Earlier this month the Undercover Policing Inquiry released the cover names of two more undercover police officers deployed in the animal rights movement. On 1 May Dave Evans was confirmed and three weeks later Matt Rayner was finally added to the list.
After discovering that Bob Lambert and John Dines had worked for the secret Special Branch unit, the Special Demonstrations Squad, I wondered if other activists I knew were also spycops based on similarities in SDS tradecraft. I quickly pinpointed four suspects – Andy Davey, Matt Rayner, Christine Green and Dave Evans. They were part of London Boots Action Group and its successor London Action Animal from 1991-2005.
All four were outed by me in a document entitled How Special Branch Spied On The Animal Rights Movement and publicly named during a workshop with the same title at the London Anarchist Bookfair in October 2013. Shortly afterwards the document went online via a Dutch website. While I was sure they were spies, I knew further evidence was required to convince others.
It was known that SDS agents stole dead children’s identities up to at least the mid nineties. Myself and fellow activist Geoff Sheppard had written Rayner’s birthday in our diaries. By searching online it was proved that Matthew Rayner born 16 September 1967 had died from leukaemia aged four in 1972.
In November 2014 Geoff began legal action against the Met to overturn convictions for possessing a shotgun and materials to build incendiary devices. According to a report in the Guardian, Rayner “actively encouraged him to buy the shotgun and offered him money to purchase it [and] asked him for instructions on making an incendiary device, and tested it.”
By 2015 Rayner was becoming well known in spycops circles. He was featured in the blog Red Black Green as the police spy who dressed up at a “pagan garden party” and when the Inquiry held its first preliminary hearing in October that year he was named as one of the undercovers in LBAG/LAA. More revelations have surfaced since then, including his role in the sabotage of the 1993 Grand National steeplechase, causing £75m in losses to the betting and racing industries.
Rayner’s deployment finished in November 1996 when he said he was going to work for a wine company in France. Spycops typically claimed to be moving abroad, often feigning mental instability as an excuse for a fresh start. Rayner’s exit strategy was more complex than others so far uncovered and is the subject of a piece written by Rob Evans of the Guardian on the “undercover police and policing” page of its website.
The Undercover Research Group produced an extensive profile on Rayner in 2016, later updated following the announcement by the Inquiry that a spy given the cypher HN1 “was deployed against animal rights groups between 1992 and 1997. His cover name is already in the public domain.”
In December 2017 I revealed in this blog post that HN1 was almost certainly Rayner but this wasn’t confirmed until May when his name finally appeared on the Inquiry website along with groups he infiltrated from 1991-97: LBAG/LAA, Animal Liberation Front and West London Hunt Sabs. This list is incomplete, however, as he definitely spied on the McLibel Support Campaign and almost certainly others too.
The Met applied for a restriction order over Rayner’s real name and the Inquiry chair, John Mitting, said he was minded to to grant it for the following reasons:
It would carry significant risks to his physical safety and well-being and the well-being of his family. If these were to mature, the interference in his and their right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘the European Convention’) which would inevitably result would be substantial. Even if they did not, the interference would still be significant. In neither case would it be justified under Article 8(2).
Soon after taking over as chair last year Mitting stated that spycops who had intimate relationships with their targets would forfeit the right to remain anonymous. Now a woman named Denise Fuller has said she had a longterm relationship with Rayner and become a core participant. According to Mitting’s ruling on 23 May, Rayner accepts this is true. This will be a test for the chair’s resolve as the Met will, no doubt, be insistent that Rayner’s real name remains secret. Mitting has already showed signs of backtracking on his commitment so it will be intriguing to see how this pans out.
Dave Evans was deployed in the Socialist Workers Party, London Animal Action and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) from 1998-2005. I came across him in LAA and had no idea he was previously in the SWP but the SDS probably made an operational decision to keep this secret. Trotskyist groups like the SWP are unpopular in animal rights circles as they take a dim view of animal protection issues and some AR activists are anarchists, traditional enemies of Trots.
Evans first appeared at an LAA general meeting in September 1999 and would have been the replacement for Christine Green who was about to leave. LAA was in dispute with another group it had links with, Mill Hill Anti-Vivisection Alliance, which campaigned against an animal laboratory in its area. This was over racist remarks made by a leading figure in the Mill Hill group and it reached boiling point at this meeting, with lots of shouting, people storming out, etc. Evans actually asked to speak and condemned racism, which endeared him to a number of people in LAA, myself included.
He quickly became a fixture in the group, going to more or less all its meetings and protests. He also took part in many SHAC demonstrations as this was just taking off as a national campaign. LAA had strong links with SHAC, for example letting the group use its office for mailouts and having speakers from the campaign at its meetings. SHAC demos took place regularly in the City of London against companies with links to Huntingdon Life Sciences, the largest contact testing animal laboratory in Europe. Evans was actively involved in this and would have been highly important in feeding back intelligence to his superiors in the SDS as to numbers expected on protests and the level of militancy.
In February 2001 SHAC organised a large mobile day of protest against customers of HLS. LAA hired three minibuses and one was driven by Evans. Many arrests were made, including a whole minibus of people driven by another person in LAA, but as far as is known Evans was not one of them.
Like all SDS agents Evans had his own vehicle, a small van which he used for gardening. He often gave people lifts to and from meetings and tools of the trade were kept in the back of the vehicle. On one occasion he did gardening work for the parents of an activist. He had long hair and a beard, an unkempt appearance and was nicknamed Dave Shorts because he usually wore short trousers, even in cold weather. He claimed to be from New Zealand and spoke with a Kiwi accent. I don’t recall him ever talking about his family or past and he was one of those spies who melted into the background, although he could be quite loud, especially after a few drinks.
Evans liked the social side of activism and was often to be found in the pub after demos and meetings. He turned up to a birthday party in an activist’s flat with a woman named Wanda who he claimed was his girlfriend. One campaigner remembers meeting them and other activists in a pub and says they looked uncomfortable while holding hands.Wanda was almost certainly another undercover officer although as far as I recall she never accompanied him on protests. During this period LAA fundraised by working in bars at music festivals like Glastonbury. Evans was keen on doing this and would often get drunk while there.
While part of LAA, Evans developed a reputation for being erratic and displaying signs of mental instability. On one occasion he turned up to a protest at London Zoo, then left after a few minutes because his flatmate was locked out. This may have been true but those who were there found it unconvincing. Perhaps this was a ruse concocted to bolster his exit strategy in the future or he may have found it hard coping with the stress of being undercover. At one point Evans vanished completely and activists became concerned and went round to his flat. A man was there who claimed he had gone on holiday. It is likely this was Jason Bishop, another SDS agent who shared a flat with Evans
Towards the end of Evans’ deployment, LAA was embroiled in legal tussle with HLS, who had sued the group and others – including SHAC – for harassment. LAA had been sued before by fur retailers and decided to ignore this writ. Unfortunately that meant HLS was able to obtain a costs order and in January 2005 the group’s bank account was frozen. Several thousand pounds for a minibus fund to buy a new vehicle were lost. An emergency meeting was called and a decision was taken to close the group down.
Evans was at the meeting and it is possible he had a role in what happened but at this time there were at least two more spies in the group. One, a private investigator named Victoria King, was working for the fur trade and had become the group’s treasurer. Another infiltrator, whose identity cannot be disclosed, was active in LAA and SHAC.
The last time I spoke to Evans was at the Animal Rights Gathering in Kent in June 2005. While sitting around a bonfire he began asking questions about LAA ‘s finances and whether it had managed to acquire a new minibus. The mask slipped and it became obvious he was a cop. He must have realised this because he left first thing the next morning and I never saw him again. A couple of weeks later, however, he drove minibus from London to Scotland for the anti-globalisation protests at the G8 Summit. Jason Bishop was there too along with nine activists.
According to this article the minibus was stopped just outside Glasgow “by several police vans. A helicopter hovered overhead, and fully kitted riot police ran out, surrounding the van and slamming their shields into the windows. Other riot police with dogs barking stood in front.”
All those in the van were arrested and charged with conspiracy to breach the peace. They were prosecuted by the High Court of Judiciary – the highest level possible in Scotland and normally reserved for serious crimes such as murder and rape – and detained in police cells. The next day there was a massive police operation at court with dozens of officers inside and outside the building. The activists were told by solicitors that they would probably be remanded in custody. But a few hours later they were all suddenly released without appearing in court, with no explanation given.
The article states: “Whilst it is speculation, there has to be a reason why such a huge policing operation was so suddenly aborted. A plausible explanation is given by former undercover officer turned whistleblower Peter Francis in Paul Lewis and Rob Evans’ book , Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police.” Francis is quoted as saying “if there was any chance of the SDS officer going to prison, they would not go…I know of cases that were pulled because the SDS officer would have been charged with something serious”.
After the G8 Summit both Evans and Bishop disappeared. Evans is the last spy from the SDS who is known to have been deployed in the animal rights movement. Two years later the unit was disbanded.