Mike Chitty

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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
Mike Chitty
Mike-Chitty.jpg
Alias: Mike Blake
Deployment: 1983-87
Unit:
Targets:
South London Animal Movement

Mike Chitty a.k.a. Mike Blake, was an undercover officer with the Special Demonstration Squad who infiltrated the animal rights movement in south London in the 1980s. Prior to that he had been with Special Branch in Bermuda. Almost all that is known of him comes from chapter 6 of Undercover, the expose of undercover policing by two Guardian journalists, Rob Evans and Paul Lewis.[1]

Chitty is notable for having 'gone native': after his deployment finished, he returned to the group he had targeted, the South London Animal Movement. He continued socialising with them while remaining a police officer - including attempting to restart one relationship with a woman he had been seeing while undercover. His behaviour lead to a long investigation of him by fellow Special Branch and SDS officer Bob Lambert, and his eventual departure from the police. He has subsequently moved to South Africa.

Background

Description: tall, slim, curly hair. Noted as a skilled driver, and drove racing cars as a hobby. At one point he won the Caterham Seven car race at Brands Hatch and was congratulated by the rock star, Chris Rea.[1] He used Americanisms in his speech, such as using 'gas' instead of petrol, or 'raincheck'.[2]

Bermuda

Mike Chitty served with Special Branch in Bermuda from 1971. He arrived there with a group of other officers on the 1st and 2nd March 1971.[3] He appears in photos of Bermuda's Special Branch, including a group photo in 1974[4] and 1975.[5] In the latter he can be seen posing with a rifle as part of the Bermuda Police Shooting Team, which won in a competition against the Royal Navy and the US Marines during the course of a visit by Princess Margaret to the island.

He subsequently returned to London, joining the Metropolitan Police Service Metropolitan Police's own Special Branch unit. However, he maintained links with the officers from his time in Bermuda, including attending a reunion on 22 March 1986 at the King James Thistle Hotel, Edinburgh where he is recorded in a photograph.[6]

Bermuda Police Shooting Team, 1975. Mike Chitty is on the right at the end.

Once back in London he continued working with Special Branch doing administrative tasks. This included vetting those applying to become British citizens, and monitoring arrivals and departures at Heathrow Airport. Having applied to do surveillance work, he found himself actually being interviewed by the SDS.[1]

South London Animal Movement

The South London Animal Movement (SLAM) was a group formed in South London in the early 1980s. Initially it had been formed around 1981/2, but disappeared after key member Steve Boulding was given 18 months for conspiracy in 1983.[7] He had been convicted for participating in a February 1982 raid (nicknamed 'Operation Valentine') on the Life Science Research Centre, an animal testing laboratory at Stock, Essex, in which a number of beagles were rescued.[8] The group was resurrected in 1983 and had two branches, one was Streatham (Borough of Lambeth) and the other in Catford (Borough of Lewisham). At the time there was considerable ALF activity in the Morden area and a prominent campaign against vivisector Dr Brian Meldrum[9] by the Streatham group from 1984 to 1986.[2] SLAM also focused on vivisection, fur, and conditions of animals held at Battersea Park Zoo.[1]

Autumn 1985, there was a split within SLAM over tactics, with some members moving on to form a separate group called RATS[10] that included Robin Lane, but not Mike Chitty.[2] Also, in August 1986, former Streatham group member Robin Lane took over from Ronnie Lee as ALF Press Officer, a role he held until his own conviction in May 1988 for conspiracy.[11]

Deployment

Chitty's managers prior to him joining the Special Demonstration Squad appeared to consider him a victim of his ‘predilection for cannabis, a carefree lifestyle, heavy rock music and laid-back women’. [1]

He was selected as the first undercover officer of the SDS tasked to get close to the Animal Liberation Front. He took a bedsit in Balham and had an estate car.[2] In spring 1983 he started going to meetings of South London Animal Movement (SLAM) which took place in the public library at Streatham, not far from Balham, and to those of the Catford Streatham branch of SLAM. He is thought to have attended meetings of groups in the Banstead and Redhill areas of Surrey. He is known to have had relationships with two female activists connected to the Catford group. The first occurred during 1984-85, and soon after that broke up he started the second one, lasting 1985 to 1986, with a woman primarily interested in cat protection.[2]

Timeline of key animal rights events relating to the deployment of Mike Chitty (alias Mike Blake)

In his other life he was married, like most of the undercover officers before him and after.

As well as doing demonstrations and leafleting, activist life had a strong social side to it, all of which Chitty took part in. He used to drive activists to protests, including once to Blackpool to do a protest outside a circus. Another time he drove them to Devon to protest against plans to kill badgers. He would also go camping with other activists.[1] People remember him as much more into the social side of the group and having a good time, then into actual protest.[2]


Speaking of his time among them, Sue Williams of SLAM said:

'He did not give much away... He had an air of mystery'; 'He did not really do that much. He was just there.'[1] Robin Lane stated: 'We all thought he was a bit mysterious. He never seemed to have a proper job or particular line of work. He said he was a driver or mechanic, or some sort of odd-job man.... He was not an animal person... he did not have any pets. He was not particularly active, just did the odd demo, did the odd leafleting.'[1]

Robin Lane confirmed that Chitty remained on the side-lines, and though he talked about animal rights politics it was fairly superficial.[2][12] As per the security culture of the groups, they would not have discussed sensitive stuff with him if he was not involved,[2] and there seemed no desire by Chitty to become involved in illegal direct action.[1] He used to disappear a lot and claimed that he had son in America.[2]

Raids

Though he knew Robin Lane, their friendship of two years was based on them being part of the same group and shared social ties, rather than being close on an active political level. Though Lane would have considered him a good friend at the time, he notes there were those who were suspicious at the time that Chitty may have been a cop. Lane is convinced that given the three year length of Chitty's deployment, he must have been passing on some information to have remained there so long.[2]

In particular, though Chitty was not a member of RATS, Lane believes that the undercover officer played a role in passing on details which facilitated police raids on four members of that group in early 1986, as the police seemed to know who were the active members and where they lived. The raids were for criminal damage and conspiracy to attack the homes of vivisectors in South London, including Meldrum. Two were released without charge, while the other two remained on bail for a year before their charges in turn were dropped in February 1987. Lane was one of these four.[2][11]

In April 1987, Robin Lane was raided again and arrested by Anti-Terrorism Branch as part of the investigation in to the incendiary device attacks on Debenhams department stores.[2] Debenhams was being targeted as part of a wider campaign against the fur industry by the animal rights movement as a whole, resulting in a number of protests and attacks against it across the UK. Lane's arrest was for conspiracy rather than for carrying out actions against Debenhams - in his role as ALF Press Officer he was just involved in publicising these actions.[13] Soon after, Chitty was pulled out.

We have not encountered evidence to date that Chitty associated himself with other protest groups besides the two branches of SLAM.[14]

Exit & post-deployment

(Much of this is sourced solely from the book Undercover by Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, though we have sought corroboration where possible.)

In May 1987, Chitty tells activist friends he is leaving to start a business in the US. In fact, he returns to administrative and intelligence gathering duty in Special Branch, at first as an intelligence analyst, and subsequently based at Putney. Around this point he holds the rank of Detective Sergeant.[1]

Although now no longer an undercover officer, Chitty manages to start living a double life which continued for several years – unknown to his superiors at the police. He went back to his activist friends, ‘going rogue’ as it is called, at least for part of the time.

In August 1989, Chitty resumes contact with the animal rights scene on a social level, saying his business plans in the US did not work. He claims to make money as a racing driver, which fitted with what they knew of his mechanic and driving skills. He tries to re-kindle an affair with the second of the women he had a relationship while undercover.[1] At one point in the summer of 1990 he is seen at her house[2] and they apparently remained friends until at least November 1991, when he is also present at the 40th birthday party of another activist.[1]

His time at Putney gave him the freedom to organise making contact with those he had targeted.[15] At the end of his deployment as an undercover officer, he been made to return his fake passport and birth certificate, but he had managed to keep hold of his driving licence in his cover name of Mike Blake. Subsequently, he acquired a new passport and driving licence, and purchased a home address, all in his false name.[1]

In 1990, he is moved out of Putney and back to Scotland Yard for a while, before being re-assigned to a VIP protection unit.[16] In his new job, Chitty continues to live his double life. While on duty elsewhere in the country, he would slip away, changing clothes and car to return to South London. Colleagues grew suspicious over the number of miles on his car compared to his partner, and over a claim for a petrol purchase in Redhill, Surrey while supposedly on duty in Wiltshire. When Chitty is confronted in June 1992 and asked to explain these anomalies, he gets angry and shouts at his manager. This results in him having his gun confiscated and being put on sick leave while he was placed under investigation - his double life yet undiscovered.


Chitty-Lambert timeline.png


Bob Lambert investigates Chitty

According to Evans and Lewis, Chitty's managers turn to his former SDS colleague Bob Lambert for help. By then Lambert had made a name for himself for penetrating an ALF cell and facilitating the conviction of its other two members for some of the attacks on Debenhams (Geoff Shepherd & Andrew Clarke), and had been promoted to Detective Inspector.

Over the next year and a half Lambert reaches out to Chitty in the guise of a caring friend, at the same time aware of the dangers that a dissident spy could pose to the SDS. He makes clear that 'the security of the SDS operation must take precedence over other less crucial considerations'. Lambert's report, as cited by Evans and Lewis, implies that Chitty was suffering from some sort of psychological stress from his days of being in the SDS and had a sense he was being persecuted by his bosses and fellow officers in the protection unit; this mirrors similar accounts of other undercover officers who suffered from PTSD – e.g. Peter Francis, N81 and Mark Kennedy.

Lambert would continue to dig, including going through Chitty's personal letters; it is not clear if the latter permitted this or whether Lambert broke into his garage. The personal letters revealed that Chitty was maintaining contact and having a social life with his former target group - in breach of SDS guidelines which mandated a clean break once deployment was over. Lambert concluded that this was for social and romantic reasons rather than ideological attachment to animal rights.

At this point Chitty's wife was still ignorant of his double life.

The end for Chitty

In February 1994, the Metropolitan Police decide Chitty should face a disciplinary hearing over his expenses. Chitty reaches out to a former SDS operative who had left the police to become a hotelier in Scotland. Lambert, who disliked the former operative, says this is a sign Chitty is going off the rails. In March 1994, Chitty crashes his car (a Ford Sierra) at Worthing Pier and abandons it, causing a search and rescue operation as it was feared he had walked into the sea. He is however found alive in Worthing town later on, and is interviewed by Lambert in the police station there.

Chitty, at this point realising that his double life is no longer a secret, becomes proactive. He writes a letter to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Paul Condon, complaining of his treatment by the SDS, in which he says he was not offered psychological treatment at the end of his deployment that would have helped him deal with the feelings of guilt over betraying the animal rights activists. He also threatens to go public. It is not clear if Condon, who as Commissioner was the most senior police officer at the time, saw the letter, but Lambert was able to summarise it in his report on Chitty. Lambert makes the point that if Chitty did go public, then former undercovers would be at high risk, and that if exposed they could expect postal bombs to their homes. However, this must be taken in light of the fact that - as we have come to know since - the officer most at risk was Lambert himself.

In April 1994 - two years under investigation - Chitty is still socialising with animal rights activists and had rekindled a particular friendship with one activist he would have known was under heavy surveillance. This was picked up and relayed back to Special Branch. His socialising was also witnessed by a serving SDS officer who saw him at a leaving meal for an activist returning to Canada. According to the report by Lambert, Chitty was also indulging in cannabis.[17]

The report was finished in May 1994. Lambert did not think much of Chitty's work while undercover and categorised it as 'reliable if largely irrelevant', 'without ever once providing intelligence that led to the arrest of any of their activists or the disruption of their activities' and 'certainly had no adverse impact on their criminal activities'. A Special Branch source of Evans and Lewis confirms the vision that Chitty stayed on the moderate side of activism - 'in relatively tranquil waters', rather than getting close to the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) as he had been tasked.[1]

This inquiry apparently allowed Lambert to prove he had the necessary management skills and pave the way for him to return to the SDS as Head of Operations in 1994. Evans and Lewis warn however, that material and conclusions in the report may have to be treated with caution given questions about Lambert's own activities. Particularly, they note, that as former colleagues infiltrating animal rights in London in the same period, Chitty may have been aware of Lambert's activities, such as the lengths he went to in order to maintain his cover, including his fathering a child by an activist and his - alleged - role in the Debenham attacks.

Legal action against the police and an ill-health pension

In 1995 Chitty takes legal action against the Metropolitan Police. He claims £50,000 in personal injuries and losses because of 'psychiatric affects resulting from the stress of his police duties between 1982 and 1992. He accuses the police of negligence and claims it failed to monitor, support, counsel and care for him during and after those duties'. The claim also mentions that he resides in Redhill.[18] The legal firm Chitty used was Russell Jones & Walker of London.[19]

The case was dropped in 1995; Chitty was awarded an ill-health pension and moved to South Africa.[1] Activists were later able to confirm that he had gone there, and had continued to race, being part of racing club.[2][20] He is known to have raced between 2004 and 2009, driving a Lotus 7, in various races in South Africa.[21][22][23][24]

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 Rob Evans & Paul Lewis, Undercover: The True Story of Britain's Secret Police, Faber & Faber, 2013, pages 77-97. Unless otherwise referenced, all facts in this article comes from this book.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 Interview with Robin Lane, May 2014.
  3. Happy 10th Anniversary in Bermuda - March 1981, Official Site of the Bermuda Ex-Police Association, accessed 10 May 2014.
  4. A Special (Branch) Photo, Official Site of the Bermuda Ex-Police Association, accessed 10 May 2014. See also comments section.
  5. Nicholas “Nick” Bolton, Official Site of the Bermuda Ex-Police Association, accessed 10 May 2014. See also comments section.
  6. A Grand Reunion in Edinburgh, Official Site of the Bermuda Ex-Police Association, accessed 10 May 2014.
  7. Operation Valentine 'trial' at Chelmsford Court, A.L.F. Supporters Group newsletter, No. 5, 30 June 1983, archived at TheTalonConspiracy.com, accessed 2 December 2014.
  8. Operation Valentine 'trial' at Chelmsford Court, A.L.F. Supporters Group newsletter, No. 6, 31 August 1983, archived at TheTalonConspiracy.com, accessed 2 December 2014.
  9. Dr Brian Meldrum was at the Department of Neurology in the Institute of Psychiatry through out the 1980s and 1990s, then based at De Crespigny Park, Denmark Hill, SE5 8AF in South London - see, for example, Pharmacology of GABA, Clinical Neuropharmacology, Vol.5, No. 3, 1982, accessed 28 November 2014.
  10. A.L.F. Supporters Group Newsletter RATS, No. 18, 1986, archived at TheTalonConspiracy.com.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Keep Fighting, Freeman Wicklund, 1991, a zine containing interviews with three ALF Spokespersons: Ronnie Lee, Robin Lane and Robin Webb.
  12. Robin Lane has no recollection of Chitty discussing ALF actions with him. Email from Robin Lane 2 December 2014.
  13. It is worth nothing there had been a previous raid in North London in which Andrew Clarke and Geoff Shepherd were arrested for two incendiary devise attacks and subsequently convicted. It has since emerged that Bob Lambert was also part of their ALF cell and provided the information that triggered the raid on Clarke and Shepherd. It is also alleged that Lambert himself was responsible for a third such attack on the Harrow branch of Debenhams. See under Bob Lambert for more details.
  14. If people have further information on Chitty from the time he was undercover to please get in touch!
  15. This is according to an evaluation report authored by Lambert and cited by Evans & Lewis.
  16. Though there were a number of protection units within the police at the time, the most important would have been Special Branch 'A-Squad' which specialised in high-ranking individuals and whose members would regularly carry firearms for their work and be expected to be skilled drivers.
  17. Cited in Rob Evans & Paul Lewis, Undercover, page 95. However, Robin Lane questions this, saying that while he saw Chitty drinking on a number of occasions, he and other members of SLAM never saw Chitty smoke or take drugs - email from Robin Lane 2 December 2014.
  18. Litigation Writs 22/08/95, The Lawyer, 22 August 1995, accessed 11 May 2014.
  19. Russell Jones & Walker who were the Police Federations' preferred lawyers for many years, representing many police and ex-police officers. See, for example, the written evidence it submits to the Leveson Inquiry, where the firms states: 'we are particularly known for the work we do for the Police Federation and its being members...'. It also lists a number of trade unions as its clients. In 2012, it was taken over by the Australian legal firm Slater & Gordon. The Slater & Gordon website (accessed 11 May 2014) talks of how the firm of RJW had over 50 years of experience of representing Police Federation members and continues to do so.
  20. Confusingly there are two racing car drivers by the name Mike Chitty, the other being based in the US.
  21. South Africa Historic races at Killarney summary, Motorport.com, 20 February 2004, accessed 10 October 2014.
  22. Derek van der Merwe, report - Lichtenburg 12 Jul 08.doc |LOTUS CHALLENGE – ROUND 6 – LICHTENBURG 12 JULY 2008, LotusRegister.co.za, July 2008, accessed 10 October 2014.
  23. Lotus Challenge - Race 2, TJ Timing.co.za, accessed 10 October 2014.
  24. Classic & Performance Car Africa June/July 2013, ISSUU.com (Google cache), accessed 10 October 2014.