Evidence of police complicity in blacklisting of trade unionists stretches back decades

Police are alleged to have been covertly helping companies to blacklist trade unionists since before the Second World War

The blacklisting of trade unionists by major firms over the years has been an inherently secretive practice. Even more secretive, it seems, has been the state’s covert collusion in such a practice.

From time to time, the public get glimpses that reveal how the state has facilitated the blacklisting. These snapshots suggest that there has been regular collusion for many decades.

The police and blacklisters have not welcomed public scrutiny of their relationship. However the trade unionists who were blacklisted are now pressing for the upcoming public inquiry into the failures of undercover policing – to be headed by Lord Justice Pitchford – to scrutinise the allegations (see here for more details).

In all these years, there has never been an in-depth, independent, and public examination of these persistent allegations.

Some of the evidence of this collusion is detailed below – the most recent dates from 2008. According to a leaked document, a secretive police unit that was involved in monitoring political activists met a blacklisting agency that was funded by large companies.

The agency, operating under the bland name of the Consulting Association, unlawfully compiled confidential dossiers on thousands of workers who were considered by company directors to be politically active or potential trouble-makers. Many workers were denied employment for long periods.

A note of the meeting at an Oxfordshire hotel on November 6 2008 records that the purpose of the police unit, which was then expanding, was “to liaise with industry”.

Police ‘spied on activists for blacklisting agency’
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More evidence dates from the 1990s. Peter Francis, a former undercover police officer who has now become a whistleblower, has disclosed that he believes that he personally collected some of the information that later appeared in the files of the Consulting Association. Francis infiltrated anti-racist groups between 1993 and 1997 as a member of the Metropolitan Police’s undercover unit, the Special Demonstration Squad.

The blacklisting files recorded one bricklayer as being “under constant watch (officially) and seen as politically dangerous”.

An official watchdog, the information commissioner, shut down the Consulting Association, after seizing many of its files in a raid. Dave Clancy, a former police officer who worked as an investigator for the watchdog, has testified that “there is information on the Consulting Association files that I believe could only be supplied by the police or the security services”. These details, he added, were specific and came from police records.

An earlier incarnation of the blacklist was run by another clandestine agency, called the Economic League. This organisation had been set up shortly after the First World War, at a time of widespread industrial unrest, and, again, was financed by large corporations.

The Economic League had began to compile secret dossiers on workers around the country.

It seems that from early on, the Economic League received help from the police. Documents chronicle how Economic League officials worked closely with police in Lancashire in the 1930s.

In 1937, they met detectives who were monitoring political “subversives”. The league’s Manchester organiser reported to his superiors that he had “Manchester police in here yesterday and found them extremely helpful and have now arranged to work in the closest co-operation with them. Among other things, they promised to give me as long as I like looking over their Communist industrial file in their office.”

Blacklisted workers seek to prise open secrets of covert police surveillance
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Days later, the league’s Manchester organiser wrote to the chief constable of the local force and thanked him for his help. At one point, the league asked police to carry out surveillance on a meeting of trade unionists as the blacklisters considered it “of considerable importance”.

At another point, the league’s Manchester organiser told his boss that he was due to get a report of a Communist Party meeting from the police without having to send “one of our own men”.

In that same year, Special Branch passed onto the Economic League a confidential list of Manchester communists.

Fifty years on, and collaboration still seemed to exist. In the 1980s, an undercover television sting caught the candid thoughts of an Economic League official who said :”We give all our information to the police. In return, they’re not exactly unfriendly back.”

Michael Noar, then the Economic League’s director-general, said in 1987 said that “of course, the police and Special Branch are interested in some of the things we are interested in. They follow the activities of these groups in much the same way as we do and therefore they do get in touch with us from time to time and talk to us and say ‘were you at this demonstration or that’.” He added that “in the course of discussions, there is an exchange of information just in the ordinary course of talking.”

Phil Chamberlain, co-author of a book on blacklisting, being interviewed
Police and Economic League officials have acknowledged they had meetings together, but say information about individuals was not passed to the league.

One unnamed Special Branch officer recently told an internal police investigation into the undercover infiltration of political groups that the “flow of information was purely one way”. The Economic League was treated solely as a source of information, according to the officer, and it was Special Branch policy not to share any information with the league.

Jack Winder, who worked for the Economic League from 1963 until its closure in the early 1990s, told a parliamentary inquiry two years ago that he had meetings with the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch over a long time for what he called “general chit-chat”. He told MPs that the “exchange of detailed information” about individuals was “absolutely forbidden”.

Sources : Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, Blacklisted :the secret war between big business and union activists (New Internationalist, 2015); Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor, Blacklist – the inside story of political vetting (Hogarth Press, 1988). For a detailed and documented history of the Economic League, see the work of researcher Mike Hughes here.

Rob Evans
@robevansgdn
Tuesday 16 June 2015 11.03 BST Last modified on Tuesday 16 June 2015 11.06 BST

Find this story at 16 June 2015

© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Blacklisted workers seek to prise open secrets of covert police surveillance

Trade unionists blacklisted by major firms are pushing for the public inquiry into undercover policing to examine alleged collusion between covert police officers and company directors

Blacklisted workers have intensified their campaign to uncover the extent of secret police surveillance operations against them.

Covert police officers are alleged to have passed information they gathered on the trade unionists to multi-national firms who maintained a secret and unlawful blacklist.

The blacklisted workers want the allegations examined by the public inquiry that has been established into the police’s use of undercover officers to infiltrate hundreds of political groups.

That inquiry – to be headed by Lord Justice Pitchford – is drawing up its remit which is due to be announced by the end of July. This here and here gives some background on the inquiry that was set up by home secretary Theresa May.

This week, the blacklisted workers said they have applied to be given a central role in the inquiry. In legal terms, they are seeking to be made a “core participant” in the inquiry.

It is not yet known who will be the “core participants” in the Pitchford inquiry. The status is given to those who, for example, have a direct and significant interest in the issues that will be examined.

On the blacklist: how did the UK’s top building firms get secret information on their workers?
Read more
It allows them to see evidence in advance of it being aired at the inquiry and to seek to cross-examine witnesses.

The application by the Blacklist Support Group (BSG) has been made by Imran Khan, the lawyer who also represents Doreen Lawrence, the mother of murdered teenager Stephen. (For more details, see this).

Dave Smith, the group’s spokesman, said: “Hopefully by the BSG applying for core participant status, we will be able to guarantee that spying on trade unions and passing over information to private companies becomes a theme within the Pitchford inquiry.”

“Police and security services spying on trade unions is not a one-off aberration, it is standard operating procedure by the state.”

An official watchdog closed down the blacklist in 2009 after discovering that major firms kept confidential files on workers deemed to be “trouble-makers”. Checks were run on trade unionists to deny them work if their names were on the list.

The police’s role in giving information to the blacklist has yet to be fully brought into the public domain.

Imran Khan, the lawyer working for the blacklisted workers. Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Imran Khan, the lawyer working for the blacklisted workers. Photograph: Richard Saker/Richard Saker
Read this, this, and this for accounts of how the police are alleged to have colluded with the blacklisters by gathering and sharing information on trade unionists.

More than 580 blacklisted workers have launched legal action against 40 large construction firms in a case that is due to be heard in the High Court next year. They say the blacklisting files date from at least 1969.

At a preliminary hearing this month, lawyers for the blacklisted workers told a court that the blacklisters had deliberately destroyed documents after they had been raided by the official watchdog, the information commissioner. (Read this for more details).

Meanwhile, Smith, the co-author of a new book, Blacklisted : the Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists, is due to give a talk on the controversy on Tuesday June 2. This here gives details of the talk in London that is being organised by the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and the Institute of Employment Rights.

Rob Evans
@robevansgdn
Thursday 28 May 2015 11.51 BST Last modified on Thursday 28 May 2015 12.00 BST

Find this story at 28 May 2015

© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Blacklisting: The Secret War Big Business Wages on Workers

You’d hope that construction work would be one area of life where tabloid stories about “health ‘n’ safety going mad” were actually true, in order to stop people getting in the way of machines designed to smash concrete, or falling off some 20th floor scaffolding. In fact, for years, the opposite has been the case, as people raising health and safety concerns have been systematically nixed from getting a job in construction.

From at least the 1980s, construction companies kept a secret “blacklist” of some 3,200 workers that they wanted to ensure never found work. These included various types of people who somehow got in the way of the companies making a fat profit—workers who complained about dangerous practices on sites, trade union organizers who tried to get a better wage, and even environmental protesters who weren’t employed in the industry but got in the way of construction. Lives were ruined as tradespeople found that they were mysteriously denied work all the time, despite being qualified. Some people were even pushed to suicide as they couldn’t provide for their families.

In 2009, an article written by journalist Phil Chamberlain in the Guardian ended up being put on the desk of an investigator at the Information Commissioner Office. That kick started a chain of events which exposed the truth of blacklisting that many had already suspected for years. Following a raid on the organization set up by the companies to manage the secret blacklist—the Consulting Association—the Blacklist Support Group was formed to represent blacklisted workers. The secretary of the group Dave Smith, a trade unionist who was blacklisted himself, has teamed up with Phil Chamberlain to write a book exposing the practice. Blacklisted: The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists tells the story of multinationals and the state colluding to undermine trade unionism and thousands of workers fighting for their dignity—a fight which continues to this day. I caught up with the pair at the book’s launch last week.

Continued below.

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VICE: Dave, you’ve written this book as somebody who has been a victim of blacklisting. Tell me about your experience.
Dave Smith: My blacklist file is 36 pages long and runs from 1992 until 2006. The first entry records a protest about several week’s unpaid wages on a Balfour Beatty site. The rest of my file is about safety concerns I have raised including asbestos and overflowing toilets. I could never get a job for any of the large companies but managed to find work with small subcontractors or via employment agencies for a while. But it reached a point where even the agencies wouldn’t offer me a job. This is recorded in my blacklist file. I went from driving a large four by four to a £300 [$445] fiesta van and during the height of the building boom I was virtually unemployable. I had to leave the industry to pay the mortgage.

“Blacklisting people who complain about safety causes deaths on building sites. It’s as simple as that.”

How big was the human cost throughout the industry?
Some people we interviewed for the book have been out of work for 20 years. When you first tell someone that, they go “out of work for 20 years? Building work? That can’t be right,” but then when you actually see their file, they’re out of work and as soon as they get a job, the company find out, and they’re sacked. They get another job as soon as they’re fired and they’re sacked again. We’ve been talking not just to the workers but their wives and their partners. Kids aren’t getting new trainers, kids aren’t going on school trips. People have lost their houses over this. Quite a few people, their relationships have broken up. This isn’t just about numbers, it’s about the fact they’ve taken food off our tables and that’s why we’ve taken it so personally.

One of the main reasons workers were added to the blacklist was for raising health and safety concerns. What kind of impact does this have on building sites?
Well everybody knew there was a blacklist. It wasn’t a secret, although the employers always denied it whenever the politicians asked them. Management used to say, “If you carry on like that we’ll make sure you never work again in the building industry” and it wasn’t an idle threat—it was true. The impact on health and safety is, if somebody moans about a bit of scaffolding or the toilets overflowing and gets sacked for it, then next time when the toilets are overflowing or there’s asbestos, people just keep their head down and don’t say anything, which is one of the reasons why constructions got such a terrible health and safety record. Blacklisting people who complain about safety causes deaths on building sites. It’s as simple as that.

The promotional video for ‘Blacklisted.’

The blacklist was mainly a list of construction workers, but not entirely. What other kind of people were on the list, and why?
Phil Chamberlain: It started off as a construction blacklist and—I think it’s the nature of the surveillance—once you start compiling it takes in more and more people. People who the companies are concerned about suddenly get drawn in. If we look at the road protests [anti-road building activism] that grew up around the 1990s, they affected construction companies. The environmental protesters who took part in roads protests aren’t union members but they’re people the companies want to keep tabs on. That coincides with the kind of people which the state are interested in keeping tabs on as well. That’s when you start to see that kind of cross over. We’ve got academics and journalists on the list as well. People who start to cause worry to the companies started to be added in.

So you’re talking about a cross over between the construction companies and the state. Was the list compiled with the active collusion of the police?
It appears there were links between construction companies and the police. The question is about how systematized that contact was. In some cases it would have been personal contacts developed up over a number of years or inherited. We’ve spoken to industrial relations officers from the companies who have freely acknowledged meeting Special Branch people and we know the industrial desk at Special Branch was tasked with looking at trade unions and maintaining contact with corporations. We know those links existed and have done for a number of years. In some cases it would have been done on a fairly informal basis and in other cases perhaps more systemically done.

The files are quite clear in that some of the files contain information that could only have come from the police. That not just us saying that, the Information Commissioner’s Office looked at the files and came to the same conclusion independently to ourselves.

It’s quite clear this is much wider than construction and much wider than the UK but that’s because it’s the nature of the economic system which can’t deal with that kind of dissent, which is ultimately about preserving some profit margin at the expense of democratic, legitimate forms of protest.

In the book you draw a lot of parallels between the blacklisting scandal and the the phone hacking scandal. Why is that?
I think it’s fascinating in the sense that when Rob Evans and I wrote the article for the Guardian in March 2009 and in the summer Nick Davies writes that superb piece showing the breadth of phone hacking. The numbers are relatively similar.

But phone hacking victims are getting some sense of justice, whereas blacklisting victims are having to fight to be listened to.
The differences is who they are. The celebrities have got a lot more access to mechanisms to make their voice heard. They can employ better lawyers, they can apply pressure in a number of different ways.

The willingness to address the issue of phone hacking is in stark contrast and I think it’s because they’ve treated it as a corruption issue, but with blacklisting this was the normal mode of operation. That says something fundamental about the way we handle industrial relations in this country, the way we handle dissent in this country, which is far more frightening and needs to be resisted.

The book ends by putting blacklisting in its global and historical context. How widespread is the practice, and similar tactics?
One of the guys who ran the Economic League [predecessor in many ways to The Consulting Association] said to Parliament: “it’s gone on since the pyramids,” as if it’s part of your hazard of working. I think there’s a danger of accepting it because then we don’t get to challenge it and say that fundamentally this is wrong.

It’s quite clear in this country it’s operating in the NHS. There was a story published two weeks ago about keeping files on people involved in airline disputes with British Airways. We’ve looked at cases that have taken place in Canada where migrant workers from Mexico have been monitored and refused visas to go and work in Canada. There was a case in France in 2013 where Ikea used access to police files to monitor people in their stores. We’ve got evidence of a company based in Ireland which recruits migrant workers keeping files on workers in Europe who might be causing problems.

It’s quite clear this is much wider than construction and much wider than the UK but that’s because it’s the nature of the economic system which can’t deal with that kind of dissent, which is ultimately about preserving some profit margin at the expense of democratic, legitimate forms of protest. Most of these people are simply just raising health and safety issues. There was a case in Indonesia where people were upset about conditions at an Adidas company and they reached for the blacklist. It’s a tool for managing, but it doesn’t mean it’s right.

Blacklisted: The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists is available from New Internationalist Books

March 16, 2015
by James Poulter

Find this story at 16 March 2015

Copyright Vice.com

Home Office to blacklist extremists to protect public sector

Theresa May says new extremism analysis unit is compiling list of legal but unacceptable individuals and groups to prevent another Trojan horse scandal

The Home Office is drawing up a blacklist of extremist individuals and organisations with whom the government and public sector should not engage, Theresa May has revealed.

The list of legal but unacceptable organisations is being compiled by a new Home Office “extremism analysis unit”, which is also to develop a counter-entryism strategy to tackle Islamist radicalisation and ensure there is no repeat of the Trojan horse affair in Birmingham schools across the public sector.

In a speech outlining a wishlist of measures and powers to tackle extremism in Britain, the home secretary acknowledged that the work of the new unit had received only cabinet approval so far.

May was put in charge of developing a cross-government extremism strategy last October, but she has so far failed to resolve outstanding problems raised by at least four Conservative cabinet colleagues.

“Chris Grayling wants more clarity on its impact on prisons. Theresa Villiers wants more consultation with Northern Ireland, where extremism is obviously historically a big issue. Eric Pickles wants work to be done on the impact on communities and faiths and Nicky Morgan wants more work done on the role of Ofsted,” said a Westminster source.

Instead, the home secretary outlined a list of measures a majority Conservative government would introduce, including closure orders for premises being used by extremists, banning orders, and a review of the impact of sharia law in Britain. The package would include a positive campaign to promote British values.

May said the new extremism analysis unit “will help us to develop a new engagement policy – which will set out clearly for the first time with which individuals and organisations the government and public sector should engage and should not engage”.

She added: “This will make sure nobody unwittingly lends legitimacy or credibility to extremists or extremist organisations, and will make it very clear that government should engage with people directly and through their elected representatives – not just through often self-appointed and unrepresentative community leaders.”

She said it was known from the Trojan horse affair in Birmingham schools that extremists use entryist tactics to infiltrate legitimate organisations to promote their own agendas.

“The counter-entryism strategy will ensure that government, the public sector and civil society as a whole will be more resilient against this danger,” the home secretary said in a speech in Westminster.

The move goes far beyond current powers to ban violent extremist and terrorist organisations and paves the way for a range of non-violent legal organisations to be put on a blacklist and boycotted by the government.

David Cameron, for example, has promised for the last five years to ban the non-violent radical Islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir but it has failed to meet the legal criteria to be banned.

The Home Office defines extremism as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of armed forces whether in this country or overseas”.

A recent Home Office consultation produced many comments that a much tighter definition was needed and such vague terms could catch a wide range of organisations. Those blacklisted would be likely to mount legal challenges to the decision.

In outlining her list of possible new measures that a majority Conservative government would introduce, May revived the idea of closing down “extremist” mosques, new “extremism officers” in prisons, a review of how Sharia courts impact in England and Wales, a review of citizenship laws to ensure respect for British values, and a review of unregulated “supplementary” schools.

The home secretary called for a new partnership to defeat the extremists. “To those who do not want to join this new partnership, to those who choose consciously to reject our values and the basic principles of our society, the message is equally clear: the game is up. We will no longer tolerate your behaviour.”

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said: “Everyone other than the extremists agree that we should robustly defend and actively promote the pluralistic values our society rightly holds in esteem.

“But it isn’t enough for the home secretary to say it, she needs to act.

“We need to work in as many communities as possible, throughout the UK, to support civil society and defeat extremism.

“And we should never tie the hands of our agencies and the police in confronting dangerous, violent extremists. The government’s record is one of making that harder, not easier.”

Alan Travis Home affairs editor
Monday 23 March 2015 15.28 GMT Last modified on Tuesday 24 March 2015 08.21 GMT

Find this story at 23 March 2015

© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Blacklisted: The secret war between big business and union activists

Demo outside parliament, TUC Day of Action on Blacklisting in 2012
Demo outside parliament, TUC Day of Action on Blacklisting in 2012
REVIEW: The communications revolution of the past 40 years has transformed our capacity to hold and use information about large numbers of people. As databases grow from hundreds to thousands and then tens of thousands of people, our fear grows that much of this information may have been gathered wrongly: that the information itself is incorrect, or that it has been gathered without our consent or knowledge.

We all suspect that our personal data is being shared behind our backs, whether by utilities companies eager to trade on vulnerable pensioners, or by parts of the secret state who are monitoring emails on an industrial scale in the hope of catching extremists. Very rarely do we find out for definite who has been harmed or how.

In the conventional press story that usually follows, attention is paid to the whistleblowers, self-sacrificing individuals such as Edward Snowden or Bradley Manning who once played a part in a system of malicious data collection but threw their position away in order to expose the corrupt practises of giant organisations.

Blacklisted: The Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists by Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain is published by New Internationalist on 22 March
You can read Dave Smith on www.thejusticegap.com (Six years and still waiting: the legal implications of blacklisting)
The story of the construction industry blacklist, brought to light in this extraordinary book, corresponds in many ways but not in others to our conventional fears about the manipulation of data. One difference from the usual story is that Dave Smith, the secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, and Phil Chamberlain, the freelancer who originally broke the story of the blacklist in the Guardian, are able to show in much more graphic detail than is usual just how much harm was caused to the victims.

They have interviewed several hundred building workers and their family members, union officials, construction managers, former policemen, environmental activists, blacklisted academics or journalists, and blacklisters.

From the accounts of the first group, they are able to describe what it is like to be a skilled worker, and to find yourself suddenly unemployable, like Frank Morris who describes going home to empty cupboards during the recent Olympic building boom because he had supported a dismissed colleague and been placed on the blacklist, or Dave Ayre who said: ‘I’d been sacked so many times at Christmas that my kids that my kids thought it was part of the Father Christmas story.’

A second difference is that the champions of the story are the building workers who have been fighting for decades to secure trade union and healthy safety rights in their workplaces, rather than the whistleblowers.

There were indeed managers within the blacklisting process who became disenchanted with their employers and belatedly blew the whistle on this practice – such as Alan Wainwright, whose evidence at an early Tribunal hearing led to Chamberlain’s report and the subsequent raid by the Information Commissioner’s Office of the blacklisting company, the Consulting Association.

But Wainwright is an equivocal figure in the story, seemingly trusted neither by the employers nor the construction workers. And much the same can be said of Ian Kerr, the man who kept the blacklist going, very profitably, for decades. Kerr’s widow Mary spoke to the authors and described how he died of a heart attack shortly after giving evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee. Only two of Kerr’s colleagues within the TCA, staffed as it was by the personnel directors of all the main construction companies, even sent her their condolences. Not one attended his funeral.

If there are heroes to Smith and Chamberlain’s story it is rather individuals such as Mick Dooley and Chris Clark, founders of the Join Sites Committee, a rank-and-file union group of the early 1990s.

One of Dooley’s best-known actions was a strike at Vascroft in 1992, when he occupied a tower crane for 10 days in protest at the dismissal of union stewards, effectively preventing an entire site from working.

That tactics of this militancy were required is evident from the other passages of the book which describe the worsening conditions on sites over the last twenty years as union organisation has decayed. One of their sources Robert Smith describes working on the huge and vastly profitable Channel Tunnel extension to St Pancras, among rats, without toilets or other basic safety requirements.

While there was much that the employers might truthfully have told each other about the tactics of certain individuals, blacklisting went far beyond the sort of open, honest record of occasional unofficial militancy that might be justifiable. It extended to the private lives of those who were being spied on, their relationships, the employment of their relatives, the private opinions of their partners.

The names on the blacklist which cause the greatest distress are those who were rumoured to have worked at a site where the union had called a strike or who were said once to have purchased a copy of a left-wing newspaper, and found themselves subject to a simple data-trawl, often years and sometimes decades later. And where their name was on the blacklist, for any reason, they simply were not employed.
A large portion of the narrative is given over to the accounts of the legal battles which have led to the discovery of the blacklist and to the partial attempts to obtain redress for its victims. I have acted as a barrister for two of the litigants, and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on these parts of the narrative. In any event, a previous article by Dave Smith for this website explains that part of the story.

Was blacklisting specific to construction, or has it become part of the ordinary way in which industrial relations are conducted in this country? I have sat in court and listened to employers in radically different industries from construction admit to all sorts of practices which differ only in scale from the picture in this book.

Has blacklisting ended? The authors term it ‘a global phenomenon which has been going on for centuries’. Kerr’s files were constructed out of the technology of a previous industrial era. His data was held on paper cards in drawers. New technology makes it easier to spy on large numbers of workers and to hide the fruits of this industrial espionage, but no less destructive in terms of their consequences for those about whom false data is being held.

The authors, and the whole campaign whose voices they have recorded, deserve our thanks for bringing this secret conspiracy into public focus.

Posted by David Renton on March 12, 2015.

Find this story at 12 March 2015

© 2015, ↑ The Justice Gap

Police continued spying on Labour activists after their election as MPs

Ex-minister Peter Hain says whistleblower’s disclosure of spying operations during 1990s raises questions about parliamentary sovereignty

Police conducted spying operations on a string of Labour politicians during the 1990s, covertly monitoring them even after they had been elected to the House of Commons, a whistleblower has revealed.

Peter Francis, a former undercover police officer, said he read secret files on 10 MPs during his 11 years working for the Metropolitan police’s special branch. They include Labour’s current deputy leader, Harriet Harman, the former cabinet minister Peter Hain and the former home secretary Jack Straw.

Francis said he personally collected information on three MPs – Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn and the late Bernie Grant – while he was deployed undercover infiltrating anti-racist groups. He also named Ken Livingstone, the late Tony Benn, Joan Ruddock and Dennis Skinner as having been subjected to special branch intelligence-gathering. The files on all 10 were held by Scotland Yard.

The whistleblower said special branch files were often “very extensive” and typically described the subject’s political beliefs, personal background such as parents, school and finances, and demonstrations they attended. Some contained “some personal and private matters”, Francis added.

Hain called for the home secretary, Theresa May, to ensure that an existing judge-led public inquiry into undercover policing examines the extent of the surveillance of members of parliament.

Why were special branch watching me even when I was an MP?
Peter Hain
Read more
In an article for the Guardian, he wrote: “That the special branch had a file on me dating back 40 years ago to anti-apartheid and anti-Nazi League activist days is hardly revelatory. That these files were still active for at least 10 years while I was an MP certainly is and raises fundamental questions about parliamentary sovereignty.”

The Met’s special branch has been responsible for monitoring political groups considered to pose a threat to public order. Francis worked for special branch between 1990 and 2001. For four of those years he went undercover to spy on anti-racist groups as part of a covert unit, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), which was controlled by special branch.

In recent years Francis has publicly detailed many aspects of this covert work, disclosing, for instance, that the SDS collected information on the relatives of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence and other families seeking justice over alleged police misconduct.

Francis approached Hain and described how he had read the pink special branch files – known as personal registry files – on the MPs while he was working for the police. He said some of the information in the files dated from the subjects’ days as political campaigners before they entered parliament, but special branch continued to store details of their political activities after they were elected to the Commons. “When you become an MP, the files don’t stop,” he said.

He said that while he was undercover pretending to be an anti-racist campaigner in north-east London, Abbott, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, often talked at meetings and demonstrations he attended. He reported back details of her activities to his special branch superiors.

To a lesser extent he collected information about Corbyn, the Islington North MP, and Grant, who represented Tottenham from 1987 until his death in 2000. “They were in meetings and I was there and they were talking about things and that is what I reported on,” he said. His superiors were “certainly very grateful” if he passed on information involving MPs, he added.

Last year the Metropolitan police said it did not know how many elected politicians it was currently monitoring, after it was revealed that it had logged the political activities of Jenny Jones, the Green party’s sole peer, and a Green party councillor in Kent on a secretive database.

May ordered the public inquiry after a string of revelations about the conduct of undercover officers who infiltrated political groups for more than 40 years. The officers routinely formed sexual relationships with women they had been sent to spy on. The remit of the inquiry, which is to be led by Lord Justice Pitchford, has yet to be defined.

Livingstone, former MP for Brent East and former mayor of London, said he backed the idea of an inquiry covering surveillance of MPs but said this would probably only be serious under an Ed Miliband government.

He said: “I wish I could have been a threat when I was an MP but I was completely powerless. My phone was being bugged in the 80s when I was on the Greater London Council. MI5 always denied it was them. So this was done by special branch?

“Did they think we were a threat to the western system? If only this were true. What a load of crap. What’s so ridiculous is that we were being subjected to IRA bombings right the way through that period and they were wasting officers spying on me and Tony Benn. It’s a complete waste of police resources. People like me and Tony Benn were sadly never a threat to capitalism because we never had the powers. I’d love to see the files. My kids would love to see the files. They’re most likely full of rubbish.”

Hain said the public should know whether covert surveillance hindered the MPs’ ability to represent their constituents and speak confidentially with them.

He said that when he was Northern Ireland secretary between 2005 and 2007, undercover operations to defeat terrorism and serious crime were vital. “But conflating serious crime with political dissent unpopular with the state at the time means travelling down a road that endangers the liberty of us all.”

Ruddock, the MP for Lewisham Deptford, described the news as “utterly appalling” and and “affront to parliament”.

She said: “It is a surprise and I think it is absolutely outrageous. The MI5 surveillance of me in the 80s had no justification whatsoever, was found to be illegal. The idea that it could carry on without even the pretext that I was involved in CND when I was a member of parliament is completely and utterly outrageous.”

Ruddock said she has written to May today demanding answers and would write again to whoever was the new home secretary after the election. She has also submitted a request to the police to see the file held on her and wants to know whether the Conservative political leadership of the day authorised the operation.

May has promised that the remit of the public inquiry will be drawn up in consultation with people who were spied upon.

Francis said: “My question is: how can people help formulate this public inquiry if they didn’t actually know they were spied upon? By me revealing that these MPs were also spied upon the same as many trade union members, countless law-abiding political activists and demonstrators also were, they can all demand to be included in the inquiry.”

A Met police spokesman said an internal police inquiry, Operation Herne, was unable to fully investigate claims by Francis as he has been unwilling to speak to the inquiry.

The spokesman said the Met had not shied away from issues raised by Operation Herne and another inquiry. “Whilst talking openly about undercover policing is challenging because of its very nature, the upcoming inquiry represents a real opportunity to provide the public with as complete a picture as possible of what has taken place,” he added.

Two SDS undercover officers previously spied on Hain in the 1960s and 1970s when he campaigned against apartheid and racism before becoming the MP for Neath in 1991.

Rob Evans and Rowena Mason
Wednesday 25 March 2015 18.13 GMT Last modified on Thursday 26 March 2015 00.40 GMT

Find this story at 25 March 2015

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