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Revolutionaries? Undercover cops spied on mums calling for better day care

Policing inquiry reveals how officers tracking Islington ‘activists’ found themselves tapping into more parochial issues

20 November, 2020 — By Tom Foot

A police spy noted how a women’s group collected signatures for a petition at Chapel Street Market [ALAN STANTON]

AN undercover police report about a women’s group meeting calling for better nursery day care provision in Islington is one of dozens made public for the first time this week by the Undercover Policing Inquiry.

Previously classified documents show how the police’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) were monitoring weekly meetings of several activist groups in north London in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

But instead of finding plans for all-out revolution, the secret officers found themselves tapping into more parochial issues.

This was the case when they infiltrated the “Revolutionary Women’s Union” in September 1972. A “spy cop” known only as HN348 filed a special report to her superiors about calls for signatures to the petition titled: “Women of Islington Demand Adequate Day Nurseries.”

The report noted: “Members would also be visiting Chapel Street Market each Saturday and Sunday, 840 signatures had been collected. It was hoped eventually to deliver the petition to Islington council with a demand for a nursery in the area.”

A copy of the petition, included in the police report, said: “We demand that day nurseries be set up wherever there is a need. They should be cheap, open all year round and staff should be fully trained and well paid.”

The report added that the meeting had heard how “north London leftist groups” were due to unite against “growing activities of the National Front, particularly in relation to attacks on proposed entry of Ugandan Asians”.

Another cable details how SDS officer “HN340” – real names are not provided by the inquiry – had spied on the Islington branch of the Irish Civil Rights Solidarity Campaign at a meeting in 10 Venetia Road, Finsbury Park, in October 1970.

Just nine activists were present for the discussion that heard about “enthusiasm of the Black Power comrades towards the Irish struggle”, according to the SDS report.

In another Islington cable from November 18, 1969, officer HN336 filed a special report about a postgraduate who had begun “involving herself to some considerable extent” with the Tufnell Park Women’s Liberation Front.

“Aged about 23 years, height 5 foot 2 inches; long dark brown hair; oval face, attractive features; sometimes wears a fawn woolen dress, brown knee-length boots and a brown herring-bone patterned overcoat. It is understood she had just completed a degree course at [redacted] University.”

The day-to-day grind of spying on north London “revolutionaries” has been criticised as futile and pointless, even by members of the SDS.

One now retired police officer, who used the fake name Sandra when she infiltrated a branch of the Women’s Liberation Front in north London between 1971 and 1973, told the inquiry this week how she spied on one meeting attended by two activists.

She said on Wednesday: “I could have been doing much more worthwhile things with my time.”

Officer fathered a child with activist under surveillance

Robert Lambert (right) later became a lecturer at London Met University

THE Undercover Policing Inquiry was announced in 2015 following revelations that a former Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) officer had fathered a child with an animal rights activist he had under surveillance, writes Tom Foot.

Robert Lambert MBE was a senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University when revelations about his role in the SDS broke in the Guardian newspaper in 2012.

The Tribune ran stories in 2014 following protests outside the Holloway Road university by campaigners calling for him to resign.
The woman had needed psychiatric treatment and was eventually awarded substantial damages by the Met Police.

But, at the time, London Met stood behind its senior lecturer, telling the Tribune in one front-page story how he was “a valued member of our criminology department, where he is popular with both students and staff”, adding: “We have absolute faith in him as a lecturer and member of our community.”

The Islington Against Spies campaign group, which had protested outside the university in Holloway Road, said at the time that there had been an “abusive breach of trust”, adding: “The establishment and the police won’t make significant changes unless we force them to by making a fuss.

“Let’s start by pushing London Met to sack Bob Lambert.”

Mr Lambert eventually handed in his notice in March 2016 because of the inquiry that has led to reams of police reports compiled by him and dozens of other officers being made public this week for the first time.

The inquiry has chosen not to name several SDS officers, drawing criticism from campaigners including the parents of Stephen Lawrence, who were monitored by the SDS.

The first phase of the inquiry is focusing on the early days of the SDS, which was initially set up by the Met to monitor revolutionary meetings following the historic Grosvenor Square protest against the Vietnam War.

Inquiry: confidential documents suddenly available to the public

THE Undercover Policing Inquiry is said to be the most complicated, delayed and expensive in British history.

It was first announced in early 2015 following newspaper revelations that police had sexual relationships and even fathered children with left-wing activists over decades of surveillance.

Dozens of Islington cables and reports from the officers in the Special Demonstration Squad, which was originally set up to help stop revolutionary groups organising violent protests, have this week been made public for the first time. The reports detailing Islington activist meetings between 1968 and 1972 were published on the inquiry website on Thursday as part of a first “tranche” of evidence focusing on the campaigns against the Vietnam war.

The inquiry has been strongly criticised as a closed shop by women targeted by the “spy cops” and also by the parents of Stephen Lawrence, who were monitored by the Met during their campaign for justice.

The cover-names of 51 of the 250 police witnesses have been kept secret, along with 119 real names of officers and staff. Hearings are each day taking place at a hotel in Marble Arch. In April, the inquiry a second “tranche” of evidence will be published about special branch operations that took place between 1973-1982.

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