Almost as soon as I discovered that my friend and comrade Bob Lambert had been an undercover police officer, I knew he wasn’t the only one who had spied on me. Before he had left London Greenpeace, his replacement – John Dines – was already part of the group. Immediately I began asking who had followed them and two candidates stood out: Andy Davey and Matt Rayner.
Both joined London Boots Action Group, which was set up in 1991, and shared many of their predecessors’ hallmarks. Notably they owned vans – Davey’s nickname was “Andy Van” – and each left after a few years claiming they were going abroad.
It didn’t take long to confirm Rayner had been a spycop. I recall Geoff Sheppard saying at the time that he was “almost a carbon copy” of Lambert. We still had our diaries with his birthday listed in them. Using online birth and death records I discovered the real Rayner had died aged four in 1972.
In October 2013 I founded ARspycatcher and said Davey was “almost certainly” a spy. There was no proof because his date of birth was unknown but he fitted the SDS template so well, it seemed inconceivable that he wasn’t. In an article entitled How Special Branch spied on the animal rights movement I named Davey as one of four undercover officers who infiltrated the London animal rights scene from 1991-2005.
There wasn’t much progress for the next three years, While many people came forward with information on Rayner, there was very little on Davey. This reflected the difference in the two spies. Rayner was mostly well liked and enjoyed socialising; when he left to allegedly go to work in France he had a big party. Davey, on the other hand, had a small get together which attracted few people.
Davey was the quiet spy. His personality was self-effacing to the point of blandness. Whereas Rayner became a good friend and I could reel off a list of interests we shared – football, music, film, etc, I quickly realised there wasn’t much to say about his counterpart. Despite knowing him for over three years, I knew little about Davey personally.
He did have a reputation as a lech, however, and a woman I who knew him told me about him visiting her and trying to force himself upon her until she demanded he leave. In the article I wrote in 2013 I said: “This no doubt undermined his status – some saw him as a bit sad, others didn’t really take to him – and it probably played a part in the decision to take him out of the group.”
Despite this and him to some extent fitting the description of a “shallow paddler” – SDS terminology for a spy who doesn’t get deeply entrenched in the group they are targeting – it would be wrong to conclude he was ineffective. Yes people did think he was a bit sad and odd, and some were suspicious of him, but he was keen to help and useful.
He took over producing LBAG’s newsletter and with me transferred the group’s membership list to a database (which would have ended up in the hands of special branch). He also helped set up London Animal Rights Coalition, went sabbing regularly and got involved in other campaigns too.
It wasn’t till last July that the first photo of Davey appeared but the real breakthrough occurred in January when I received an email from the Undercover Research Group with recent photos and the quote:
My older brother, Andy, brought his own drama with him. He looked like he had just walked out of the woods, his hair long and shaggy, with a straggly beard, his ears rattling with piercings; but his disarray was not like mine, an outward sign of internal distress, but suffered in the line of duty. He had joined Special Branch and was undercover, living a double life, infiltrated into some sinister organisation while his wife and baby daughter made do with unpredictable visits.
This came from the biography of Richard Coles, one-time pop star in the band The Communards and now an Anglican priest and minor celebrity. His older brother is Andy Coles who is now a Tory councillor and Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire. Andy Coles was Andy Davey.
Once I had recovered from the shock, I started contacting people who’d known him. Through one of them I learned Davey had been involved with a young woman named Jessica, whom I hadn’t seen for over 20 years. Another shock – I had no idea he’d been in a relationship. It was Geoff who gave me Jessica’s surname. He remembered it because she’d written to him while he was in prison (after being set up by Rayner in 1995).
I quickly found Jessica on Facebook and the news hit her like a bolt from the blue, especially as she had no prior knowledge of spycops. She began her relationship with Davey in 1992 when she was just 19. He was her first serious boyfriend and claimed to be 24, when he was actually eight years older. Now she says she feels groomed, used to further Davey’s credibility, thus enabling him to gain access to animal rights activists.
In their apology in 2015, the Met conceded that the long term intimate and sexual relationships like this were: “abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong” and that “these relationships were a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma”.
Jessica has joined the group Police Spies Out of Lives, alongside other women who were deceived into relationships with undercover police. She has been interviewed by the Guardian and Channel 4 and is demanding, along with others who were targeted, the release of the cover names of more than 100 spycops since 1968, the details of more than 450 groups they infiltrated, and the Special Branch files which were kept on political activists.
The case of Andy Coles/Davey shows just how important those demands are. The Pitchford Inquiry is currently embroiled in a long and highly contentious phase in which the Met is doing all it can to resist transparency and disclosure. The process of anonymity applications has dragged on for over a year as it tries to gain restriction orders on the identities of its agents.
Coles is now a pillar of the establishment – a school governor, local councillor and deputy commissioner. There is no doubt he would have asked for his cover name to remain secret. It’s only due to the good fortune – though he wouldn’t see it that way – of his brother’s biography that we were able to piece the true story together. Those who were victims of political policing units shouldn’t have to rely on luck and happenstance. They want to know what really happened and believe the Inquiry should be providing that, not protecting the perpetrators of human rights abuses.
As for Coles, how can someone who was part of such a discredited organisation as the SDS now hope to retain the trust of people he claims to serve? Surely he has no option but to apologise and resign from public life.
Channel 4 News will be screening an investigation into Andy Coles/Davey on Friday 12 May at 7pm.
Channel 4 News investigation into Coles/Davy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obyJPByHgNE
Undercover Research Group blog: http://undercoverresearch.net/2017/05/12/finding-andy/
Powerbase profile: http://powerbase.info/index.php/Andy_Davey_(undercover_alias_of_Andy_Coles)
Jessica’s statement: https://policespiesoutoflives.org.uk/jessicas-statement/