“When the full truth comes out about the Police's work and activities against political campaigns and protests, across the UK since 1968, I think the public will be very shocked."
Peter Francis worked as a spy for the secretive Special Branch Unit the Special Demonstration Squad. Thanks in large part to his courage, the public now knows a great deal about the SDS and the work of under cover spies and their infiltration of campaign groups in the UK.
Statement of Peter Francis 6th March 2014
Click on Images for more information on under cover SDS officers
Undercover: The True Story of Britains Secret Police
Spies and the British Labour Movement
Fredrick Engels once defined the state as "armed bodies of men", together with their appendages, in defence of private property. In 2002 BBC 2 aired three programmes entitled True Spies and Peter Taylor examined one of these appendages, Britain's secret services.
The programmes (shown below) revealed how in "democratic" Britain, MI5 and the Special Branch systematically infiltrated political groups and organisations, and secretly spied on trade union leaders such as Arthur Scargill and Derek 'Red Robbo' Robinson. While none of the revelations are particularly startling, what was of interest was the use of first-hand interviews by ex-M15 agents in explaining their sordid undercover activities.
Of course, the activities of the Secret Services are nothing new. According to Peter Wright, M15's most famous director, agents "bugged and burgled [their] way across London at the state's behest." The ruling class uses these agents to spy on and disrupt so-called "subversive" organisations that are regarded as a threat to their system.
More than two hundred years ago, at the dawn of the British trade union movement, the government employed spies and agent provocateurs to infiltrate and undermine the workers' organisations. Their reports led to the imprisonment, deportation and even hanging of trade unionists. Originally this spying agency was part of the Metropolitan Police. However, in 1916, the Secret Service Bureau was relaunched as part of the Directorate of Military Intelligence and renamed MI5.
After the First World War, it developed its network of agents to monitor "subversive" organisations, in particular the Communist Party. Later, this was broadened to include such organisations as CND and Liberty. In the 1960s, the Police Act introduced regional Special Branches, and by 1975 every provincial force had its own full-time Special Branch in operation.
In the early 1970s, the Special Branch set out to closely monitor the growing industrial unrest that was sweeping the country. Within a few weeks of the 1972 miners' strike MI5 shifted its emphasis to "domestic subversion", particularly the "far and wide left". MI5's F branch acted as an anti-subversion section monitoring the trade union field and rapidly expanded.
MI5 even had the leader of the Labour Party, Harold Wilson, under surveillance in the run up to the 1974 election. MI5 had a file on Wilson codenamed "Henry Worthington". Though officially denied by MI5, the author of 'Spycatcher', Peter Wright claims he and "a few malcontents" within MI5 conspired to bring down the Wilson Labour government.
However, this didn't prevent Wilson using M15 bugging transcripts and informers' evidence to denounce Communist influence in the 1966 seamen's strike. At that time, one National Union of Seamen committee reportedly consisted entirely of Special Branch informers, and the union's right wing officials were regularly informed about the activities of union militants. In his second term as Prime Minister burglaries were carried out against Harold Wilson and his senior staff by MI5.
The "secret state", which has no accountability to Members of Parliament, is regarded as a vital weapon by the Establishment in its underground activities against all those who pose a threat to capitalism. The trade unions and leftwing organisations and specific individuals were marked out for special attention. Key right wing union leaders were identified by M15 as possible recruits or informers. The BBC investigation revealed that Joe Gormley, former president of the National Union of Miners, was a Special Branch informant during the 1970s.
In True Spies a former Special Branch officer claims that Mr Gormley passed on details of Arthur Scargill's and other miners' plans for industrial action in the early 1970s. But, despite receiving warnings from the top of the union, MI5 and the government failed to head off the 1972 strike. In fact, the Special Branch officer - referred to only as Alan - claims that MI5 told the government the strike would not happen, with devastating consequences for the leadership of the day.
Edward Heath's government was toppled in 1974, following mass industrial action, in what became known as the "Who Runs The Country?" election.
The M15 agent told the programme: "The extreme left were getting the upper hand and were dictating the policy of the unions to some great extent, then we found ourselves actually going to unions and talking to the top union officials about what was going on.
"One of them would be Joe Gormley... certainly he was in a position of power and was in a position to furnish us with what we were looking for." He added that Gormley turned informer because "he loved his country. He was a patriot and he was very wary and worried about the growth of militancy within his own union".
Arthur Scargill himself was not surprised by Gormley's "patriotic" actions, saying: "The history of our movement is littered with people in leadership positions who were either connected with the Special Branch or connected with the State."
Joe Gormley, who died in 1993 and was president of the NUM until 1982, was not the only trade union leader to have links with the "secret state". True Spies reporter Peter Taylor discovered that Special Branch was talking to more than 20 senior trade union leaders during the early 1970s. Again, this revelation did not shock Scargill, who said correctly he was only surprised that there were not even more spies within the unions.
Another Special Branch officer claims that Ford, which had a giant car manufacturing plant at Halewood on Merseyside, only agreed to invest there because of a suspected secret deal with MI5 and Special Branch.
According to Former Special Branch officer, Tony Robinson, the entire workforce was routinely vetted. He said: "My senior officer said: 'One of your responsibilities, Tony, is to make certain that the Ford factory is kept clean of subversives.'
"And part of the plan drawn up was to make certain that work would carry on smoothly at Ford without the expected Merseyside disease of strikes and layoffs."
He told the programme that every week Ford would secretly submit a list of the latest job applicants to the local Special Branch. "We were expected to check these lists against our known subversives, and if any were seen on the list then strike a line through it," he said.
He added: "It was very, very important that the unions were monitored, and I, as a Special Branch officer, make no apologies for doing it as efficiently as I could. We're talking about thousands and thousands of families dependent on continued employment... you have a small group of subversives who can bring that factory to a stop, then I think the ends justify the means."
The programme interviewed Tom, a former trade union activist and Communist Party member, who was secretly vetted by Special Branch and denied a job at Ford's Halewood plant. Obviously very bitter he said: "How can you be proud of Britain when there's things like that going on?"
A Ford spokesman said: "We cannot confirm that Police Special Branch officers were involved in any way in the checking of job applicants or the alleged agreement with MI5." In any case, the vetted workforce did not prevent the Ford plan becoming militant. This was down not to "subversives", which is typical of the police mind, but the conditions imposed by Ford management.
In the 1970s Derek Robinson was the union convenor at the British Leyland plant at Longbridge, at the time Britain's largest factory. He was eventually victimised and sacked. The programme showed how managing director Sir Michael Edwards conspired with the government and M15 to get rid of Robinson. Phones and meetings were bugged by the secret services and the transcripts were shown to Edwards, who used them to plot Robinson's downfall.
Special Branch Officer Tony Robinson, summing up his work, said: "I suppose the whole business of being a Special Branch Officer in many instances is based on lies, on deception or you can't do your job."
Today, despite the official pronouncements to the contrary, M15 continues to monitor "subversive" organisations and individuals on the left. This 2,000-strong domestic spying outfit is now housed in The Thames House on Millbank, especially converted for a trifling £238 million. Its resources have been switched from unmasking Soviet agents to the work of "counter-subversion" and "counter-terrorism".
In a public relations exercise, M15 was introduced into the public gaze, with Stella Rimington, M15's first woman director-general, (known affectionately as 'Mrs R'), even appearing on television speaking about the virtues of modern spying. She appears in the True Spies programme, and in the manner and tone of her interview, shows her utter contempt for so-called "subversive" leftwing ideas and groups, which she regards in effect as the "enemies within." Despite her air of reasonableness, she is, as are all the tops of the secret services, reactionary through and through.
Rimington made her name - the veritable Queen of Spies - within the "service" in the state's secret war against the miners in 1984/85. She was head of F2 section, which targets trade unions and industrial disputes, and an M15 assistant director, which gave her overall control throughout the year-long miners' strike. Admired by Margaret Thatcher, the secret services in conjunction with the other arms of the state, were used to undermine the strike and discredit the leadership of the NUM. While this is not the main reason for the defeat of the miners' strike, it clearly shows the lengths to which the ruling class will go to defend its interests.
While many in the programme said they were "shocked" by the M15 activities, Scargill took a more sober view. "I am not shocked. I am in opposition to capitalism. I am for socialism. For the establishment I am a subversive and will be, of course, subjected to this surveillance."
Again, the state is made up of armed bodies of men in defence of private property. For those fighting to change society, it is clear that they will be subject not only to surveillance, but all the dirty tricks that the ruling class can muster to maintain their power and privileges. We have to expose their role, including that of the CIA, and their subversive activities within the labour movement, and warn against the dangers they pose to democratic rights.
It is the duty of the trade unions to set up a monitoring group to investigate and expose the interference of the intelligent services within the labour movement, especially the covert activities of rightwing organisations and publications. And we should demand the disbandment of M15, M16, the Special Branch, Military Intelligence and other secret intelligence sections. In addition, the files kept by the Secret Services on millions of people should be destroyed.
True Spies Episode 1
True Spies Episode 2
True Spies Episode 3
Overexcitable publishers like to bandy around words such as "explosive" and "shocking" when trying to flog their books, even though generally you could substitute them for ones such as "mildly interesting". Not with Undercover, though. Subtitled "The True Story of Britain's Secret Police", and doggedly written and researched by Guardian journalists Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, the revelations in its pages are genuinely explosive. And even though a lot of the material was in last week's news and formed the basis of a Channel 4's Dispatches, reading it line by line, deception by deception, is genuinely shocking.
It boggles my mind that this has been going on in our name, sanctioned by our state, paid for with our taxes. To recap, briefly, for those who have been under a stone, Evans and Lewis revealed last week that undercover police officers were asked to find "dirt" on the family of Stephen Lawrence in order to smear and discredit them. What's more, they alleged that one of the authors of the McLibel leaflet, the subject of the longest civil trial in British history, costing McDonald's millions of pounds in legal fees, was another undercover police officer.
"As our cops are shamed by cover-ups and corruption," said a headline in the Sun, that well-known voice of anti-establishment dissent, "We ask: can we ever trust them?"
It's a fair question, and one that would be interesting to ask people before and after they've read the book. Because it's the steady accumulation of detail that's so compelling. The testimony of person after person who was taken in, deceived, gulled, who knew the officers for years – who thought of them as best friends, or lovers, or life partners, or the father of their children, who had no inkling that they were part of an elaborate state-sponsored spy-ring that intruded on the most intimate parts of their lives. And who, in most cases, had done nothing more nefarious than be a member of a peaceful protest group, and some of them not even that.
The officers involved worked for the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), a top-secret unit within special branch that was formed in 1968. Its unofficial motto was "By Any Means Necessary" and an officer called "Pete Black", the whistleblower who was the source for many of the revelations about how the unit operated and who unmasked himself last week as Peter Francis, relates how sex was just another tactic. "Basically," he tells them, "it's just regarded as part of the job."
The allegations about the Lawrence family were what made the headlines last week – another terrible blow after so many terrible blows. But it's the revelations about the women who were involved with these officers that I can't get out of my head. There is much else: the dead children's names that were stolen, the breakdowns suffered when officers discovered they couldn't simply return to their "real life", the often hilarious detail of spycraft gone wrong (the activist pals of one undercover officer give him the nickname "detective inspector"; another is "Lynn the cop").
But it is the women who are the emotional heart of this book and it is hearing from them, the victims in all this, in their own words, that gives it such power. "Charlotte", who recounts how she got home from work on 14 June last year, sat in the garden to read the Daily Mail with a cup of coffee and spotted a photo of Robert Lambert or, as she knew him, Bob Robinson, the father of her child, who she had not seen for 24 years. "And there was his face staring back at me from the paper. I went into shock, I felt like I couldn't breathe and I started shaking." She has subsequently received psychiatric treatment.
Or Helen Steel, who met John Dines, aka John Barker, and had a relationship with him for two years. "He said he wanted to spend the rest of life with me. In a short space of time I fell absolutely madly in love with him in a way that I had never fallen in love with anyone before or since."
Or "Alison", a secondary school teacher who lived with Mark Cassidy for four years, but who she subsequently discovered was using her as a ploy to get close to activist groups whose mission was – irony alert! – to uncover allegations of police corruption. And then he vanished from her life.
"How much of the relationship was real?" she asks. "I have, for the last 13 years, questioned my own judgment." And the targets of these elaborate and devastating intrigues? They were "50-year-old vegan cake-makers", members of the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army, a pensioner who didn't want his local duck pond filled with ash. And, while this may be the "true story" of the secret police, it's almost definitely not the whole story. At the end of the book, Evans and Lewis estimate there may be 100, even 150 more covert officers out there.
A former Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) officer has welcomed the announcement of a judge-led public inquiry into undercover policing. Theresa May announced the public inquiry, in the wake of Mr Ellison QC’s "profoundly shocking" findings, published today in his review into police corruption and undercover surveillance associated with the original Stephen Lawrence investigation.
Peter Francis, a former SDS officer, said: “I am delighted by the Home Secretary's announcement to set up a public inquiry into the work of undercover police officers. I have been calling for such an inquiry since October 2011. “When the full truth comes out about the Police's work and activities against political campaigns and protests, across the UK since 1968, I think the public will be very shocked."
“The public inquiry must investigate the work undertaken by police's Special Demonstration Squad and its undercover surveillance of political campaigns in general. “It should not be limited in relation to time or particular issues. The truth about the tactics of undercover policing will only be revealed by way of a truly independent, public inquiry, which will require those involved to provide evidence under oath.”