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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Stella Creasy targeted for deselection

Organisers on the left believe the Walthamstow MP is the ideal target for political, personal and geographical reasons.

Stella Creasy, the high-profile MP for Walthamstow and defeated deputy Labour leadership candidate, is the first serious target of an attempt to deselect a sitting Labour MP, the New Statesman has learnt.

Creasy, who is on the right of the party, is believed to be particularly vulnerable to an attempt to replace her with an MP closer to the Labour party’s left. Her constituency, and the surrounding borough of Waltham Forest, as well as the neighbouring borough of Leyton and Wanstead, has a large number both of new members, inspired either to join or return to Labour by Jeremy Corbyn, plus a strong existing network of leftwing groupings and minor parties.

An anti-bombing demonstration outside of Creasy’s constituency offices in Walthamstow – the MP is one of around 80 members of Parliament who have yet to decide how to vote on today’s motion on airstrikes in Syria – is the latest in a series of clashes between supporters of Creasy and a series of organized leftwing campaigns.

Allies of Creasy were perturbed when Momentum, the grassroots body that represents the continuation of Corbyn’s leadership campaign, held a rally in her constituency the night of the Autumn Statement, without inviting the MP. They point out that Momentum is supposedly an outward-facing campaign supporting Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party towards the 2020 general election and the forthcoming local and European elections. Labour holds 27 out of 27 council seats in Creasy’s constituency, while Creasy herself has a majority of 23,195 votes.

“If you look at the seat, there is nothing to win here,” said one Labour member, who believes that Momentum and other groups are planning to depose Creasy. Momentum has denied any plot to remove Creasy as the MP.

However, Creasy has come under pressure from within her local party in recent weeks over the coming vote on bombing Syria. Asim Mahmood, a Labour councilor in Creasy’s constituency, has called for any MP who votes for bombing to face a trigger ballot and reselection. Creasy hit back at Mahmood on Facebook, saying that while she remained uncertain of how to vote: “the one thing I will not do is be bullied by a sitting Walthamstow Labour councilor with the threat of deselection if I don’t do what he wants”.

Local members believe that Mahmood may be acting as the stalking horse for his sister, the current mayor of Waltham Forest, Saima Mahmud, who may be a candidate in the event of a trigger ballot against Creasy. Another possible candidate in a selection battle is Steven Saxby, a local vicar. Unite, the recognized trade union of the Anglican Communion, is a power player in internal Labour politics.

Although Creasy has kept her own counsel about the direction of the party under Corbyn, she is believed to be more vulnerable to deselection than some of the leader’s vocal critics, as her personal style has led to her being isolated in her constituency party. Creasy is believed to be no longer on speaking terms with Chris Robbins, the leader of the council, also from the right of the party.

Others fear that the moves are an attempt by Creasy’s local opponents to prepare the ground for a challenge to Creasy should the seat be redrawn following boundary changes. The mood in the local party is increasingly febrile.  The chair of the parliamentary Labour party, John Cryer, whose Leyton and Wanstead seat is next to Creasy’s constituency, is said to fear that a fundraiser featuring the shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, will take an acrimonious turn. Cryer was one of just four shadow cabinet ministers to speak against airstrikes in Syria.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.