The Met spychief who infiltrated Freedom Press: a memory

Freedom, among many other left organisations, was targeted by the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) multiple times over the years, most notably by senior officer Roger “Thorley” Pearce. Back in 2018, we published the results of our investigation, tracking his articles through the paper and talking to old comrades, and revealed at least some of the story of  the former spycop as he used our paper to worm his way into Northern Ireland. A few days ago, we received an email from one of Freedom’s old-timers Dave ‘Sparks’ McCabe. In the email, Dave is going to greater detail on Thorley’s involvement in Freedom. With Dave’s permission, we publish his email below.

It is odd what you come across trawling the web. Proof that ‘Rojero’ was a cop being one.

I was part of Freedom Press back in the late 70’s to early 80’s. As one of the countless ‘Daves’ at the time, I was nicknamed ‘Sparks’ to distinguish me from the others. Anyhows, I was one of the five who visited Belfast along with Roger. We were refered to as the Gang of Five (which included three of the Daves) by some of the older collective members as we were young and had the usual naive certainties of the youthful rebel.

Roger was a bit older, dry humoured and always friendly. We got on well. He lived in West London, as did I, so he often gave me a lift home after meetings at 84B, making up the paper, those evenings of folding, bundling up the mail copies, etc. Yep, he had a car, a tired old blue Ford Cortina, which was not as common then as it is now. Favoured transport for most of us was two wheeled, and the lucky bastards had an engine on theirs. I did visit his upstairs flat in a small cul-de-sac tucked off the Goldhawk Road at the Chiswick end. It did strike me as ’empty’ : lacking much in the way of… clutter? No photos or ornaments, those personal touches that fill a room? He had a job delivering car parts: or so he said.

I did start to get a tad suspicious after a while: nothing concrete, but Roger was always curious about everything. But then, we all were. He always wanted to meet everyone and there were dozens of things going on: campaigns and such. A good example was the aftermath of the Brixton Riots and the legal campaigns around that. We joked that he had a crush on Gareth Pierce, who was the star lawyer of the time. Looking back, given her involvement in so many high profile Irish cases, maybe it was just ‘work’ for him, a back door into the defence case? But there was plenty going on and it did not stick out as that unusual. Every week was filled with stuff happening.

The 80’s were an intensely active period and there was lots going on: strikes, riots, animal rights, and ‘street’ politics was all around us with groups starting up and growing fast around issues like anti-fascism, poll tax and so on. And we were paranoid about Big Brother. Getting raided was no fantasy. Getting arrested was par for the course and of course the Bill asked lots of questions. It was a time when having an Irish surname got you an extra hour of questions and it was all rather boringly ‘normal’. The cross-over between groups and campaigns gave us all introductions to many who were ‘names’ likely to interest the Bill. A veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of radicalism back then.

We did an awful lot together in our little grouplet. We went up to Torness to protest against the nuke station then being built. We went to Ulster, twice actually. We went on CND marches and demos. Just like hundreds of other angry young folk. Then Roger announced he was off on holiday to the USA. Its hard to recollect the exact date. He was going to travel there for a few months and… was never seen again at 84B. There was a postcard, about a month after he left, saying he was heading to New Orleans but that was all he wrote. I see mention of an activist girlfriend but nope… never saw him with a girlfriend nor recall him mentioning one. There was a girl in our group [name retracted], but I never saw them as a ‘couple’: as I recall she had the hots for one of the Daves (not me). But she was heavily into animal rights/veganism so maybe he got closer in private as animal rights was becoming a big direct action thing back then.

So, he disappeared with another word, which got the attenna twitching but how to prove anything or even talk about it without sounding paranoid. Yep, we all laughed at those guys swearing Special Branch were following them every day. Looking back, it is no real surprise to find they were infiltrating and he was the one. But, being honest, it could have been anyone of us. Informal affinity groups composed of earnest politicos eager to ‘do something!’ are wide open to such.

Our little grouplet broke up a piece at a time as we all moved on with our lives. I wandered on to other interests and groups before tiring of politics by the end of the 80’s. Burnt out and life got in the way.

I suppose it is a compliment, a back handed one, that they thought us such a threat that they invested what would have been considerable resources to put him in amongst us. Perhaps the greatest irony is that his long evenings of folding papers and carting them all to the old General Post Office to be posted was more than most ever contributed to getting the old rag out on the streets… and I include a large part of the then editorial collective in that calculation.

Dave ‘Sparks’ McCabe