Public Interest Law Centre

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26Apr 2021

UCPI: Undercover officer led Troops Out Movement

26th April 2021|

On Friday 21 April we delivered our opening statement to the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI). The public inquiry has been reconvened to look at the years 1973 to 1982. This section of the Inquiry is Tranche 1 Part 2.

PILC represents the following participants in the UCPI: Richard Chessum, ‘Mary’, Lois Austin, Hannah Sell, Dave Nellist, John Rees, Lindsey German, Chris Nineham, Youth against Racism in Europe and the Stop the War Coalition.

Our opening statement was behalf of Richard Chessum and ‘Mary’, who were both spied upon by undercover officers from the Metropolitan Police. Both were involved in the Troops Out Movement, and to a lesser extent the International Marxist Group, in the early 1970s.

Our statement also begins to explore the systematic infiltration of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), in which Lindsey German was a leading figure at that time. Over the years the party was subject to major infiltration—we estimate that 30+ officers may have targeted and infiltrated the SWP.

Commenting on our opening statement, the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS), an alliance of activists subjected to systematic surveillance, said:

“[James] Scobie [QC] did a great job piecing together the career of undercover officer Richard Clark (‘Rick Gibson’ HN297, 1974-76) rising through Troops Out Movement (TOM) seemingly in order to get access to Big Flame – and how he was eventually found out.”

Our opening statement, carefully assembled by Piers Marquis of Doughty Street Chambers and Paul Heron, solicitor at PILC, provides a clear analysis of how undercover officer Richard Clark was able to climb to a leading position in the Troops Out Movement. Clark went from a local to a regional and then to a national position of authority in the movement. He subsequently directed the movement for a period of time, and, we say, contributed to de-railing it.

We then explain how other officers infiltrated a host of organisations, taking positions of responsibility that gave them a say directing the activities of those groups. This was political policing worthy of an authoritarian state.

In our statement we point out that many officers considered the Socialist Workers Party ‘extremely dull’ or generally not worthy of surveillance. However some, such as ‘Paul Gray’ (1977-82), claimed the party was involved in violence. As we show, his claims were undermined by his own words in his own reports—which show nothing of the kind. We say he was lying.

Worryingly, Paul Gray reported on children, recording details of their lives which were sent on to his senior officers and then to MI5. These children were either the children of Socialist Workers Party members or young people engaged enough with their society to be part of School Kids Against the Nazis.

As we point out, during Gray’s deployment Column 88—a fascist group—were threatening to burn down the homes of members of the Socialist Workers Party. The National Front was attacking Bengalis in Brick Lane, east London. Fascists also smashed up West Indian record shops and vandalised mosques around this time. Instead of investigating the racist firebombing that killed 13 young black people in New Cross, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) and undercover officers were reporting on schoolchildren and providing MI5 with copies of Socialist Workers Party babysitting rotas.

At the end of our statement we laid down a challenge to the public inquiry:

“This Inquiry has been set a challenge – to get to the truth. This means asking difficult questions, again and again, to uncover the truth.

Ordinary people have been involved in campaigns for a better society, for social equality, anti racism, anti-fascism, against apartheid and for trade union rights. The best of reasons, and the best of traditions.

We hope the Inquiry is ready, willing and equipped to meet that challenge. The Inquiry must be fearless and unflinching in the pursuit of the truth. The people of this country expect nothing less.”