A former police spy who spent four years undercover has backed Lush’s controversial #SpyCops campaign.
Peter Francis, once a member of the infamous Special Demonstration Squad, defended the project by the ethical beauty brand, which has attracted fierce criticism for being “anti-police”.
Referencing the campaign’s slogan, “paid to lie”, Francis told HuffPost UK: “Me and my colleagues certainly were. Some of my colleagues went a lot further in their lying capacity and their deception capacity, so ‘paid to lie’ is very accurate.”
Lush’s national campaign, which it said aims to highlight the “small and secretive subset of undercover policing”, prompted outrage when it was launched last week, with customers accusing the brand of “tarnishing all cops with the same brush”.
But a spokesperson for the campaign group Police Spies Out Of Lies, which helped devise the #SpyCops project with Lush, said it is “very happy” with the attention the campaign as received.
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“We have been fighting for years to raise public awareness, and Lush has certainly helped to catapult the issue into the public consciousness in a way that we have never achieved ourselves,” they said.
The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, waded in to the debate on Friday, saying he never thought he would see “a mainstream British retailer running a public advertising campaign against our hardworking police”.
But Francis, who acted as a “spy cop” between 1993 and 1997 before becoming a police whistleblower in 2010, praised the campaign for its “accuracy”.
The poster, which shows a police officer in both uniform and seemingly undercover, has been a particular point of anger among critics, with some stores deciding to remove the images due to customer complaints.
“You couldn’t join the SDS or the public order intelligence unit without having been a uniformed officer,” Francis explained. “There’s a photo of every SDS officer of what they looked like in uniform.”
Sharing a photo of himself on Twitter, he wrote: “No matter how much it upsets some people, @LushLtd did not make up this fact up for their hard-hitting campaign poster.”
An undercover inquiry into the issue was set up in 2015, costing £10m. However, while it was expected to finish this year, a recent review revealed the home secretary will not receive the final report until December 2023.
Police Spies Out Of Lies said they wanted to communicate to the public that the campaign is “very specific”.
“It’s about the intrusive, abusive political policing units and the behaviour of both the officers deployed undercover and their managers,” the spokesperson said.
“These ‘spy cops’ officers were recruited, trained, specifically instructed/ encouraged to, and most definitely paid by their employers to lie,” they continued.
In a statement released on Friday in response to the controversy, Lush emphasised that the campaign is not “anti-police”, but about “a controversial branch of political undercover policing that ran for many years before being exposed”.