Canary Workers’ Co-op Canary Workers’ Co-op

Britain’s political police had a file on Alexei Sayle. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Alexei Sayle

Actor and comedian Alexei Sayle was informed by a lawyer via email that he was named in a document by Special Branch (SB), Britain’s political police. In a podcast, Sayle discusses this matter further. Documents show that other well-known figures are named too.

The revelation shines a light on the sinister activities of undercover policing which took place over decades and are still a part of our lives.

Sayle had a Special Branch file

In his podcast, Sayle and lawyer Paul Heron discuss how the actor is named in an SB document. That document now forms part of the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI). Heron is a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) and represents a number of core participants to the inquiry.

Heron tells Sayle that Sayle was of interest to SB because of a gig he did in 1982 in support of the Right To Work campaign. He also says that an SB file was opened on Sayle.

The podcast also features Helen Steel, who is an activist and core participant in the UCPI. Steel goes on to explain how she was targeted by ‘John Barker’. His real name is John Dines, an undercover police officer with the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), which was a “Special Branch Unit established in the late 1960s” and a unit of the Met police.

Dines formed a sexual relationship with Steel so as to provide cover for his surveillance ops.

Read on...

The Sayle document

The formerly classified SB document, now lodged with the UCPI, that names Sayle is stamped ‘Box 500’, the informal name for MI5. The document is a report into a planned Right To Work Campaign march and picketing over five days in London.

The document lists Sayle as part of the entertainment on the fourth night. It mentions Sayle again with others – including Attila The Stockbroker (a punk poet) – on the last two pages.

From the Beatles to ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ to CoE General Synod

Another SB document concerned the planning by London co-ordinators of the Troops Out Movement (TOM) for a rally. According to a submission by PILC, TOM argued:

that the withdrawal of the British military from Northern Ireland was an essential precursor to peace. They argued that the bombings, the sectarian murders, the carnage that blighted the lives of the people of Northern Ireland and Britain would not end until the British troops were out.

The SB document mentions that speakers invited to the rally included musician John Lennon and actor Peter O’Toole. It added, however, that Lennon declined the offer and O’Toole did not reply.

Yet another SB document concerns events in the north of Ireland. In this document, it’s noted that the reverend Paul Oestreicher agreed to participate in any “anti-recruitment campaign undertaken by the Troops Out Movement”. Oestreicher is a peace activist and member of the General Synod of the Church of England.

Others on MI5’s radar

Separately, former MI5 officer Annie Machon stated that individuals “worthy of MI5 investigation” included:

John Lennon, Jack Straw MP, Ted Heath MP, Tam Dalyell MP, Gareth Peirce (solicitor), Jeremy Corbyn MP, Mike Mansfield (barrister), Geoffrey Robertson (barrister), Patricia Hewitt MP, Harriet Harman MP,  Garry Bushell (journalist), Peter Mandelson (European commissioner), Peter Hain MP, Clare Short MP, Mark Thomas (comedian), Mo Mowlam (politician), Arthur Scargill (NUM leader, who famously had his own recording category: unaffiliated subversive)

Lennon had file too

A certain ‘Rick Gibson’ was referred to in the document about TOM. Gibson’s real name was Richard Clark – full name detective constable Richard Layton Clark. He was with the SDS and is now deceased.

Clark’s undercover work was audacious: to gain credibility, he set up and ran a branch of TOM. Furthermore, he “encouraged and organised demonstrations, such as the picketing of the local Woolwich barracks and the homes of local MPs”.

Clark also had sexual relationships with at least two women activists, including ‘Mary’, to provide cover for his surveillance operations. He eventually took up a position on TOM’s National Secretariat.

In the same document, Lennon is again mentioned, and this time it’s stated there was an SB file on him.

Consequences

Clark went on to infiltrate Big Flame, but his false identity was revealed by activists.

The UCPI released a September 1982 SB report which also referred to a list of TOM subscribers who went on to become members. It was signed off by chief superintendent “HN68” (Sean Lynch) and copied to Box 500.

UCO “HN96” (aka Michael James) also infiltrated TOM and the Socialist Workers Party. He went on to become TOM’s membership and affiliation secretary.

In a submission by Heron and other lawyers to the UCPI, there’s evidence to show that a TOM branch member who wasn’t an undercover operative was possibly blacklisted. This branch member, Richard Chessum, was unable to obtain employment despite his qualifications.

SB collusion on blacklisting

The Economic League was an agency, funded by businesses, to hold files on workers so they can be blacklisted (deprived of work, usually because of trade union activism).

A leaked Economic League (EL) report, marked ‘Strictly Private and Confidential’, highlights the League’s collusion with SB going 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.

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

Operation Reuben

In 2013, the Independent Police Complaints Commission confirmed it was likely that “all special branches were involved in providing information” for blacklisting purposes. And in 2018, Met police admitted to collusion in the blacklisting of workers.

This celebrity was jailed then blacklisted

It’s also known that the SDS spied on trade union activists over decades.

Indeed, another celebrity who, in a previous life, was targeted by the police for picketing and was subsequently blacklisted was actor/comedian Ricky Tomlinson. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

In February 2021, The Canary reported on evidence that showed collusion between a Foreign Office funded research agency, MI5, a TV documentary producer and prime minister Edward Heath to ensure the conviction of Tomlinson and other pickets.

Not just history

In 2014, it was estimated by the police watchdog that 1,200 undercover police officers had been operating across England and Wales. Also, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary revealed that a massive 3,466 undercover operations had taken place between 2009 and 2013 alone.

More recently, the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) Act, which passed into law in 2021, controversially authorises sources to commit criminal acts in certain circumstances.

We are seeing history repeat itself, and the dark, sinister forces of the state and its agents in the police have not gone away.

Featured image via Flickr Commons / Chris Boland;CC BY-SA 2.0 license; cropped to 770×403 pixels

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

We’re a thorn in the side of the establishment, but we can’t do it without your help

Your fight is our fight. But as many of you will know, speaking truth to power has never been easy, especially for a small, independent media outlet such as the Canary. We have weathered many attempts to silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media. Now more than ever, we need your support.

We don’t have fancy offices, and our entire staff works remotely. Almost all of our income is spent on paying the people who make the Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our team and enables us to continue to do what we do: disrupt power, and amplify people.

But we can’t do this without you. So please, if you appreciate our work, can you help us continue the fight?

Canary Workers’ Co-op Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. They would make a useful coalition I feel, all those who have been spied on by the deep state. Mostly good and decent people with an interest in reforming government in the public interest. Artists, dreamers, and activists, could you do any better?

    2. What is the one thing in common with most of those people? They all want to make the country/world a better place for normal folk to live in. That this goal, apparently, is TOO MUCH SUBVERSION FROM THE NORM for the State, tells you everything you need to know about ACTUAL “British State Values”.

      Recall THAT the next time the media liars start panting for a war to “liberate” some poor brown folk, (and their natural resources).

      “Jack Straw MP, Ted Heath MP, Peter Mandelson (European commissioner), Harriet Harman MP” – Seriously? Did these people just have files to keep in one place all the Establishment arse-licking they did? All of their (blackmailable) corruption?

      Well, I suppose Beria also kept files on loyal members, in case some more ‘leverage’ was ever required. It’s hard to imagine what that group would EVER baulk at – except a decent Welfare service.

      Britain IS a fascist state, with a veneer of liberalism, and a whisp of socialism to prevent Public consciousness.

      I would LOVE to see my own file – of which I definitely have one, if not several. 🙂

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.