Dick Epps (alias)
Dick Epps is the cover name used by a former undercover officer with the Special Demonstration Squad who was deployed into the International Marxist Group, Vietnam Solidarity Campaign and British Communist Party 1969 to 1972. They appeared on True Spies programme under the pseudonym 'Dan' with the approval of senior officers.
For the purposes of the Undercover Policing Inquiry and Operation Herne, they are also referred to by the cipher HN336 (for the N cipher system see N officers). The Inquiry has ruled that the officer's real name will be restricted.
As an SDS officer
Joined the Metropolitan police Special Branch in 1964. Deployed 1969-1972, targeting the International Marxist Group, Vietnam Solidarity Campaign and peripherally the British Communist Party, providing intelligence on other groups. None of them still exist. No allegation of misconduct known. Appeared on True Spies programme under the pseudonym 'Dan' with the approval of senior officers. A 27 Feb 2018 email named his targets as the International Marxist Group and the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign. Following his SDS deployment, worked in the port section and the Industrial Intelligence Section.
Appearance in True Spies
The officer, under the alias 'Dan', makes a number of appearances in the first episode of True Spies, the 2002 BBC Two documentary series on the Special Demonstration Squad.
On the founding of the Special Demonstration Squad in the wake of the March 1968 anti-Vietnam War protests:
- Commentary: Grosvenor Square shook the Secret State because of the global context of the time. Ever since the onset of the Cold War, MI5 had been worried about Soviet penetration of British political life.
- Dan: A quite senior officer warned that in his view it was quite likely that in ten years Britain could become a Communist State.
The programme goes on to interiew Tariq Ali, then of the International Marxist Group and a leading organiser of the protests (now also a core participant in the Undercover Public Inquiry).
- Commentary: But Tariq Ali was also a top target for the Hairies. One of them had infiltrated the IMG and managed to get hold of the keys to its headquarters.
- Dan: I was aware that some of the keys that I was holding when I was babysitting those offices gave access to offices that we, or the Security Service, might be interested in, so I was able to take pressings of all the keys.
- Interviewer: Pressings?
- Dan: Yes, pressing into plasticine for the copies to be made.
- Interviewer: And you just happened to have the plasticine handy did you?
- Dan: I had an idea that I might have an opportunity so I took some with me.
- Interviewer: And then?
- Dan: And then the offices were subsequently visited on another occasion.
- Commentary: The keys were passed on to the 'visitors' and the 'visitors' - presumably MI5 - turned them and got in. The purpose of such intrusions was to spy on what the organisation was up to.
- Interviewer: He made the impression of the key in a block of plasticine that he just happened to have in his pocket.
He also discusses becoming a subject of suspicion by the group:
- Commentary: It was a dangerous world out there and the Hairies lived with the abiding fear of being compromised. On one occasion, a telephone tap revealed that a Hairy was suspected by the group he'd infiltrated. He was warned to expect a grilling.
- Dan: After the meeting I was invited to a pub - and I remember drinking something in the region of 9 or 10 pints of beer. I was very concerned that I was getting the point where my guard would slip, that I would reveal something which would give something away or expose a colleague and I remember my mind seeming to stay ice cold. The rest of me felt like jelly but they had drunk along with me so they were showing considerable signs of wear as well, and I don't know if I satisfied them or not but I was allowed to go and then I was met shortly afterwards by a colleague, then I just collapsed. I was absolutely drunk as a skunk, but I'd held it together until then.
- Commentary: Many of the Hairies relished the adrenalin rush that came with the job. Their years undercover were the best of their police careers. But for a few, the pressure was unbearable.
- Interviewer: Did you decide that after that experience enough was enough?
- Dan: Yes I did. Yes. Yes I had a family to consider and it was taking its toll on those relationships. It was time to stop.
On the anti-Apartheid 'Stop the '70 Tour' campaign:
- Dan: I remember meeting with a senior officer at Scotland Yard and I said there would be an awful lot of blood spilled on the streets of London, and that was the view that was held in some circles at that time within the police service.'
Later on he is quoted on the industrial unrest of the time:
- Commentary: Through the late 60s and early 70s industrial unrest gripped the country - from the coalfields to the docks. MI5 and Special Branch had no doubt the hand of the communists lay behind it.
- Dan: We were going through a lot of unrest in the docks, in the print, in Ford and other motor works. A lot of big threats to the stability of our society. So at some stages, it felt as if you were paddling in a pool of subversion.
Peter Taylor, the director of True Spies, also wrote an article to promote the series for The Guardian in which Dan featured. Part of the article just repeates what Dan said in the series, but there is some new information as well:
- When Dan joined the Metropolitan police Special Branch in 1964, he was astonished when a senior officer warned that it was "quite likely that in 10 years Britain could become a Communist state". The new police recruits were being introduced to the subversive agenda of the Communist party of Great Britain, the prototype "enemy within". Its intention, they were told, was to use the trade unions as a revolutionary instrument to undermine parliamentary democracy. "It felt as if you were paddling in a pool of subversion," Dan says. Soon the pool deepened as the Vietnam war radicalised thousands of young people and swelled the ranks of Trotskyite organisations.
On Dan infiltrating the International Marxist Group (IMG) 'as the Vietnam war raged', Peter Taylor seems slightly ambiguous. He writes that Dan had 'infiltrated the fringes of the IMG, spent a few evenings baby-sitting the offices of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, an offshoot of the IMG.' However, the baby-sitting gave Dan the opportunity to copy the keys, as was explained in the series, 'The offices, he says, were subsequently "visited", presumably by MI5 who normally did burglaries'.
Tariq Ali says he felt betrayed, '[b]ut Dan has no regrets about what he did. "There was always a policeman within me, so I didn't have a problem about exposing people if necessary." All the hairies agree. Betrayal was part of the job description.'
After having survived the ordeal of a confrontation, Dan decided enough was enough, saying: 'On reflection, I didn't enjoy it'.
- For more on Special Branch cooperating with True Spies, see Eveline Lubbers, BBC True Spies series: Police happy to disclose information when it suits them, SpecialBranchFiles.uk project, 24 March 2016.
In the Undercover Policing Inquiry
- 14 November 2017: Minded-to - Real name cannot be published; cover name will be published.
- 27 Feb 2018: cover name and target groups released by the Inquiry.
- 5 March 2018: provisional decision restrict real name.
- 21 March 2018: application to restrict real name heard in public.
- 27 March 2018: ruling: real name name cannot be published. In granting this, Mitting wrote:
- He believes that if his real name were to be published he would attract media attention which may be intrusive. His concern is not irrational. Publication of his cover name, which has occurred, will permit any member still living of the groups with whom he was involved to give evidence about him. Publication of his real name would serve no useful purpose. The infringement of his right to respect for his private and family life and that of his family would not be justified under Article 8(2) ECHR.
- In the matter of section 19 (3) of the Inquiries Act 2005 Applications for restriction orders in respect of the real and cover names of officers of the Special Operations Squad and the Special Demonstrations Squad ‘Minded to’ note 2, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 14 November 2017 (accessed 15 November 2017).
- Kate Wilkinson, Counsel to the Inquiry's Explanatory Note to accompany the Chairman's 'Minded-To' Note 12 in respect of applications for restrictions over the real and cover names of officers of the Special Operations Squad and the Special Demonstration Squad, Undercover Public Inquiry, 13 September 2018.
- Peter Taylor, Inside job, The Guardian, 23 October 2002 (accessed October 2019)
- Email to core participants, '20180227_UCPI_all_CPs HN336_cover_name', Undercover Research Group, 27 February 2018, referencing an update of the webpage UCPI.org.uk/cover-names.
- Inquiry's gist of additional information within the evidence supporting HN336's application for restriction order over real name only - provided to permit argument on facts that have not been considered by the Inquiry to date, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 2 March 2018 (accessed via ucpi.org.uk 10 March 2018).
- True Spies - Episode 1: Subverting the subversives, BBC Two, 27 October 2002; transcripts.
- Sir John Mitting, Core Partiicpants: Ruling 19, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 7 June 2018.
- Press notice - Publication of documents relating to Special Demonstration Squad anonymity applications for hearing on 21 March 2018, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 5 March 2018.
- Sir John Mitting, In the matter of section 19(3) of the Inquiries Act 2005 Application for restriction order in respect of the real and cover names of officers of the Special Operations Squad and the Special Demonstration Squad Ruling 5 , Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI.org.uk), 27 March 2018.