Corporate spy was active in Nottingham
Nottingham Indymedia 8th February 2011. http://nottingham.indymedia.org.uk/articles/941
The Mark Kennedy case has thrown the world of police and private spying on activists into the spotlight. One of the many revelations about Kennedy is that he can be linked to private spying company Global Open. Kennedy worked as a consultant for them and set up his own company, Tokra, using the address of Global Open director Heather Millgate.
Nottingham Indymedia can reveal that a second spy linked to Global Open, Paul Mercer, was actively involved with environmental and animal rights campaigns in Nottingham, including Nottingham Against Incineration and Landfill (NAIL). Mercer was involved in groups in Nottingham in the period 2002-2007.
Mercer was publicly exposed for his role in spying on anti-arms trade campaigners, Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) in 2007. His contract for the operation was finalised through Global Open.
Paul Symington Mercer graduated from the University of Nottingham in 1982 with a degree in Production Engineering. After leaving university, he worked for “free market think tank” the Adam Smith Institute, in Westminster. He claims to have been a freelance journalist since 1982 (and, perhaps surprisingly, at least until 2007, a “long-standing member of the National Union of Journalists”) with articles published in the Observer, Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph and London Evening Standard, pictures printed in national newspapers and a period researching political organisations for the BBC. He is also the author of at least seven books, including several specialist works on military aviation. Between 1987 and 1991 he served as a Conservative Borough Councillor in Charnwood, Leicestershire.
Mercer has a long-standing interest in protest movements. In his sworn affidavit to the court during the CAAT case, Mercer insisted that “most of my research involves the automated searching of public websites and newsletters,” indeed he claims to have “a good reputation for my ability to rigorously search the Internet.” Nevertheless, he says he has “a wide range of contacts” and “does sometimes receive information from anonymous sources, as do many journalists.” At a meeting organised by think tank Policy Exchange in January he described himself as having spent 29 years trying to “combine an academic study of extra-parliamentary groups with actually going and seeing what happens on protests.” He claimed to have “covered and having been on pretty well every major public order disturbance in London over that period,” including the Poll Tax Riots and Mayday 2001.
In the 1990s, Mercer involved himself in the anti-roads movement including protests against the M11 in Claremont Road. In 1994, he published the ‘Directory of British Political Organisations’. When news of his involvement with BAE and CAAT broke, Undercurrents noted that this contained personal information and contact details for people he’d met in Earth First! and other ecological direct action campaigns in the early ‘90s. In 2007, Mercer stated, “The majority of” the 4,500 organisation profiled in the directory “received one or more letter from me asking for information about them.” He did not explain how he obtained information on those he didn’t write to.
Nowadays he presents himself as an expert on protest movements and advises companies on how to deal with protests. He spoke at a Policy Exchange meeting on the ‘Rise of street extremism’ (available to view on YouTube) earlier this year and it was noted by the chair during his introduction that this was a “rare public appearance” by Mercer.
For all his supposed expertise, the analysis he presented at the meeting is unremarkable, mainly notable for the way in which he deliberately obscures the distinction between protest and riot so that he can talk about “all the major riots: NUM, Poll Tax, BNP, Reclaim The Streets, criminal justice, J18, Mayday… Tamils, Palestinians and now the students.” He went on to suggest, following the same analysis, that the Poll Tax Riots were organised by the Militant Tendency, latterly the Socialist Party. Despite the role of Trotskyist groups in “organising” riots, Mercer contended that violence at protests was typically instigated by “anarchist groups, squatters and what the Home Secretary rightly referred to as this ‘feral underclass.’” This “underclass” is apparently made up of Millwall football fans (who he seemed to suggest, kicked off the Poll Tax Riots) and hunt saboteurs. Having offered these insights into the causes of public disorder, Mercer then sought to justify the use of kettling and argue that prosecuting police officers for instance of brutality against demonstrators had cultivated “a reluctance of police officers on the frontline to actually hit people as hard as is necessary.”
Outside of his interest in protest movements, Mercer has also worked for PR firms and “carried out research to assist with the UK launch of the film Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”
Mercer and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
In 1986, Mercer published ‘Peace of the Dead – The Truth Behind the Nuclear Disarmers’. The book was described in an introduction by Lord Alun Chalfont as “an indispensable work of reference” for “the increasing number of people in this country who regard CND as at best a chronic nuisance and at worst an insidious danger.” The vast tome running to 465 pages is an extended denunciation of CND and the wider “‘peace’ movement” with the scare quotes used throughout. Mercer argues at length that CND was a Communist front, attempting to disarm the UK, in the process furthering the foreign policy aims of the Soviet Union, supporting this with extensive quotations from publicity material produced by CND, various satellite groups and assorted Marxist sects. A series of appendices detail committee members, presidents and vice-presidents of CND and associated groups, with their various political affiliations.
In the preface, Mercer states that he has relied “as much as possible on primary sources, including confidential and internal CND documents.” These documents, which consist primarily of official letters, reports and minutes, are, Mercer claims, “not normally available to outsiders.” He states that they have been “obtained through careful research and from CND sources concerned about the developments within the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament since its revival” (p 422). Presumably these are the same people who Mercer notes in the acknowledgements who “would rather not be named.” One such internal document, which he considers sufficiently interesting to reproduced in full, is a letter from Nabil Ramlawi, the London represenative of the Palestine Liberation Organisation(PLO) to CND promoting an upcoming rally in London complete with – what Mercer claims is – former-chair of CND Bruce “Kent’s handwritten annotation.”
At some point, it is clear that Mercer infiltrated CND, a fact stated openly when he was introduced at the Policy Exchange event. While ‘Peace of the Dead’ makes no explicit mention of infiltration as a research tool, Mercer does imply a first-hand knowledge of key-members of the organisation. The acknowledgements include, among those deserving of a “special mention”, a nod to “Monsignor Bruce Kent (perhaps unwittingly)”. Furthermore, the inside back cover of the book has a photograph of Kent apparently talking to Mercer, whose face has been obscured.
It is around this time that Mercer became friends with Conservative MP, Julian Lewis who is credited in the acknowledgements with having “done most in terms of proof-reading, copy-editing and acting as a source of inspiration.” Lewis was the Research Director of the Coalition for Peace Through Security, who CND accuse of disrupting their events, sending a spy into their office and trying to link Bruce Kent with the IRA. Mark Loveday, James and Michele, all at the Coalition, also merit acknowledgements. Mercer’s evident chummy relationship with the Coalition for Peace Through Security is, at least partly, explained by the fact that Policy Research Publications which published the book shared an office the Coalition.
In 2007, Lewis (by then shadow defence minister) told the Guardian that he was still “in social contact with” Mercer. He admitted that he had “worked closely with Paul in the 1980s,” and suggested that Mercer had done “a lot of good work exposing the far left”. Lewis himself has a history of similar “good work”. With his position in the Coalition for Peace Through Security he was a leading figure in an extensive government supported campaign to discredit CND. During the 1970s he had even infiltrated the Labour Party.
Among the other groups thanked in the acknowledgements is the Freedom Association a “non-partisan” right-wing libertarian group associated with the Conservative Party. During the 1980s they campaigned against the boycott of Apartheid South Africa and engaged in union breaking activities. A number of the other individuals named are also alleged to have been involved with the organisation. It is not clear exactly how much can be inferred from this, as Mercer also acknowledged the help of the “Communist Party’s Press Department”!
Mercer in Nottingham
According to local environmentalist and animal rights campaigner, Jon Beresford, it was around 2002 when Mercer first appeared in Nottingham. He lived in the local area and so it was easy for him to get involved in campaigns in the city. Mercer spoke authoritatively about the Newbury by-pass campaign which won him respect amongst local campaigners. He latched onto Beresford and his partner and was extremely friendly and helpful to them, something that Beresford now says seems like an obvious tactic.
According to Beresford, Mercer was present at a demonstration against a McDonalds in West Bridgford in 2004. McDonalds had struck a deal with the supermarket chain, Asda, to take over the cafe at their West Bridgford store, which had become popular with local school children. Animal rights and environmental campaigners were campaigning to stop McDonalds selling what they saw as unhealthy and unethical food to young kids. They held a demo in fancy dress which was covered by Radio 5 Live and Central TV and Mercer gave an interview for the local news. The campaign was partially successful, winning a concession from McDonalds that they would not sell their food to school children during school hours.
Mercer’s involvement wasn’t merely as a participant, however. Soon after the Asda/McDonalds campaign, he raised the idea of targeting Gala Casino and Bingo Halls with animal rights campaigners. Gala had chosen the British Heart Foundation as their charity of the year. BHF has long been criticised by animal rights activists for spending much of its budget on animal experimentation to find new drugs, rather than working on prevention. It is thought that 70% of heart disease cases are preventable. According to Beresford, Mercer said that his wife worked for Gala and that the company would be an easy target which would be keen avoid bad publicity. Not only did Mercer initiate the campaign, Beresford says he also fed campaigners the email addresses of senior managers. The company’s headquarters in Nottingham were picketed. Mercer claimed to have insider information, via his wife, that senior managers were very worried and that the campaign was working. Beresford describes Mercer as having directed the campaign.
At other times Mercer seemed to play a more traditional disruptive role. He came along on an ambitious environmental action, coordinated by people outside Nottingham, which never happened because the target was swarming with police.
Once he had become a trusted figure, Mercer could move within the scene into campaigns such as NAIL. Although he was considered a key figure behind the scenes, he never came to committee meetings and tried to keep out of the public eye. He worked as a freelance journalist, he said, and was known to attend events with his camera. Beresford says that despite his low public profile Mercer was keen to guide the direction of campaigning.
NAIL was set up by local campaigners in 2002 to protest against the Eascroft Incinerator. Support for the campaign would grow in 2005 when plans to expand the facility were announced. An entirely peaceful campaign, with “members from Greenpeace, Nottingham Friends of the Earth, Nottingham Green Party and CABS (Clean Air for Bakersfield and Sneinton)”, it organised demonstrations, community outreach days and banner drops in Sneinton.
In April 2006, Mercer attended a public meeting about plans for an incinerator held at Green’s Mill Old School Hall, Sneinton. Entirely by chance he was photographed by regular Indymedia contributor Tash, who had no idea who he was at the time.
Campaign Against Arms Trade v Paul Mercer & LigneDeux Associates
In 2007, Mercer was thrust into the headlines when it was revealed that he had forwarded an email containing legally privileged material from anti-arms trade campaign, CAAT, to arms dealers, BAE. An investigation found that Mercer was working as a security consultant for LigneDeux Associates, a company paid £2,500 a month by BAE to provide informations on “threats” to the company.
Mercer claimed he was contacted by Rod Leeming of Global Open (who he described as “a management consultancy”) in 2005. According to Mercer’s account, Global Open “had been approached by BAE because BAE needed someone to provide BAE’s media and internet monitoring requirement in order to examine potential threats to it.” It was decided to set-up a partnership for the work using an off-the-shelf name, LigneDeux Associates. According to Mercer, the pre-contact negotiations between BAE and LigneDeux were conducted by Leeming and Michael McGinty, BAE’s Director of Security, with Mercer playing no role. LigneDeux was based, “for the sake of convenience,” at Global Open’s accountant’s office.
Mercer claimed to have received the privileged information on CD-R in an anonymous envelope which he discovered while “clearing a backlog of Christmas post” On the CD was a Word document containing a copy of an email from Ann Feltham to the steering group of CAAT and a letter sent by Leigh Day & Co addressed to the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and the Director of the Serious Fraud Office. It was the email which was significant as it contained legal advice from Leigh Day & Co and hence was privileged and confidential.
Mercer copied the document and forwarded it to McGinty. Mercer also copied in Martin Carroll at BAE. When this material reached BAE’s legal department they were obliged to return it to CAAT, thus beginning the legal process which would bring Mercer into the headlines. After being informed by BAE that the material was privileged and instructed not to send anything further, Mercer decided to send it to Leeming. He claims this was “in order to seek his opinion on the matter and alert him to a potential problem”.
Mercer was unable to produce the envelope in which the CD arrived, explaining that this was because he hadn’t realise at the time that it would be necessary to keep hold of it and had not realised what he had been sent. He also closed the pseudonymous email address he used for his research on BAE’s behalf, destroying any emails within, and reformatted the memory stick used to copy the document from the computer where he opened it to a internet connected laptop. In his sworn affidavit to the court he claims in both cases to have done this before an injunction which obliged him not to destroy any documents which might be related to the case. However, Leigh Day & Co allege the email address was closed after Mercer was tipped off by McGinty about the injunction.
BAE initially refused to state how it came into possession of the material. A copy of the email was passed to Leigh Day & Co in a letter, but this they noted ‘had been redacted so as to delete the forwarding information which would have shown how and when the email was sent to BAE.’ CAAT obtained an injunction requiring BAE to preserve any relevant documents and after a hearing, BAE were directed to disclose a full copy of the email, including routing information, and explain how they had received it. It was at this point that Mercer’s role became public knowledge.
It remains unknown who leaked the documents and whether they were an infiltrator or a hacker, but as legal action continued, BAE was forced to admit an increasing amount. In addition to LigneDeux associates, McGinty admitted that BAE had employed Evelyn Le Chêne to do similar work. Martin Hogbin who worked for CAAT had been accused of working for Le Chêne in September 2003, but BAE had not acknowledged any involvement with her until McGinty’s admission. In October 2007, BAE had to make an unprecedented undetaking to the court that it will not “not to intercept by any unlawful means … [and] not to solicit, voluntarily receive or procure any confidential communication or document” belonging to CAAT.”
Mark Kennedy and Global Open
On its website, Global Open proudly announces that it “is run by former New Scotland Yard Special Branch officers.” The company claims to gather intelligence ‘responsibly and legally’ for their corporate clients. Their website boasts their expertise in dealing with activist threats to big business. The company’s directors include Rod Leeming (ex-Special Branch and former head of the Animal Rights National Index, according to the Guardian), the man who Paul Mercer forwarded CAAT’s legally privileged email to, and, until September last year, Heather Millgate.
In his interview with the Sunday Mail, PC Mark Kennedy claims that after being pulled from his undercover role in September 2009 he was “approached” by Leeming (who he insists he had never met before) on behalf of Global Open in January 2010. Kennedy handed in his resignation from the police in January 2010, leaving in March and at some point, began working for Global Open as a “consultant”.
At around the same time, Kennedy seems to have begun considering the possibility of going into business himself. On 9 February 2010 Kennedy set up a company called Tokra Ltd (Company No. 07150492), with himself listed as a Logistics officer on the Certificate of Incorporation, at an address in Leighton Buzzard. This was the work address of Millgate (a personal injury solicitor), who became a director of Global Open in February.
On 31 March 2010, Tokra changed its address from Millgate’s work address to another in Basingstoke. Around the same time, Kennedy set up a second company, Black Star High Access (Company No. 07209622), also registered in Basingstoke. According to the Guardian, Kennedy applied for Tokra Ltd to be dissolved on April 12 2010 and this finally happened on 17 August. On 31 August, Millgate resigned as a director of Global Open. While Black Star has yet to file any records, it is still an active company.
Kennedy denies operating undercover for Global Open, but returned to Nottingham after leaving the police and continued using the Mark Stone pseudonym. According to a Newsnight report, in August 2010 he attended the Earth First! gathering and participated in a session about police infiltration. After that workshop he left an email address referring to Tokra.
The Corporate Shilling
The Mark Kennedy case has thrown some light onto the dark world of police spying. There is also an extensive network of corporate security/investigation firms. Many of these firms advertise that they employ former police officers, many of them ex-Special Branch. In 2008 Russell Corn, managing director of Diligence, one such company with offices in Canary Wharf claimed that private spies made up a quarter of the attendees of Climate Camp: “Easily one in four of the people there are taking the corporate shilling.” This is almost certainly a vast overstatement, but with increasing concern about a growth in dissent fuelled by the impact of the cuts (as demonstrated in the Policy Exchange session attended by Mercer) it is likely to remain one area which does well inspite of any economic difficulties.
- Campaign Against Arms Trade v Paul Mercer & LigneDeux Associates: Briefing (pdf)
- Campaign Against Arms Trade v Paul Mercer & LigneDeux Associates: Court Documents (pdf)
- Campaign Against Arms Trade v Paul Mercer: SFO Letter (pdf)
- CAAT: Developments following the dropping of the SFO investigation
- Undercurrents: Spy within Peace movement exposed
- Spinwatch: Only A Public Inquiry Will Do Into Green Spy
- YouTube: “The Rise of Street Extremism”
Mercer and an MI6 asset
Comment Published: February 08, 2011 21:20 by Sandy
I remember on one occasion he turned up at the Manchester Airport second runway protest with his mate David Rose – at the time home affairs correspondent on the Observer. To be fair, they produced a sympathetic article about the protest. It was only later that Rose was exposed as an MI6 asset which he later tried to explain away in the New Statesman:
Comment Published: February 08, 2011 22:23 by Andy
I remember Mercer when he turned up at some Greenpeace meetings in Nottingham.
I have no doubt that he had an ulterior motive in doing so but at the same he was quite open about the fact that he had had books published and that, politically, I remember he always said that he was a libertarian. (In contrast most Greenpeace activists seemed to be the opposite). But unlike any other infiltrator or undercover police officer I have read about recently he was capable of maintaining a coherent political argument.
He may have just been very good at what he did but on some issues such as opposing McDonalds restaurants near schools, putting an incinerator in the middle of a city or opposing GM crops he not only had a grasp of the issues but was passionate at the same time. This does not excuse the fact that he later worked with Global Open and may have been doing so at the time.
What I later discovered is that he had been exposed once before when he was active in an anti-oil campaign in the 1990’s. Some Earth First activists had come across his book about CND which, given its highly critical nature, didn’t quite accord with his involvement with them. He apparently contributed many of the photos that appear in the Earth First newsletter at the time.
The fact that one of the most influential think tanks, the Policy Exchange, should chose to invite him to address a meeting on ‘street extremism’ and bill him as the “UK’s pre-eminent expert on extremist groups” suggests to me that in the intervening year’s since we last saw him in Nottingham he has not been idle.
I don’t think that any of this makes Mercer a better person but what it should do is remind us that not all infiltrators or undercover police officers fit into the Mark Kennedy mould. It is possible that some of them do have political opinions, use their real names and didn’t try to seduce women activists.