Exactly 20 years ago, I held an all day party in the back garden of my flat. Part of it was devoted to the play Death of the Summer Lord, devised by a friend named Beth Shaw. She ran a group called Domestic Theatre which specialised in productions at people’s homes. The play is a celebration of Lammas or Lughnasadh, which is one of the four Celtic fire festivals along with Imbolc, Samhain and Beltane. Traditionally it observes the first harvest of summer and also the beginning of the transition to autumn.
The party was a mixture of people I knew from the animal rights/anarchist movements and the pagan scene. I was Ceres, goddess of corn, resplendent in a white robe, narrating the story. Other people who took part in the play included Graham, Ingrid, Denise, Dan from McLibel, “Quiet Paul”, Terry and Rick.
Also there and appearing in the role of “watery Ophelia” was Matt Rayner, animal rights activist and friend. Unbeknownst to us he was really an undercover police officer.
In context: The early nineties saw rapid growth in the animal rights movement and at its heart was the campaign against Boots the Chemist, targeted because it owned an animal laboratory near Nottingham. In November 1990 eight beagles were rescued in an ALF raid and nine days later later the Animal Liberation Investigation Unit inspected the laboratory. 43 people were arrested for conspiracy but the charges were later dropped.
London Boots Action Group was formed as a militant grassroots campaign in the capital. It was unashamedly pro-direct action. Little wonder then that at its first meeting in November 1991, there were two spies from the Special Demonstrations Squad. Their names were Andy Davey and Matt Rayner.
Both of them followed the SDS template established by Bob Lambert in the eighties. They owned vans, had itinerant jobs and no family and were keen to get involved. Personality-wise they differed though. While Rayner was easy going and friendly, enjoying social situations, Davey was somewhat hesitant and nervous and could appear too eager to please.
By 1995 Davey could no longer stand the pressure and decided to leave, pretending to go abroad. Rayner, however, remained deeply embedded in the group and his deployment was nearing its climax. In May Geoff Sheppard was arrested at home and found in possession of materials to make incendiary devices and a sawn-off shotgun. A few months later he was sentenced to seven years. Rayner was a good friend of Geoff and it was he who told me about the arrest.
What happened next: Rayner continued to be an influential member of London Animal Action – as LBAG was now called – and became the group’s treasurer. In 1996 he announced he was going to work in France for a wine company. To a few close friends he mentioned his unease with activism after being raided by the police and the breakdown of the relationship with his girlfriend who was a fellow activist. Very well liked, he was given a big going away party, presented with a camera from the group and a speech wishing him well in his new life.
The next day he drove to France in his van and with him were two activist friends. At the port they were questioned by a police officer claiming to be from Special Branch before letting them go on their way. This plan was concocted for the activists’ benefit in the knowledge they would tell others about it, lending further credibility to his exit.
Rayner was being managed by Bob Lambert, who had spied on myself, Geoff and others and who has been described as “the gaffer…pulling the strings like a puppet-master”. He used his experience to guide a new generation of infiltrators who were in some cases spying on the same activists as he had a decade earlier.
When Lambert was exposed in 2011, Geoff and me immediately suspected Rayner as well. We knew by then that spies working for the SDS stole the identities of dead children. From researching family history sites I eventually discovered the real Matt Rayner had died aged four in 1972. We still don’t know the spy’s true name.
Last year Geoff lodged an appeal against his convictions in 1995. He says Rayner “deliberately encouraged him to take more serious direct action against Boots” and to commit crimes he had been initially unwilling to carry out. He also says Rayner took part in direct action himself by driving activists in his van to sabotage targets such as Boots’ stores.
Following unremitting pressure from campaigners, Boots sold off its laboratory in 1994.
Death of the Summer Lord excerpt with Rayner (2:23): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltCU2iIbQRk
The full play (16:53): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GelxFmOv_c8
Further information: http://powerbase.info/index.php/Matt_Rayner_(alias)