Officer HN30: Insights into the spycop scheme’s final years

Research by the Undercover Research Group has found a tale told through notes released by the Undercover Policing Inquiry last year.

In October the Undercover Policing Inquiry released several documents which give us greater insight into the last years of the Special Demonstration Squad. The nuggets of information were hidden in a risk assessment for HN30, a cover officer in the SDS.

HN30 was an officer with Metropolitan Police Special Branch since the 1980s. In 2004, she was approached to join the SDS by its then head Detective Chief Inspector HN36. Initially reluctant, she agreed to join when she learned that she’d been recommended by one of two former undercovers from the unit, HN10 or HN90. (HN10 is Bob Lambert the notorious former undercover and a previous DCI in charge of the unit. HN90 is Mark Kerry, who infiltrated the Socialist Workers Party and City of London Anti-Apartheid Group from 1988 to 1992.)

During her four years with the SDS, HN30 – likely working as a Detective Sergeant – acted as a cover officer for a number of the spycops, supporting them in their deployments. She also was a desk officer carrying out various administrative tasks. She remained in place until the closure of the unit in 2008.

Undercovers and targets

The document lists nine undercovers active during the period HN30 served: Jason Bishop (HN3), Rob Harrison (HN18), Carlo Neri (HN104), Dave Evans (HN60), Jackie Anderson (HN77), Dave Jones (HN66 known as “Bob the Builder”), Ross McInnes (HN79 – United British Alliance), Darren Prowse (HN44 – BNP, not deployed) and Simon Wellings (HN118).

It is worth nothing that at this point the National Public Order Intelligence Unit was also in full flow carrying out the same activities of the SDS on a national level. Its officers included Mark Kennedy who was also active in London.

The above chart illuminates the unit’s activities. Unlike earlier periods, there is very little focus on the traditional left in favour of anarchist and related groups such as environmentalists. Two undercovers even switched the focus of their deployment along these lines. It is clear how little attention the right-wing gets, only reappearing in the unit’s tasking in the last year of its existence.

HN30 claims these officers had no intimate relationships on her watch. At time of writing, we are unaware of anything which contradicts this. The one exception is Carlo Neri, whose relationship with ‘Andrea’ lasted into 2004, though it may have ended prior to HN30 joining the unit. However, it is highly likely that HN30’s recruiter, DCI HN36 and back office staff who had been there since at least 2003 did know. An important question to be put to HN30, is how much she had been aware it had been a past practice.

Scotland

HN30’s risk assessment also gives insight into SDS activities during the demonstrations at the 2005 G8 Summit in Scotland. It is now well-established that undercovers Jason Bishop (HN3) and Dave Evans (HN60) were present there, and arrested while ferrying protestors between Glasgow and the protest camp at Stirling. Charges were subsequently dropped. A fuller account can be found in our profile of Jason Bishop, but we put here HN30’s side of things:

The last line is key. HN30 was in Scotland with the SDS as part of the cohort of undercovers targeting protestors. Her superiors Det. Ch. Insp. N36 and Det. Insp. HN53 were present as well. Elsewhere, it has been learned that Simon Wellings was also active in the G8 protests. Though Carlo Neri was apparently not involved in protests around the G8, he had his own activities in Scotland, including targeting traditional left-wing groups later involved in were organising around the G8 as well.

Thus, looking at the period in the run up to the 2005 protest in Gleneagles, the SDS appears to be almost solely focused on Scotland with most of its undercover officers and a significant proportion of its management there. This means Scotland was a significant operation for them, and something that would have had to be signed off by the local police chief – something not mentioned in the 2012 HM Inspectorate of Constabulary Strategic Review into the undercover policing. Or the 2018 Strategic Review of the Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland

There is another anomaly here. The 2012 HMIC Strategic Review noted there were eighteen undercovers in Scotland for the G8 protests, six from NPOIU, six from SDS and six from the wider undercover cadre. That clearly does not match with what has now been revealed in the risk assessment for HN30, and can only come close to being met if SDS undercovers ‘Dave Jones’ and ‘Rob Harrison’ were deployed earlier than currently believed and had also gone to the G8 protests. However, this has not been mentioned so far by the Undercover Public Inquiry, while people who were targeted by the two do not recall this being the case. Thus, it would appear that someone has provided misleading information.

Staffing

The risk assessment lists the ciphers of the officers HN30 served under. From this we can deduce the back office staff levels of the unit. Excluding the undercovers, these were

  • 1 x Detective Chief Inspector, the operational head of the unit. Over time, these are HN36, HN275 and HN314.
  • 1 x Detective Inspector, the deputy head of the unit. These were HN72 and HN53.
  • 2 – 3 Detective Sergeants, who acted as cover officers. These were HN24HN30HN35, and HN49.
  • 1x Detective Constable: HN110

From this we see the unit was quite small in this period with a total back office staff of approximately six, suggesting a tight unit which probably shared responsibilities with each other. This is borne out in other details, including around events during the 2005 G8 Summit and the unit’s twice weekly meetings.

Carlo Neri

Of these officers we know HN24 had been a cover officer for Carlo Neri, and prior to joining the SDS had ‘handled and distributed intelligence gathered by deployed undercover officers at the time of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.’ HN35 joined about 2006, and Det. Insp. HN53 was in position from 1998 to 2005 and seemingly succeeded by HN72 – himself an undercover in the 1980s.

Meetings

We are told that two tasking meetings took place each week. The first of these was at the SDS office, and was to ‘de-brief the weekend’s activity’; the second was at the unit’s secret cover flat and was to task the undercover for the upcoming weekend. All undercovers and back office staff were supposed to attend these. In addition, each undercover was expected to call in on a daily basis – these ‘call-ins’ were recorded on a grid and kept in a binder in the back office’.

Closure of the unit

The final and most intriguing aspect of the material from HN30 is about the closure of the unit. At one point undercover Rob Harrison, who infiltrated campaigns around migration issues and Palestine, was arrested with others for ‘a minor public order offence’. This apparently caused problems in the unit. The risk assessment notes:

The Scotland Yard undercover unit that gathered intelligence on 18 grieving families was known by police chiefs six years ago to have been so out of control it had “lost [its] moral compass” and become a “force within a force”. The claims from a source closely involved in discussions on winding up the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) in 2008….

A senior source with close knowledge of the secret discussions that led to the closure in 2008 told the Guardian that concerns about the unit surfaced in the Met in 2006, leading to a review being ordered.

The source said: “It was worse than out of control. It was actually a force within a force, operating to set of standards and ethics more suited to guerrilla warfare than modern policing.

“Quite simply, they lost their moral compass and as a result nothing was out of bounds. A quite shocking vacuum of any supervision and leadership allowed this to happen.”

Elsewhere, the assessment notes:

the closure of the unit in 2008 by N314 and N275 was, in the opinion of N30, unfair and the cause of some friction with the remainder of the management team.

and

She commented: its so unfair. This is blame culture that began with the closure of the unit by N314 and N275. They could have closed the unit much earlier and more fairly. They used N72 as a fall guy. It was really unfair. When I talk and think about it, it really upsets me. When commenting on the SDS, N72 stated ‘N314 and N275 undermined field officers. They had it in for N110 and they tried to get rid of another backroom staff, N30’.

This is the first insight we have as to things leading up to the closure of the unit in 2008. Previously, The Guardian had written:

The Scotland Yard undercover unit that gathered intelligence on 18 grieving families was known by police chiefs six years ago to have been so out of control it had “lost [its] moral compass” and become a “force within a force”. The claims from a source closely involved in discussions on winding up the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) in 2008….

A senior source with close knowledge of the secret discussions that led to the closure in 2008 told the Guardian that concerns about the unit surfaced in the Met in 2006, leading to a review being ordered.

The source said: “It was worse than out of control. It was actually a force within a force, operating to set of standards and ethics more suited to guerrilla warfare than modern policing.

“Quite simply, they lost their moral compass and as a result nothing was out of bounds. A quite shocking vacuum of any supervision and leadership allowed this to happen.”

Crocodile tears

This is a unit that HN30 presents herself as being proud of.

Everyone was willing to take the product (MPS/SS) and now all fingers are pointed at the SDS. It was not a rogue outfit. It is highly upsetting.

In her impact statement, HN30 writes:

I am concerned about the impact on my partner and children if my identity is revealed and connected to the SOS [SDS] given the negative press about it and the accusations against undercover officers… I am worried about the unjustified impact on my reputation.

Whilst I am in good physical health. I find myself getting stressed and annoyed about the Inquiry process and am concerned how this will continue to impact on me in due course.

It is an open question how HN30 views the rights of those who were targeted by undercovers on her watch, and whether how she feels is anything like the intrusion those campaigners feel? HN30 will almost definitely get to have her name restricted, her privacy protected. Yet, what about those whose private lives were recorded in Special Branch for simply exercising the right to protest?


Sources:


This article first appeared at URG.