Christian Plowman

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



Part of a series on
undercover police officers
Christian Plowman
Christian Plowman(face).jpg
Alias: Christian Gregorevich Sulyenko / Kristoforas Starszewski / Christopher Percival-Jones
Deployment: 2008-2011
Unit:
Targets:
organised crime, petty crime

Christian Plowman (born 1973, Portsmouth) is a former police officer who served undercover against organised crime. Following his retirement from the police he wrote a book about his experiences and established a firm UJI Covert Solutions, which offers undercover policing services, including to NGOs. In 2016 he joined Interpol, serving in Kenya.[1]

Police Career

Plowman joined Metropolitan Police in June 1995[2] having dropped out of Slavonic & East European Studies course at University College London after his first year there.[3] He then carried out uniformed & CID duties in central London, where he was involved in covert surveillance against 'professional criminals. Having moved into becoming a specialist undercover officer, he left the police after 16 years service following disillusionment with what he was doing (see below),[4] resigning circa April / May 2011.[3] It appears he did not rise above the rank of Detective Constable.[1]

His work on behalf of the police included:[1]

  • Being a test purchaser, and 'undertook hundreds of covert operations purchasing drugs and illicit goods'.
  • Serving with the West End based Hotel Crime Unit.[3] As part of this he was instrumental in the apprehension and conviction of conman Juan Carlos Guzman Betancourt (Betancur).[5][6][7][8]
  • Establishing the Westminster Drugs Intelligence Unit, which included running covert operations against drug suppliers and working with the Crown Prosecution Service.
  • Serving with the Marine Policing Unit.[3]
  • Being involved in the policing around the 18 June 1999 and MayDay 2000 protests in London as a uniformed officer.[9]
  • While part of crime squad, working with the SO7 unit as part of 'Red Team' for Operation Yabloki, where specialist detectives targeted high-crime areas in central London, particularly Soho; Yabloki was principally run by a detective sergeant called Craig. Plowman was responsible for evidence gathered by Test Purchasing Officers - one of whom was Mark Kennedy, who worked along with another TPO called 'Scotty.[10]

As an undercover officer

His undercover work began when he worked as a Test Purchasing Officer (TPO) in the Metropolitan Police, and it was there that he met fellow TPO Mark Kennedy, who would later go on to infiltrate environmentalists.[9]

Having passed the National Undercover training course (NUTAC)[1] in 2008, he started doing undercover work with the joined the MPS's specialist undercover unit SO10 (later part of Covert Policing Command / SCD10) and was one of its ten full time undercover officers.[4] (This number would not include the 12 or so undercover officers who worked for the Special Demonstration Squad within Special Branch.) He also passed the Enhanced Source Management Course and Source Development Course.[1]

(The chronology of his undercover work is uncertain. It appears that he began engaging in undercover work in November 2008, but full time only in 2011.[2])

In SCD10, Plowman was attached to its Source Development Unit, being 'selected to work on the full-time undercover unit, targeting community-centric organized crime, specifically drugs and firearms supply'. His work there included:[1]

  • 'Identification, cultivation, recruitment and management of very high level criminal informants, using multitudes of covert resources and techniques';
  • training in recruiting and managing informants;
  • undertaking numerous covert operations.

In an interview he revealed that he would be involved in a number of operations at once, including those of an international nature involving undercovers from other countries:[11]

  • He created the identity of one Christian Gregorevich Sulyenko, a supposed Rusian arms and drugs supplier, in order to investigate a Russian mafia gang.[3] This saw him inventing a dead Russian family and acquiring tattooes.[12][11]
  • Another identity he formed was Kristoforas Starszewski, a supposed criminal mastermind who dealt in stolen goods across several continents. This alias was used to target a Kosovan drug smuggling gang.
  • Christopher Percival-Jones was a persona of a successful recruitment consultant who also dealt drugs; used to target a casino conman suspected of having arranged a murder.
  • Infiltrating a pub wrongly-believed to be a base for gun and drugs running, the operation saw him doing drink-driving (this appears to have been in Essex and part of his Sulyenko operation[3]).
  • Posing as a crack-addict to expose a barber shop fronting for drug-dealers.
  • Posing as a paedophile to catch a child sex offender.
  • Posing as a wealthy businessman to lure a gang of violent thieves into stealing his laptop; during the course of the robbery he was assaulted.
  • Being held at gunpoint as part of a ruse to arrest a man selling a sawn-off shotgun.

In a 2015 interview he speaks of a long standing friendship with a fellow undercover officer, Adrian Westfield, who he had been partnered with, and how they had influenced each others approaches and styles regarding undercover activities.[13]

Operation Gemini

Operation Gemini was a covert policing operation which established a shop staffed by undercover police to entrap individuals engaged in low level crime. From January 2011 to May 2012, a pawnbrokers called TJ's Trading Post on Cricklewood Lane, NW2 functioned to gather intelligence on burglery in the borough of Barnet. . Following the closure of the shop, 118 people were arrested and charged through-out July and August 2012, with 80 pleading guilty to possession of stolen goods; others were arrested for selling their identity documents.

The operation was authorised under the RIPA by the head of Covert Policing Command for the period, Commanders Peter Spindler (April 2008 - July 2011), then Commander Mark Streater, while the day-to-day management was in the hands of by DCI Iain Raphael and DI Wood.[14][15]

Already disillusioned with undercover policing (see below) Operation Gemini was Plowman's last such job, and he left the police soon after.[11][4]

He wrote of it:[11]

This is f****** ridiculous, I thought. Hundreds of thousands of quid of taxpayers' money, the latest technology, full-time UC officers, and we are buying people’s own passports off them. Even the so-called 'main target', a career burglar, was going out nicking stuff just for us. If we hadn't been there, he wouldn't have nicked the stuff. Simple. This was not what I had joined the Old Bill for and it certainly wasn’t what I expected to be doing on an elite unit.

He later exposed it in his book and gave evidence on behalf of one individual who was appealing his conviction from the sting.[16]

In the Appeal his evidence was summarised by Lady Justice Hallett as:[17]Plowman, known as 'Chris', worked in the shop from March to May 2011, along side other undercover officers, and helped do 'legend building for the operation.

He states that he had ethical concerns about the operation which he felt amounted to tacit encouragement for people to sell and / or steal identity documents. He felt that there was a lack of selective targeting of those from whom the police bought property. He eventually resigned from the police for a number of reasons including his concerns about undercover operations in which he was involved including Gemini.
Initially Mr Plowman, who now lives abroad, refused to return to this country to give evidence because he claimed he was in fear of his former colleagues. The original application was therefore to treat his statement as hearsay. He was eventually prevailed upon to attend at court in person and we heard his evidence de bene esse.

The appeal, based in part on Plowman's evidence (though he had no direct contact with the defendants concerned), which was considered to support the defendants contention that the operation had been unlawful, failed. The Judge called Plowman's evidence 'exaggerated, unreliable and unhelpful', and found against the argument that operation amounted to entrapment.[18][19]

Private security career

From July 2011 to January 2012, he was a 'brand protection' manager for a major company, where his work involved combating counterfeiting of goods, including training of colleagues in safety and surveillance tactics, as well as work on legal cases.[1][20]

In January 2012 he went self-employed as a security consultant, doing surveillance work but also acting as a consultant which included:[1]

  • creation of a 'bespoke covert anti-crime initiative, supervising 10 private security staff, at a major London music venue'
  • consultant to media projects including scriptwriters on a drama series and for a Discovery Channel documentary[21]

He also wrote his autobiography, Crossing the Line in this year (see below).[1]

September 2012 to July 2014 he was once again employed in the corporate sector as a Loss Prevention manager for a major retailer, with charge of the 'Managed Loss Prevention' policy for over 100 stores, and investigation of thefts, internal and external.[1] (This was non-UK based.[4])

By winter 2014 he was a student at Birkbeck College, University of London.[9]

UJI Covert Solutions (2015)

Advert for UJI Covert Solutions, July 2015.

From January to December 2015, Plowman ran his own security consultancy business, UJI Covert Solutions, which 'provid[ed] specialist covert investigative, intelligence and evidence gathering services to industry, commerce, journalists and NGO's'.[1]

For Non-Governmental Organisations, the company website states:[22]

Undercover deployments* for intelligence and evidence acquisition supporting environmental crime, human rights abuses, war crimes and serious bribery and corruption *These services are provided pro bono for some NGOs and charitable organisations subject to availability and negotiation

Much of the services listed on the company website revolve around covert activities, such as test purchases, or short-term covert work; management and security of sources and assistance for investigations, testing of security measures and anti-crime techniques, and intellectual property protection.[23] He also offers training for investigators around surveillance and source management.[24]

He is notable for pushing covert operations as a way of 'simplifying' investigations, etc.[25]

Interpol (2016)

In January 2016, he became an Intelligence Officer, with Interpol in Kenya were he is involved in 'guiding, advising and facilitating multi-agency law enforcement authorities in combating serious organised crime on an international level'.[1][26] It was noted that he took up his job at a time when the US Drug Enforcement Agency was increasing funding in Kenya to combat drug trafficking.[27]

Commentary on undercover policing

On infiltrating political groups and relationships

Plowman has never been involved in infiltrating political groups himself,[28] and he signed the petition to support the women's case against the Metropolitan Police for tricking them into relationships with undercovers. The Police Spies Out of Lives website published his accompying message of support:[29]

I support an individuals freedom to demonstrate, raise awareness and speak freely. I also believe that ‘ordinary’ citizens, committing non-violent acts, non-violent criminal offences or crime at a lower level of the scale should not be targeted, specifically or peripherally by covert policing. Additionally I subscribe to the notion that inidividuals should not be afforded the opportunity to commit alleged crimes by the state. By contrast I also support the tactic of covert policing, when used judiciously, managed and implemented by well-trained, informed and consistent officers, with intrusive independent oversight, and subject to constant independent judicial reviews. I am abhorred by the fact that UC officers were either allowed or encouraged, explicitly or otherwise, to formulate relationships with citizens to infiltrate seemingly innocuous organisations, on behalf of the state. Police officers and their masters need to reassess their priorities, remembering that they are ‘citizens in uniform’, that they police by consent of the public, for the public, and are not the ‘gophers’ or executive arm of the government! I wish you luck in your case.
Christian Plowman

On Mark Kennedy

Plowman has spoken on several occasions about having worked with Mark Kennedy while the latter was a Test Purchasing Officer, including in his book. In one interview he said:[3]

I worked for a couple of months with Mark Kennedy. I thought he was a lovely guy. He was branded a traitor. I was the only person who had a modicum of sympathy for him.

When asked about the Mark Kennedy undercover scandal, and in particular Kennedy's sexual relationships with those he was targeting, Plowman said:[12]

That was quite uncommon in my experience... In some of the longer-term jobs I know that officers would have flings with people, not necessarily those that are targets, but who are on the periphery of the operation. It was never part of the operation.
I don’t agree with it personally, but it happens, albeit not usually to the extent of Mark Kennedy. I worked with Mark and I know what kind of person he is and I’m sure it would have been chewing him up inside.

On asked about the effect of Kennedy's exposure:[12]

There’s a lot less undercover work going on and there’s a lot more supervision. Supervising officers are now very hands-on during operations that at one time they might not have been. There’s a lot of report writing, lots of justification for doing stuff – everything was justified anyway, but I don’t think it was examined in the microscopic manner it is now. I have to say personally I think they’re paying lip service to the inquiries that have been conducted recently.

On changes needed for undercover policing

There should be independent judicial oversight, someone who knows the law but has nothing to do with the Old Bill.
Plowman also believes the Met needs to change its outdated and macho views on mental health. "The force has occupational health support," says Plowman, who claims that the stress of the job drove him to consider suicide. "But there’s still an attitude that if you go to see the shrink, you’re a bit soft."[12]

Plowman was threatened by former colleagues for having gone public (one said they would head-butt Plowman the next time he was in London).[3] "I was getting messages from friends, saying 'Everyone's calling you a traitor. People are going to smash your head in when you come back to London'."[3]

On the stress and welfare policy

Towards the end Plowman felt the stress of managing multiple identities and the heavy requirements it placed on his time was causing him to 'loose the plot' and start behaving recklessly. He was reluctant to seek help as it damaged one's career to be seen to be weak.[3] Eventually he told his SO10 administrator and asked to see a psychologist, but he was continued to be assigned jobs. He stated:[11]

I was surprised going full-time didn’t require an additional selection procedure or further psychological assessment. They should have known that I was having a traumatic time.

He also admitted that he might not have had the qualities needed managing multiple identities in risky situations:[3]

Obviously I didn't have it, or I wouldn't have lost the plot. You have to be really, really disciplined to manage those sorts of situations. Quite often, I'd think I was thrashing above the waves.

Impact on family life

In an interview for the Radio Times in June 2015, Plowman gives an insight into the affect of undercover work on his family life:[12]

The job is brutal on family life," says Plowman, who had two failed relationships during his 16 years under cover with the Metropolitan Police. "It’s a huge pressure keeping secrets from the people you love," he says. "I always say that I don’t blame the job for my relationships breaking down but, if I’m honest, it must have been a factor. You’re using different identities on a daily basis and then you go back to your ‘normal life’. It’s very difficult to adjust.... Lots of people in this job are not leading just double lives – they’re leading quadruple lives. They might have three different identities and then they have to go back to their real home.
That's the thing that annoys me the most," he says with unconcealed bitterness. "I don’t know if it was the nature of the work itself, the amount of time spent away from home or working ridiculous hours, but really I should have devoted more time to my kids.
And I think you’ll find that the vast majority of people who do undercover work, myself included, are the sort of people who, deep down, enjoy the possibility of staring into that abyss. It’s almost like a temptation that’s always there. It’s being able to resist that temptation that marks you out as a decent operative. I think it’s the desire to put yourself in untenable situations. Situations where you’re either uncomfortable or facing down your demons. It’s a very strange desire, but I know it’s there. I think it’s the same sort of impulse experienced by people who like base jumping or flying off mountains. It’s not the same sort of risk, but it’s the same desire to put yourself in danger.

It was the strain of his undercover work that caused him to split up with his first partner, mother to his two sons.[3]

Personal

Danni Brooke, undercover officer and former partner of Christian Plowman.

Born to a teenage mother to an artist father. The family lived in Lewes, Leicester and later Tottenham. His father walked out on the family when Plowman was 13 and later became a well-know sculptor. Christian later won a scholarship to the City of London School (1986-91[30]) and went on to enroll at University College London. However, having dropped out of university he went to France and worked at Disneyland for six months. Returning to London he worked in a series of dead-end jobs until his then girlfriend fell pregnant; as her uncle had served in Royalty Protection, Plowman decided to enlist in the Metropolitan Police.[10]

As a young child, he was taken on a CND demonstration in Hyde Park by his mother, where he threw conkers at the helmets of police.[9]

For a few years, Plowman was the partner of Danielle "Danni" Brooke, a former undercover officer with the Metropolitan Police. She joined the Metropolitan Police in 2003, and was recruited into undercover work in 2005 as the MPS were looking to increase the number of female undercovers. She posed as drug addicts, prostitutes and teenage girls in 'honey trap' operations to capture rapists, paedophiles and drug dealers. When in 2010 she started dating Christian Plowman, they both left the Police and moved to France.[31] They split up early 2014.[28]

She has since worked in private security as an investigator and intelligence specialist, and in March 2014 joined the Channel 4 show 'Hunted' as a 'fugitive hunter'.[32] There she connects to Brett Lovegrove, Peter Bleksley and others with undercover and police intelligence backgrounds.[33]

Education & Awards

  • Birkbeck College, 2014.[1]
  • Fluent in French, and speaks German & Russian. Qualified CELTA English teacher.[1]
  • Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal, July 2001.[1]

Plowman states he supports Amnesty International, Attorneys Without Borders, Human Rights Watch & Kids Company.[1]

Publications

Cover of Christian Plowman's autobiography, 'Crossing the Line', 2013.

Books & Articles

  • Autobiography: 'Crossing the Line: Losing your mind as an undercover cop', Random House (publisher), May 2013.[1]

Lamp and Owl Magazine (student newspaper of Birkbeck College)

  • 'A Cop on Campus', 14 November 2014.[1]
  • 'Anatomy of a Demo', 21 November 2014.[1]. An account 'The People's Assembly Against Austerity' protests of 19 November 2014, where he takes numerous photos of protestors,[34] having gone in the role of an aspiring journalist, and expressing sympathy with the demonstrators to a degree.

Interviews

Contact details

Notes

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 C Plowman, Profile, LinkedIn.com, undated (accessed 18 March 2016).
  2. 2.0 2.1 Extracts from statement of Christian Plowman in the case of R v Palmer, 23 May 2013 (Undercover Research Group have seen partial extracts).
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 Christian Plowman & Charles Bremner, Gangs, Guns and beatings: my life as an undercover cop, The Times (paywall), 19 June 2013.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Mark Townsend, Undercover police 'gave drugs to dealers in return for information', The Guardian, 6 April 2013 (accessed 21 March 2016).
  5. International conman captured at US-Canada border, The Guardian, 30 September 2009 (accessed 20 March 2016).
  6. Cameron Davies, Conman plundered £500,000 from the world's top hotels, The Telegraph, 5 April 2005 (accessed 20 March 2016).
  7. Adrian Humphreys, Con man captured yet again: Swindled over $1M: Was recognized from mugshot in a Dublin cafe, National Post (Canada), 2 July 2005 (accessed via Nexis).
  8. Using many aliases, including Gonzalo Zapater Vives, Juan Carlos Guzman Betancourt worked various cons across the global. A key modus operandi was to target expensive hotels and con his way into the rooms of expensive guests which he would then clean out of valuables. DC Christian Plowman and his colleague DS Andy Swindells had been tracking him since 2001 following a string of robberies, and caught up with him again in 2004 when he returned to London to commit more crimes. At the time Plowman and Swindells are described as being part of the Met's Hotel Crime Unit. For full details see Malcolm Macalister Hall, Juan Carlos Guzman-Betancourt: A gifted conman, The Independent, 15 April 2006 (accessed 20 March 2016).
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Chrisin Plowman, A Cop on Campus, Owl and Lamp Magazine, 14 November 2014 (accessed 21 March 2016).
  10. 10.0 10.1 Christian Plowman (with Douglas Wright), Crossing the Line: Losing Your Mind as an Undercover Cop, Random House / Mainstream Publishing Company (publishers), May 2013.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Graeme Culliford, Secret aliases, dirty tricks and lies ... covert cop in Met reveals how he almost lost his sanity, The Sun, 28 June 2013 (accessed 18 March 2016).
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 John Naughton, 'Black Work: the truth about undercover policing', Radio Times, 21 June 2015 (accessed 19 March 2016).
  13. Jon Axworthy, Why police detective partnerships work, Short List, 19 June 2015 (accessed 21 March 2016).
  14. College of Policing, Tre Palmer, Christopher Gyamfi, Kirk Cooke v Regina [2014 EWCA Crim 168] Digest, September 2014 (accessed 21 March 2016).
  15. Det. Supt. Mark Strugnall and Supt. Bennett were overseeing the operation; other officers monitoring the project were DS Eaton and DS Goodwin. DI Wood had responsibility for ensuring UCOs remained within the authorisation parameters.
  16. Luci Wibberley, Notable Cases, Garden Court Chambers, undated (accessed 21 March 2016). Relevant case reads: R v Palmer, Gyamfi & Cooke [2014] EWCA Crim 1681 (Sole Junior Counsel in Crown Court. Representation order extended to QC for appeal. Referral by Registrar). Shop staffed by UCO’s. Abuse (entrapment). Disclosure of RIPA 2000 authorisations. UCO gave evidence for the appellant after writing a book in which he criticised the operation (Christian Plowman, Crossing the Line, Mainstream Publishing, 2013). The case and book received national press coverage, including the Guardian.
  17. Judgment of Lady Justice Hallett, Tre Palmer, Christopher Gyamfi, Kirk Cooke v Regina, Court of Appeal, 7 August 2014, neutral citation: [2014] EWCA Crim 168 (accessed 21 March 2016).
  18. Lorraine King, Police cleared over ‘luring people to crime’ claims in Cricklewood undercover sting, Brent & Kilburn Times, 8 August 2014 (accessed 21 March 2016).
  19. Police cleared of entrapment after convictions challenged, North West London Times, 14 August 2014 (accessed 21 March 2016 via Nexis).
  20. This may have been Nike, and that he was based in The Netherlands. See Christian Plowman, ZoomInfo.com, undated (accessed 21 March 2016). However, The Times interview indicates it was a British owned fashion company based in France
  21. This appears to be the 'Imposters' series, where he appears in the episode entitled 'The Five Star Phantom' discussing Guzman Betancourt; detail via Plowman's twitter account, 20 July 2014.
  22. UJI Covert Solutions, NGOs and Others, UJICovert.com, undated (accessed 19 March 2016).
  23. UJI Covert Solutions, UJICovert.com (varous pages), undated (accessed 19 March 2016).
  24. UJI Covert Solutions, UJI Covert Solutions Seminar Information Pack, 2015 (accessed 19 March 2016).
  25. Christian Plowman, Simplify your investigations....consider a covert option, LinkedIn.com, 14 July 2015 (accessed 19 March 2016).
  26. Following his email to Powerbase on 31 March, Plowman removed the reference to Interpol and its logo from the header of his LinkedIn page, and replaced the item 'Intelligence Officer, Interpol' with 'Intelligence Officer, NGO' - with the same description of his tasks (accessed 1 April 2016)
  27. Christian Plowman arrives in Nairobi for Interpol, The Indian Ocean Newsletter, 19 February 2016 (accessed 20 March 2016).
  28. 28.0 28.1 Chris Plowman, email to Powerbase, 31 March 2016
  29. Police Spies Out of Lives, Support Messages, no date (accessed 1 April 2016
  30. News in brief..., The Gazette: Magazine of City of London School alumni association, The John Carpenter Club], Issue 300, Summer 2011, p.11 (accessed 20 March 2016).
  31. Emily Cope, 'I was an undercover policewoman'; It happened to me..., The Sun, 2 February 2014 (accessed 19 March 2016).
  32. Danni Brooke, Profile, LinkedIn.com, undated (accessed 19 March 2016).
  33. The Hunters Channel 4 (4 Press), undated (accessed 20 March 2016).
  34. See his twitter feed and his photo album of the day available at Google Plus.
  35. UJI Covert Solutions, Contact, UJICovert.com, undated (accessed 19 March 2016).
  36. Christian Plowman, @ExUndercoverCop, Twitter.com, undated (accessed 18 March 2016).