By now nearly everyone will be aware of the revelations surrounding police infiltration of protest groups. The story began for me in late 2010 just as I was about embark on a new phase of my life by moving to West Yorkshire with my partner and son. At a farewell social with friends I was informed that a spy in anti-capitalist groups had just been unmasked. Shortly afterwards the Mark Kennedy scandal broke as a national news story. He had been active for seven years up to 2010.
I didn’t realise the full enormity until September 2011, however, when Helen Steel divulged that Bob Lambert, known as Bob Robinson and a charismatic and dedicated activist with London Greenpeace and the ALF in the eighties, had been an undercover police officer. He was supposed to have gone on the run in 1988 but in fact he worked for Special Branch and had later managed other spies including John Dines, who I knew as John Barker and who was also part of London Greenpeace.
One month later I returned to London for the Anarchist Bookfair and met lots of friends and comrades from the past. We spent hours talking about Lambert and Dines and found it extremely hard to believe that two people who’d been so liked and trusted could have been state agents. For me it took a very long while to come to terms with the truth.
Lambert hadn’t been just a fellow activist. We shared a love of music and he introduced me to bands who went on to become favourites of mine. Every time I heard their songs I had thought of him. I’d known two of his partners – in turn becoming a close friend of one – and met his young son. The very first time I’d been to Yorkshire it was with him to visit animal rights prisoners in 1986 and 25 years later I was living not too far away.
But the story didn’t end there. Because Lambert hadn’t been alone, I began wondering who else there might have been. Dines had followed him into London Greenpeace and they shared key characteristics as spies and as I cast my mind back it was apparent there were others who fitted the same mould. I spoke to friends like Geoff Sheppard and Robin Lane, who’d been involved in animal rights campaigning with me, and decided I had suspicions about several people.
About this time I started meeting Rob Evans the Guardian journalist and explaining what I knew to him. Some of this was used in the book Undercover which he wrote with Paul Lewis and was published in 2013. I had many photographs of Lambert and the one here of me with him protesting outside McDonald’s in 1986 was taken by a friend of mine and appeared in the book. Incidentally he’s looking down at the What’s Wrong with McDonald’s leaflets we were handing out, which he had partly written and for which I and four other people were later sued for libel.
In January 2013 the full extent of what had happened hit me when one bitterly cold evening two plain clothes policemen knocked at my door and asked to interview me. This was shortly after an internal police inquiry called Operation Herne had been set up and they had driven 200 miles in the snow. I refused to let them in and asked how they knew where I lived. One of them replied: “We know who you are”.
For a while I became depressed and anxious as it seemed as if ghosts from my past were returning to haunt me. By now I was sure I knew who the other spies were and it dawned on me that for at least 20 years I had been surrounded by people who I had trusted but were in fact undercover cops.
I was determined to do all I could to find out more and by using online records of births and deaths I was able to prove that Matt Rayner, activist and friend for five years in the nineties, was Special Branch. Like Lambert and Dines he belonged to a secretive unit called the Special Demonstrations Squad, set up in 1988 to infiltrate political groups. Like them he drove a van, had an itinerant job, no family on the scene, worked his way into a position of influence, was well liked and then went abroad never to be heard from again.
In the summer of 2013 I gave my first workshop at the Animal Rights Gathering. Two months later I repeated it at the London Anarchist Bookfair and there were too many people to fit in the room. At the same time I set up a group called ARspycatcher to draw attention to spies in the animal rights movement.
AR has been one of the main targets for infiltration since the eighties but relatively little was known after Lambert and Dines. As well as undercover cops there had been police informers and in a television interview in 2002 a senior Special Branch officer said there at least 100 of them in the movement.
I have also written a detailed article called How Special Branch Spied on the Animal Rights Movement. It’s the most up to date analysis we have and as well as looking back at the history of spying it also asks how they got away with it for so long and what relevance this has for campaigners today. It’s here: http://nieuwsblog.burojansen.nl/?p=3812
I want to use this page on Red Black Green to share information on police spying and surveillance on political activists in the animal rights and anarchist/anti-capitalist movements. Your comments and views will be welcome and you can also contact me at ARspycatcher@riseup.net
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