Why did the police send Kennedy undercover?

The efforts of the police to undermine democratic protest expose the ugly political realities of Bri

Ed Ballard misses the point in his blog on the undercover cop Mark Kennedy's infiltration of a group of climate-change activists. The question is not "Was it worth it?" but "Why was it done?"

The answer to that question reveals something rotten in the state of Britain, something the vast majority of people are completely unaware of – the reality of the political nature of policing in this country.

All long-term campaigners on a range of issues – from the environment to the arms trade to animal rights – know, and have known since they began protesting, that the police are not the neutral body they pretend to be, but act on behalf of powerful vested interests: the corporations whose profits they defend and the government that is in bed with those corporations.

Indeed, the revolving door between the corporate and political worlds means, as far as protest is concerned, that they are one and the same.

An exaggeration? Afraid not. Only those who have never protested regularly nestle in the kind of blissful ignorance that allows them to question that this is the true state of play. A scratched head about why on earth the police would waste such vast resources on a bunch of "tree-huggers" is indicative of the successful propaganda that has constabulary spokespeople stating regularly, and with a straight face: "We are here to facilitate peaceful protest."

As long as this lie receives the oxygen of mainstream media validation, the public has no chance whatever of seeing the country as it really is. Warning: when the Met is silent, and when the Director of Public Prosecutions refuses to speak, as in this case, there is a nasty smell in the air that a wise person will follow to its source.

If the cap FITs

Something that smells very bad indeed, and is typical of the kind of strategy used constantly against campaign groups, is the policing of the movement against the arms manufacturer EDM MSM in Brighton. Want proof of the offensive odour? Try the Sussex force's own video footage, acquired and brilliantly combined with activist and CCTV images in the jaw-dropping documentary On the Verge. And be sure to reach for a nosegay as police "intervene" at venues due to show the film.

Feeling woozy yet? Step forward, the FIT team! Or Forward Intelligence Team, the police photographers who routinely turn up at perfectly legal protests and film completely innocent people for having the temerity to exercise their democratic rights.

This unit and its dubious operations provide probably the most convincing evidence of the police's view of campaigners as elements that are dangerous to the state. Only if you have had its camera inches from your face while knowing you have done absolutely nothing wrong can you know how laughable are police pronouncements on "facilitation".

How sinister and Orwellian that word becomes when one knows the truth behind it. So, it is in no way surprising that the police attempted to shut down the activist response to FIT recently, the FITwatch website, with an email to the web host. Unfortunately for them, the content was mirrored almost immediately on over 100 other sites, rendering their efforts useless.

Netcu, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, is another police organisation with a malodorous miasma surrounding it. Netcu was the source, in 2008, of a "green smear" story in the Observer (which was subsequently withdrawn, so obvious was the attempt to create panic about environmentalists). The article "revealed" that "a lone maverick eco-extremist may attempt a terrorist attack aimed at killing large numbers of Britons".

But the problem was that there was absolutely no evidence to back up this hysterical statement apart from the campaign group Earth First's perfectly reasonable claim that the world suffers from overpopulation. And just to clarify who exactly qualifies as a "domestic extremist", George Monbiot wrote soon afterwards that the villagers of Radley who had campaigned to save the local lake from being filled with ash by npower were just the sort of terrorists the state says we need to be protected from.

In the United States, too, a response to state repression of the environmental movement has resulted in the website Green is the New Red, which today reports: "The justice department warned as early as 2003 that the FBI's obsessive focus on animal rights and environmental activists, the 'number one domestic terrorism threat', would leave more dangerous threats unchecked."

So, wonder not why a police officer was sent deep undercover into an environmental campaign group. These protesters threaten powerful interests and bring with them the added "danger" of a social conscience, as well as the seed of a new kind of society, one that puts people and planet above profit. That cannot be allowed to take hold, now, can it?

Alison Banville is a campaigner on human rights, animal rights and environmental and political issues.

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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn become historical investigations because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.