John Graham (alias)

From Powerbase
Revision as of 13:56, 13 September 2017 by Peter Salmon (talk | contribs)

Jump to: navigation, search

URG logo 1.png

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
John ? / HN329
Male silhouette.png
Alias: John Graham
Deployment: 1968-1969
Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, Revolutionary Socialist Students Federation, north London Trotskyist milieu

John Graham is the alias of a Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) undercover police officer. He was active for one year over the period 1968 to 1969, when he infiltrated a north London branch of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (VSC) and he also reported on the Revolutionary Socialists Students Federation (RSSF). Little else is known of him. His cover identity and groups he reported on were revealed by the Undercover Policing Inquiry in August 2017.[1] He is also referred to as HN329, the cypher given to him by the Inquiry and Operation Herne.

The clashes with police at Grosvenor Square during the anti-Vietnam war protest of 17th March 1968 resulted in the establishment of the SDS. Activities against the war - such as the preparations for the large demonstration of October 1968 - were monitored by undercover officers such as HN329 amongst others.

Note from Undercover Research Group: if anyone recalls 'John Graham' 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.

Undercover as 'John Graham'

First page of HN326's personal statement in support of his restriction order application., August 2017

'John Graham' was among the very first of the SDS undercovers. His 2017 Risk Assessment says he became a Special Branch officer early on in his police career, then states:[2]

3.3 Recruitment to UCO Role
He cannot recall how he was recruited to SDS, but he would not have been a volunteer. There was no psychometric testing at the time. There were a number of UC's at the start of the SDS. He had no training. He thinks his deployment must have been around 1968 because it was at the time of the Vietnam crisis, but he cannot recall precisely. He was politically aware, and his back story was sufficient in that he was pretending to deliver cars from one garage to another. He had less of a formal legend than later operatives.

The job was 'simply a story, and he had no actual cover occupation'(4.9).[2] From known tradecraft techniques, it is likely he will have maintained his own first name as part of his cover. The Risk Assessment explicitly states he did not use the identity of a dead child.[2]

In his personal statement he wrote:[3]

3. I can't remember exactly but I believe I was deployed into the Special Operations Squad between 1968 and 1969. I don't know exactly though as it was just life. If you're posted somewhere you just went. It wasn't something I had always wanted to do.

At the time of his deployment, 'Graham' was recently married with young kids.

'My undercover role wasn't someting that I discussed with my wife. I think she probably knew the object of the exercise but not anything more. She wasn't that interested.'

Graham does not mention to have had a home visit from the SDS, to check if his family situation was upto him going undercover - that routine may have been developed a bit later.

Nothing further is public about his police career other than that having been reassigned from his undercover deployment (see below), he remained a Special Branch officer for the rest of his career. (4.17) He has long retired from the police, and while in his 70s now, Graham is still working. In his personal statement he says that he thinks his current colleagues know he is a former undercover, and that it would not matter to them.[2]

Since retiring from the police he has appeared a number of times on television under his real identity.[3]


The 'Open Risk Assessment' prepared by the Metropolitan Police for the Undercover Policing Public Inquiry stated that 'John Graham' was:[2]

4.2 ...deploy[ed] into the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (Kilburn & Willesden Branch); and he also reported on the Revolutionary Socialist Students Federation.

The Risk Assessment is clear in that the VSC was his main target, and he 'occasionally reported' on the RSSF (4.2, 4.3).[2]

Though both organisations were broad-church alliances across the left, they were firmly embedded in a Trotskyist milieu, having strong links through leading personalities to the New Left Review, the International Marxist Group and the then International Socialists. 'John Graham' appears most associated with the north London local branches with were in the main controlled by the International Socialists.[4] As such the broad focus of HN329's focus could as much be considered north London Trotskyists who at the time played a significant role in the VSC and RSSF.

The Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (VSC)

Background to the VSC

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

The Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, opposing the United States role in the Vietnam War, was founded in 1966 by Trotskyists associated with the International Group in conjunction with the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation. The International Group, a split from the Trotskyist Revolutionary Socialist League, later became better known as the International Marxists Group. They were subsequently joined by activists from the International Socialists, another Trotskyist faction which later became the Socialist Workers Party (subsequently targeted by other undercover police in its own right).[5]

Though created and led by Trotskyists, the VSC attracted a broad following from across the left wing of politics, and was particularly successful in linking up with the prominent radical student movement of 1967 to 1969 as well as peace / anti-nuclear campaigners.[6][7] As an organisation, it was loosely structure 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.[8]

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.[9] 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.[10] This caused huge political embarrassment to the UK Labour Government of the day, under Harold Wilson, and as a consequence lead to the creation of the Special Demonstration Squad with the Metropolitan Police Special Branch (see below).

However, 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.[11] 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.[12] It was also Dixon who in September 1968 founded the undercover unit, later known as the Special Demonstration Squad which deployed HN329 as 'John Graham' into the Trotskyst part of the VSC. See below for further details of the MPSB's activities.

'John Graham' in the VSC

Cover of Issue 19 of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign Bulletin, November 1968.

According to the Risk Assessment, 'John Graham' grew a beard and simply turned up to the VSC branch meetings.[2]

4.4 [...] HN329 attended meetings, demonstrations, handing out leaflets and occasionally traveled some distance for conferences, etc.
4.5 Tasking
There were regular meetings at a flat where he could feed back information about the likely size of demonstrations, whether those demonstrations were likely to be violent etc.

The Risk Assessment stated the group size at the time was 15-30 and used to meet at the Durham Arms in Kennington. However, 'John Graham' would often go to meetings elsewhere in London, including Camden, and recalled going to a conference in Sheffield (4.8).[2] (See below for analysis and queries over some of this material.)

The Risk Assessment noted that he did not take an active role in the group other than attending demonstrations and meetings, and did not become close to any individuals (8.2).[2] According to HN329, his group was generally non-violent, the worst they ever suggested being to jump on the back of a policeman (11). Indeed, the only time he was subject to violence was when he was hit by a security guard at the Australian High Commission (12.1).[2]

N329 gives a slightly different account in his personal statement:[3]

4. I reported on the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, and I think it was the Camden branch. The reason for being in the group was for me to find out what the strategy was for a big VSC march. I attended meetings and took part in demonstrations. I wasn't involved in any confrontations. The only two things I can remember are a big VSC march which we all went on and protesting at the Australian High Commission but I don't remember what it was for.
5. I regarded the people I was with as intellectuals, they were well-educated people, one of whom was a doctor or something similar. They were just people that believed the Americans shouldn't have been in Vietnam but had no idea of how to get them out. I would include myself in that.
6. For my cover name [John Graham]. I can't remember on how many occasions I gave out my full name but I don't think it was many. Maybe at the beginning when I was introducing myself. The VSC didn't keep any written records of members or anything like that. It was a very loose-knit organisation. It's been so long that if you spoke to anybody, I believe they wouldn't even remember my cover name. I doubt if anyone would even remember me.

It also noted that while undercover he handed out leaflets on the day of the 'big VSC march, which is presumed to be the march of October 1986.[3]

HN329 ceased his spying the VSC at an unknown point in 1969. According to the Risk Assessment:[2]

4.16 Withdrawal / exit strategy
He was asked by a Chief Inspector to attend a particular meeting, but he felt that to do so would operationally compromise himself, so he declined. The senior officer immediately assigned him to other duties within Special Branch.
He did not use any excuse for his exit. He simply stopped attending meetings.

Kilburn and Camden VSC branches

The Risk Assessment, presumably relying on contemporary notes, states that John Graham infiltrated the Kilburn and Willesden branch of the VSC - the NW6 & NW10 postcodes in north London. Several specific references to the Kilburn group can be found in contemporary material archived at The VSC Bulletin noted its recent formation in its February 1968 issue,[13] while in July 1968, a member of the Kilburn VSC co-authored a pamphlet entitled Background to the Vietnam War.[14] Kilburn VSC also appears in a Special Branch report of late August 1968 when it is listed as one of the active VSC branches in London (others including Earls Court, Hampstead, Notting Hill Gate, Fulham, Lambeth, Walthamstow, Hornsey and Highgate & Holloway).[15]

Cover of Issue 18 of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign Bulletin, October 1968.

Conrad Dixon's Special Branch report of 10th September makes note of several London 'ad hoc committees' forming to co-ordinate local activity, including ones for North London and North West London (via the North-West London Action Group).[16] While a VSC Bulletin from October 1968 in London listed contacts of ad hoc committees for NW6 / Northwest London and NW8 / Kentish Town.[17]

The Kilburn group appears to have declined after October 1968 as no further mentions of the group have been identified. In December 1968, the Hampstead group renamed itself the Camden group, the first mention identified to date of a specific Camden VSC branch.[18] 'John Graham' in his personal statement recalled that he thought it was the Camden branch meetings he attended.[3]

The links with Camden are noteworthy as the group contained key London VSC activists who sat on the VSC's national committee throughout 1968, as well as people who were listed as contacts for the various ad hoc committees in north west London. There were also established connections with key figures in the London School of Economics branch of the Revolutionary Socialist Students Federation.[19][20][21][22] Though it is not clear the extent to which N329 monitored, it does place him close to the heart of the VSC organising in north London and leading national campaigners.

In summary, it appears that in 1968 the structure of groups in North London was quite fluid, with a particular heartland in the borough of Camden. The Kilburn branch appears to have existed for that year, and what active membership it had is likely to have merged into Camden VSC at the start of 1969, including probably 'John Graham'. The strong connections between these local groups, the national VSC structure and also the RSSF would have been a potentially significant source of information on the organisation of the time, and it is highly likely that intelligence gathered by HN329 fed into the reports produced by Conrad Dixon in the run up to the 27th October protest and likely subsequent Special Branch reports on the groups' activities into 1969.

Contemporary Special Branch material

Metropolitan Police Special Branch (MPSB) material released through FOIA requests and now archived at gives some insight into the monitoring of both the VSC and in places the RSSF. However, some of this material has been challenged by prominent VSC activist Ernest Tate.[23]

Monitoring of the VSC coalition

Many of the available Special Branch reports on the VSC are authored by Conrad Dixon himself and indicate a substantive knowledge of the internal politics of the coalition.

However, it is likely there were other informers / infiltrators within the associated groups and not all intelligence should necessarily be placed at the door of N326. Rather, it is probable the SDS infiltrated a number of the disparate groups active ahead of the 27th October 1968 demonstration including other London branches of the VSC, particularly in the south of the city. Various publications have noted that much of the militancy of the 1968 protests came from the anarchist / Maoist sections of the anti-Vietnam War movement, and it is people from these political milieu who were at the forefront of the Grosvenor Square protests which saw clashes with police. Dixon in one of his weekly reports, notes that several VSC branches were 'captured' by Maoists and anarchists, leading to them being disowned by the national VSC. Given this, it is highly likely that the anarchists and Maoists were key targets of the SDS on its foundation, and - as with the VSC - Dixon appears to have had inside intelligence on them. However, of itself, this is not confirmation that they were successfully infiltrated by undercovers at the time.

Dixon's report of 3rd October 1968 sets out the leading groups organising for the protest of the 27th October, which can be treated as an indication of other likely targets of the embryonic SDS. As well as the VSC generally and the RSSF, these included the Anarchist Communist Federation (and several smaller anarchist groups), the Communist Party / Young Communist League, Maoist groups such as the Britain Vietnam Solidarity Front (spearheaded by the Revolutionary Marxist-Leninist League) and the communist-led Radical Students Alliance. Other groups active at the time were the Australian and New Zealanders Against the Vietnam War, and the American expatriate campaign "Stop-it" Committee - where one leading campaigner had a particularly strong link to Camden / Hampstead VSC.[4] Longer standing peace groups were also monitored, though they had a lesser role in organising for the day or declined to back the protest.[24] The presence of foreign protesters was also a matter of great interest, covered several times in the Special Branch reports in the run up to the 27th October protest.[11]

Monitoring of the VSC in Summer 1968

On 14th August 1968, the then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, John Waldron, asked regional Special Branches for intelligence they had on VSC's planned October 1968 demonstration:[25]

I am to ask if you would kindly forward to [Metropolitan Police Special] Branch any information your officers may be able to obtain concerning extremists or others who will attend from your area, in particular details of the coaches or other forms of transport they may use, numbers participating and times of departure for London.

A report by Conrad Dixon of 21st August indicates detailed knowledge of the internal workings of the VSC:[26]

This report summarises the progress made to date by the organisers of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign's "Autumn Offensive".
This activity will take place during the week commencing on the 20th October 1968, and the climax will be reached at a large demonstration on Saturday, 26th October. Trafalgar Square is expected to be the initial venue of this demonstration; the booking is yet to be confirmed.
The Vietnam Solidarity Campaign acts as an "umbrella" organisation embracing left-wingers of various groups, and these factions are sharply divided as to the employment of violence for political ends. The pro-Chinese Mao-ist adherents are active at present and attending every meeting in London to attempt to persuade all participants to accept the inevitability of violence on a large scale. They are opposed by the International Socialism Group of Trotskyists and the Communist Party who are seeking a demonstration on orthodox lines, and wish to co-operate with Police. The International Marxist Group of Trotskyists is tending to side with the Mao-ists.

His report of 30th August notes:[15]

A slight change of emphasis has taken place [since 21 August]. The International Marxist Group is retreating from its former support of the Mao-ist line condoning violence and is tending to side with the International Socialist group which favours a disciplined demonstration. The Mao-ists continue to intrigue among the various groups, but are making less progress as news of their machinations becomes more widely disseminated.
Particulars of most of the current members of the V.S.C. Liaison Committee responsible for coordinating activity have been obtained: three belong to the International Marxist Group and four to the International Socialism faction. There is one representative for the Revolutionary Socialist Students Federation, one for the Socialist Medical Association and four for the Communist Party.

Foundation of the Special Demonstration Squad

The book, Special Branch A History 1883-2006, written by two former Special Branch officers, one of whom appears to have served with the SDS, wrote:[27]

After the lawlessness accompanying the demonstration in March, the Home Office, in consultation with the Commissioner [John Waldron], decided that better prior intelligence as to the likely course of events on that chaotic afternoon would probably have prevented many of the worst incidents.[...] The Commissioner directed that a special section within MPSB should be created with the specific role of assimilating themselves with potential protesters and gathering intelligence on their likely tactics, the numbers expected on demonstration and the identities of core militants. This initiative was supported by the Home Office, who provided direct and dedicated funding.

Twelve Special Branch officers, from constable to chief inspector level are taken by the Head of MPSB, Commander Ferguson 'Fergie' Smith to see the Assistant Commissioner for Crime, Peter Brodie.[27]

His message was simple: 'Find out what these people are planning for 27 October'. Back in his office, Fergie was unable to elaborate, except to warn his officers against acting as agent provocateurs and to take care not to become elected to office in any of the organisations they succeeded in joining.

This was the founding of the Special Demonstration Squad (known in its first four years as the Special Operations Squad), placed under the control of DCI Conrad Dixon who had suggested its creation. According to the book Undercover, it was September 1968 when Dixon proposed the idea of the SDS.[28]

Intelligence gathering ahead of 27th October demonstration

From September 1968, Conrad Dixon provided weekly Special Branch reports on the VSC's Autumn Offensive, a number of which are now available.[11] They continue to show detailed knowledge of the political differences within the coalition, and in the weeks in the immediate run up to the demonstration of the 27th October provided details of the plans of individual groups. The one of 16th October notes in particular:[29]

The North west London ad-hoc Committee of the VSC intend to assemble at Henrietta Street in Covent Garden at 1.30pm on the 27th. They are expected to be about 150 strong.

This is the group which 'John Graham' would have participated on, and an earlier Special Branch report notes that this group planned to follow the decisions of the VSC national committee (see also below).[30]

The authors of the history of Special Branch concluded: [27]

The efficiency with which, in 1968, the newly formed unit fulfilled their role in the comparatively short time at their disposal went some way towards ensuring that, on 27th October, the frontline troops had a better appreciation of the probable tactics that the 'opposition' might apply and could react accordingly. After the protest, it was decided that the SDS should remain in existence for the time being, and with the threat of violent mass demonstrations temporarily abated, Conrad Dixon had the opportunity to consolidate what had already been achieved.
By now, some members of the team had successfully infiltrated some of the more militant groups on the left, while other members were obviously not suited to this type of work and transferred to other duties.

Some Special Branch reports by Chief Inspector Conrad Dixon on the VSC Autumn Offensive

Commentary of Ernest Tate

On reviewing the Special Branch material, Ernest Tate, a VSC organiser and member of International Socialists, wrote (taken from a much longer letter):[23]

Every little tidbit of information, the gossip, the stupid speculations by un-named people, who could even be other plain clothes cops, the talk about cutting GPO lines setting vehicles on fire, etc., is just silly, and meant to put the wind up their superiors, I’m sure. Take the issue of violence, for example. In the report, “Vietnam Solidarity Campaign ‘Autumn Offensive’”, Sept. 10, 68, p3, it states: “The more cautious representatives of the International Socialism and International Marxist groups paid lip service to the vision of a peaceful demonstration.” This is written by someone who must have been asleep and had not been following what was going on, and it suggests that whoever they had planted inside, if it came from there, was somewhat inept, and collecting money under false pretenses. Let me explain. It’s just not logical what the report says about this.

The International Marxist Group, of which I was one of the leaders, was very clear about what our objectives were: very simply, we wanted the Labour Government to break from the Americans on Vietnam. This would be the best way, we thought, to put pressure on the U.S. to withdraw their troops and the best tactic for accomplishing this was having tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of London protesting. This is what we meant by solidarity with the Vietnamese and why we, along with the Bertrand Russell Foundation, set up the VSC. Some of VSC posters even carried the slogan calling for victory for the NLF.
To achieve this, we had to make it possible for ordinary people to come out onto the streets and protest peacefully. A deliberate policy of seeking out confrontation and fighting the police stood in the way of this. At a special VSC conference in early 1968, after a very brief stay, most of the Maoist groups – especially Albert Machanda – broke from the VSC, strange as it may seem, because we had refused to adopt their proposal to endorse the programme of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front. It was their way of trying to tie us into the politics of the NLF, and the Maoism of the Communist Party of China. It was in the Ad Hoc Committee where we had the strongest debates about violence and confrontation, especially around the question of a possible route for the October 1968, action. It seems whoever was writing the reports, was totally unaware of this.

Analysis of VSC material

By putting the material released on 'John Graham' in context with other documents and histories of the time, a number of things can be inferred.

1. Given the SDS was not proposed until September 1968, and it was aware that the VSC had a large march coming up in October that year, and it was the VSC's March 1968 which had cause the SDS to be founded, it is very likely that 'John Graham' was among the very first of the SDS undercover and been deployed before the October March.

2. At the time, contemporaneous documents indicate that Conrad Dixon held the rank of Chief Inspector within Special Branch and was directly involved in authoring reports of the activities of the Vietnam Solidarity Group.[26][31] It is quite likely Dixon is the Chief Inspector referred to by 'John Graham' as asking him to attend a particular meeting and transferring him out of undercover work when he refused.

3. There is an inconsistency in the Risk Assessment which states the VSC meetings were held at the Durham Arms, Kennington (4.8).[2] This pub was at 41 Harleyford Road, SE11, and is now closed.[32] The Durham Arms is an unlikely venue as it was a considerable distance away from Kilburn, and in an area with its own local VSC branch. As such, it is likely this is either mistake of some kind and may indicate either that another undercover was targeting the south London Lambeth VSC group (leading to a confusion by compiler of the Risk Assessment), or that it was meant to be a reference to The Dublin Castle pub in Parkway, Camden, NW1 where the Hampstead / Camden group held its meetings.[18]

Dublin Castle pub, Parkway, NW1 (via

4. The reference to a conference in Sheffield has not yet been identified. There was a conference at Sheffield called by the Sheffield University Vietnam Action Committee in January 1968, and a subsequent National Committee meeting in the city (exact date to be ascertained), but these are thought to have taken place too early in that year for 'John Graham' to have participated.[13] Another reference to Sheffield appears in the 23 September 1968 Special Branch report on the October 1968 mobilisation, in which is stated: "The North West London ad hoc Committee has agreed to follow the official route as laid down at Sheffield..."[30] Details of this meeting have yet to be ascertained, but if N326 or another undercover did attend it, the dates of the report it would indicate a rapid deployment and involvement in the VSC not long after the SDS was established. However, the Sheffield reference could also connect to the RSSF who had a national conference there in 1968.[33]

5. Presuming that HN329 had begun his deployment by the time of the October 1968 demonstration and continued to attend protests and meetings until into 1969, this means it is likely he attended:[34]

a) a protest of 3rd December 1968 against a pro-war group 'Friends of Vietnam' who were holding a meeting in Kensington Town Hall. The meeting itself was occupied and as a consequence canceled. Around 80 police escorted the protesters from the hall. The anti-War campaigners then sought to march on South Vietnam embassy but were prevented from reaching it by police without confrontation. Those protesting included people from North West London VSC and a contemporary report notes a significant police presence there.[35]
b) a VSC public meeting held in Conway Hall on 20th December 1968 to mark the anniversary of the foundation of the National Liberation Front of Vietnam.

6. Mention is made in HN329's statement of an incident in which he was assaulted by a security guard at the Australian High Commission.[3] At the time, this was based at Australia House, Aldwych. A group, the London based Australian and New Zealanders Against The Vietnam War were active in encouraging protests against the Australian government over its support for the Vietnam War. It appears a number of protests were held at the Australian High Commission in 1968 / 1969, and the press statement from the VSC notes that the march of 27 October 1968 was due to march past the building.[36] It has not been possible to further isolate the incident HN329 was involved with, or were there arrests on the day. However, Conrad Dixon's report of 3 October 1968 notes:

The Revolutionary Socialist Students Federation continues to emphasise the importance of Australia House as a symbol of Commonwealth complicity in the Vietnam War and is calling for militant action there. Members of the group Australians and New Zealanders Against the Vietnam war attempted to disrupt a social event at Australia House on 27.9.68: Police had advance warning of their intentions, and about a dozen people who tried to create a disturbance were escorted from the premises. All the indications are that a further attempt will be made at this building.[4]

7. Helpfully, a research project into Camden VSC at the time has been conducted by Celia Hughes of Warwick University, and allows for the tentative identification of the doctor mentioned by N326 as being Geoff Richman (now deceased),[22] a leading light in the VSC (both in Camden and as member of the national committee) and the Socialist Medical Association,[37] and an occasional contributor to the New Left Review.[38]

8. Depending on how long John Graham was deployed into 1969, it suggests that Camden VSC and its successor body the Camden Movement for People Power / Red Camden should be included in the list of groups he targeted.


Revolutionary Socialists Students' Federation

Cover of Student International, Issue 1, February 1969.

Not much has been revealed yet about HN329's reporting on the RSSF or how he came to have access to information of their activities. Other than the one line in his Risk Assessment, the group is not otherwise mentioned in documents released by the Undercover Policing Inquiry. He does not seem to have actively participated in it. The following material is presented as general interest providing context on the group.

Founded in late 1960s, the RSSF was a left organisation focused on organising students. Closely associated with Trotskyist left wing groups of the time, it had during its brief existence a broad church of left wing activists and branches in universities and colleges across the country. However, it is most notably aligned with the International Socialists & New Left Review. The heart of the organisation was focused on the London School of Economics, which over the period 1967 to 1969 experienced considerable student radicalism. As such, the RSSF was born out of and a key player in the radical student movements of the late 1960s and the anti-Vietnam war protests of the time. As such it sought to be a counter-weight to the National Union of Students.[39] Reports of its activities were captured in the three issues of the short-lived journal Student International.[40]

It's founding conference took place at the London School of Economics over 14-15 June 1968 and attracted prominent socialist activists of the day including leading VSC activists. A contemporary report noted of a press conference announcing the launch of the organisation that: 'It would not be committed to violence, though it might be necessary on occasion... that RSSF was more concerned with revolution in capitalist society as a whole than in mere student power.'[41]

Though it had groups in Universities and colleges across the UK, the RSSF was particularly organised around the London School of Economics where one of the group's leading lights was Richard Kuper - who was also active with the International Socialists (elected a member of the National Committee in 1968) and the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign.[42] In October 1968, some 3000 students occupied the LSE following an attempt by management to close the university ahead of the 27 October anti-Vietnam War demonstration. During this occupation, the LSE was used as a base for the protests, including a medical centre established by the Socialist Medical Association.

The obituary of Conrad Dixon, founder of the SDS, notes:[12]

Dixon lead from the front, and when the London School of Economics was occupied by revolting students, he was first up the steps - and in text-book style - promptly took charge of the telephone exchange so as to control communication with the press.

This would appear to imply that Dixon took the role of an undercover officer himself focusing on the RSSF group at the LSE.

The RSSF briefly issued its own journal, called "Escalate".[43] It was also closely linked with the New Left Review, particularly Robin Blackburn who at the time was at LSE and was subsequently dismissed over his support of the student occupations. Another individual closely associated with the New Left Review was Tariq Ali, was a key organiser with the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign.[44][45][46]

Circa August 1968, the RSSF moved its address to 120 Commercial Road, E1,[15] where the VSC had moved its office to the previous month.[47]

The RSSF appears to have been a relatively short-lived organisation holding three national conferences[48] before suffering splits. However, it proved influential in subsequent left-wing student / campus organisations. Likewise, though linked strongly linked within the Trotskyist left, the RSSF contained in a variety of people from across the far left, including Maoists[49] connected to the Communist Party of Great Britain.[50] The London branch of the RSSF in particular was a source of future activists for the likes of Manchanda's Revolutionary Marxist-Leninist League, and the Alliance of Communist Workers.[51]

Undercover Policing Public Inquiry

'John Graham' is referenced by the nominal/cypher HN329 for the purposes of Operation Herne and the UCPI. On 3rd August 2017, his cover name was one of three released by the Inquiry, along with details of dates and targets of his deployment.[1] As such he is also one of the first SDS / NPOIU undercover officers to be formally confirmed by the Inquiry who had not been previously exposed by activists. The Metropolitan Police have applied to have his real name restricted by the Inquiry,[52] which the Chair, John Mitting, has indicated he is minded to grant.[1] In support of this application a personal / impact statement[3] and a risk assessment[2] have been issued, both in redacted form.

In giving his reason for not wanting to have his real name released, he said:[3]

I don't want to be associated with the idiot[53] that caused all this because it's a question of being tarred with the same brush. And of course, there is also the issue of people subsequently coming forward and claiming things because they have just picked on a name or something. I'm not worried about that because I never did anything except not tell the people in the organisation I was a police officer.

He is not a core participant at the Inquiry (4.20).[2]

Police line of command

John Waldron, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Deputy Commissioner, her succeeded on the sudden death of his predecessor Joseph Simpson on 20 March 1968.[54]

  • Ch. Supt. A[rthur][57] Cunningham. Name appears as signing a number of Special Branch reports submitted by Conrad Dixon in 1968,[11] though he is seemingly replaced by 3rd October by an Acting Chief Superintendent.[4]
  • 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.[11] In later years, F.4 is listed as having responsibility for overseeing counter-terrorism and related matters.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Press Release: ‘Minded to’ note, ruling and directions in respect of anonymity applications relating to former officers of the Special Demonstration Squad, Undercover Policing Public Inquiry (, 3 August 2017 (accessed 3 August 2017).
  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 David Reid, HN329 Open Risk Assessment, Metropolitan Police Service (via, 31 May 2017 (accessed 3 August 2017).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 'John Graham' (alias), Impact / Personal Statement by HN329 (open version), Metropolitan Police Service (via, 29 March 2017 (accessed 5 August 2017).
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Conrad Dixon, VSC "Autumn Offensive" (weekly report), Metropolitan Police Special Branch, 3 October 1968 (accessed via SpecialBranchFiles.UK).
  5. Ian H. Birchall, History of the International Socialists – Part 2: Towards a Revolutionary Party, International Socialism77 (1st series), April 1975 (accessed via, 8 August 2017).
  6. 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, 8 August 2017).
  7. Theresa van Geldern, Vietnam Solidarity: The determination to resist and the confidence to win, Socialist Outlook, May/June 1988.
  8. Bruce Robinson, 1968: Vietnam solidarity and the British left, (Alliance for Workers Liberty), 20 March 2008 (accessed 8 August 2017).
  9. 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).
  10. 1968: Anti-Vietnam demo turns violent, BBC News Online ('On This Day'), 2008 (accessed 6 August 2017).
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Anti Vietnam war – files overview,, undated (accessed 10 August 2017).
  12. 12.0 12.1 Conrad Dixon (obituary), The Times, 28 April 1994 (accessed via SpecialBranchFiles.UK).
  13. 13.0 13.1 Local V.S.C. Actvities, Bulletin of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, No. 11, February 1968 (accessed via, 8 August 2017).
  14. Background to the Vietnam War, July 1968, Papers of Marie and Geoff Richman, Bishopsgate Institute, (vide infra).
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Conrad Dixon, Report on Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, Metropolitan Police Special Branch, 30 August 1968 (accessed via SpecialBranchFiles.UK).
  16. Conrad Dixon, Vietnam Solidarity Campaign "Autumn Offensive", Metropolitan Police Special Branch, 10 September 1968 (accessed via SpecialBranchFiles.UK).
  17. List of Local Ad Hoc Committees In/Around London, Bulletin of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, No. 18, (October) 1968 (accessed via, 8 August 2017).
  18. 18.0 18.1 Letter announcing formation of Camden Vietnam Solidarity Campaign branch, circa December 1968, Papers of Marie and Geoff Richman, Bishopsgate Institute, (vide infra).
  19. Celia Hughes, Young Lives on the Left: Sixties Activism and the Liberation of the Self, Oxford University Press, 2015.
  20. Richman, Geoff and Marie Richman archive collection, Bishopsgate Institute, undated (accessed 8 August 2017).
  21. Extract from the Working Committee Minutes, Bulletin of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, No. 20, January 1969 (accessed via, 8 August 2017).
  22. 22.0 22.1 Celia Hughes, The Socio-Cultural Milieux of the Left in Post-War Britain (PhD Thesis), Warwick University, 2011 (accessed 8 August 2017).
  23. 23.0 23.1 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, (accessed 22 August 2017).
  24. Conrad Dixon, VSC "Autumn Offensive" (weekly report), Metropolitan Police Special Branch, 9 October 1968 (accessed via
  25. Peter E Brodie, Letter to regional police forces requesting information on extremists planning to attend the anti-Vietnam War protest of October 1968, Metropolitan Police Special Branch, 14 August 1958, (accessed via
  26. 26.0 26.1 Ch. Insp. Conrad Dixon, Special Branch report on Vietnam Solidarity Campaign's "Autumn Offensive", Metropolitan Police Special Branch, 21 August 1968 (accessed via
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Ray Wilson & Ian Adams, Special Branch A History: 1883-2006, Biteback Publishing, 2015.
  28. Rob Evans & Paul Lewis, Undercover: The True Story of Britain's Secret Police, Faber & Faber, 2013.
  29. Conrad Dixon, V.S.C. "Autumn Offensive", weekly summary, Metropolitan Police Special Branch, 16 October 1968 (accessed via
  30. 30.0 30.1 Conrad Dixon, VSC "Autumn Offensive" (weekly report), Metropolitan Police Special Branch, 23 September 1968 (accessed via SpecialBranchFiles.UK).
  31. Ch. Insp. Conrad Dixon, V.S.C. "Autumn Offensive", weekly summary, Metropolitan Police Special Branch, 22 October 1968 (accessed via
  32. Durham Arms, Kennington,, undated (accessed 8 August 2017)
  33. IS in the 60s: May 68 and after - interview with Colin Wilson,, 6 August 2015 (accessed 8 August 2017).
  34. V.S.C. Future Activities, Vietnam Solidarity Campaign Bulletin, Issue 19, November 1968 (accessed via
  35. Geoffrey Crossick, London V.S.C. Captures Saigon Propaganda Meeting, Vietnam Solidarity Campaign Bulletin, Issue 20, January 1969 (accessed via
  36. Press statement on protests of 27 October 1968, Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, 2 October 1968 (accessed via the Richman archives).
  37. Socialist Medical Association report, October 1968, RedMoleRising (blog), 9 June 2016 (accessed 8 August 2017).
  38. Geoff Richman, On Martin Rossdale's 'Socialist Health Service', New Left Review, Issue 38, July / August 1966 (accessed 8 August 2017).
  39. Peter Gowan, L.S.E. and R.S.S.F., Student International, Issue 1, February 1969 (accessed via Red Mole Archives).
  40. The three issue of 'Student International – the Bulletin for Student Power!' have been archived by The Red Mole website at Issue 1 (Feb 1969), Issue 2 (March 1969), Issue 3 (June 1969).
  41. Richard Bourne, From the archive, 15 June 1968: British students talk about a revolution, The Guardian, 15 June 1968, republished 15 June 2013 (accessed 6 July 2017).
  42. Papers of Richard Kuper (International Socialism Group / Socialist Workers Party), Modern Records Centre, Warwick University, catalogue entry (accessed 6 August 2017).
  43. Some sources also call it 'Revolution' or 'The London Journal of the Revolutionary Socialist Students Federation'.
  44. Gregory Elliot, Perry Anderson: The Merciless Laboratory of History, 1998, University of Minnesota Press.
  45. Tendance Coatesy, New Left Review at Fifty: Is There Life in Their Politics?, (Blog), 19 February 2010 (accessed 6 August 2017).
  46. Martin Klimke & Joachim Scharloth, 1968 in Europe: A History of Protest and Activism, 1956–1977, 2008, Springer.
  47. Contents, Vietnam Solidarity Campaign Bulletin, Issue 16, July 1968 (accessed via
  48. The RSSF held its second conference in London on 10 November 1968, when it adopted its manifesto, including calls for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and imperialism. See: Revolutionary Socialist Students’ Federation: RSSF Manifesto, first published in the New Left Review, Issue 53, Jan/Feb 1969; re-published by SocialismToday, Issue 118, May 2008.
  49. Di Parkin, A Revolutionary Schoolgirl of the 1960s: Meeting report, Bristol Radical History Group, notes of talk of 9 March 2016 (accessed 6 August 2017).
  50. Geoff Andrews, History of the Communist Party, Vol 6, Lawrence & Wishart, 2004.
  51. The Second Wave: the Radical Youth Wants a Party: The Late 1960s – Index Page,, undated (accessed 6 August 2017).
  52. Application for a restriction Order (Anonymity) re: HN329, Metropolitan Police Service (via, 30 March 2017 (accessed 5 August 2017).
  53. This is presumably a reference to Mark Kennedy, whose exposure kicked off the spycops scandal in 2011.
  54. See Wikipedia articles: Joseph Simpson & John Waldon (police officer) for further details & sources. Accessed 10 August 2017.
  55. Peter Brodie (police officer), Wikipedia, 2017 (accessed 10 August 2017).
  56. Obituary: Ferguson Smith, The Telegraph, 2013 (accessed 10 August 2017).
  57. Tentative identification of first name only based on material from the Wilson & Adams history of Special Branch (see page 240).