McSpy – Bob Lambert

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.

Continue reading “McSpy – Bob Lambert”

Police spies: The Met wants my help – I want a properly public investigation

chris robson letter 001Last week, I received a letter from the Metropolitan Police. Presuming I have important information on the infiltration of London Greenpeace back in the 1980s, the Met wants me to get in touch to discuss the matter further. Indeed, my book Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark, corporate and police spying on activists (Pluto, 2012) includes a case study titled McSpy, detailing the infiltration of this group before they were brought to Court for leafleting McDonald’s. I have also been blogging about the case of the women against the Metropolitan Police on state-sponsored abuse at here at

This open letter is my reply, with a proposal towards a properly public investigation.

23 January 2013

Dear Chris Robson,

Thank you for inviting me to contact you about police infiltration of campaigning groups. I am open to discuss an exchange of information but not behind closed doors, hence this open letter.

To begin with, your letter is rather short on information. You write that the Metropolitan Police ‘is conducting a review of Policing methods used to gather information relating to people involved in campaign groups’, but it was unclear to me at first which of the many ongoing reviews it was.

The clue was the ref in your letterhead, which said ‘Op Herne’. Grilled on the issue of undercover officers having sexual relationships by Jenny Jones  in the the London assembly, deputy commissioner Craig Mackey explained that Operation Herne is the internal review into the undercover unit of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), a unit that existed for 30 years. The review into ‘covert deployments’ between 1968-2008 was announced by Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe in October 2011, and is led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Mark Simmons.
You want to talk to me about ‘the organisation called ‘London Greenpeace’ and events that led up to the ‘McLibel’ case between 1990-1997.’

I’m glad we agree on the importance of that period. London Greenpeace, the small campaigning group founded long Continue reading “Police spies: The Met wants my help – I want a properly public investigation”

Outrage as High Court permits secrecy over undercover policing

Press Release on behalf of Birnberg Peirce Claimants 17 January 2013

Published at

N.B. The ruling can be found here as tweeted by @JudicialOffice

The High Court has today granted an application by the Metropolitan Police for a secret hearing over the claims brought against them under the Human Rights Act, arising from undercover officers engaging in intimate long term relationships with women whilst undercover. The Claimants, who were involved in protest movements, were deceived into intimate sexual relationships by officers, including Mark Kennedy. One relationship lasted six years and all the Claimants suffered significant psychological damage as a consequence of those officers intruding deeply into their private lives. Lawyers for the women said that their clients are “outraged” at the High Court’s decision today that the claims should be heard in the secret Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) is a little known tribunal set up under section 65 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA, 2000) to deal with claims brought under the Human Rights Act against the police and other security services.

Mr Justice Tugenhadt rejected the police submissions that the IPT was the appropriate tribunal for hearing common law claims also brought by the women (including for deceit and misfeasance in public office). However, the common law claims can be heard in the open jurisdiction of the High Court, but will be put on hold pending the verdict of the IPT.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Tugenhadt states that the actions of these officers must have been contemplated by legislators on the basis that:
“James Bond is the most famous fictional example of a member of the intelligence services who used relationships with women… fictional accounts (and there are others) lend credence to the view that the intelligence and police services have for many years deployed both men and women officers to form personal relationships of an intimate sexual nature (whether or not they were physical relationships) in order to obtain information or access.”

He did, however, say that if the allegations are true they are very serious. He went on to say that physical sexual relationships, that are covertly maintained, may amount to inhumane and degrading treatment depending on the degree and nature of the concealment. This is an important concession because by implication, these relationships could not be authorised under RIPA and would be unlawful.

The rules of the IPT permit the case to proceed with the women denied access to and unable to challenge police evidence, and being powerless to appeal the tribunal’s decisions. Eight women, who are bringing a case together, were deceived into long term intimate relationships with undercover officers, who as part of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPIOU) and its predecessor the Special Demonstration Squad, seemingly had no other brief than to gather information on political groups. So far, this has meant that unlike a criminal investigation, the actions of the officers and their undercover command structure have never been subject to court scrutiny or public hearing, despite serious concerns over human rights violations.

Harriet Wistrich of Birnberg Peirce said: “This decision prevents both the claimants and the public from seeing the extent of the violations of human rights and abuses of public office perpetrated by these undercover units. The claimants have already suffered a gross violation of their privacy and abuse of trust by the police, if the case is dealt with by the IPT they will be denied access to justice and may never discover why they were thus violated by the state.”

She read a short statement on behalf of the claimants:
“We brought this case because we want to see an end to sexual and psychological abuse of campaigners for social justice and others by undercover police officers. We are outraged that the High Court has allowed the police to use the IPT to preserve the secrecy of their abusive and manipulative operations in order to prevent public scrutiny and challenge. In comparison, the privacy of citizens spied on by secret police is being given no such protection, which is contrary to the principles we would expect in a democratic society. It is unacceptable that state agents can cultivate intimate and long lasting relationships with political activists in order to gain so called intelligence on political movements. We intend to continue this fight.”

Women vs. Spy Cops: Hearings in High Court

Seated at wooden benches, with a cop right behind me. Was he reading over my shoulder? I don’t know. When I sit back, I crumple his notes. That’s how close we are. Streets around the High Court were riddled with police, awaiting the student protests. The London School of Economics is just around the corner. The helicopter hovering low all morning just adds to the atmosphere.

This is the legal cases of the women who were deceived into having relationships by undercover police officers. Last week saw the first set of hearings devoted to the technical procedures. If the Met has its way, this could be the only public hearings in the entire case.

Two days of hearings were not enough, the Court needed more time on Friday. The judge has now retired, as the women write at, to consider the issues raised and has not yet indicated when the judgement is likely to be handed down.

The Case

The legal claim is about the extent of damages for the harm caused, which is of course difficult to translate into financial figures. The women are also bringing claims for deceit, assault, misfeasance in public office and negligence. They seek to highlight and prevent the continuation of psychological, emotional and sexual abuse of campaigners and others by undercover police officers. Continue reading “Women vs. Spy Cops: Hearings in High Court”

Reclaiming Rights Rather than Rules & Regulations

A long report on the Committee meeting Green MP Caroline Lucas organised in the Houses of Parliament, Tuesday 6 November.

The use of sex & deception by police infiltrators. The difficulties of phrasing and framing what this is about. Plus some added contemplations.

A grand tour of Parliament House it takes to find the room where the Committee meeting is held. At first is seems it’s going to be quite a private party, with just those who already know present. Due to confusing over which building, Members of Parliament arrive late, people of the press and others interested as well. All together there were some 40 people in the room for the meeting organized by Green MP Caroline Lucas. Chaired by Helena Kennedy we get to listen to the voices of three of the women involved, interviewed for a BBC in File on 4 documentary.

Powerful voices trying to put into words what has happened to them. It’s not so much the level of emotion, but rather the recognisability of their stories: it could have happened to you. Or me, for that matter. It is difficult not to identify yourself with them.
The struggle to deal with the array of feelings, of having found the love of your life, the worries when he suddenly disappears, the distress he seemed to be in, the longing and getting over lost love. To find out that your lover was in fact a police officer, someone on a mission, someone who has used you in every possible way.

As a film script it would be a bit over the top. But this is real. Continue reading “Reclaiming Rights Rather than Rules & Regulations”

Reflections on State Use of Sex & Deception

The stories that have come out about under covers having had long-term relationships with women in activist groups, make you wonder if nothing has been written about this before. The questions around this issue are many, they are complicated and intertwined. It is difficult, for instance, to separate the question of how the women involved deal with what has happened to them on a personal level, and the problem of which legal steps to undertake, when the law is in fact inadequate as an instrument – since no rules have been written to address this.

However, as the case of the eight women who launched legal action against the Metropolitan Police for the harm caused shows, there is evidence that under covers have been engaged in intimate relations with women active in the groups the officers infiltrated, again and again in a period of at least 30 years – in the UK only. This implies that there was something of a strategy behind it, or at least that supervisors and those higher up responsible for the infiltration operations did not have a problem with state use of sex.

My project researching Secret Manoeuvres includes locating existing literature, and providing it to those interested.
One of the few academic articles I have found so far, is written by the American sociologist Gary T. Marx, now Professor Emeritus of Sociology at M.I.T. He has been writing about infiltration, protest and surveillance since the 1960s, and he is still going strong. His writing was an inspiration for my PhD, Secret Manoeuvres is the popular version.

Under-the-Covers – Undercover Investigations: Some Reflections on the State’s Use of Sex and Deception in Law Enforcement, the 1999 revision of article in Criminal Justice Ethics, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 13-24, Spring 1992. The entire article is worth reading, but here I will lift the bits that refer to the cases at hand.

State-sponsored deception, of course, raises all the ethical issues generally associated with deception. It also raises some issues that are unique to the state as the symbolic repository of societal values (for example, the need to avoid setting bad examples).

But when friendship and sex are present, (…) the situation becomes more complex. Manipulation, temptation and deception (whether involving motives and/or identity) are joined in a potentially explosives mix. Continue reading “Reflections on State Use of Sex & Deception”

Bob Lambert, Spinwatch and me

Late October 2011, Bob Lambert was exposed as a police infiltrator in the activist movement. Using the name ‘Bob Robinson’ he had had a longterm affair and a child with a woman who believed him to be a genuine campaigner.

In an effort to save what was left of his reputation, Lambert publicly refered to his work on Islamophobia and his cooperation with Spinwatch on this front.

Since I have been working with people who had been spied upon for many years, in particular with London Greenpeace, a group that had been infiltrated by Lambert himself and later by others under his supervision, and as one of the founders of Spinwatch, his use of our organisation in his defense was unacceptable. The statement below summarises what happened late laste year.
It has since been revealed that, as an undercover animal rights activist, Lambert set fire to a Debenham store – for selling fur.

SpinWatch stands in solidarity with the infiltrated, 2 November 2011

On the 20 October 2011, SpinWatch wrote an open letter to ex-Special Branch Officer, Bob Lambert about his exposure as an infiltrator in the activist movement. The letter challenged him to confirm or deny the allegations, apologise if they were true and to dissociate himself from such actions. In response Lambert acknowledged that in his 26 year career of with Special Branch, he infiltrated London Greenpeace for several years in the 1980s. For this he apologised.

Subsequently he moved on to supervise other undercover agents. Lambert, and other infiltrators he supervised, had long term relationships (including sexual partnerships) with campaigners and those close to them. This is one of the most abusive breaches of trust imaginable. Lambert apologised for this as well, but claimed it was all part of his cover story to gain the necessary credibility to infiltrate animal rights groups.

Lambert did not, however, disavow his previous work, with serious consequences for his credibility in his current work. Continue reading “Bob Lambert, Spinwatch and me”

March 2012: HMIC’s ‘empty’ review leaves little hope for robust scrutiny of undercover cops

With the latest developments in the case of the women who filed a case againtst the infiltrators who deceived them into longterm relations – sometimes with children as a result, it might be useful to go back to my critique of  the only official review into Mark Kennedy’s activities (at least the only one that has been published so far).

Published by , 28 March 2012

If the first official review of undercover policing is to set the tone for the next dozen or so evaluations to come, there is not much hope. Of all reviews, this is the only one focusing on the activities of Mark Kennedy specifically and the supervision of undercover officers by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) more generally.

The findings and recommendations of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) are shocking for their emptiness, in three different ways. The findings are flimsy, which makes you wonder whether the search was superficial, or even worse, that there was nothing to discover. Its recommendations are ridiculous, the tightening of the term ‘domestic extremism’ by broadening it with yet another non-existent subjective term ‘serious criminality’ will not bring any clarity as Matt Salusbury pointed out earlier at SpinWatch. Thirdly, the report is shocking for what it does not discuss – the pressing issues that the responsible authorities have left untouched.
Continue reading “March 2012: HMIC’s ‘empty’ review leaves little hope for robust scrutiny of undercover cops”

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: