Monday, June 9, 2014

Report of RaHN Meeting 7th May 2014

Radical History Network of Northeast London
Topic: Political Policing and Surveillance
There was a good turnout, a couple of dozen or so including many with different experiences relating to this topic from all sorts of perspectives.
Political Policing: Summary of talks and discussion
Speakers (after an introduction to the group generally and what we’d got up to in the past):
John from the Radical History of Hackney blog talked about some of the history of political policing in Hackney over the last thirty-forty years. Hackney copper, quote: “The community hated us and we hated them…” In the early 1980s local policing was violent and racist, almost in outright war against local black community. Police actions very raw, no attempt at public relations: open repression and hostility. Black youth especially targeted in stop and searches, harassment, violent arrests. As early as 1982 there was demand for an enquiry into policing locally, coming from the community.
In January 1983, Colin Roach, a local black 15 year old, died from gunshot wounds in the foyer of Stoke Newington Police Station. Police said he shot himself, but there were highly dubious circumstances, and signs of a police cover-up. Colin’s family was treated very badly - Colin’s father was held for questioning for several hours before being told his son was dead. The death, and the way the Roach family were dealt with, provoked a huge local upsurge of anger. Strong parallels with more recent Mark Duggan case. Colin’s friends organised a mass picket of the Police Station, which ended with arrests and a mini-riot. Numerous protests and community organizing followed; the mass response to this death sparked collective activity that lasted several years.
The Roach family and supporters wrote their own report on Colin’s death, held their own public inquiry when they didn’t get an official one, and publicized racist and violent policing in Hackney. They produced a good book on the subject, a sober and critical look at policing in Hackney from the 1940s.
Eventually an inquest verdict of suicide was brought in on Colin, but it was critical of the police response. Many community organizations ended up in effect refusing to co-operate with the cops at all. Even the (then) leftwing Labour Council, quite supportive of the Roach family, voted to stop paying towards policing (though this was eventually ruled illegal later).
As an example of attitudes of the time – Hackney Teachers Association produced a leaflet demanding police keep out of the schools, as they were coming in to intimidate and gather intelligence on local youth. A third of Hackney school excluded cops completely at one point – the police cleverly attempted to get round this by setting up disco dancing sessions and suchlike.
Police brutality continued into the mid-80s, with the vicious beating of Trevor Monerville, the death of Tunay Hassan in custody in Dalston Police Station, and other cases. The community campaigns that formed from these cases eventually came together with the founding of Hackney Community Defence Campaign (HCDA).
HCDA stepped up the pressure on the police locally, setting up a database of violent, racist and corrupt police and those involved in harassment and deaths etc., following up cases, going to court, running campaigns, uncovering police corruption and drug-dealing. Eventually they forced the transfer of eight officers, another committed suicide, others jailed for nicking money from victims and dealing…
In return they experienced harassment, were followed by unmarked cars, received threats… Also one of the undercover police exposed over recent years spent some time infiltrating them at the Colin Roach Centre (disappearing in 2000).
But although there was some restraint on police activity, the Stoke Newington Copshop was redesigned (and Dalston closed down), people continued to die: Shiji Lapite was killed by police in 1994, Harry Stanley shot in the street for carrying a chair leg ‘mistaken’ for a gun in 1999…
Still HCDA and the Hackney experience shows the value of strong community campaigns, did put the police on the defensive for a while, contributed to them being forced to pin back some of worst behaviour. Or at least make an attempt to be seen to be less racist and murderous. Here and in other parts of London (and other cities), the level and tone of police racism and violence did decline into the 1990s as they were called to account.
Next Kevin from Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) spoke about NMP’s long history of fighting police oppression. NMP emerged from local community campaigns in Newham in the early 80s, very much in the same way as HCDA, and numerous other police monitoring groups that sprang up around that time. NMP is one of only two survivors though…
NMP was created out of resistance to racist attacks in Newham, but quickly also came to focus on the failure of the state to deal with them, and took on opposition to police harassment/’sus’ laws, and racist policing. Victims of racist attacks were routinely arrested themselves then, especially if they defended themselves; and racist abuse from cops was pretty much the norm.
NMP also supported work in neighbouring borough of Tower Hamlets, especially in the 1990s when BNP were strong there, (gaining a councillor in the Isle of Dogs in 1992), and racist violence again increased in London (there were several racist murders at this time, Stephen Lawrence, Rohit Duggal, Rolan Adams…). Many incidents, including a police attack on picket of Royal London Hospital after local Quddus Ali was beaten up (led to the arrest of the Tower Hamlets 9, and setting up of Bengali organization Youth Connection). NMP also did lots of work supporting refugees targeted by police, state, and racists. EgIbrahimaSey, who died after being pepper-sprayed by police.
Eventually many deaths in custody led to the setting up the United Friends and Families Campaign, which took on the old Police Complaints Authority, disrupted meetings, campaigned to hold police to account over deaths, harassed the Attorney General, etc…
Many of these campaigns were infiltrated by undercover police, as is now slowly emerging (though widely suspected at the time). For example, Peter Francis was undercover in the Lawrence Campaign, there was at least one more, and more to come probably. NMP and Southall Monitoring Project supported Lawrence family during the 90s and MacPherson Inquiry, again spied on.
The main police tactic for dealing with these campaigns seemed to be to try to undermine them, often briefing journalists against them, trying to discredit them. (Undercover police formed a part of this strategy, trying to find evidence of ‘extremist’ links or whatever.) Jean Charles de Menezes case, shot by police in Stockwell tube, mistaken for a terrorist, because he looked a bit foreign – also heavily lied about and briefed against by police to undermine his family. Deliberate smearing. Police also lied in the Ian Tomlinson case in 2008, till it was proved by passer-by’s video that he had been pushed by police.
Unusually in this last case, charges were actually brought against the copper who attacked Ian, though he was acquitted.
The odds are stacked against you – the state is generally unwilling to let the police to be held to account. The work of organizations like HCDA, NMP, Inquest, UFFC and many more is vital, in unsung back against that, but it is an uphill struggle. One major change is that in the 1980s many people would not believe the police could kill people, but there’s now a much wider cynicism about the police.
Check out Newham Monitoring project at:
Dave M. then talked about some of his experiences of political policing and infiltration. It is important to recognize that the police are an arm of the state, and we shouldn’t be surprised that they act in the repressive ways described. Dave talked about the police repression faced here by such events as the Windsor Free Festival in 1974, internment in Ireland, international repression such as in Poland in the early 1980s, also the police tactics at Stop the City in 1983-4 (where they couldn’t deal with the dispersed protests to start with but eventually just arrested everybody). Also the repression faced by striking miners, printers, and the poll tax movement. Again the same campaigning and support work around the hundreds of people arrested for the poll tax riots through the Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign, powerful work done there.
Infiltration into London Greenpeace: a very effective campaigning group, anarchist-oriented, very involved in anti-nuclear, environmental and animal rights campaigns 1970s-90s… One of their most effective campaigns was against McDonalds, produced famous leaflet ‘What’s Wrong With McDonalds’… Which led to them being infiltrated by seven different corporately-sponsored spies paid by McDonalds, with the aim of suing them for libel. This led to the long-running McLibel case. But the group was also infiltrated by at least two police spies who have now been uncovered, who not only acted as provocateurs but also had ‘relationships’, and in some cases children, with LGP activists and others. A pattern that would recur with later police undercovers.
Although these dynamics severely damaged and impacted on the lives of the women thus used by these cops, Dave’s contention was the campaigns were not diminished, undermined or compromised by the infiltration.
The women targeted by these undercover police, together with others who have had similar experience, are now suing the police, and campaigning around this issue as Spies Out of Lives campaign:
This case was due in court for full hearing on June 5th and 6th, despite police attempts to have it all heard in secret. They have already put together two volumes of evidence on the police response to their case, and have forced the cops to drop an application to strike out the women’s case, after the publicity on the Ellison report and the infiltration of the Lawrence family.
One event Dave also flagged up was the 2005 Freedom to Protest Conference, which brought together many activists, campaigns etc, to discuss and swap ideas and tactics to resist police repression of protest, setting up defence campaigns etc. Sadly, though the conference was useful and inspiring it left no ongoing organizational legacy. A report of the Conference can be found at the Conference website:
More recently at the Climate Camp protest at Kingsnorth power station, demonstrators faced a massive police operation set up to prevent them getting near the site, using roadblocks, stop and search, exclusion zone etc. The systematic use of stop and search itself was illegal under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE was itself brought in in 1984 as a result of community pressures and struggles to restrict police powers). Non-co-operation by demonstrators and highlighting of the questionable legalities did lead to the operation being shut down – temporarily, for five hours –  though.
General Discussion
During the resulting, the following points were made:
• Why have some groups like Hackney Community Defence Campaign and many others collapsed, when the broad conditions that led to their creation carry on around us? Some, like Newham Monitoring Project, do continue…
• Many conditions have changed around us, new police technologies and tactics, to which we have to adapt.
• How and why do police do surveillance on us? Why do they infiltrate? To undermine campaigns, yes… But also it seems from the infiltration into Lawrence family recently exposed, to trawl for info, gossip, which can not only be used to direct police tactics, to attack and smear campaigns, but also just to draw up lists of who knows who, who does what, is involved with what… info gathering, for future use.
• How might body cameras now being introduced change police behaviour? Some people think it will peg back police abuses, but they can also be turned off at will… There is some doubt as to how much they can be used in evidence, and also concerns about how they can be switched off, they can record when record light isn’t on. Interestingly the company who provides tasers has won contracts to supply body cameras.
• Tasers and secret courts new and worrying developments to be used against us.
• Another project around undercover police and infiltration is a group putting together a web presence with details of all the different undercovers, what they did, how they link up, who they infiltrated, dealt with etc. this is a long term attempt to draw a bigger picture but also fill in details.
• Netpol are also challenging police surveillance on a policy level; surveillance both by cops and private companies has now reached an industrial scale. You can check your file: put in a subject request on the Domestic Extremism Database on yourself. Lots of the information is wildly inaccurate… Check for more info
• Surveillance of everyday life in the digital sphere is very similar to traditional police spying activity. But resistance is growing… in the USA there is a big political response, it has become a massive ‘civil rights’ issue. All over the world also, people are countering digital repression on many levels on the web, it is not a lost cause. Another perspective on this was that we are all pretty trackable these days, there is little many of us can do about it, and maybe we should be being open about what we are doing and not worry… “It’s the new reality and can you even fight it”. An interesting point, although as someone else pointed out, private surveillance for the purposes of things like industrial blacklisting has cost people their jobs, etc…
• But as Walter Benjamin said: ”The police’s job is to go beyond the norm”. We can always expect the cops to use underhand methods to defend existing order; that we have struggled and forced them to back off, has restricted their powers, but they will always be pushing those boundaries. In reply we need to be pushing them back, both on legal and campaigning levels.

Worth reading is Eveline Lubbers’ book, Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark, about both police and corporate spying on activists in the UK and other European countries.
As well as the more highly publicized Undercover: The True Story of Britain's Secret Police, by Guardian journalists Paul Lewis and Rob Evans.


[Published since this meeting]



    Paine, Carlile, Cobbett, Chartists, Marx, Morris, Kropotkin, Bakunin, matchwomen, Sylvia Pankhurst, Goldman...

    Tuesday July 8th, 2014

    meet 8pm

    St Bride's Avenue, Fleet Street, London EC4 1DH

  2. Follow-up on undercover police tactics: 2 July 2014 “Undercover police sex case: Women win legal battle” and
    15 August 2014 "Police name officers in undercover sex claim case”

  3. Islington Against Police Spies demands that London Metropolitan University
    Sack Lecturer Bob Lambert - Police spy, agent provocateur, exploiter of
    Picket London Metropolitan University
    Friday 28th November 2014
    "As Islington residents, we think London Metropolitan University should sack
    Bob Lambert. He is a known liar, spy and exploiter of women - not in any
    way a fit person to be trusted teaching students at a University that likes
    to portray itself as 'progressive'.
    We aim to keep up pressure on London Met until they fire him. Join us in
    our picket of the University building where he works this Friday."

    12.00 - 2.00pm

    LMU Tower, 166-220 Holloway Road, London N7 8DB

    Islington Against Police Spies, email:

  4. One of the talks for the May 2014 RaHN meeting on policing has been made into an article for Datacide magazine. It is now online:
    "They hate us, we hate them: Resisting police corruption and violence in Hackney in the 1980s and 1990s"