrewsbury two were household name Ricky Tomlinson and the late Des Warren who were part of the 24 construction workers (the Shrewsbury Pickets) who were arrested for conspiracy following the 1972 building strike. Mr Warren and Mr Tomlinson were sent to prison and remained there until 1974.
There is a great deal of evidence that a combination of the government, security forces and the police conspired to frame the pickets on trumped up charges. Their case has recently been referred by the criminal cases review committee to the court of appeal.
Lord Hendy detailed how in the 1990s undercover officer Mark Jenner using the cover name Mark Cassidy infiltrated the construction union Ucatt (now part of Unite) between 1996-1998 and was heavily involved in rank and file and construction safety campaigns. During a similar timeframe undercover officer Pete Francis, who has become a whistleblower, admits to spying on a host of unions.
Lord Hendy also highlighted the very close links blacklisters in the form of the Economic League and the Consulting Association had with the police and how confidential information was passed between both sides. There is clear evidence that information found on the files of blacklisted construction workers can only have been obtained from the police or the security forces.
Further police concerns
In November 2008, just months before the construction blacklisting organisation the Consulting Association was raided and closed down by the Information Commissioners Officer, detective chief inspector Gordon Mills of the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit met with the organisation and briefed them on the “problems linked to protest movements”. This was at a time that the principal construction contractors on the Olympic site (including several major blacklisters) were heavily recruiting workers, resulting in workers being blacklisted from the landmark project.
Highlighting the lack of information so far disclosed by the police, Lord Hendy made clear that Unite, which is a core participant in the inquiry, is seeking “the police files, minutes, memos and emails relating to it and all other contacts between the police and the Economic League (and subsequently The Consulting Association), and the identity of the officers from and to whom information was passed.”
During his opening statement, Lord Hendy revealed that it was now believed that all SDS files beginning with the number 400 referenced the monitoring of trade unionists and said: “We would appreciate a guide to the meaning of the codes as soon as it can be provided. The inquiry may already have that information; presumably the police have it.”
In a further worrying development, while some of the limited evidence disclosed referenced police special branch files, solicitors acting for Unite sought to obtain the files that were referenced they were informed by the inquiry: “We do not hold Special Branch Registry Files and are not investigating Special Branch interest in trades unions – only reporting on them by SDS undercover officers, according to the Inquiry’s terms of reference.”
This demonstrates a clear attempt to restrict the relevance of the inquiry and withhold relevant information and the matter is being challenged by Unite and other unions.
Spying on trade unionists
Unite assistant general secretary for legal affairs Howard Beckett said: “Even with the scant information that has been disclosed, it is clear that undercover police officers were spying on the legitimate and legal activities of trade unionists for decades.
“It is imperative that all the information that the police hold on spying on trade unionists is immediately released to the inquiry, a failure to do so would not just feel like a cover up but would be a cover up.
“It is increasingly evident that the police and various blacklisting organisations, including the Economic League and the Consulting Association, were intertwined with information being passed both ways, ruining the lives of innocent construction workers.
“It is essential that the full details of what occurred and who was involved is fully revealed.
“This basic disclosure of the relevant information is even more important given the government’s Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill which is currently before parliament and would make the undercover activities of the police which are presently illegal, legal.
“It is only by fully releasing the mistakes and the immoral and illegal activity undertaken by police spies that similar miscarriages of justice can be prevented in the future.”
Notes to editors:
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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.