Trade unions tell ‘spycops’ inquiry they were spied on by police over decades. Confidential files reveal more.

Police blacklisting
Tom Coburg

Trade unions told the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI) that they were spied upon by police over four decades. Leaked and confidential documents back that claim and reveal far more.

Infiltration

In a submission to the UCPI on behalf of several trade unions, lord Hendy QC provided examples of unions spied on:

Peter Francis, an undercover police officer who served in the SDS [Special Demonstration Squad] from 1993-1997, has said that he carried out covert surveillance of members of the National Union of Teachers (now the NEU), the CWU, the FBU and UNISON. Another undercover officer, Mark Jenner (‘Cassidy’) posed as a joiner to become a member of UCATT in 1996-1998. Senior union officers, many now retired or dead (such as Ken Cameron, former General Secretary of the FBU) believed that they were spied upon by undercover police officers. Some of the women Core Participants [to the UCPI] who were subject to relationships with undercover police were active trade unionists. For example, we understand that Helen Steel was a UNISON safety rep and sat on a UNISON national committee. Donna McLean was a TGWU shop steward working in the homelessness sector. ‘Alison’ was a NUT representative in Islington.

Unite the Union claims that undercover police officers with the SDS spied on trade unionists “for four decades”. The union also claims that in regard to the prosecution of building workers resulting from picketing at a Shrewsbury building site in 1972:

a combination of the government, security forces and the police conspired to frame the pickets on trumped up charges.

Special Branch was also active in the 1986/87 print workers strike at Wapping and the 1976/78 Grunwick strike.

Blacklisting

Hendy also referred to blacklisting (see above video) and the blacklisting agency the Economic League (EL) and its successor the Consulting Association (CA) and their links:

with the police and how confidential information was passed between both sides. There is clear evidence that information found on the files of blacklisted construction workers can only have been obtained from the police or the security forces.

Consequently, trade unions now seek from the inquiry :

police files, minutes, memos and emails relating to it and all other contacts between the police and the Economic League (and subsequently The Consulting Association), and the identity of the officers from and to whom information was passed.

UCPI ignoring the obvious

Unite’s assistant general secretary for legal affairs Howard Beckett observed:

It is increasingly evident that the police and various blacklisting organisations, including the Economic League and the Consulting Association, were intertwined with information being passed both ways

But solicitors who sought evidence that Special Branch spied on trade unions were told by the UCPI:

We do not hold Special Branch Registry Files and are not investigating Special Branch interest in trades unions – only reporting on them by SDS undercover officers, according to the Inquiry’s terms of reference.

However, Michael Noar, director general of the EL 1986-89, famously stated:

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’.

Noar added:

In the course of discussions, there is an exchange of information just in the ordinary course of talking.

Leaked documents

Indeed, a leaked Economic League report, marked ‘Strictly Private and Confidential’, highlights possible collusion with Special Branch that goes back decades, as this extract shows:

Economic League document

Spies At Work author and League Watch co-founder* Mike Hughes pointed out:

The Economic League’s blacklisting overlapped with the state’s domestic intelligence services. The most clear cut example of this common ground would be in MI5… We know, definitely that in the years before the Second World War the League supplied and received information from Special Branch and Naval Intelligence and that during the General Strike it was reporting to the Prime Minister.

Furthermore, a March 2018 letter by deputy assistant commissioner Richard Martin referred to a 2014 report, known as Operation Reuben, that “concluded on 14th February 2016″. The redacted report, marked “official sensitiveand “for the commissioners eyes only”, examined whether the SDS passed on intelligence to the CA.

Controversially for the police the report unequivocally stated that Special Branch and police collusion with blacklisting agencies was “proven”:

Operation Reuben

Indeed, Martin added how:

Sections of the policing community throughout the UK had both overt and covert contact with external organization, including the Economic League.

“Direct contact”

The Reuben report also confirmed that UK Special Branches were in contact with EL:

Operation Reuben

The reference to NETCU – National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit – concerned a meeting attended by detective chief inspector Gordon Mills. In November 2014, Labour MP John McDonnell wrote to then home secretary Theresa May referring to that meeting and:

a handwritten note taken by the late Mr Ian Kerr, chief executive of the Consulting Association, of a meeting organised by the Consulting Association and addressed by Detective Chief Inspector Gordon Mills from the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NECTU)

Kerr’s largely illegible note records Mills reportedly saying “Cos [companies] need to have strong vetting procedures in place”:

Ian Kerr note

No hiding place

In 2013, the Independent Police Complaints Commission stated it was likely that “all special branches were involved in providing information” for blacklisting purposes. In 2018, The Canary reported that the Met admitted to collusion in the blacklisting of workers. David Clancy, investigations manager for the Information Commissioner’s Office, also claimed “there is information on the Consulting Association files that I believe could only be supplied by the police or the security services”.

The trade unions’ statement to the UCPI alleging police collusion with blacklisting agencies was presented the same day that the National Union of Mineworkers accused MI5 of helping sabotage the 1984-5 strike. Clearly, there is far more to reveal.

Featured image via YouTube

*Author of this article was also a co-founder of League Watch.

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