In March 2016 I was featured in the Guardian series “That’s me in the picture”. It was the photograph of me and Bob Lambert leafleting outside McDonald’s on 16 October 1986, so 32 years ago today. We were protesting on World Anti-Mcdonald’s Day with London Greenpeace and it was the first time the What’s wrong with McDonald’s everything they don’t want you to know leaflet was handed out. Here is the full article
Paul Gravett distributes leaflets in McDonald’s with undercover police officer, Bob Lambert, 1986
I met Bob Lambert at my first London Greenpeace meeting in 1985, when I was in my early 20s. We got chatting about animal rights and quickly became friends; he was charismatic and like the older brother I never had. He was someone I could identify with; he was amiable, vegan and believed strongly in animal rights. He’d drop little compliments. One that stands out was at a benefit gig for the Animal Liberation Front in September 1986, at a squat in Islington. I designed the poster and he said, “That looks great. You’re an artist!” I was flattered, and it stuck with me. I now know that spies are trained to tell you things you want to hear.
This photograph was taken on World Anti McDonald’s Day. We’d just published a new leaflet entitled What’s Wrong With McDonald’s: Everything They Don’t Want You To Know. I think I contributed one sentence: “Revolution begins in your stomach.” It was the leaflet that led to the McLibel trial – I was one of those sued by McDonald’s in 1990. I apologised under duress: we were advised by a libel lawyer we had no chance of winning and would be made bankrupt without the case even getting to court. Needless to say, there is no way I’d have said sorry had I known Lambert was a spy.
He disappeared two years later, at the end of 1988. For years he was a sort of folk-tale hero, the activist who had eluded the police. He’d been downbeat the last time I’d seen him, saying his father had just died and that he wasn’t allowed to see his own son. I now know both were lies.
In September 2011, I found out he was an undercover police officer for special branch, and had fathered a child with a fellow activist. It made me angry. He hadn’t just spied on me for years; he became a manager of the special demonstrations squad and trained others who also spied on me. He followed me from afar for more than two decades.
We were aware the state would take an interest in us, but no one guessed they would create fake people using dead children’s identities and become part of our personal lives. Now we say, “We were a bit naive”; but if you behave as if everyone’s a spy, you’d make yourself so unwelcoming to outsiders, you couldn’t make a group work.
It hasn’t tainted those values I had. If he had changed me in that way, then he would have won.