Gordon Mills, a former Chief Inspector with the now defunct National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU), is suing the GMB trade union. He claims [pdf] that the GMB made libellous comments regarding a meeting he attended in 2008 with The Consulting Association (TCA).
TCA, run by Ian Kerr (who died in December 2012), specialised in blacklisting – whereby people were denied work because of their politics or union activism. 3,213 people were placed on the TCA list, which was used by at least 44 construction companies including Balfour Beatty, Laing O’Rourke and Sir Robert McAlpine. Once on the blacklist, workers were either unable to find employment or were quickly dismissed once employed.
Many have long suspected that the police, particularly undercover police officers, shared information with blacklisting organisations. Now, ‘insider’ evidence has come to light that only raises more questions about the level and purpose of police liaison with vetting agencies.
The defamation claim by Mills
In his court submission [pdf], Mills begins (section 3) by describing NETCU as “devoted to the reduction and removal of the threat to companies, organisations, and individuals and to public order from criminal acts of violence, harassment, and intimidation by domestic extremism groups and individuals”.
He then quotes (page 5) from a GMB article (page 5 of the submission), which states that the meeting at Woodstock was attended by representatives of several major construction companies, including Vinci, Amex, SIAS Building Services, Skanska, Sir Robert McAlpine and Emcor. On page 6 of the submission, Mills quotes the GMB as saying that NETCU had “established links” to TCA – something Mills denies. (NB: Here’s Ian Kerr’s handwritten note listing TCA main contacts.)
Mills adds that the GMB article referred to an interview with Ian Kerr released in a January 2013 article [paywall] in The Times (which Mills is not suing for defamation). In that interview, Kerr talked of “dealings” with NETCU and a “key officer”, and also about how TCA had established links with the “police and security services”. Significantly, Kerr added:
They were seeking a channel to inform construction companies [of the information] they were collecting [and] they were waiting to be able to feed it out to the companies.
He also said a “two-way information exchange” had been opened.
Mills denies the claims made by the GMB and argues:
Both the nature and purpose of the meeting [at Woodstock] and my role in it have been misunderstood.
Evidence of an ‘insider’
The High Court will rule on the specifics of this case in due course, though it’s not yet clear if it will examine the wider picture, too. In this regard, the GMB refers in its defence submission [pdf] (page 4) to what it calls the “Public Interest” – in particular, the role of political policing in Britain generally (page 5 onwards).
But there are other aspects that are not referred to by either party.
Here is an extract of sworn testimony to the High Court, from January 2016, by Ian Kerr’s wife Mary:
(NB: Carillion is a construction company and was a TCA client.)
The ‘smoking gun’?
There were notes made about the Woodstock meeting by Kerr, a copy of which was leaked to John McDonnell MP. According to an article in The Guardian, these notes (which The Guardian had seen) confirmed names of attendees. The article also states the notes suggested Mills attended the meeting to explain about police efforts to fight domestic extremism and that he was available to “to liaise with industry”.
The notes, under the sub-heading ‘Gathering Information’, also recorded Mills as saying “‘Cos [companies] need to have strong vetting procedures in place”.
Here, published for the first time, is a leaked copy of these notes [pdf]. Below is an extract [highlights added]:
There are many examples of how, on retirement, Britain’s political police go on to advise the security or employment vetting industries. Here are just two:
- Mills’ NECTU boss was Superintendent Steve Pearl, who (after leaving the police) went on to be a director of vetting specialists Agenda Security Services, which boasts that its staff includes “teams of ex-police, ex-military, desktop researchers and security analysts”.
- Steve Pearl’s boss, Assistant Chief Constable Anton Setchell, ended up as the security head for construction company Laing O’Rourke, which was a client of TCA.
The notes made of the Woodstock meeting raise more questions about the role of Britain’s police and their links to industry. And this is more relevant than ever, given the Pitchford Inquiry into undercover policing and the disquiet raised as a consequence.
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Featured image via Dave Crosby/Flickr