Matt Rayner (alias)
Matt Rayner was the name used by an undercover police officer, believed to have worked for the Special Demonstration Squad. He infiltrated the animal rights movement in London from 1991 to 1996. Rayner was one of two undercovers in animal rights in the early 1990s, and who were referred to indirectly in Rob Evans & Paul Lewis' book Undercover. The real name of the officer is unknown.
- 1 Profile
- 2 Activities
- 3 Exit
- 4 Suspicions and exposure
- 5 Notes
Description and Background
Matt was about six foot tall, medium build, with short dark hair and glasses. He spoke with a Home Counties accent, though he told his girlfriend he came from Shropshire. In 1992 - 1993 he is described as wearing a black beanie hat and green army surplus gear. - it was noted that he wore a black, woolly hat much of the time. Another campaigner wrote of him: 'He had a mullet style haircut, slightly greying. Sometimes grey/white goatee style beard. He reminded me of documentary maker Louis Theroux. Often wore a red lumberjack type shirt.'
He told his girlfriend that he was an only child and had attended a private school on a piano scholarship. He said his parents embarrassed him 'as they were quite cultured middle England types.' He avoided mentioning his family, and his partner never met them. Others noted that he did not tell very much about his background. He appeared to have no interest in other political activities besides animal rights, though he did give the impression of being generally left wing.
Personality and relationships
Matt was friendly and popular and formed close friendships with activists he targeted. He came across as self-assured and was comfortable in social situations. He liked socialising and enjoyed going to the pub, concerts, the cinema and on one occasion attended a football match with fellow activists (he claimed to be a Liverpool supporter).  Often he would bring beers around on visits to people. A campaigner who worked with him briefly in London Animal Action considered him as someone who was helpful and calm with a self-confident bearing. He was capable of drinking a lot, but even then remained in control. In terms of activism, one person who knew him well said he came across as 'quite motivated and dynamic'.
He appears to have used the tactic of becoming quite close to a number of the more active campaigners in the London animal right scene (but also elsewhere), forming good friendships with several that lasted through-out his deployment. These included Claire who believes their friendship was a part of his cover, giving him access to other people; she considered their friendship to have been a good one and he would flirt with her. Another person he became close friends with was Paul Gravett, then prominent in the London animal rights scene, and member of London Greenpeace. In July 1995 Rayner took part in a pagan play in Gravett’s garden, which was filmed - he can be seen acting and speaking in a clip uploaded to YouTube.
In general, animal rights campaigners found him to be a friendly individual who would go out of his way to help people. In contrast, another activist who only knew Matt socially through his former partner found him to be laid back, someone who tagged along and listened, not prying or really talking, and that he could be cold.
At a time when cars were not common in activist circles, Matt was always offering to drive people around. He helped one activist move home several times, including at one point hiring a large van to help her with this; and after meetings drop her at home even though it was out of his way. He also drove a vehicle for someone moving to Bristol.
He always celebrated his birthday (often at the Famous Three Kings pub in the Fulham / West Kensington area) and as a result his date of birth was known - this would later prove important in confirming he had used a false identity.
Due to travelling as part of his activism, Matt was known well beyond London and the South-East. He was close friends with a female campaigner from Liverpool and was also known in activist circles in Manchester, where he was apparently well liked.
Occupation, vehicle and money
Matt drove a white Ford Cortina estate. In 1992/1993 he drove a large blue van, larger than a Transit. Later he had a red Transit-style van, which he used to take people to meetings and demonstrations. He claimed to be a driver for a company selling musical instruments. This job would apparently take him to France for days at a time, supposedly delivering said instruments. Friends would receive postcards from France while he was away.
In terms of money, Matt came across as someone able to pay for things, helpful given that at the time most people in the group were unemployed. When covering travelling expenses he would often state 'give what you can afford'. Even when just he and another campaigner drove to Manchester for a protest there he did not ask for much money to cover petrol. He was somewhat unusual in the group in that he had a pager. Nobody else had one due to how expensive they were at the time.
It it thought that his initial residence was in Chiswick, west London, and he was known as 'Chiswick' to certain people. However, another activist who knew him said that: 'when he first turned up at West London Hunt Sabs they asked where he had come from and he said Chiswick, meaning he drove there via the Chiswick roundabout which is on the main route out of London. So the nickname Chiswick stuck.'
Soon after his appearance on the scene he moved to Willesden (just around the corner from Willesden Green station in Blenheim Gardens) in north west London, where he had a sparsely furnished bedsit.
London Boots Action Group (1991-1994)
In the early nineties there was an upsurge in activity against vivisection and much of this was focused on a high-profile campaign against Boots the Chemist, which owned animal research laboratories at the time. It was the focus of many protests around the country, and was targed by the Animal Liberation Front.
A leading group in the campaign was the London Boots Action Group (LBAG).
A description of LBAG from Arkangel magazine gives its activities as:
- Newsletters are produced with up-to-date information on Boots' activities. Monthly meetings take place in Endsleigh Street, Euston. Camden Boots is picketed every Sunday. Stickers and posters and other merchandise is available. The Boots AGM and Boots Aerobathon which raised money for animal tested research was picked again. A National Day of Action against Boots took place in the summer and was spearheaded by LBAG.
It is known that he was active in the LBAG campaign including attending the pickets in Camden and the protests at Boots' Annual General Meetings. During the 1993 AGM protestors were forcibly ejected for seeking to raise the issue of animal testing and deaths of both animals and humans, due to Boots' heart drug Manoplax. Claire recalled that he was very active in the campaign by the time she arrived on the scene in April 1992. She considered him to be a core member who attended pretty much all the meetings and the Sunday pickets in Camden, and noted it was common for him to go to the pub with the rest of the group afterwards.
In November 1994, Boots the Chemist sold its pharmaceuticals wing, including its animal laboratory, to the German corporation BASF, effectively bringing the campaign against it to an end at that point.
London animal rights scene
Following the decision of Boots to get rid of its animal research laboratory, the London Boots Action Group merged with the London Animal Rights Coalition and the London Anti Fur Campaign to form London Animal Action (LAA) in September 1994. It is believed Matt was at the inaugural meeting for LAA. He would become the treasurer for the group not long after it was founded (certainly by early 1995), and remained in that role until his departure in November 1996. In this capacity he had he had keys to its office at 5 Caledonian Road.
In the mid-1990s, coinciding with the founding on London Animal Action, animal rights activists in London switched much of their focus to anti-fur campaigning, particularly against shops such as Nobles and Hockleys. It is known that he often attended the protests organised against Noble Furs on Regents Street. This campaign was started by the London Anti-Fur Campaign in October 1994.
In March 1996, London Animal Action held a 'day of action against the fur-trade' which included a demonstration at the home of Michael Hockley in north-west London. This received a very heavy police presence, including a helicopter. Accounts indicate that the police were very aggressive towards Matt but did not arrest him.
He did not show much interest in campaigns outside of animal rights. He helped a friend move to the Claremont Road / M11 protest site in London in Autumn 1994 but was clearly not impressed with it.
Direct action and the Animal Liberation Front
The early nineties was a period of rising animal rights militancy, especially direct action. It was said that Matt was 'up to his neck in direct action' at the time, and used his van to transport people to and from actions, whether against Boots, butchers or organisations funding animal research. - and that he was willing to instigate things.
In 1993 he was involved in the campaign against the Leyden Street chicken slaughterhouse in east London, the scene of protests since the mid 1980s, including direct action. In March 1992 a new animal rights campaign had formed to focus on it, with regular protests over the next few years, which faced violence from workers and a large police presence. On four separate occasions in 1992-1994 animals were liberated in raids on the building, twice during public protests. Matt claimed that he had been involved in some of the actions against the slaughterhouse and that his house was raided because of one of the liberations.
Also in around 1993, he drove activists to a protest against a French circus with animals which was putting on a show in Kent. Paul Gravett recalled that he said 'something in French to one of the workers, who became angry and slapped him across the face. His glasses were knocked off but he wasn't injured.'
Matt was involved in a liberation action at a neglected farm where animals were being kept in particularly horrendous conditions. Activists drove there and removed a number of the animals, with Matt driving a van to the place twice to collect the rescue animals.
At an unknown date, he drove animal rights campaigners to a protest against a Ministry of Defence laboratory in Kent.
In late 1995 while returning from a protest against a hunt ball (an event organised by fox-hunts as an annual get-together / fund-raiser), a fellow activist in the car with him asked him to stop the car so they could get out and spray-paint a Shell garage, because the Nigerian state had recently hung anti-Shell activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others with the corporation's complicity. At the time Matt neither supported the action, nor did he argue it.
Geoff Sheppard case (1995)
In May 1995, the house of animal rights activist Geoff Sheppard was raided by the Anti-Terrorist Squad; though a number of living people there were held (Matt was not around at that point and not arrested), it was clear they were only interested in Geoff. The others were released without charge, while Geoff was arrested for possessing a firearm and materials to make incendiary devices after police raided his home in London. A few months later he was sentenced to seven years for his role in an ALF campaign against Boots the Chemist.
Sheppard says Matt Rayner 'deliberately encouraged him to take more serious direct action against Boots'. He had already served a long sentence in the eighties for conspiracy to commit arson against Debenhams department stores which sold fur garments, and says he was reluctant to commit serious offences again until Rayner persuaded him otherwise. He also claims Rayner transported people to sabotage targets such as Boots’ stores.
McLibel trial (1995 onwards)
Until 1997, London Animal Action had an office at 5 Caledonian Road, home to Housman's Bookshop and Peace News. A number of other groups, including London Greenpeace and the McLibel Support Campaign also used space in the building and received post there. Rayner therefore had access to papers relating to the McLibel trial taking place at the time (it had begun in 1995). McLibel Support Campaign meetings were held in the same building. Someone who knew Matt well recalled that he attended a number of McLibel campaign pickets. It is known that around 1992-1993 Matt regularly visited the house next door to were the other McLibel defendant, Dave Morris, then lived in Tottenham; while in the YouTube video from Paul Gravett's garden, Rayner can be seen talking to other people who were then prominent in the McLibel Supporters Group.
Activities outside London
He was usually willing to use his vehicle to take people on demonstrations around the country. As nobody else at the time had a vehicle, he would always drive people to protests.
A notable example was when he drove London animal rights activists to the 1993 protest against the Grand National horse race at Aintree in Merseyside, which contributed to the race being declared void. The protests of the 3 April were subject to a heavy policing operation, and press at the time stated that Aintree was spending an extra £20,000 on security following the announcement of protests by the group 'Action to Abolish the Grand National'.
Despite a police operation, fifteen animal rights protestors evaded security and police to run onto the track and disrupt the start of the race by sitting down in front of one of the fences. Half of those who did this were from London; all were arrested. This and other problems caused the race to be called off, something said to have cost the racing industry around £60 million at the time - making it probably one of the most successful animal right actions ever in terms of financial losses caused, Nevertheless, no charges were pressed against those who had occupied the track. Interestingly, those who travelled up with Rayner were asked to contribute £7 towards petrol.
Rayner would again drive animal rights activists from London to Aintree the following year, following Action to Abolish the Grand National repeating its call-out for protests. As in 1993, 1994 saw a significant police operation in response, lead by Ch. Insp. Sue Woolfenden. A couple of days prior, three local activists were been arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage at the course. It was also noted in newspapers that Special Branch were preparing to take action against protestors, including having at the ready boltcroppers and other tools in case protestors chained themselves to fences, and were preparing to eject activists from the grounds. On the day there were around 100 protestors present at the entrance to the racecourse with many arrests - twenty people were arrested on the way to the protest and another three inside the grounds.
In August 1995 he drove a group to Yorkshire as part of a set of large protests against the 'Glorious Twelfth', the official start of the grouse-shooting season. Writing of this, Paul Gravett, one of those who went with him, said:
- While there he was arrested and taken into police custody, only to be released a few hours later. He wasn’t charged but this brush with the law only served to improve his standing.
He was the only one arrested from this vehicle. Contemporary reports note there were protests across the north of England with 11 arrests, including a large protest of 200 anti-shooting campaigners at the Stang Forest, Arkengarthdale in North Yorkshire which saw nine arrests following police moving against protestors. Other protests took place at Grinton on the same day. though it is believed it Rayner was arrested at the former for public order offences.
At another point he drove himself and Claire to a protest in Manchester against the bullfighter Frank Evans. He also showed a lot of interest in the large live export protests taking place at Shoreham in 1995, using his car to take down to these quite a bit, night or day.
Liverpool & Manchester groups
Matt Rayner is known to have shown interest in animal rights groups in the north of England, particularly Liverpool and Manchester and to have visited them on a number of times. He was known to people in the Wolverhampton group as well. A key point of contact was through national events as part of the campaign against Boots.
In Liverpool, he focused in particular on one leading activist Serena, who was the point of contact for the local group. At the time there was considerable animal rights activity in the north west.
He visited Liverpool a number of times, mainly with groups of protestors for specific events (including the 1993 Grand National protest), but on one occasion travelled there by himself. This would have brought him into contact with a number of other leading animal rights activists who were associated with the area - though he did not go out of he way to meet them. Though everyone liked him, his interest in Liverpool did arouse some suspicion.
In Liverpool, he twice attended the heavily policed demonstrations against the hare coursing event, the Waterloo Cup at Altcar (this annual event took place over a week each February until banned). On the evening after the 1995 Cup, which had in the region of 100 protestors present, he accompanied other activists to a live exports protest at Heysham. (Altcar and Heysham are nearby, in Lancashire.) He also helped on a stall at an animal rescue event in the Wirral. It is of note, that during one of his stays at Serena's flat, the barrister of Roger Yates, then involved a high-profile animal rights trial, was also staying over.
The week before the February 1995 Waterloo Cup protest, Claire had been injured by police at Windsor Castle during a mass trespass as part of the campaign against the Criminal Justice Act. She was still suffering from her injuries when she traveled to Liverpool and it was Matt who took her to a local hospital to have them checked out. She subsequently sued the police successfully over the events at Windsor.
Around 1994-1995 he showed interest in Manchester, driving activists to support protests being held there (including against bullfighter Frank Evans - see above). His friend Claire believes he used her to introduce him to people there.
Matt’s exit strategy was extremely elaborate and took about 18 months to execute. It began in the summer of 1995 when he changed jobs, saying he had started working for a wine company. A year later, he told a few close friends of his growing disillusionment with activism after being raided by the police (see above under the Leyden Street chicken slaughterhouse campaign) and the breakdown of the relationship with his girlfriend. He hinted at wanting to move on. Then in the autumn of 1996 he said he was moving to Bordeaux, France where his employer had a branch. As he could speak French and had always shown an interest in that country (including talking about how much he liked the town of Carcassonne) it did not come as a significant surprise he was moving there.
A big farewell party was organized in November 1996 at the Hemingford Arms in Islington, with the large upstairs room hired for the occasion. People came from elsewhere in the country. He was presented with a camera and a speech wishing him well. This farewell party, which continued afterwards at Paul Gravett's house (which was nearby) was a joyous affair.
The day he left for France, he took a couple of activist friends with him. At the port they say his vehicle was stopped by a Special Branch police officer who questioned Rayner about what he was doing. This is now believed to have been a stunt arranged by the SDS in the knowledge that the activists would tell others about it when they returned, lending further credibility to Matt’s departure.
Other friends of Matt visited him while he was supposedly living in Bordeaux and he made at least one excursion back to London to see people. He also wrote letters and made phone calls. He invited Serena to visit him in France, an offer she took up though they lost contact after this. She recalled the place where he lived as a flat on the top (3rd) floor of a large, old and grey tenement block. Her recollection is of it as being pretty bare without personal stuff, though this did not seem odd as it appeared he had not yet settled in. While she was there with him, he drove to a vinery where he collected a load of wine bottles, giving the impression this was related to his claimed work with a wine company.
The following year, he said he was moving to Argentina, 'the reason being that the company has just landed a new contact importing Argentinian wine... which has inevitably meant a huge amount of extra work for us all'. A few more letters were sent, including one in which he claimed to have become 'involved with someone that I’ve got to know over the period of this year, but contact eventually dwindled away and he was never heard from again.
It is known that Bob Lambert authored a report stressing 'carefully crafted withdrawal plans' to convince 'increasingly security-conscious target groups of the authenticity of a manufactured departure... inevitably this entails travel to a foreign country'. Gravett, speaking of Matt's departure, said it bore the hallmarks of Lambert (whom Gravett also had known):
- The exit strategy Rayner employed is probably the most elaborate yet detected and it is intriguing to speculate on the reasons for that. Perhaps Lambert was concerned that certain activists... might be suspicious of why so many people were going abroad. Or it may have been that the usual excuse of a feigned psychological crisis wouldn’t appear credible in the case of someone who always appeared confident and in control.
Suspicions and exposure
It appears that during the Leyden Street campaign there had been some suspicions that he might be a police officer, though it is not clear what the basis of these were and they do not seem to have persisted or been followed up.
After Lambert was uncovered in October 2011, those who had known Matt became suspicious that he too was a spy. During discussions, they realised that details of his birthday parties were in their diaries so they were able to place it as September 1967.
By now it was known that it was standard practice for SDS agents to assume the identities of dead children. Though checking birth certificates it became clear that the only Matthew Rayner born that month had died from leukaemia aged four in 1972, confirming their suspicions. This lead to Paul Gravett publishing a series of articles exposing the undercover officer, and the story was subsequently reported on in The Guardian.
Previous undercovers in London animal rights
It is now known that in 1983-1984 the SDS placed two infiltrators into the animal rights movement, Mike Chitty and Bob Lambert. Lambert, then known as Bob Robinson, targeted Geoff Sheppard at the time and it has emerged that Lambert was in the same group which planted incendary devices in Debenhams along with Sheppard.
John Dines would succeed Lambert in London Greenpeace (a group whose membership overlapped with the animal rights scene) towards the end of the decade, but by 1991 his deployment was nearing its end. It is thought by Gravett that Rayner for the most part followed the same blueprint for infiltration as used by Lambert, including extensive travelling to meet other campaigners and the use of both football and music as a key to creating relationships. Given that Dines extraction took place in at the end of 1991 (his last bit of political activity was November 1991, and a month later he changed his appearance, considered a sign his deployment was effectively over), it is thought that Rayner was put in as his replacement. It is known that by January 1993 there were two undercover police officers the in London animal rights scene, one being Rayner, the other having been named as Andy 'Van' Davey.
In 1994 Lambert became operational manager of the SDS, and would have been overseeing Matt Rayner when the latter was also involved with targeting Sheppard. According to Lewis and Evans he was 'the gaffer, pulling the strings like a puppet master'. Gravett who experienced a number of the undercovers spies in London, believes Matt was the closest to Lambert in personality and deployment, and commented about Lambert that there 'can be little doubt that he was guiding Rayner on how to spy on activists he himself had known a decade earlier'.
- Rob Evans & Paul Lewis,Undercover: The True Story of Britain's Secret Police, Faber & Faber, 2013, Chapter 9, Peter Francis notes that there were two undercovers in animal rights when he starts his own deployment in January 1993 (p109).
- Paul Gravett, Report on 'Matt Rayner', Summer 2015, unpublished.
- Paul Gravett, Police Spies and Surveillance, Red Black Green (blog), undated (accessed 3 October 2015).
- 'ARSpycatcher', How Special Branch Spied on Animal Rights Movement, Buro Jansen & Jansen (blog post), 26 February 2014 (accessed 3 October 2015).
- Paul Gravett, Flashback: 30 July 1995 – police spy dresses up at pagan garden party, Red Black Green (blog), 30 July 2015 (accessed 3 October 2015).
- Paul Gravett: email to Undercover Research Group, 5 February 2016.
- Undercover Research Group: email from A/L, 16 February 2016.
- Undercover Research Group: phone-call with Serena, 20 November 2015.
- Undercover Research Group: email from 'Patrick', an animal rights activist, 8 February 2016.
- Facebook message to Paul Gravett, March 2013.
- Undercover Research Group: interview with Paul Gravett, 12 September 2015.
- Undercover Research Group: interview with Brendan McNally, animal rights activist, 16 October 2015.
- Undercover Research Group: interview with Claire H, an activist close to Matt Rayner, 5 February 2016; email of 8 February 2016.
- Death of the Summer Lord Rayner excerpt 30 07 1995, YouTube.com, 30 July 1995 (uploaded 30 July 2015).
- Undercover Research Group: interview with Lee, 3 December 2015.
- Undercover Research Group: interview with 'Cara', 12 December 2015.
- Undercover Research Group: interview with Greta, an animals rights campaigner active with London Animal Action, 3 November 2015.
- Facebook message from former colleague of Matt Rayner to Paul Gravett, August 2015.
- Email from former colleague of Matt Rayner to Paul Gravett, October 2013.
- Undercover Research Group: interview with "YJ", 23 February 2016.
- Paul Gravett, Flashback: 25 April 1992 – the biggest anti-vivisection demo ever, Red Black Green (blog), 25 April 2015 (accessed 2 February 2016).
- Local Group Reports, Arkangel, issue 10, undated (accessed 2 Feb 2016).
- Local Group Reports, Arkangel, issue 12 (part 1), 1994 (accessed 2 Feb 2016).
- Undercover Research Group: interview with Paul Gravett, 12 September 2015.
- Martin Flanagan, Animal rights protesters ejected from Boots meeting, The Times, 23 July 1993 (accessed via Nexis, 20 February 2016).
- Philip Ryland, A Week in the Markets: Why tax policy must stay tight, Investors Chronicle, 18 November 1994 (accessed via Nexis).
- Jeff Randall, Boots, The Sunday Times, 20 November 1994 (accessed via Nexis).
- Alex Bourke & Ronny Worsley, Campaign Against Cruelty An Animal Activists Handbook, Scamp Media / Miso Publications, 2001 (accessed 2 February 2016).
- The "Close Down Noble Furs" Campaign, Arkangel, issue 13 (part 1), undated (accessed 6 Feb 2016). Has background material on the Noble Furs campaign.
- Mark Simmonds, Leyden Street slaughterhouse - the fight continues, Arkangel, issue 12 (part 2), 1994 (accessed 2 Feb 2016). Contains background story to this long standing campaign.
- Rob Evans, Undercover police spy accused of encouraging activist to crime, The Guardian, 4 December 2014 (accessed 3 October 2015).
- Undercover Research Group: conversation with Helen Steel, 9 October 2015; email from Helen Steel, 7 February 2016.
- LDMG, Phreak.co.uk (website), undated (accessed 20 February 2016).
- Paul Gravett, 1993: the year the Grand National was sabotaged – with help from Special Branch, Red Black Green (blog), 10 April 2016 (accessed 29 June 2016).
- Greg Wood, Grand National farce: 20 years on from the race that never was, The Guardian, 4 April 2013 (accessed 2 February 2016).
- Paul Hayward, Racing: Grand National 1993: Day of disaster for National: History made as world's greatest steeplechase is declared void, The Independent, 3 April 1993 (accessed 2 February 2016).
- Grand National declared void, BBC News, 3 April 1993 (accessed 6 January 2016, footage of news broadcast uploaded to YouTube.com).
- Colin Mackenzie, The Champions Choice; Protestors ready to march on big race, The Times, 2 April 1993 (accessed via Nexis).
- Lin Jenkins, Animal rights activists aim to wreck the National, The Times, 8 April 1994 (accessed via Nexis).
- John Goodbody, Police improve the odds at Aintree, The Times, 6 April 1994 (accessed via Nexis).
- Carry on protesting! Activists turn up the heat in summer scorcher, schNEWS, Issue 36, 18 August 1995 (accessed 20 February 2016).
- Shoot protesters arrested, The Independent, 13 August 1995 (accessed via Nexis).
- The inglorious Twelfth, Mail on Sunday, 13 August 1995 (accessed via Nexis).
- Undercover Research Group: email from Paul Gravett, 26 February 2016.
- Danny Penman, Cup's hare-coursing supporters are facing their Waterloo, The Independent, 22 February 1995 (accessed 5 February 2016).
- Clement Freud, Battle lines remain despite groups' common ground, The Times, 24 February 1995 (accessed via Nexis).
- Mark Thomas, Peaceful protest at hare coursing, Press Association, 21 February 2015 (accessed via Nexis).
- Letter of 25 January 1997 from Matt Rayner to Paul Gravett.
- A 1997 letter from Matt Rayner to Paul Gravett.
- Rob Evans, Undercover police spy accused of encouraging activist to crime, The Guardian, 4 December 2014 (accessed 16 February 2016).
- Rob Evans Secretive review into claim that police spy set fire to Debenhams, The Guardian, 25 June 2012 (accessed 1 March 2016).
- Rob Evans & Paul Lewis, Questions remain over animal rights activists' case, The Guardian, 13 June 2012 (accessed 1 March 2016).