The Special Demonstration Squad is a Special Branch Unit established in the late 1960s as a result of the rise of the New Left.  It was a unit of the Metropolitan Police Service with a remit to prevent disorder.
'Officer A' from a secretive unit of the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police Service, tells The Guardian that his role was to "provide intelligence about protests and demonstrations, particularly those that had the potential to become violent". According to the The Guardian, the unit consists of 10 full-time undercover operatives who are given new identities, and provided with flats, vehicles and "cover" jobs while working in the field for up to five years at a time. Apparently during his time undercover, all 10 covert SDS operatives would meet to share intelligence about forthcoming demonstrations. They're known as the "hairies" due to the fact that its members do not have to abide by usual police regulations about their appearance. He spent "years working undercover among anti-racist groups in Britain, during which he routinely engaged in violence against members of the public and uniformed police officers to maintain his cover". In a film hosted on The Guardian website, Officer A says that public should be aware of the tactics used against demonstrators.
- Should you be what the SDS deem a ' political agitator', they can send an officer into your home, into your life, for 4 to 5 years without anybody other than the SDS knowing that it's happening.
The SDS was established in 1968 to "deal with the lack of police knowledge of what was happening on demonstrations", states a film interview from The Guardian. It was shut down in october 2006 as part of a restructuring of the Met, though continued to exist until October 2008. The Anti-Nazi League, Youth Against Racism, the British National party and the National Front are all believed to have been infiltrated by the SDS. Since it has been closed down, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit an agency that monitors so-called domestic extremists performs a similar role in the UK today.
The measures that are taken to avoid supplying information as to who these individuals are working for, as well as their remit, raises questions about accountability.
Fears of Public Inquiry
Officer A's deployment, which lasted from 1993 to 1997, ended amid fears that his presence and role within groups protesting about black deaths in police custody and bungled investigations into racist murders would be revealed during the public inquiry by Sir William Macpherson into the death of south London teenager Stephen Lawrence.
When details of his role within the protest planned against E.ON's coal power fire station were required for the prosecution, The Guardian revealed that
- the prosecutors unexpectedly abandoned the trial after they were asked to disclose classified details about the role the undercover officer played in organising and helping to fund the protest. "I have no doubt that our attempts to get disclosure about Kennedy's role has led to the collapse of the trial," said Mike Schwarz, a solicitor at the Bindmans law firm who represented the activists.
- "The individual is a Met officer," said Nottinghamshire police."He's an undercover officer," said the Metropolitan police. "We can't say more." Scotland Yard refused requests for information about the Special Demonstration Squad, reported an article from The Daily Telegraph.
In another instance of Police seeking to recruit CHIS (Covert Human Intelligence Sources) from the environmental movement, the two plain clothes policemen claiming to be officers from Strathclyde Police were in fact not traceable on any Strathclyde Police databases. No satisfactory answers were obtained as to who they were, or to which department they were accountable.
Private Security Sector
Peter Bleksley, former undercover police officer, when questioned about the Kennedy affair in an an interview for BBC2, confirms that there are currently more police officers embedded in the movement and that "there are also people from the private security sector working against climate campaigners".
Interfering with the right to protest
By providing intelligence, Officer A tells The Guardian
- "the campaigns I was associated with lost much of their effectiveness, a factor that ultimately hastened their demise".
He believes the public should be able to make an informed decision about whether such covert activities are necessary, given their potential to curtail legitimate protest movements.
More than a peripheral role in protest
Officer A 'from the SDS was never suspected by the people he worked and socialised with
- so convincing was he in his covert role that he quickly rose to become branch secretary of a leading anti-racist organisation that was believed to be a front for Labour's Militant tendency.
He spoke out after his duties with the SDS were terminated, claiming that he feels the public should know what police tactics they could be subject to. Though occupying a similarly key role in the organising (contributing to the planning of the actions) and logistics (providing transport and funds) of protest, Mark Kennedy was however finally exposed by activists who found a passport with his real name and confronted him, leading to a confession.
Infiltrator or agent provocateur?
Unlike regular undercover officers, members of the SDS do not have to gather evidence with a view to prosecuting their targets, The Guardian article explains. This enables them to witness and even engage in criminal activity without fear of disciplinary action or compromising a subsequent court case".
Legal documents suggest Kennedy's activities, working for the NPOIU, went beyond those of a passive spy, prompting questions as to whether his role in organising and helping to fund protests meant he turned into an agent provocateur, suggests the BBC NewsNight interview.
The costs of intelligence gathering
Mark Kennedy (known as Mark 'Flash' Stone) was exposed as a police officer having infiltrated the UK environment protest movement. He told friends each undercover spy cost £250,000, according to The Guardian. Kennedy is believed to have been one of at least two undercover operatives working for the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, an agency that monitors so-called domestic extremists. He was actively involved in the protest against E.ON's coal-fire power station in Nottingham which, according to The Guardian was subject to "months of surveillance, cost ￡300,000 and resulted in the largest number of pre-emptive arrests of political activists in the UK".
Following an attempt to infiltrate a Plane Stupid group in Scotland, through Freedom of Information request, The Guardian revealed that Strathclyde Police force had almost doubled the annual amount it paid to informants since 2004, when £145,198 was paid. A total of £762,459 was paid between 2004 and 2008.
- Pete Black
- Jim Boyling
- Bob Lambert
- Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, Former police spy urges public inquiry into undercover operations, guardian.co.uk, 26 October 2011.
- Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, Stephen Lawrence family and friends targeted by police 'smear' campaign, The Guardian, 23 June 2013.
- True Spies 1. Subversive My Arse, BBC News, accessed 10 April 2008.
- Climate protester unmasked as copThe Daily Telegraph, 20/12/10, accessed 31/12/10
- Tony Thompson, Undercover policeman reveals how he infiltrated UK's violent activistsThe Observer 14 March 2010, accessed 02/01/11
- Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, Undercover officer spied on green activistsThe Guardian 09/01/11, accessed 10/01/11
- Tony Thompson and Shehani Fernando,Inside the closed ranks of Scotland Yard’s top secret deep infiltration squadThe Guardian 14/03/11, accessed 10/01/11
- Climate protester unmasked as cop Daily Telegraph 20/12/10, accessed 31/12/10
- Paul Lewis Police caught on tape trying to recruit Plane Stupid protester as spy The Guardian 24 April 2009, accessed 06/12/10
- Kirsty Wark, NewsNight "BBC2" 10/01/11, accessed 11/01/11
- Rob Edwards Revealed: a web of police bids to infiltrate protest groups The Sunday Herald 25 April 2009, accessed 06/12/10
- Paul Lewis and Nidhi Prakash,Ratcliffe coal protesters spared jail sentences The Guardian 05/01/11, accessed 11/01/11
- Paul Lewis Police force paid informants £750,000 in four yearsThe Guardian 8 May 2009, accessed 06/12/10