Green MP Caroline Lucas has exposed allegations a former undercover police officer planted a firebomb in a branch of Debenhams to "bolster" his credibility.
Speaking under parliamentary privilege during a debate on undercover policing, Lucas told parliament she had spoken to a man who assured her that Bob Lambert, a former police spy turned expert on counter-terrorism, had planted the device in 1987.
Lambert, who had infiltrated green group the Animal Liberation Front, helped convict two men, Jeff Shepherd and Andrew Clark, of firebombing Debenhams stores in Harrow and Romford.
Lucas said one of the suspects jailed had told her Lambert "had carried out his part of the plan."
"It seems that planning the third incendiary device was perhaps a move to bolster Lambert's credibility."
She added: “Many questions remain unanswered including whether Bob Lambert planted the third incendiary device, and if he did, who authorised him to do that and why?"
During the debate policing minister Nick Herbert said police should be allowed to have sex with activists when working undercover and "banning such actions would provide the group targeted the opportunity to find out whether there was an undercover officer specifically within their group."
In a statement made on Wednesday afternoon Lucas called for an inquiry into the "scandalous absence of transparency and accountability in the murky underworld of undercover policing."
“In particular, the case of undercover police officer Bob Lambert and the alleged planting of an incendiary device raises deeply serious questions about the nature of undercover activity and the degree to which police officers act as agent provocateurs," she said.
“The government must therefore now agree to an immediate, independent inquiry into undercover policing and prove that it is committed to holding the police to account for their actions – in the past, present and future.”
Lambert has previously admitted to an 18-month relationship with an activist during his time as an undercover policeman.
The former co-director of the European Muslim Research Centre at Exeter University has also blogged for The Huffington Post.
Lambert denies the claims made on Wednesday, telling the Guardian: "It was necessary to create the false impression that I was a committed animal rights extremist to gain intelligence so as to disrupt serious criminal conspiracies. However, I did not commit serious crime such as 'planting an incendiary device at the [Debenhams] Harrow store'."
The Green party has released a full transcript of Caroline Lucas' comments, which were made under parliamentary privilege on Wednesday. The Huffington Post has reprinted them below.
It’s a pleasure to hold this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to raise the issue of the rules governing undercover police infiltrators and informers.
I am sure hon. Members will agree that, when it comes to the deployment of undercover police officers, transparency and accountability are of the utmost importance.
Yet in recent months a number of cases have come to light that would seem to expose serious abuses of any guidelines that we might reasonably assume inform what police officers working undercover can and cannot do.
These cases raise important questions about whether such guidelines are ever enforced; if individuals who breach them are properly held to account; and the extent to which infiltration of campaign groups is a legitimate or even effective tactic.
I also have details of new allegations relating to the behavior of one undercover officer that I believe requires immediate investigation, and which raise questions about the conviction of two individuals.
Since at least the 1968 protests against the Vietnam War, police chiefs, backed by successive governments, have used the tactic of infiltration to try to secure more reliable intelligence about political demonstrations than could be provided by informants.
Undercover police officers pose as political activists over several years to gather reliable intelligence and perhaps disrupt campaigners’ activities. In the early days these officers were part of a super-secret unit within Special Branch, called the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS). More recently, they have been run by a second unit, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit.
The new allegations
Up to nine undercover officers have been unmasked following the exposure of Mark Kennedy in late 2010 – and I will say a bit more about his case later on. The officers include Bob Lambert, known by the alias Bob Robinson.
This officer pretended to be a committed environmental and animal rights campaigner between 1984 and 1988.
By the summer of 1987, he had successfully infiltrated the Animal Liberation Front – also known as the ALF - a group which operated through a tightly organised underground network of small cells of activists, making it difficult to penetrate.
In October 2011, after he was exposed as an undercover officer, Bob Lambert admitted that, and I quote:
”In the 1980s I was deployed as an undercover Met special branch officer to identify and prosecute members of Animal Liberation Front who were then engaged in incendiary device and explosive device campaigns against targets in the vivisection, meat and fur trades.”
Lambert has also admitted that part of his mission was to identify and prosecute specific ALF activists.
He says: “I succeeded in my task and that success included the arrest and imprisonment of Geoff Sheppard and Andrew Clarke”.
The men he refers to were ALF activists found guilty of planting incendiary devices in two Debenhams stores. Allegations about exactly what kind of role Lambert might have played in their conviction have only recently come to light.
In July 1987, three branches of Debenhams, in Luton, Romford and Harrow, were targeted by the ALF in co-ordinated, simultaneous incendiary attacks because the shops were selling fur products.
Sheppard and Clarke were tried and found guilty, but the culprit who planted the incendiary device in the Harrow store was never caught.
Bob Lambert’s exposure as an undercover police officer has prompted Geoff Sheppard to speak out about that Harrow attack. Sheppard alleges that Lambert was the one who planted the third device and was involved in the ALF’s co-ordinated campaign.
Sheppard has made a statement, which I have seen. He says, and I quote:
Obviously I was not there when he targeted that store because we all headed off in our separate directions but I was lying in bed that night, and the news came over on the World Service that three Debenhams stores had had arson attacks on them and that included the Harrow store as well.
So obviously I straightaway knew that Bob had carried out his part of the plan. There's absolutely no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Bob Lambert placed the incendiary device at the Debenhams store in Harrow. I specifically remember him giving an explanation to me about how he had been able to place one of the devices in that store, but how he had not been able to place the second device.
Also in the interview, Sheppard says that two months after the three Debenhams stores were set on fire, he and another person were in his flat, making four more firebombs, when they were raided by police. Sheppard alleges that the intelligence for the raid was so precise that it is now obvious that it “came from Bob Lambert”, who knew that the pair were going to be there making another set of incendiary devices.
Sheppard was jailed for four years, four months, and Clarke for more than three years.
For Lambert it was a case of job done. In fact, so well had he manipulated the situation that he even visited Sheppard in prison to give him support before disappearing abroad. Until recently Sheppard had no reason whatsoever to suspect the man he knew as Bob Robinson, assuming he had got away with it, fled the country and built a new life for himself.
It would seem that planting the third incendiary device was perhaps a move designed to bolster Lambert’s credibility and reinforce the impression of a genuine and dedicated activist. He did go on to successfully gain the precise intelligence that led to the arrest of Sheppard and Clarke – and without anybody suspecting that the tip-off came from him.
But is this really the way we want our police officers to behave?
This case raises anew questions about the rules governing undercover police infiltrators and informers, particularly when it comes to those officers committing a crime – an area where the law is particularly grey.
Police chiefs can authorise an undercover officer to participate in criminal acts, in order to gain the trust of those they are trying to infiltrate and in theory detect or prevent a more serious crime.
Usually they are not allowed to be involved in planning or instigating the crime.
As I understand it, the specific law on this was only introduced in 2000 - by way of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 - and that beforehand, and at the time of the Debenhams attacks, the rules were vague and have so far not been made public.
Yet, if Sheppard’s allegations are true, someone must have authorised Lambert to plant incendiary devices at the Harrow store. Presumably that same “someone” may also have given the officer guidance on just how far he needed to go to establish his credibility with the ALF.
We just don’t know – and in the absence of any proper framework or rules, the task of holding Lambert to account is very difficult.
Even if strict protocols are in place to try to control the actions of undercover officers, who decides what those protocols say? And how can we hold them to account given the secrecy that surrounds such activities?
There is no doubt in my mind that anyone planting an incendiary device in a department store is guilty of a very serious crime and should have charges brought against them. Absolutely anyone – including, if the evidence is there, Bob Lambert or indeed the people who were supervising him.
Ironically, as we have seen, the use of undercover police infiltrators can make it much more difficult to secure successful convictions. Three court of appeal judges have overturned the convictions of 20 environmental protesters, ruling that crucial evidence recorded by another undercover officer, Mark Kennedy, operating under the false name Mark Stone, was withheld from their original trial.
The judges said they had seen evidence that appeared to show Kennedy was, and I quote: "involved in activities that went further than the authorisation he was given" and was "arguably, an agent provocateur."
The latest allegations concerning Bob Lambert and the planting of incendiary devices would beg the question: has another undercover police officer crossed the line into acting as an agent provocateur? And how many other police spies have been encouraging protesters to commit crimes?
The rules on relationships
Mark Kennedy’s exposure in 2010 has shone a light on how officers behave when they go undercover, and especially on the rules governing whether they are permitted to form intimate relationships with those they are spying on. Jon Murphy, the chief constable of Merseyside and the police chiefs' spokesman on the issue claims it is "grossly unprofessional" and "never acceptable".
Yet one undercover police officer, Pete Black, claims that superiors knew officers had developed sexual relationships with protesters to give credibility to their cover story and help gather evidence.
Eight women, who say they were duped into forming long-term loving relationships with undercover policemen, have started a legal action against the police.
They have a copy of a letter from a Metropolitan Police solicitor that asserts the forming of personal and other relationships by a “Covert Human Intelligence Source” to obtain information are permitted and lawful under RIPA (the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000).
So either rogue undercover officers have been breaking the rules set by senior officers, or senior officers have misled the public by saying that such relationships are forbidden.
We need to know what the truth is – and we need any rules of engagement to be published and open to public and parliamentary scrutiny or challenge.
The eight women allege the men’s actions constitute a breach of Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 3 asserts that no one shall be subject to inhumane and degrading treatment and Article 8 grants respect for private and family life, including the right to form relationships without unjustified interference by the state.
These go on to allege that the actions amount to common law tortious acts of deceit, misfeasance in public office and assault.
Bob Lambert is one of the five men named in the legal action, as is Mark Kennedy.
The Guardian has also reported that Bob Lambert secretly fathered a child with a political campaigner he had been sent to spy on and later disappeared completely from the life of this child, concealing his true identity from his mother for many years.
Lambert has admitted have a long term relationship with a second woman to bolster his credibility as a committed campaigner and subsequently went on to head the special demonstration squad and mentor other undercover officers who went on to form deceitful relationships with women.
And yet there has been virtually no attempt by the police authorities to hold these or other men to account to examine if they have broken any rules on relationships when undercover. Indeed the solicitors instructed by the Metropolitan police have taken a totally obstructive approach to the threatened litigation, threatening to strike out the claims as having no foundation.
Furthermore, police solicitors are arguing that the cases can only be heard in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal in secret, a move which would prevent women whose privacy was invaded in the most intrusive manner imaginable from hearing evidence, such as the extent to which intimate moments were reported back to police chiefs. It seems the police do not want anyone to be able to challenge their version of events or scrutinise their actions.
To paraphrase one woman involved: It is incredible that in most circumstances the police need permission to search someone’s house, yet if they want to send in an agent who may live and sleep with activists in their homes this can happen without any apparent oversight!
Giving false information in court
The rules governing undercover police infiltrators and informers are also remarkably deficient when it comes to giving false evidence in court to protect a secret identity.
For example, Jim Boyling, exposed last year for infiltrating groups such as Reclaim the Streets using the pseudonym Jim Sutton, concealed his true identity from a court when he was prosecuted alongside a group of protesters for occupying a government building during a demonstration.
He was also reportedly present at sensitive discussions between other activists and their lawyers to decide how they were going to defend themselves in court, undermining the fundamental right to hold legally protected consultations with a lawyer and illicitly obtaining details of private discussions.
One lawyer representing activists charged alongside Jim Boyling notes:
"This case raises the most fundamental constitutional issues about the limits of acceptable policing, the sanctity of lawyer-client confidentiality, and the integrity of the criminal justice system. At first sight, it seems that the police have wildly overstepped all recognised boundaries."
Yet Boyling’s actions may well have been authorised. Pete Black, who worked with Boyling in the same covert unit penetrating political campaigns, said the case was not unique and that from time to time, prosecutions were allowed to go ahead, to build up credibility with the activists being infiltrated.
The Met commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, has defended the practice of undercover officers using fake identities in court, claiming there is no specific law forbidding it.
I would echo the concerns of Lord Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, who said that Hogan-Howe's defence was "stunning and worrying" and went on to comment:
“At the very least, the senior officers who are sending these undercover PCs into court to give evidence in this way are putting them at serious risk of straying into perjury."
Bob Lambert, Mark Kennedy and Jim Boyling, as well as two other officers named in current legal actions against the police, “John Barker”, “Mark Cassidy” have all crossed a line. Other undercover police officers may well have similarly crossed such a line.
The assumption is that they have been authorised and instructed to do this – or at least that a blind eye has been turned to some of their actions, if this is not explicitly the case.
Activists who have been infiltrated have been calling for one overarching full, public inquiry to examine what has been going on. Lord Macdonald has also called for such an inquiry to consider how we should control undercover operations. But the government has ignored calls to set one up.
Instead the authorities have set up 12 different inquiries since January 2011 - each held in secret and looking at just one small aspect of the undercover operation.
Nor have they been particularly thorough or resulted in follow up action.
For example, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, ordered an investigation and report into allegations that the CPS suppressed vital evidence in the case of the Ratcliffe-on-Soar environmental protesters.
A key criticism of the CPS in the report is:
“…failures, over many months and at more than one level, by the police and the CPS.”
Yet Nick Paul, the senior CPS lawyer specialising in cases involving police misconduct, was not even interviewed as part of the investigation and senior CPS staff have evaded disciplinary action. There is an ongoing reluctance on the part of the CPS to investigate past possible miscarriages of justice.
And Kier Starmer is amongst those resisting calls for a more far reaching inquiry
The new allegations I have raised today make the case for a public inquiry even more compelling.
So many questions remain unanswered including whether Bob Lambert planted the third incendiary device, and if he did, who authorised him to do that and why?
More widely, the public has a right to know why money is being spent on infiltrating campaign groups – with no apparent external oversight of the decision to infiltrate or whether the methods used are necessary or proportionate. Why the rules on such practices are so open to abuse? And why high ranking police officials, and presumably politicians, are sanctioning operations that put police officers at risk and undermine basic human rights?
We need to have faith that police officers are beyond reproach and that there are robust procedures in place to deal with any transgressions. That those making decisions about the deployment of police officers are accountable and subject to proper scrutiny.
I therefore hope the minister will take this opportunity to review the various concerns I have raised and that the government will agree to set up a far reaching public inquiry into undercover police infiltrators and informers, looking back over past practices as well as looking forward.
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