Bill Lewis (alias)

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This article is part of the Undercover Research Portal at Powerbase - investigating corporate and police spying on activists



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undercover police officers
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Alias: William Paul 'Bill' Lewis
Deployment: 1968-1969
Unit:
Targets:
Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, International Marxist Group

William Paul "Bill" Lewis is the alias of a Special Demonstration Squad undercover police officer. He was one of their first undercover officers, infiltrating the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign and International Marxist Group in London in 1968-1969. As such he is a contemporary of Conrad Dixon and fellow undercovers John Graham (HN329) and 'HN330' who both also infiltrated the Vietnam Solidarity Group.

For the purposes of the Undercover Policing Inquiry and Operation Herne he is designated by the cipher 'HN321' / 'N321'.

Note from Undercover Research Group: if anyone recalls 'Bill Lewis' from his time in the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign please get in touch. We appreciate that these events took place 50 years ago, so welcome corrections on how we have portrayed the history of the organisations mentioned.

Targets

The Vietnam Solidarity Campaign was a broad-church alliance across the left, it was firmly embedded in a Trotskyist milieu.[1] Though relatively small in comparison to other such groups, the International Marxist Group was an influential organisation within this milieu and was instrumental in founding the VSC. Many of its leading members played leading roles in the VSC, both publicly and behind the scenes, at the time of Bill Lewis's infiltration. In particular, Tariq Ali, a figurehead of the 1968 demonstrations, was an IMG member.

As yet it has not been possible to identify specifics with regards his infiltration within these two groups.

International Marxist Group

Cover of Issue 13 of the Black Dwarf newspaper, 27 October 1968 (via Marxists.org).

The International Marxist Group (IMG) originated in Nottingham, splitting from the Revolutionary Socialist League (later Militant, then the Socialist Party) in the 1960s, due to political differences around the Fourth International (an international socialist organisation following the work of Trotsky). Initially named the International Group (1961), it became the International Marxists Group in 1968. In the 1960s it had focused on a policy of entryism in the Labour Party, but this approach was discarded in 1970, as the group took up more radical positions.

Though small, the IMG is noted as a highly dynamic organisation, which played an active role in political campaigns of the day, particularly the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign. For a while in 1967/68, the VSC shared the office space of the IMG on Toynbee Street, London.

The IMG also backed other international solidarity campaigns, such as those with Cuba and South Africa. At the time of Bill Lewis' interest in the organisation, its members were prominent in the Russell / International War Crimes Tribunal, Revolutionary Socialist Students Federation and the Institute for Workers' Control. It also had close ties with the influential New Left Review.[2][3][4]

As a group, the IMG was a 'cadre' organisation, which had high requirements of its membership. One did not simply sign up, but first had to become a "candidate member". Before progressing to full membership, the candidate was expected to have undergone education and to show appropriate commitment.

It appears that in 1968 there was only one branch in London. However, it organised discussion groups and reading circles, which were open to any to attend, as well as numerous front groups working on a grassroots level. It is likely that 'Bill Lewis' would have associated himself to one of these outer circles organised by IMG in London.[5][6][7][8]

Vietnam Solidarity Campaign

Pathe News report of March 1968 Grosvenor Square protests.
World In Action report of March 1968 Grosvenor Square protests.

The Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (VSC), which opposed the United States' role in the Vietnam War, was founded in 1966 by members of the International Marxists Group, working in conjunction with the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation. They were subsequently joined by activists from the International Socialists, another Trotskyist faction (later known as the Socialist Workers Party, and subsequently targeted by undercover police in its own right) as well as Maoists and anarchists.[9]

Though created and led by Trotskyists, the VSC attracted a broad following from across the political left-wing and was particularly successful in linking up with the prominent radical student movement of 1967 to 1969, as well as peace / anti-nuclear campaigners.[10][11] As an organisation, it was loosely structured as a whole, often working through 'ad hoc committees', which co-ordinated local branches and their activities in given areas. It did however have a national committee which set national strategy. The campaign declined rapidly in 1969, and in October that year, the coalition effectively disintegrated over political differences in relation to the Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh.[12]

In terms of its activities, the VSC is most notable for organising several mass demonstrations against the war, particularly in 1967 and 1968 which attracted up to 100,000 protestors at a time.[13] One such demonstration was the protest of 17th March 1968, which saw the now infamous 'Grosvenor Square riots' take place, when a segment of the marchers sought to occupy the US embassy leading to clashes with police.[14] This caused huge political embarrassment to the UK Labour Government under Harold Wilson, and as a consequence lead to the creation of the Special Demonstration Squad with the Metropolitan Police Special Branch.

However, even prior to the founding of the SDS, police files from the time show the campaign was actively monitored, including the Metropolitan Police Special Branch requesting information from other forces and compiling reports on its plans and protests. In particular, a number of documents indicate their considerable interest in the VSC's "Autumn Offensive" - the name for the large scale demonstration of 27th October 1968.[15] Much of this work was overseen by Det. Ch. Insp. Conrad Dixon who had responsibility for monitoring Trotskyists and anarchists on behalf of Special Branch at the time.[16] It was also Dixon who in September 1968 founded the undercover unit, later known as the Special Demonstration Squad, which deployed HN321 as 'Bill Lewis' into the VSC.

  • A detailed review of what is known Special Branch's monitoring and infiltration of the Vietnam Solidarity Group can be found under the profile for John Graham and will not be repeated here.

Undercover activities

Cover of Issue 11 of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign Bulletin, February 1968.

According to the August 2017 'minded-to' note of UCPI chair John Mitting:[17]

HN321 is now in his 70s. He was deployed against two groups which no longer exist, for one year, between September 1968 and September 1969. There is not and has never been any known allegation of misconduct against him.

While the open version of a document prepared by the Metropolitan Police (for the Undercover Policing Inquiry) stated:[18]

N321 received no training and no pyschometric testing. N321 was told that N321 needed to gather intelligence, but the senior officers left it to the squad members to work out their own approach. There was no particular methodology advocated by officers and N321 simply used whatever techniques looked the most promising. To a certain extend the approach had to be tailored to the group that were to be penetrated. (para. 3.3)
He did not use the identity of a dead child. (para 4.4)

The dates of the infiltration make it very likely he was among the first group of undercovers deployed by the nascent SDS.

A UCPI press release of 5 October 2017 wrote:[19]

HN321 was deployed as a member of the Special Operations Squad in 1968 – 1969. He had the cover name “William Paul Lewis”, although he has said that he was known simply as “Bill”. He may have been encountered by individuals involved with the International Marxist Group or the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign in London at that time.

We have not yet ascertained the nature of the interaction the undercover had with his target groups, so it is not possible at this stage to provide an indication of the extent to which he gained knowledge of their internal working and operations or became close to leading members.

He stated to the risk assessor that:[18]

I believe that at all times I acted faithfully, professionally and in accordance with my instructions from senior officers. I did nothing dishonourable, other than to maintain the necessary subterfuge of a secret identify. (para. 14.1)

Undercover Policing Inquiry

Restriction order applications

HN321 was among the first tranche of officers to be considered for restriction orders by the Undercover Policing Inquiry.[20] As such, the Metropolitan Police applied for a restriction order on both his cover and real names.[21] This was supported by a personal statement by HN321,[22] supplementary submissions[23] and a MPS risk assessment.[18]

The Inquiry chair, John Mitting, issued a 'Minded-To' note on 5 August 2017, in which he indicated that he was considering releasing the cover name but restrict the undercover officer's real name, stating:[17]

[HN321] undertook the role of an undercover officer on the understanding that his identity would be kept secret. He is concerned about possible media interest if his real identity were to be revealed. He is, in particular, concerned about the impact on his wife, also in her 70s. His concerns are not irrational. In the unlikely event that disclosure of his cover name, which can be made, prompts evidence from one or more members of the target groups it will not be enhanced by disclosure of his real name. It is likely that disclosure of his real name would prompt intense and unwelcome media interest in him and so would give rise to serious interference with his and his family’s right to respect for their private life under Article 8 of the European Convention which would not be justifiable under Article 8(2). Closed reasons accompany this note.

In their personal witness statement, HN321 wrote:[22]

The Special Branch was a covert entity and while the public knew it existed, its activities were secret. My understanding when I joined the Special Branch was that I was not to discuss its activities outside of the service and my expectation of the Branch was that my identity would also be kept secret. I recall that at the Induction presentation into the Branch that we were warned that we would have access to secret information that we were not to reveal to anyone outside of the Police or to even acknowledge that we were members of the Special Branch. This seemed entirely reasonable to me and for nearly fifty years I have kept faith with that understanding.

He also told risk assessors:[18]

My greatest concern is for the welfare of my family if my identity details are revealed during the Inquiry... I do not believe that [my partner] will cope well with the stress caused by possible media intrusion... My only concern is that with the publication of my name and details, I will be subject to intense media scrutiny. I can imagine the delight of the local media. The result will be reporters, cameras, and other media camped on my doorstep demanding that I give them an interview, preferably an exclusive, or comment which they can publish. It is also likely that it will affect my employment.

Relating to the risk to HN321, the risk assessors stated:[18]

There is no risk from the [group(s)] N321 infiltrated. N321 considers that most of the people N321 was closest to will no longer present a risk. I have not identified any individual who I think would provide an ongoing physical risk to N321 or N321's family. (para. 16.1)

Following the publishing of Mitting's Minded-To note of 3 August 2017, the Metropolitan Police withdrew their application to restrict HN321's cover name, leading it to being published on 5 October 2017, though the application to restrict his real name remained in place.[24]

HN321 is not a core participant in the Undercover Policing Inquiry and his interests are being represented by the Metropolitan Police Service's 'designated lawyers' team.

Police line of command

John Waldron, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Deputy Commissioner, he acceded on the sudden death of his predecessor Joseph Simpson on 20 March 1968.[25]

  • Ch. Supt. A[rthur][28] Cunningham. Name appears as signing a number of Special Branch reports submitted by Conrad Dixon in 1968,[15] though he is seemingly replaced by 3rd October that year by an Acting Chief Superintendent.[1]
  • Det. Ch. Insp. Conrad Dixon, founding head of the Special Demonstration Squad, 1968 onward.


Special Branch reports from 1968, authored by Conrad Dixon and under the authority of Ch. Supt. A. Cunningham, were regularly submitted to one J. M. Clift of F.4 Division in the Home Office.[15] In later years, F.4 is listed as having responsibility for overseeing counter-terrorism and related matters.

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Conrad Dixon, VSC "Autumn Offensive" (weekly report), Metropolitan Police Special Branch, 3 October 1968 (accessed via SpecialBranchFiles.UK).
  2. International Marxist Group, Wikipedia, undated (accessed 19 October 2017).
  3. Steve Cohen, Pat Jordan (1928–2001), Revolutionary History, No.3, Vol.8, 2003 (accessed 19 October 2017 via Marxist.org).
  4. Ernest Tate, On the Secret Internal Police Reports about the 1968 mobilizations against the Vietnam war in in London, England (Letter from Ernest Tate to Solomon Hughes of 27 May 2008, Marxsite.com (accessed 22 August 2017).
  5. Mike Martin, Guest post: A short account of the International Marxist Group, RevolutionaryHistory.co.uk, 17 December 2015 (accessed 19 October 2017).
  6. Robert Jackson Alexander, International Trotskyism, 1929-1985: A Documented Analysis of the Movement, Duke University Press, 1991.
  7. Lucy Robinson, Gay Men and the Left in Post-war Britain: How the Personal Got Political, Manchester University Press, 2013.
  8. The International Marxist Group and the SWP Crisis, Tendance Coatsey (blog), 4 March 2013 (accessed 19 October 2017).
  9. Ian H. Birchall, History of the International Socialists – Part 2: Towards a Revolutionary Party, International Socialism77 (1st series), April 1975 (accessed via Marxists.de, 8 August 2017).
  10. Ernest Tate & Phil Hearse, The Building of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign and its Consequences for the British Left, paper presented at the Left Before 1968 conference, University of East Anglia, February 2016 (accessed via Marxsite.org, 8 August 2017).
  11. Theresa van Geldern, Vietnam Solidarity: The determination to resist and the confidence to win, Socialist Outlook, May/June 1988.
  12. Bruce Robinson, 1968: Vietnam solidarity and the British left, WorkersLiberty.org (Alliance for Workers Liberty), 20 March 2008 (accessed 8 August 2017).
  13. Anthony O. Edmonds, The Viet Nam War and the British Student Left: A Study in Political Symbolism, Vietnam Generation: A Journal of Recent History and Contemporary Issues, Issue 5 (14), 1994 (accessed 8 August 2017).
  14. 1968: Anti-Vietnam demo turns violent, BBC News Online ('On This Day'), 2008 (accessed 6 August 2017).
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Anti Vietnam war – files overview, SpecialBranchFiles.uk, undated (accessed 10 August 2017).
  16. Conrad Dixon (obituary), The Times, 28 April 1994 (accessed via SpecialBranchFiles.UK).
  17. 17.0 17.1 John Mitting, Applications for restriction orders in respect of the real and cover names of officers of the Special Operations Squad and the Special Demonstrations Squad ‘Minded to’ note, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 3 August 2017 (accessed 5 Oct 2017 via UCPI.org.uk).
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 David Reid, N321 - Risk Assessment - Gisted, Metropolitan Police Service, 31 May 2017 (accessed 5 August 2017 via UCPI.org.uk.
  19. Undercover Policing Inquiry, Press Notice: No cover name anonymity sought in respect of HN321, UCPI.org.uk, 5 October 2017 (accessed 10 October 2017).
  20. Christopher Pitchford, Order pursuant to the ruling of 2 May 2017 granting an extension of time for service of anonymity applications by the Metropolitan Police Service in respect of the Special Demonstration Squad, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 18 May 2017.
  21. Application for a restriction Order (Anonymity) re: HN321, Metropolitan Police Service, 26 July 2017 (accessed 5 August 2017 via UCPI.org.uk).
  22. 22.0 22.1 'HN321', HN321 Open personal statement, Metropolitan Police Service, 30 March 2017 (accessed 5 August 2017 via UCPI.org.uk).
  23. Oliver Sanders, QC Notice of supplementary submissions on behalf of HN321, HN300, HN330 and HN343 in support of MPS restriction order applications, Metropolitan Police Service, 17 July 2017 (accessed 5 August 2017 via UCPI.org.uk).
  24. Press Notice: No cover name anonymity sought in respect of HN321, Undercover Policing Inquiry,, 5 October 2017 (accessed 10 October 2017 via UCPI.org.uk).
  25. See Wikipedia articles: Joseph Simpson & John Waldon (police officer) for further details & sources. Accessed 10 August 2017.
  26. Peter Brodie (police officer), Wikipedia, 2017 (accessed 10 August 2017).
  27. Obituary: Ferguson Smith, The Telegraph, 2013 (accessed 10 August 2017).
  28. Tentative identification of first name only based on material from the Wilson & Adams history of Special Branch (see page 240).