Julie Bindel

The spycop debacle is another nail in the Met’s coffin

Five women describe their seduction and betrayal by undercover police officers posing as fellow environmental activists

The spycop debacle is another nail in the Met’s coffin
Helen Steel (centre) outside the Royal Courts of Justice in October 2015. [Alamy]
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Deep Deception: The Story of the Spycop Network by the Women Who Uncovered the Shocking Truth

Alison, Belinda, Helen Steel, Lisa, Naomi

Ebury Press, pp. 400, £20

In 2010, Mark Kennedy, a tattooed social justice warrior, was exposed as an undercover police officer. In this guise he infiltrated climate change activist groups and in the meantime formed a number of sexual relationships with fellow activists. Kennedy manipulated and deceived several women, including ‘Lisa’, with whom he formed a particularly close bond, while his wife and children were left in the dark about his exploits. But Kennedy was no lone bad apple. He was part of a group of Metropolitan Police spies deployed to gather intelligence on left-wing protest groups.

Deep Deception is the story of these spies, written by five of the eight women who, in 2011, began a legal case against the Met in order to expose systematic wrongdoing sanctioned by the most senior police chiefs in the land.

Helen Steel, the only one of the group to waive her anonymity, is well known for her role in courageously defending a libel action in the 1990s begun by McDonalds, following accusations by activists over low wages and cruelty to animals. The other women are Alison, Belinda, Lisa and Naomi. They were spied on by Bob Lambert, John Dines and Mark Jenner as well as Kennedy, using fake names stolen from dead children. The officers entered into sexual relationships with the women. Lambert, who fathered a child with one of the activists, went on to be an academic expert in Islamophobia.

We are taken into the world of social justice activism and the women’s relationships and friendships, where they describe meeting and falling in love with these fake ‘soulmates’. No wonder they fell: the officers employed well-worn spying tactics, including ‘mirroring’ the women – telling them that they loved the same music and shared their politics, values, dreams and hopes. They pretended to be nature lovers and vegans. Their intrusion went beyond the bedroom, as they also met the women’s families, went on holidays with them and attended weddings and even funerals.

Helen was involved in two relationships with spy cops, both of whom, in the MO used by all of the undercover officers, eventually disappeared from her life, claiming mental breakdowns or family sagas or that they were being pursued by police. It was later revealed that the officers were instructed not to fall in love, and to wear condoms. Dines had a wife and family, but still raised the possibility of having children with Helen. That affair ended when Dines left her a note telling her he was hopeless, in despair and had to leave. He streaked the page with drops of water which Helen took to be tears and wrote: ‘It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve lost my faith in people.’ He said he couldn’t bear the heartache if she left, so better to cut his losses.

Sometimes the spies would be arrested on demonstrations, and give fake reasons to explain why charges against them were later dropped. There were other clues over the years which made the women suspicious – though not enough to take action. Lambert’s overconfident body language ‘didn’t match a largely unemployed animal rights campaigner’; and Kennedy stood out from the genuine male activists with his wraparound sunglasses, designer clothes and brand new mountain climbing gear. Then there was the time he joined Alison on trip to Israel to meet family friends. How come he was waved through customs so quickly, which, as Alison knew, was highly unusual for non-Jews with no family connections to the country? Occasionally the women would wonder whether they were with an undercover officer but quickly dismiss the thought as ludicrous.

Since the scandal broke, each of the women has been diagnosed with serious psychological injuries, including post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, OCD and paranoia. As Naomi puts it: ‘I’d been having a relationship with the state, and I didn’t even know it.’ But as much as the book is about state-sanctioned abuse and institutionalised misogyny in the police force, it is a tribute to feminism, and the potential of women working together rather than being divided by envy and competition. Just one example is Mark Jenner’s wife, who contacted Alison offering support and solidarity. Alison and the other women realised that the men’s wives and families were also victims of the police, their interests disregarded for the sake of the operation.

Deep Deception is a political memoir which shows how, by working as a group, these women uncovered patterns in the way the men operated, and were eventually able to get justice. It stands as a testament to their courage and tenacity in winning a fight with the state they did not pick.