The spying on London Greenpeace is one of the case studies in my book Secret Manoeuvres. The chapter is called McSpy – just as the trial was called McLibel as a playful reference to the hamburger giant that brought this upon us. I brought up possible further cooperation, with Special Branch using the corporate infiltration as a stepping-stone to target animal rights activists.
Little did I know then about the role of Bob Lambert and his blueprint for future spies – identical concepts anywhere you go.
First some background, for those new to the story.
We know now that Bob Lambert was:
Responsible for writing the McLibel leaflet.
The McLibel trial was the longest trial in English history, with McDonald’s spending millions prosecuting a small group for a leaflet. It was already found to have been unfair, and the two defendants won damages from the UK government at the European Court of Human Rights.
An undercover policeman
Lambert had already admitted to having infiltrated London Greenpeace, after former members of the group had exposed him. Apologising, he claimed to have done so for a ‘greater good’: to build a cover story as an activist, a stepping stone into the more radical circles of animal liberation. His major success, he felt, was putting Geoff Sheppard and Andrew Clark behind bars for setting fire to three Debenham stores in a campaign against the fur trade. So good was his cover, Lambert boasted, that he even visited his ‘friends’ in prison.
Acted as agent provocateur
Geoffrey Sheppard has since come forward saying there is no doubt in his mind that it was Lambert who planted the third incendiary device back in 1987. Green MP Caroline Lucas used a Westminster Hall debate on the rules governing undercover policing to raise the case under parliamentary privilege, and add to calls for a public inquiry into the use of police spies. Lambert has strongly denied the allegations, but stories of him inciting people to more radical actions and violent means than they intended keep popping up (and can be sent to SecretManoeuvres@xs4all.nl).
Betrayed women (and other friends)
Lambert – married with two children – betrayed four different women, two in longer relationships. The mother of his child only found out a year ago this months, shattered after discovering her life had been build on a lie. No words can describe the damage done there.
Supervised others and set an example
Lambert disappeared without a trace, and moved on to supervise others infiltrating groups like Reclaim the Streets and the WOMBLES – each of them leaving a similar trail of betrayal. He ended his police career by setting up the post 9/11 Muslim Contact Unit to deal with the next ‘enemy of the state’ – but that is another story.
Fast–food company McDonald’s hired at least seven private detectives to identify who was responsible for London Greenpeace’s leaflet What’s Wrong With McDonald’s? which was distributed outside many McDonald’s outlets in the UK. The surveillance operation was exposed after McDonald’s sued the activist group for libel. Under cross–examination, the company was forced to provide many details of its extensive surveillance operation on London Greenpeace. Agents infiltrated London Greenpeace for varying lengths of time between October 1989 and early summer 1991. The court transcripts and notes made by the investigators reveal the lengths McDonald’s went to in procuring information about this small activist group.
The McSpy chapter in Secret Manoeuvres includes some serious questions about the cooperation between the private spies hired by McDonald’s to infiltrate London Greenpeace and Special Branch, more specifically the Animal Rights National Index, ARNI. The head of security at the fast food giant at the time was himself a former police officer (in South Africa, and in London Brixton in the early 1980s) who happily used the network of his old colleagues to exchange information on protesters.
I brought up possible further cooperation, with Special Branch using the corporate infiltration as a stepping-stone to target animal rights activists.
I was not far off the mark. Just before the book went to press, members of London Greenpeace exposed Bob Lambert as a spy. He claimed to have used his membership of London Greenpeace to build his cover story to move into the more radical circles of animal rights activists. The fact that his mission had taken place before McDonald’s had hired two different detective agencies to spy on the small activist group, confirmed my theory that it had been a joint operation from the start.
That McDonald’s wanted to know who was responsible for the leaflet was just a pretext – that was clear from my analyses of the court documents and the witness statements given at the McLibel trial. The Head of Security knew the names of the members of London Greenpeace before he hired. Special Branch had pointed them out, in exchange for a perch: an observation post within the McDonald’s premises to keep an eye at a picket outside.
Since it was illegal for the police to share any such information with others, McDonald’s had to ‘white wash’ it to be able to use it as evidence before the Court. The detectives were brought in.
With the help of Helen Steel, I went through many, many witness statements from the McLibel Case and evidence that was produced by McDonald’s (eventually, and not without the relentless persistence of the two defendants) such as the original notes made by the hired spies.
The first time round, it was to make an overview of the methods the spies had used, and the impact their presence and actions had on the group. I won’t go into that here (you’ll have to read Secret Manoeuvres to find out!).
The second time I looked specifically for references to animal rights activism. That gave me some clues as to how the infiltration operation was set up.
Both Sid Nicholson, then Head Of Security at McDonald’s UK and Paul Preston, the company’s UK CEO at the time, made statements in court confirming that concern about animal rights action was a factor in deciding to infiltrate London Greenpeace. And, reading back once more, the infiltrating agents were focussed on the topic too. The McSpy chapter has an overview of what the infiltrators already knew about London Greenpeace, and how they perceived their job. For instance, one of them recalled that he always referred to it as ‘the animal rights case’.
It is particularly interesting to read what I wrote about McDonald’s, Special Branch and animal rights in the context of what we know today.
- Nicholson had been discussing animal rights issues with Special Branch officers since 1984, which were – as he stated ‘of much more concern to me at that time.’
Note that 1984 is the year that Bob Lambert started to infiltrate London Greenpeace.
Nicholson claimed London Greenpeace had come to his attention in that context. In early summer of 1989, McDonald’s was confronted with several fire attacks on outlets claimed by Animal Liberation activists. Nicholson argued these attacks justified the infiltration operation. The McDonald’s president for the UK, Paul Preston, also stated ‘he was told’ London Greenpeace had something to do with the fires. He could not remember who told him: ‘[i]t had had to be either internally or by someone from the police.’
Helen Steel and Dave Morris were infuriated by this attempt to connect London Greenpeace to the arson attacks. There was no proof of any connection. In a subsequent attempt to convince Morris and Steel no harm was meant, Nicholson disclosed ARNI’s underlying intentions:
- They told me they were not particularly interested in London Greenpeace. They regarded you as a small organisation of very little importance. What they were interested in was the possible connections with the animal liberation groups, and they did not indicate either of you two were involved in that. […] They said there were associations between the group and Animal Liberation.
In the context of the McLibel trial, these statements from Nicholson and Preston are nothing more than efforts to justify the infiltration operation in court. Furthermore, they indicate that Special Branch played some role in prompting the London Greenpeace inquiry, I wrote in the Secret Manoeuvres. Special Branch suggested links between the group and fire bomb attacks, and these alleged links convinced McDonald’s to take steps.
We now know that it is very likely that Bob Lambert was instrumental in making these links.
Another part of the McSpy chapter that is weird to read in the light of the revelations of the year that has passed since the book came out, is about the the mission of Michelle Hooker – the last spy to infiltrate London Greenpeace (the last that we know of, that is).
McDonald’s claimed the infiltration operation ended once the writs were served, on 20 September 1990. However, there is evidence indicating the investigation continued for several months beyond that date. There were various reasons for some spies to linger. Nicholson wanted to retain at least one operator to monitor reactions to the writs. He was concerned for the safety of McDonald’s premises and staff. The managing director of Kings Detectives had other worries. He feared for his agents if they were all removed at once. Kings had three or four agents operating at that moment. In order to facilitate the withdrawal without suspicion, McDonald’s and the agencies agreed a phased end.
The assignment of Hooker was significant. She started going to meetings by the end of August 1990, less than a month before writs were served. While McDonald’s claimed to have hired the investigators to identify the people responsible for the pamphlet, one could argue it made no sense to bring in a new investigator while the writs to named subjects were being prepared, Steel argued in the interview in October 2006.
After the decision to go to court was taken and strategies to phase out spying were being discussed, Hooker was brought in the field. She stayed undercover for nine months and attended meetings until May 1991. Furthermore, she became intimately involved with Charlie Brooke, one of the more active members of the group. As in many of the stories of recently exposed spies, the relationship allayed the group’s suspicions. There are more similarities.
The Observer quoted someone from London Greenpeace close to the couple who said: ‘At the time we were concerned that the group may have been infiltrated, but she was beyond suspicion because she was going out with Charlie.’ (Calvert & Connett, 1997) Friends told the paper her relationship with Mr Brooke flourished. The couple spent Christmas 1990 together and exchanged gifts. Michelle Hooker ‘helped in the health food shop where he worked and she even went to visit his mother in West Yorkshire. Mr Brooke, in contrast, was never introduced to any of her friends nor did he ever go to her rented bed–sit.’ The relationship cooled towards the end of her assignment. Hooker began saying that she could no longer spend weekends at his flat because of work commitments.
The Observer heard Brooke never saw her again after he ended the relationship. The newspaper report concluded: ‘Only one memento of the strange affair remains: the tabby cat Ms X left at his flat and never collected, a physical reminder of how the detective for McDonald’s had touched his private life.’
Charlie Brooke discovered her spying role when her name was released during the McLibel case in 1996.
Hooker used her new contacts at London Greenpeace to get in touch with activists who were more radical. After the second meeting she attended, Hooker talked to two members of London Greenpeace and immediately brought up the topic of animal rights.
- The talk in the pub went fine, she reported. ‘I appeared to get on well with both of them and felt that they spoke openly and freely with me.’ (Hooker, investigator’s note on 30 Aug 1990) When Hooker indicated she was interested in animal rights, she was referred to someone (not a member of London Greenpeace) associated ‘with the activists who were responsible for breaking into several laboratories and releasing animals.’
- Hooker misheard the name of his group but understood it was associated with the Animal Liberation Front. It was her impression that the group was a very radical organisation, prepared to actively back up its views. Hooker also managed to get the diary of events for September 1990 issued by the Hackney & Islington Animal Rights Campaign – a group she would subsequently infiltrate as well.
Hooker became an active member of London Greenpeace. She was one of the organisers of the Fayre, compering on stage and filmed handing out leaflets. She regularly attended actions throughout her assignment. Through her relationship with Brooke, Hooker met many other activists who were of interest to the Animal Rights officers at Special Branch. Brooke worked with London Greenpeace only part time and was more involved with Hackney and Islington Animal Rights.
- One of its members was Geoffrey Shephard, who had been convicted for setting off sprinkler systems and destroying fur stocks at three Debenhams department stores in the mid–eighties. Hooker – the Observer reported – hosted dinner parties for them at Brooke’s north London flat. She also became very active in the Animal Rights group, joining pickets and handing out leaflets. (Calvert & Connett, 1997)
To summarise what we have here. A female detective infiltrates London Greenpeace at a moment in time that it makes no sense for the upcoming McLibel case any more. Starting an affair with one of the activists strengthens her cover and gets her in touch with animal rights groups. She gets very involved in activism, and manages to get befriended with one Geoffrey Shephard who is just out of jail.
Why do I now think that the McSpy operation has Bob Lambert’s fingerprints all over it?
In the conclusion of the chapter in Secret Manoeuvres, I put it like this:
The operation described in the last part of this case study opens up all kind of questions about cooperation between Special Branch, private detectives and corporate security departments. Was the infiltration operation some kind of joint project? How exactly it was organised remains difficult to reconstruct.
There are several possible forms for state–private cooperation on intelligence matters; however, the day–to–day affairs have most probably been a mix of the most convenient options. The cooperation could have been unplanned, with McDonald’s infiltrating London Greenpeace solely to sue it for the leaflet, and Special Branch taking advantage of the opportunity while it was there. Or ARNI could have become more interested as the infiltration went along. Maybe the operation started with the mutual worry about animal rights activists. The police may have used McDonald’s private investigators as a steppingstone to get information about people Special Branch was specifically interested in. In that case, a police intelligence squad used private investigative agents to do its dirty work. Another possibility would be a further form of cooperation, with the police using the openings the private agents created, to bring in their own infiltrators.
This unwillingness to discuss secret operations in the wider interest of the public good illustrates the difficulties in the discovery of secret documents, and more specifically the limited opportunities legal frameworks offer for research into intelligence and covert operations, particularly those that have a political dimension.
To substantiate the theory that the activists were infiltrated by Special Branch, other means of disclosure have to be found. Infiltrators or other officers involved would have to come forward to tell their side of the story.