Caroline Lucas alleges that an undercover police officer planted an incendiary device in Harrow Debenhams

The Green MP has alleged that Bob Lambert, a former undercover officer, "placed the incendiary device in the Debenhams store in Harrow".

 

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP, has alleged in a debate in Westminster Hall that Bob Lambert, a former undercover police officer, placed an incendiary device in Harrow Debenhams in 1987 in order to ingratiate himself with a cell of the Animal Liberation Front. He would later provide intelligence leading to the arrest and conviction of two members of that cell, Jeff Shepherd and Andrew Clark.

Lucas told the Hall:

[Bob Lambert] pretended to be a committed environmental and animal rights campaigner between 1984 and 1988. By the summer of 1987, he successfully infiltrated the animal liberation front, also known as the ALF, a group that operated through a tighly 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 indentify 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, and again I quote, "I succeeded in my task, and that success included the arrest and imprisonment of Geoff Shepherd and Andrew Clarke." The men he refers to were ALF activists found guilty of planting incendiary devices in Debenhams stores.

Allegations about what kind of role exactly 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, simultaeous incendiary attacks because the shops were selling fur products. Shepherd 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 Shepherd to speak out about that Harrow attack. Shepherd alledges that Lambert was the one who planted it, and was involved in the ALF's co-ordinated campaign.

Shepherd has made a statement, which I have seen, and he says, and I quote, "Obviously I was not there when he targeted that store, because we all headed off in our seperate directions. But I was lying in bed that night, and the news came over the World Service that three Debenhams stores had had arson attacks on them, and that included the Harrow store as well. So obviously I straight away 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 in 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."

Now, also in that interview, Shepherd 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. Shepherd alledges that the intelligence for the raid was so precise that it is now obvious that, I quote, "it came from Bob Lambert", who knew that the pair were going to be there making another set of incendiary devices. Shepherd was jailed for four years four months, and Clarke for more than three years.

Now for Lambert, it was a case of "job done". In fact, so well had he manipulated the situation that he visited Shepherd in prison to give him support before disappearing abroad. Until recently, Shepherd had had no reason whatsoever to suspect that the man he knew as Bob Robinson, assuming that he'd got away with it, fled the country and built a new life for himself.

So it seemed that planting this 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, successfully, to gain the precise intelligence that led to the arrest of Shepherd and Clarke, and without anybody suspecting that the tipoff came from him.

But is that really the way that we want our police officers to behave?

Caroline Lucas

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Who "speaks for England" - and for that matter, what is "England"?

The Hollywood producer Sam Gold­wyn once demanded, “Let’s have some new clichés.” The Daily Mail, however, is always happiest with the old ones.

The Hollywood producer Sam Gold­wyn once demanded, “Let’s have some new clichés.” The Daily Mail, however, is always happiest with the old ones. It trotted out Leo Amery’s House of Commons call from September 1939, “Speak for England”, for the headline on a deranged leader that filled a picture-free front page on David Cameron’s “deal” to keep Britain in the EU.

Demands that somebody or other speak for England have followed thick and fast ever since Amery addressed his call to Labour’s Arthur Greenwood when Neville Chamberlain was still dithering over war with Hitler. Tory MPs shouted, “Speak for England!” when Michael Foot, the then Labour leader, rose in the Commons in 1982 after Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands. The Mail columnist Andrew Alexander called on Clare Short to “speak for England” over the Iraq War in 2003. “Can [Ed] Miliband speak for England?” Anthony Barnett asked in this very magazine in 2013. (Judging by the 2015 election result, one would say not.) “I speak for England,” claimed John Redwood last year. “Labour must speak for England,” countered Frank Field soon afterwards.

The Mail’s invocation of Amery was misconceived for two reasons. First, Amery wanted us to wage war in Europe in support of Hitler’s victims in Poland and elsewhere and in alliance with France, not to isolate ourselves from the continent. Second, “speak for England” in recent years has been used in support of “English votes for English laws”, following proposals for further devolution to Scotland. As the Mail was among the most adamant in demanding that Scots keep their noses out of English affairs, it’s a bit rich of it now to state “of course, by ‘England’. . . we mean the whole of the United Kingdom”.

 

EU immemorial

The Mail is also wrong in arguing that “we are at a crossroads in our island history”. The suggestion that the choice is between “submitting to a statist, unelected bureaucracy in Brussels” and reclaiming our ancient island liberties is pure nonsense. In the long run, withdrawing from the EU will make little difference. Levels of immigration will be determined, as they always have been, mainly by employers’ demands for labour and the difficulties of policing the borders of a country that has become a leading international transport hub. The terms on which we continue to trade with EU members will be determined largely by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels after discussions with unelected bureaucrats in London.

The British are bored by the EU and the interminable Westminster arguments. If voters support Brexit, it will probably be because they then expect to hear no more on the subject. They will be sadly mistaken. The withdrawal negotiations will take years, with the Farages and Duncan Smiths still foaming at the mouth, Cameron still claiming phoney victories and Angela Merkel, François Hollande and the dreaded Jean-Claude Juncker playing a bigger part in our lives than ever.

 

An empty cabinet

Meanwhile, one wonders what has become of Jeremy Corbyn or, indeed, the rest of the shadow cabinet. The Mail’s “speak for England” leader excoriated him for not mentioning “the Number One subject of the hour” at PM’s Questions but instead asking about a shortage of therapeutic radiographers in the NHS. In fact, the NHS’s problems – almost wholly caused by Tory “reforms” and spending cuts – would concern more people than does our future in the EU. But radiographers are hardly headline news, and Corbyn and his team seem unable to get anything into the nation’s “any other business”, never mind to the top of its agenda.

Public services deteriorate by the day, George Osborne’s fiscal plans look increasingly awry, and attempts to wring tax receipts out of big corporations appear hopelessly inadequate. Yet since Christmas I have hardly seen a shadow minister featured in the papers or spotted one on TV, except to say something about Trident, another subject that most voters don’t care about.

 

Incurable prose

According to the Guardian’s admirable but (let’s be honest) rather tedious series celeb­rating the NHS, a US health-care firm has advised investors that “privatisation of the UK marketplace . . . should create organic and de novo opportunities”. I have no idea what this means, though it sounds ominous. But I am quite certain I don’t want my local hospital or GP practice run by people who write prose like that.

 

Fashionable Foxes

My home-town football team, Leicester City, are normally so unfashionable that they’re not even fashionable in Leicester, where the smart set mostly watch the rugby union team Leicester Tigers. Even when they installed themselves near the top of the Premier League before Christmas, newspapers scarcely noticed them.

Now, with the Foxes five points clear at the top and 7-4 favourites for their first title, that mistake is corrected and the sports pages are running out of superlatives, a comparison with Barcelona being the most improbable. Even I, not a football enthusiast, have watched a few matches. If more football were played as Leicester play it – moving at speed towards their opponents’ goal rather than aimlessly weaving pretty patterns in midfield – I would watch the game more.

Nevertheless, I recall 1963, when Leicester headed the old First Division with five games to play. They picked up only one more point and finished fourth, nine points adrift of the league winners, Everton.

 

Gum unstuck

No, I don’t chew toothpaste to stop me smoking, as the last week’s column strangely suggested. I chew Nicorette gum, a reference written at some stage but somehow lost (probably by me) before it reached print.

Editor: The chief sub apologises for this mistake, which was hers

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle