N81: IPCC investigation

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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
'N81'
Unknown face.png
Alias: unknown
Deployment: 1996-ca. 2001/2002
Unit:
Targets:
Black & family justice campaigns

In June 2014, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) started an investigation into Richard Walton, Bob Lambert and Colin Black for their involvement in setting up a meeting between Walton and ‘N81’, an undercover officer infiltrating a group working with the Lawrence family on their Justice for Stephen campaign. At that point in time, in August 1998, Walton was with the Lawrence Review Team, a select group of trusted officers tasked with preparing a response of then Commissioner Paul Condon to the Macpherson Inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder and the police response.

The meeting was exposed by the Ellison Review in March 2014, and the case referred to the IPCC.

In May 2015, the IPCC announced that the investigation had been widened, with two further former MPS officers being served with gross misconduct notices. The pair, both retired, had been 'within the management structure of the SDS at the relevant time [and] may have had some involvement or knowledge of the meeting with the undercover officer.'[1]

The IPCC did not to disclose their names on the grounds that they had not been identified in the Ellison Review (whereas Walton, Lambert and Black had been named). In response to questions the IPCC told The Guardian 'that in general, there are no hard and fast rules on whether it names individuals who are under investigation - sometimes they have, for example, such a senior rank that it would be in the public interest to identify them.'[2]

For both Ellison and the related work of Operation Herne the investigation was hampered by an apparent policy within the SDS of not keeping records, which made them reliant on interviews in many cases[3] and thus on what police officers involved remembered - or chose to remember.

This page looks at the chain of command of the SDS in 1998, trying to establish who might be caught up in the IPCC investigation; corrections and additions welcome.

This page is one of series on N81 and the spying on the Stephen Lawrence campaign. Related pages:


Background

The Ellison Review into corruption around the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry and spying on black justice campaigns ruled the meeting between the undercover officer and Richard Walton “wholly inappropriate”, noting that had it come out at the time, 'it would have been seen as the MPS trying to achieve some secret advantage in the Inquiry from SDS undercover deployment.'[4]

The meeting was organised by Bob Lambert, then acting head of the Special Demonstration Squad, and Colin Black was his superior at the time as will be explained below.

After the Ellison Report was published, Walton was temporarily removed from his position as Head of Counter-Terrorism Command.[5] His case was referred to the IPCC, which would decide to investigate his 'discreditable conduct and breaches of honesty and integrity' and the 'inconsistent accounts to Mr Ellison’s review team regarding his actions'. The then Detective Inspector Bob Lambert and Commander of Operations for Special Branch Colin Black – both identified in the Report as having played a part in facilitating the meeting with the undercover N81 – would be also be investigated, though only for “discreditable conduct”.[6]

Hierarchy of the SDS in 1998

According to the summary of the hierarchy in the second report from Operation Herne the structure of the SDS was as follows:[7]

  • Commander Special Branch.
  • Detective Chief Superintendent Special Branch (Commander of Operations).
  • Detective Superintendent ‘S’ Squad.
  • Detective Chief Inspector SDS.
  • Detective Inspector SDS.
  • Detective Sergeants in cover office /administration roles.
  • Undercover officers.
  • Administrative staff.

Day-to-day management of the SDS was provided by a DI and DCI who had full time responsibility for the unit. They in turn reported to senior officers with a larger portfolio.

Elsewhere in the Herne report the organisation of the responsibilities is explained in greater detail:

In 1989, responsibility for funding and authorisation was devolved from The Home Office and passed in its entirety to the MPSB. The Superintendent ‘S’ Squad was then appointed lead for the SDS.[8]
Between 1989 and 2000, ‘…the annual authorisation of the SDS operation became the responsibility of Assistant Commissioner Specialist Operations, (ACSO) while Commander Operations Special Branch continued to act as the signing authority for (the) individual operations.’[9]
Strategic direction and authorisation was provided by the Detective Superintendent in consultation with the Commander Special Branch.[8]

Overview of roles and responsibilities

The hierarchy and the responsibilities are summarised in the following overview; included are three additional levels up to the highest, that of the Commissioner. The names or code-names of the people in office at the time of the disputed meeting in August 1998 come from the Herne and Ellison reports.

Role In Aug 1998 Short Same as Responsibility
1. Commissioner Paul Condon Received daily briefings of N81's intelligence.[10]
2. Assistant Commissioner Specialist Operations David Veness ACSO Responsibility of the annual authorisation of the SDS operation[8]
3. Deputy Assistant Commissioner (Barbara Wilding) DAC
4. Commander Special Branch Barry Moss Head of Special Branch Consulted by 6. Detective Superintendent on strategic direction and authorisation.[8]
5. Detective Chief Superintendent SB Colin Black SB Ops or Ops Cmdr. Commander Ops or Commander Operations SB[11] Signing authority for (the) individual operations.[9] Also acting Commander (- one level up).
6. Detective Superintendent ‘S’ Squad. DSU or D/Supt 'S' Lead for the SDS, providing strategic direction and authorisation in consultation with (4.) the Commander Special Branch.[8] Would have also overseen other S Squad units which were involved in other forms of surveillance, human and technical.
7. Detective Chief Inspector SDS. N58 SDS DCI Head of SDS
8. Detective Inspector SDS Bob Lambert Lambert is also acting Squad Det Chief Inspector (- one level up).
9. Detective Sergeants N52, N127, N129[12] In cover office /admin roles.
10. Undercover officers N81, and about seven others UCOs
11. Administrative staff

Who knew of the disputed meeting - and who was actively involved?

The Ellison Inquiry discovered several documents written shortly after the disputed meeting. These mentioned people who knew or must have known about the flow of intelligence from the SDS to the Lawrence Review Team. What follows is - based on the findings of Operation Herne and the Ellison Report - a review of the possible candidates to have been added to the IPCC investigation.

N58

N58 was DCI and Lambert's immediate superior. His name was found in two essential documents written right after the meeting took place. The first is a detailed report of it, the File Note by Bob Lambert, dated 18 August 1998. The document ends with praise from N58 as a postscript:

An excellent meeting and a good example of the strides N81 has made over the last 12 months. N58 (SDS DCI).

The second document is one that is attributed to N58, an "SDS Intelligence Update, September 1998”, which Ellison found within a batch of SDS operational strategy reports from 1998/1999. Entitled “Extremist Involvement in the Stephen Lawrence Campaign" it reports on the meeting and clearly indicates that intelligence continued to flow after the meeting to Walton in the Lawrence Review Team:

Source protection dictates that SDS assistance to the Stephen Lawrence Review team should continue to be restricted to the current channels as outlined above: regular reporting to C Squad[13] and additional discreet briefings to A/DI Walton when necessary.”[14]

Ellison is unsure about its authorship, writing: 'It appears that this update was prepared by SDS Detective Chief Inspector N58 quite early in September 1998'. The text of the Update partly overlaps with Lambert’s File Note, so it may have been a document drafted by Lambert, to be signed of by N58. That makes sense knowing Lambert was 'acting DCI' in that period, acting as the Squad Detective Chief Inspector, essentially leading the SDS as, for reasons as yet unknown, the actual head of the SDS was not able to full fill his role.[15]

N127

Undercover officer N81, who infiltrated groups working on black justice family campaigns, told Herne that he had been commended for his efforts by the Commissioner:

... I was informed, at the height of the Macpherson inquiry, that my reporting was going straight to Sir Paul Condon’s desk each morning via N24, and N127 (SDS Sgt) passed on to me from N24 ‘congratulations from the Commissioner for your excellent reporting...’.[16]

N127 was with the SDS 1997-2001, and was sergeant to N81. The sergeants were responsible for taking the reports from the undercovers and turning the gathered information into intelligence that could then be passed on to relevant parties. Lambert circulated copies of the File Note’ on the disputed meeting to “N127/N52/N129 – All SDS Sgts”. Probably each sergeant was on a particular desk, for instance 'left wing', and that is why they were kept in the loop. (There were about eight officers undercover at the time, split between the left and right, so three DS's seems about right to ensure coverage.)

N24

The 'congratulation' passed onto N81 reveals some of the route the information took from undercover officer to the police units that need the intelligence, in particular that N24 was part of liaising between the SDS and the Commissioner's office.

As mentioned above, in his File Note reporting on the meeting between N81 and Walton, Lambert proposes a continued feed of information to the select group of trusted officers around then-Commissioner Paul Condon in the Lawrence Review Team, via Walton.

And a few weeks later, the Special Branch Commander of Operations Colin Black set up an official route for intelligence gathered by N81 and other undercover officers to reach the Commissioner’s team and DAC John Grieve of CO24. On 14 September 1998 he wrote:

As of this date, all correspondence for CO24 will pass via D/Supt C Squad to DS McDowell (CO24) or, in his absence, DAC Grieve. CO24 undertake to handle such documents in accordance with handling guidelines for protectively marked material.
1. Commander SB to see
2. Sec. Commander to see
3. D/Supt to see
4. Return file to Ops Cmdr.
SB OPS

Top of the list, Commander SB, refers to Barry Moss, the Head of Special Branch, discussed below. Number 2, the Sec. Commander remains a mystery until now, it is most probably referring to 'Secretary to Commander'. Still, this could be secretary to the Commander SB or to Colin Black himself who was Commander Operations SB. However, as a Secretary he would not have the power to make decisions, making it unlikely for him or her to be under investigation of the IPCC. Before the intelligence files are returned to Black (listing himself as Ops Cmdr. - while signing as SB OPS), the documents need to be seen by an otherwise unidentified D/Supt, a Detective Superintendent.

S is for Surveillance

On the day Colin set out the formal route, he also wrote to a ‘D/Supt S’[17]:

Detective Superintendent S
Thank you. These papers confirm that SDS is, as usual, well positioned at the focal crisis points of policing in London. I am aware that [DI Walton] of CO24 receives ad hoc off-the-record briefings from SDS. I have reiterated to him that it is essential that knowledge of the operation goes no further. I would not wish him to receive anything on paper.
I have established a correspondence route to DAC GRIEVE via DS MCDOWELL, formerly of SO12[18], and opened an SP file for copy correspondence with CO24. It will, of course, fall to C Squad to provide the bulk of that material. They will undoubtedly consult SDS as appropriate.
... Ops 14/09/1998”

The second Herne report explains how the SDS relates to the Superintendent ‘S’ Squad:[8]

The SDS were primarily part of ‘S’ Squad which provided a variety of support services. Moreover, since 1989, the Superintendent ‘S’ Squad was the appointed lead for the SDS, to provide strategic direction and authorisation. (Additional MPSB support services included a secure intelligence management system which maintained the Special Branch records.)

In line with practice within Special Branch - and the Security Services in general - of referring to officers by their position, it seems fair to conclude that the 'S' in the case of the letter to 'Det. Supt. S' in fact refers to the head of 'S Squad', rather than being an initial.[19]

The fact that S squad is not mentioned anywhere else in Herne or Ellison, not being interviewed by either of them, could mean that 'the appointed lead for the SDS' is a just a limited and rather formal role. However, it could also be argued that the S squad is protected and kept in the shadows deliberately.

D/Supt C Squad

The C squad, mentioned in Black's notes on the formal information route, had a much more practical contact with the SDS on a regular base, at least once week:[20]

The Metropolitan Police Special Branch (MPSB) was concerned with national security and was divided into two (2) operational command units; one focused on counter-terrorist and counter-extremist operations and the other providing security at international ports within the MPS area. These units were divided into a number of squads. ‘C’ Squad dealt with Domestic Extremism, and had strong links to the SDS as they were responsible for disseminating the majority of their intelligence product.
Throughout deployment, intelligence would be recorded personally or via cover officers. This report would then be sanitised by the back office staff, to remove all references to the operative or the SDS. Anonymity would be ensured by the term ‘Secret and Reliable Source’. A copy of the report would also be placed on the file of the organisation or individual subject of the intelligence.
Intelligence would normally be disseminated to a Special Branch ‘C’ Squad officer who would filter the product out to the relevant desk or department. On occasion this would be passed direct to a relevant interested party.[21]

Thus, the key position of the "Special Branch ‘C’ Squad officer" corresponds with the role outlined by Colin Black for the "D/Supt" in his route for the information discussed above - which makes him a key candidate for being one of the now-retired officers under investigation from the IPCC.

In this context, it is also possible that the congratulations from the Commissioner for N81 came via the Detective Superintendent for C Squad, but since there is no rank given for N24 it seems too early to draw conclusions.

Barry Moss

The Commander SB, at the time was Barry Moss. When Ellison notified him that he could be the subject of direct or implied criticism in his Report, Moss emphasised that he had little detailed knowledge of the operational side of the SDS. He said:[22]

My permission for this meeting was not requested, nor was I told about it after the event...had my permission for this meeting been sought, it would not have been given, and I would have brought the matter to the attention of my senior officer, AC Veness.

Moss' statements do not chime with the fact that he was part of the route that Black set up. Nor does it fit with his official task as summarised by Herne:[8] "Day-to-day operational management was provided by a Detective Chief Inspector (DCI), who reported to the Commander Special Branch."

On the other hand, his direct involvement may indeed have been limited, as he was at that moment in time engaged in setting up the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, a unit aimed specifically at spying on environmental activist (and the one that undercover officer Mark Kennedy would work for).[23] During that period Black was 'acting Commander', de facto replacing his superior and taking over day to day decision making.

However, while Moss may not have known the operational details of the meeting between Walton and N81, it is much harder for him to insist he had no knowledge at all of N81's tasking in general as he did telling Ellison that he 'was not aware of any SDS deployment close to the Lawrence family.[22]

The fact that he was named in the Ellison Report would mean he is not one of the two former-officers included in the investigation, if we were to take the IPCC on its word.

List of candidates for the IPCC investigation

In the official SDS hierarchy, the most obvious people who should have known about the disputed garden meeting would be the head of SDS, N58 and Barry Moss as Commander of SDS. Both, however, were not involved in the day to day handling of their tasks related to the SDS. During this crucial period in 1998, Lambert was acting Squad Detective Chief Inspector, in fact leading the SDS, and Colin Black was acting Commander, de facto replacing his superior Barry Moss, the head of Special Branch.

On a side note - this means that Bob Lambert and Colin Black were in fact running the SDS without any further oversight - oversight that was almost non-existent to begin with. Also, Lambert was N81's handler, and at the same time directing himself in his role one level up.

While formally N58 and Moss would be the next in line to be investigated, there were others more involved in channeling intellingence to DAC Grieves and Commissioner Paul Condon (via Richard Walton). Detective Superintendent C Squad makes a good candidate, as he was supposed to be liaising between the SDS and other desks within the Met that needed intelligence. N24 was a conduit as well, if he does not turn out to be the same person as D/Supt C.. While Detective Sergaent N127 would seem too low in range to be held to account, D/Supt S remains a bit of mystery - his role in all of this could be larger than it appears.

Additional Undercover Research resources

External Sources

Notes

  1. IPCC, Update on investigation involving MPS Commander and others following Mark Ellison QC review, press release, 27 May 2015, (accessed June 2015)
  2. Rob Evans, Names of two police officers under investigation in alleged Stephen Lawrence spy plot kept secret, The Guardian, 4 June 2015 (accessed June 2015)
  3. Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.201
  4. Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.267.
  5. Cahal Milmo Stephen Lawrence murder investigation: Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer removed from post following Met Police spying revelations, The Independent, 8 March 2014.
  6. Independent Police Complaints Commission, IPCC investigating Metropolitan Police Service Commander and two others following Mark Ellison QC review, 2 June 2014, accessed 28 May 2015
  7. Mick Creedon, Operation Trinity - Allegations of Peter Francis, Operation Herne - Report 2, 6 March 2014, p. 22
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 Mick Creedon, Operation Trinity - Allegations of Peter Francis, Operation Herne - Report 2, 6 March 2014, p. 18
  9. 9.0 9.1 Mick Creedon, Operation Trinity - Allegations of Peter Francis, Operation Herne - Report 2, 6 March 2014, p. 20
  10. according to N81. Condon denies any specific knowledge of the undercover operations - which is disputable because of the details he does seem to remember. Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.232 (N81) and 254-255 (Condon).
  11. Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.241.
  12. Lambert circulated copies of the File Note’ to “N127/N52/N129 – All SDS Sgts” We think that N127/N52/N129 are SDS sergeants at the time each on a particular desk (for instance 'left wing') There were about eight undercovers at the time, split between the left and right, so three DS's seems about right to ensure coverage. The sergeants were responsible for taking the reports from the undercovers and turning it into intelligence that could then be passed on to relevant parties - hence why they were in the loop and kept to date about the meeting.
  13. C Squad was another unit within MPSB which dealt with what is now referred to as 'domestic extremism'
  14. Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.229.
  15. Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.231.
  16. Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.232.
  17. Colin Black, "Note made on a minute sheet by Special Branch Operations Commander Colin Black", 14 September 1998, in Ellison Vol. 1
  18. SO12 was the formal unit number for the Metropolitan Police Special Branch.
  19. We note that at no other point do the Herne or Ellison reports refer to an individual officer by an initial, instead always using the N-numbering system - supporting that in this case 'S' refers to the name of a unit rather than an individual.
  20. Mick Creedon, Operation Trinity - Allegations of Peter Francis, Operation Herne - Report 2, 6 March 2014, p. 16
  21. Mick Creedon, Operation Trinity - Allegations of Peter Francis, Operation Herne - Report 2, 6 March 2014, p. 40
  22. 22.0 22.1 Mark Ellison, The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, UK Government, 6 March 2014, Vol. 1, p.233.
  23. Jason Bennetto, Police unit to target green protesters, The Independent, 7 November 1998 (accessed June 2015)