In our latest blog, Saskia O’Hara looks at the campaigning history of CND and appeals for information about the officers who spied on the organisation.
CND is a mass peaceful democratic movement which has weaved itself into public consciousness and become part of the fabric of UK society. From the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam War to the surge in re-armament under Ronald Reagan and beyond, it has consistently opposed the use of nuclear weapons over more than fifty years. CND’s iconic symbol is recognised across the globe.
CND’s political importance is reflected in the group having been a prominent target of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) of the Metropolitan Police during the 1980s. Next year, Tranche 2 of the Under Cover Policing Inquiry will look at SDS deployments in the years 1983-1992, when CND was at the height of its campaigning influence.
Initial disclosure shows the extent to which CND was infiltrated to be far greater than previously thought. CND will also feature in Tranche 6 of the Inquiry, which covers spying by the security services. Much about the activities of the undercover officers who infiltrated CND is still not unknown.
Fighting for unilateral nuclear disarmament
CND was born out of an article in the New Statesman which called for unilateral nuclear disarmament. The article provoked such a positive response that the magazine’s editor suggested the need for a mass movement against nuclear weapons. This call was heeded and CND was born in February 1958. A meeting attended by 5000 people resolved that Britain must:
a) Renounce unconditionally the use or production of nuclear weapons and refuse to allow their use by others in her defence.
b) Use her utmost endeavour to bring about negotiations at all levels for agreement to end the armaments race and to lead to a general disarmament convention.
c) Invite the co-operation of other nations, particularly non-nuclear powers, in her renunciation of nuclear weapons.
In the 1980s—the period which the UCPI will focus on—CND held some of the biggest demonstrations in British history. In 1983 it organised an anti-nuclear protest in London that was attended by over 200,000 people. As Joan Ruddock, then-chair of the CND, put it: “The demonstration put paid to the notion that the peace movement is on its last legs.”
In the same year CND mobilised an estimated 80,000 people to form a human chain stretching 14 miles (22.5 kilometres) across Berkshire’s ‘nuclear valley’.
Despite the large numbers involved, Special Branch reports on these demonstrations repeatedly emphasise the low risk of public disorder. Of the protest against nuclear missiles in London, police files state that “the vast majority of the 200,000 or so persons attending this event were pacifists with no overt leanings to extremist, subversive or political groups [sic].”
If Special Branch recognised the majority of CND’s members as ‘pacifists’, on what grounds was the organisation infiltrated? This is the first of many questions the Inquiry will need to answer.
Did you know ‘Timothy Spence’ or ‘John Kerry’?
In granting Core Participant status to CND, the UCPI has identified two undercover police officers who targeted the group. Between 1981 and 1984, ‘Timothy Spence’ (HN88) is understood to have infiltrated CND in east London. (This officer is also believed to have infiltrated the Stoke Newington and Hackney Defence Campaign and the Hackney Campaign against the Police Bill)
Undercover officer ‘John Kerry’ (HN65) also infiltrated CND between 1980 to 1984—we suspect in the national office.
Little is publicly known about these officers as we await further disclosure from the Inquiry.
We would therefore urgently like to hear from CND members from that period who may have been in contact with—or indeed who know anything about—‘Timothy Spence’ or ‘John Kerry’.
In addition to these two officers, we believe a number of other police spies attended meetings and involved themselves in CND as part of their overall cover. It would appear that multiple officers used CND to ‘build up their profile’ as they sought to target other progressive campaigning organisations.
If you have any information relating to the activities of ‘Timothy Spence’ or ‘John Kerry’, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org so that this information can be brought before the Inquiry.
On 12 May former undercover officer ‘Paul Gray’ is due to give evidence to the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI). Our latest blog from the inquiry tells the story of the Anti-Nazi League, which galvanised opposition to fascism in the late 1970s – only to be targeted by police spies.
In the mid to late 1970s the fascist National Front (NF) was a significant force in the UK. With tens of thousands of members, the NF was a serious threat to migrant communities, people of colour, trade unionists and socialists.
Although it stood in elections and occasionally obtained a sizeable vote, the NF was a street force rather than a major electoral presence. Its members terrorised minority groups and attacked socialist and trade-union meetings.
A major role in mobilising mass opposition to the NF was played by the Anti-Nazi League (ANL), a broad-based anti-fascist movement formed in late 1977.
Building the movement against fascism
The ANL was founded in the wake of the Battle of Lewisham in August 1977, in which anti-fascists disrupted plans by an insurgent NF to march through Clifton Rise, southeast London, which had a large black population. The counter-demonstration united trade unionists with the black community—and marked the beginning of a generalised campaign against the NF.
The ANL grew rapidly to become the NF’s most significant opponent. In its first year it recruited between 40,000 and 50,000 members, distributed over five million leaflets and sold around one million anti-NF badges and stickers. Such was the level of its popular support that the ANL was widely regarded as the largest extra-parliamentary movement since the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
As the ANL grew, trade unions began to develop anti-fascist workplace groups—Civil Servants Against the Nazis, Teachers Against the Nazis, and the like. On one occasion, thanks to the support of the National Union of Mineworker, some 60,000 Yorkshire miners went to work wearing ANL stickers on their helmets.
In April 1978, the ANL and Rock Against Racism organised a huge carnival in Victoria Park, east London. The festival, which attracted approximately 80,000 people, mixed political messages with music.
Mass events like these grabbed the imagination of many young people and increased their confidence to confront racist and fascist ideas. One result was School Kids against the Nazis (SKAN), a pupil-organised anti-fascist movement.
Resisting the NF as a street force
Many ‘official’ leaders of the labour and trade union movement preferred not to confront the NF. The work of the ANL was vital in challenging this passivity, and in galvanising people who saw the need to oppose fascists but had previously been uncertain about physically confronting them.
The late 1970s saw major flashpoints as the NF responded to its flagging electoral fortunes by taking to the streets to intimidate and attack black and Asian communities. The ANL came out in Leicester, where the NF had previously done well in local elections, to resist plans for a fascist march. Meanwhile, in Southall, the local council permitted the NF to use the town hall for a public meeting in the run-up to the 1979 general election. Thousands of anti-fascists poured into Southall to help the local community demonstrate its opposition to the NF.
On the day of the meeting, the police’s Special Patrol Group ran riot, injuring many people and killing teacher and ANL member Blair Peach.
Undercover police in the anti-fascist movement
During the late 1970s undercover officers from the Special Demonstration Squad infiltrated and monitored the ANL and SKAN.
PILC represents former leading members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), who were central to the development of the ANL. In our submission to the UCPI we sum up the work of spy cops in the anti-fascist movement as follows:
“The closest ‘[Paul] Gray’ ever comes to reporting on violence is his note that a school-boy had a fight with his brother.
These children were either the children of Socialist Workers Party members or children who were engaged enough with their society to be part of the School Kids Against the Nazis […]
In the course of ‘Paul Gray’s’ deployment, Column 88 [another fascist group] were threatening to burn down the homes of SWP members. The National Front were attacking Bengalis in Brick Lane, smashing up reggae record shops and graffitiing mosques. They were burning down Indian restaurants and murdering young men like Altab Ali and Ishaque Ali in Whitechapel and Hackney. Whilst they were doing that, Gray and his […] “exemplary” SDS colleagues were writing about what they refer to as [the] “jewish” finance of the Anti-Nazi League, a “negress” activist, an activist with a “large jewish nose”, and “coloured hooligans” […]
Instead of investigating the racist firebombing that killed 13 young black people in New Cross, the Special Demonstration Squad were reporting on school children and providing MI5 with copies of Socialist Workers Party baby-sitting rotas.”
The above account illustrates something of the nature of undercover political policing in the late 1970s. As our clients testify, spy cops pored over the minutiae of the political activities of SKAN, ANL and the SWP—but were rather less interested in the racism and violence of the National Front.
Our latest blog from the Undercover Policing Inquiry looks back at the infiltration of the Troops Out Movement, a campaigning organisation committed to bringing an end to British rule in the north of Ireland.
On 5 May 2021 our client Richard Chessum is due to give witness evidence to the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI). Richard was an activist in the Troops Out Movement who was befriended and reported on by Rick Gibson (real name Richard Clark), a police officer sent to spy on the organisation.
The Troops Out Movement was formed in West London in September 1973 by Irish solidarity activists, trade unionists, socialists and Irish people living in Britain. It was a campaigning organisation committed to bringing an end to British rule in the north of Ireland.
The movement had two stated aims. First, it campaigned for the withdrawal of British troops from Ireland. Second, it campaigned for self-determination for the Irish people. The movement also campaigned around related issued including justice, policing, equality, demilitarisation, employment discrimination, cultural rights and the Irish language.
Those who gathered at the founding meeting of the Troops Out Movement were appalled at the effects of British rule in the north of Ireland. They wanted to show their solidarity with the Irish people and their opposition to the occupation. Within a year the movement had branches all over Britain.
The movement was not implicated in any public disorder. It was a democratic campaigning organisation, based in Britain and dedicated to raising concerns about human-rights abuses in the north of Ireland.
Opposing the occupation of Ireland
For people living in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s without family or cultural ties to Ireland, making the leap from vague disquiet about the British army’s actions in Ireland to committed activism was no easy step. As is often the case with the media and government today, the full picture of events in Ireland was not always given. Where political events in Ireland were not ignored, they were often seriously misrepresented.
There is nonetheless a long tradition in Britain of opposition to the occupation of Ireland. The Troops Out Movement could trace its roots back as far as 1647, when the radical group the Levellers published The English Soldiers’ Standard, in which they set out their belief that Ireland should be free.
In 1649, inspired by the Levellers, a group of English soldiers mutinied rather than go with Oliver Cromwell and his army to take part in the slaughter of Irish people. The soldiers published a pamphlet setting out their demands. They asked: ‘What have we to do in Ireland, to fight and murder a people and a nation… which have done us no harm? We have waded too far in that crimson stream already of innocent and Christian blood.’
Over the centuries various campaigns demanded independence for Ireland. The Fenian movement was strong in parts of northern England in the 1860s. There was support for a Home Rule Movement in the 1870s. The failure of the Easter Uprising in 1916 led to the development of the Irish Self Determination League, and later, in the 1960s, the Anti-Internment League.
Spy cops in the movement
Shortly after its formation, the Troops Out Movement was infiltrated by officers of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), which dedicated significant resources to infiltrating mainly progressive and left-wing organisations. Officers using assumed names reported on local, regional and national meetings. One officer, Rick Gibson, took a leading position in the Troops Out Movement.
Like other activists involved in opposition to the British state, members of the Troops Out Movement have faced their fair share of police harassment, including when travelling to and from Ireland. In some cases—usually in the wake of IRA activity in England—members of the movement had their houses raided by the police. Police would comb through books, photographs and personal paperwork in an attempt to gather intelligence.
Despite the best efforts of political policing to derail the Troops Out Movement, evidence suggests its campaigning was effective. Opinion polls taken in Britain have consistently shown a majority of the public in favour of British military withdrawal from the north of Ireland.
An opening statement to the UCPI on the activities of the officer who infiltrated the Troops Out movement can be viewed here.
StW was founded in September 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. It has campaigned to prevent and end wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere. StW opposes the British establishment’s disastrous addiction to war and the squandering of public resources on militarism. It is committed to supporting Palestinian rights, opposing racism and Islamophobia and defending civil liberties.
StW is a peaceful mass-democratic organisation. It has organised dozens of national demonstrations, most memorably on 15 February 2003, when up to two million people marched in London to oppose the Iraq War in the largest demo in British history.
Earlier this year PILC was instructed to apply for core-participant status on behalf of StW and some of its elected officials. It had become clear that StW was targeted for surveillance, monitoring and infiltration by the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), an undercover unit of the Metropolitan Police. We know of several officers who infiltrated the organisation.
In response to the decision, Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, said:
‘Stop the War, which has always been an open and democratic organisation, has engaged in mass mobilisation against Britain’s wars, particularly the war in Iraq. It is shocking that undercover spy cops were used against the biggest mass movement this country has seen.’
PILC senior solicitor Paul Heron said:
‘We welcome the decision of the UCPI to grant core-participant status to the Stop the War Coalition. StW led opposition to the Iraq War in the UK and has consistently opposed further intervention in the Middle East, including the disastrous ongoing war in Yemen. Its infiltration by undercover political police raises very serious questions. Why was a mass democratic organisation infiltrated? Why does the state want to spy on and organise against those campaigning against war? Who gave the order to infiltrate the Stop the War Coalition? These issues must be addressed and those responsible held to account.’