James Straven (alias) and the Undercover Policing Inquiry

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This article is part of the Undercover Research Portal at Powerbase - investigating corporate and police spying on activists

Part of a series on
undercover police officers
HN16 / N16
James profile 1.JPG
Alias: James Straven (Kevin Crossland)
Deployment: 1997-2002
Animal Liberation Front, Brixton and Croydon Hunt Saboteurs

In September 2018, the Inquiry revealed that the undercover officer known as HN16 had been using two identities 'James Straven' and 'Kevin Crossland'. According to the Inquiry, he was deployed into the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Brixton and Croydon Hunt Saboteurs between 1997 and 2002. He deceived two women into intimite relationships while being deployed.

HN16 / N16 is the cipher given to a former undercover officer with the Special Demonstration Squad. He is a core participant in the Undercover Policing Inquiry and is represented by Slater & Gordon. On 8 December 2017, the Inquiry Chair, John Mitting, granted HN16 anonymity in his real name.[1]

The two women James had a relationship with have meanwhile been accepted by the Inquiry, and have been granted anonymity. Therefore we use their pseudonyms here, 'Ellie' and 'Sara'.[2][3]

Because James indeed had been in relationships, Mitting revoked his decision to restrict his real name in October 2018, only publishing it in February 2019.[4]

Cover names

HN16 seems to have been using two different cover names. 'James Straven' was the name that the Special Demonstration Squad sanctioned HN16 to use as his undercover identity. According to the Inquiry, this name was not based on the identity of a deceased child. It is also the name some activists remember him by.

Kevin Crossland was the identity of a deceased child who died in a plane crash in 1966. Use of this name does not appear to have been sanctioned by the Special Demonstration Squad, and the Inquiry is investigating why and how the name 'Kevin Crossland' was used. In its press release, the Inquiry took the unusual step to include a statement from the relatives, as they had asked, in Kevin's memory: [5]

Kevin was a very happy, five-year-old boy full of life. On 31 August 1966 Kevin, his sister and parents left to go on holiday, boarding a flight from Luton Airport to Ljubljana, in Old Yugoslavia.
Kevin and sister were very excited, they had packed their favourite toys to take with them. On the way to Luton Airport both were singing, 'we are going to the summer holiday'. Kevin and his sister sat on the left side of the plane near the end, next to their mother, whilst their father sat the other side of gangway with a good view of his family.
It was clear night but just before coming to land gone midnight, father heard his daughter calling 'the wing is hitting tree tops and there is fire coming out of them' and in no time Kevin, his sister and their mother died - with only their father who survived with multiple injuries, burns and enormous guilt that he was not able to save his family.

The relatives have been granted core participant status in the Inquiry.[2]

Intimate relationships

'Straven' has not been straightforward with the Inquiry about his relationships while undercover. In a statement signed just before the start of the closed session in October 2017 about his application for anonymity 'he denied conducting a sexual relationship in his cover name during his deployment with named women. One of them was "Ellie", identified by her real name.' Mitting writes that he did not accept the denial and decided that the cover name was to be released.

Six months later, in April 2018, HN16 submitted a statement to the Inquiry now admitting that indeed he had had a sexual relationship with "Ellie", lasting some months, during his deployment. 'The Inquiry attempted to obtain from him contact details for "Ellie", but all that it was said he could provide was "a guess at an old email address".'[2]

He was lying again. On 20 August 2018, Harriet Wistrich submitted a statement to the Inquiry on behalf of Ellie saying she had had a sexual relationship with HN16 in 1999/2000 for about a year, and that she had remained in touch with him since. She also said he contacted her recently 'to say that he had been an undercover officer in the Special Demonstration Squad and to warn her that she might be contacted by the Inquiry.'[2]

'Ellie' has now been accepted as a core participant to the Inquiry.[2].

'Straven' also lied about having had a relationship with 'Sara', identified by the Inquiry by her real name. After Mitting refused to accept his denial, 'Straven' admitted this relationship as well. The Inquiry made contact with her.

'Sara's' relationship took place between late 1998 and March 2001 approximately, according to the Inquiry. She too has been accepted as a core participant.[3]


According to his Nov 2017 risk assessment, N16 was involved in protection duties before joining the SDS. Initially, he performed 'back office' duties and developed his legend before being deployed. He 'did not receive any formal training for the role', and 'preparation consisted of research, reviewing of files and informal contact with more experienced UCOs'. 'N16 had a mentor at the initial stage of the deployment and subsequent support from another SDS officer'. He told the Risk Assessor that promises of anonymity were given. (s.3)[6]

N16 was arrested during his deployment, but the case did not come to trial. He declined to state whether he had 'engaged in any behaviour that could heighten the risk,' and as mentioned above denied having had relationships.

The gisted version noted: 'The risk assessor expressed concern about another individual who would be impacted if a restriction order was not made.' (s.4)

N16 has also been subject of a misconduct investigation. (s.5-7)[6]

Douglas Edwards, an undercover officer himself from 1968 to 1971, was involved in HN16's deployment in an administrative role with the SDS, and was questioned about that by an operation (redacted in his personal statement, presumably Operation Herne, the Met's self-investigation into the undercover policing scandal).[7]

In the Inquiry

March 2016 application for anonymity

In March 2016, the legal representative for HN16 (Slater & Gordon) applied to restrict his cover and real name, submitting the following documents:

According to the August 2017 UCPI press release, Mitting was considering a closed hearing for HN16 'due to sensitivity of material being considered'.[8] In his Minded-To note he added: "Detailed factors particular to this officer's circumstances require them to be considered at a closed hearing."[9] For this closed hearing a further risk assessment had to be submitted by 1 September 2017.[10]

Following the closed hearing, Mitting issued a Supplementary Minded-To on 23 October 2017 in which he stated:[11]

Publication of the cover name of HN16 is necessary to afford an opportunity to any individual who may have had an intimate relationship with HN16 under the cover name to provide information and evidence about it to the Inquiry. [emphasis added] This involves a small risk of significant interference with the right to respect for private and family life of HN16, if it leads to the revelation of the real name of HN16. Nevertheless, it is necessary to permit the Inquiry to fulfil its terms of reference to take that risk and proportionate to do so. On the basis of the information presently known to the Inquiry, and if no plausible evidence of such a relationship is forthcoming, publication of the real name of HN16 would neither be necessary for that purpose, nor proportionate nor otherwise justified.

The accompanying press release noted also:[12]

The undercover police deployments of all three of these individuals [HN16, HN26, HN81] are of real interest to the Inquiry and the Chairman is of the view that there is no means of getting to the truth without the cover names being made public.

Unreleased by the Inquiry was a closed note from Mitting 'which sets out in detail the reasons for refusing the application for a restriction order in respect of the cover name.'[11] See also the NPSCP submissions of 5 October 2017.

Risk assessment

The further material was released on 15 November 2017, including the MPS risk assessment.

The risk assessment noted that N16 had declined to meet his first assigned risk assessor, Kevin Shanahan but did provide material via his solicitors. He did meet with a new risk assessor, David Reid, but did not answer all questions. N16 has highlighted his perceptions of the risk he faces if his details are released; Reid agrees with some but not all of these views. (s.10) N16 did not 'reveal any ongoing psychological issues and declined to provide [Reid] with any information in respect of counselling or psychological support. (s.16)[6]

It stated, in gisted form that:[6]

The risk assessor accepts that a number of the individuals N16 reported on during the course of N16s' deployment are violent, or linked to others known to be violent. (Section 17)
... the substance of N16's evidence will betray N16's identity. In the context of the risk assessment, the risk assessor considered the giving of evidence in private to be the best means of managing the risk to N16. (Section 18)

Section 19 noted that in terms of risk if N16's cover name was released, the risk of attack was assessed as 'low' (2) (i.e. unlikely), though close to 'medium', but it was one of those cases were relying entirely on a numerical score was problematic. The likely impact was harder to assess, as some of the targeted individuals were likely to have a sense of betrayal, and also a history of violence which 'could foreseeably manifest into a physical attack against N16'. Thus, the impact was classed as 'moderate' (3), giving overall risk as 6.[6]

The likelihood of physical attack if real identity confirmed was increased to medium ('probability of the risk occurring could reasonably be foreseen and is considered distinctly possible to occur at some stage'), increasing overall risk score to 9.[6]

In relation to impact on family life:[6]

The risk assessor believes that on balance that the risk of interference with N16's family and private life is higher than the risk of physical assault, but does not dismiss the latter. The risk assessor assesses the likelihood of interference with N16's personal and family life if only N16's cover identity was known as medium (3). The risk assessor considers that the exposure of N16's deployment would have a significant impact on N16's career and future career prospects. The risk assessor assesses the likely impact as the upper levels of the 'moderate' category (3). This is defined as requiring "additional support, 'target hardening' at their address, or cause real anxiety within their family or close friends".

It is not explained how or why this increased risk would be higher given that this refers to only his cover name.

The risk assessor is much more concerned for interference in family / private life if the real name was to be released, simply because 'the likelihood of interference... must logically be greater if N16's real name was known other than in the circumstances above when only a pseudonym or cypher was known. The risk assessor considers this risk more likely than that of a physical attack'. He thus assesses the risk as 'high' (4), i.e. probable to occur at some stage, though it is not clear where the source of this risk is perceived. Thus the overall risk here is classed as 12.[6]

November 2017 application for anonymity

HN 16 Application for anonimity documents

(i) a real and immediate risk of physical harm
(ii) a real risk of harassment falling short of physical harm
(iii) a real risk of loss of N16s employment and reputation
(iv) a real risk of harassment or even physical harm to N16's immediate family.
The gisted version of this document also notes that it makes supporting submissions 'regarding the threats resulting from public campaigns' and references 'a bundle of press articles to demonstrate types of direct action which have blighted the lives and careers of those affected in recent years.' This is presumably the S&G Media Coverage Bundle also released in the November documents. The further written submissions also touch on the various other issues such as the public interest in his case, the risk of 'jigsaw' identification, possible harm under Article 8, possible harm to third parties and effectiveness or otherwise of possible mitigation measures.

Minded-to & Rulings of October 2017 - January 2018

Inquiry Chair John Mitting consistently indicated that he was minded to release HN16's cover name, but restrict his real name. Eventually he ruled (following a closed hearing[13]) that HN16's cover name was all that was required to fulfil the Inquiry's purposes, though if relevant wrong-doing came to light during his deployment, a case to release the real name could be made.[1]

A series of notes and rulings document Mitting's decision making process in chronological order:

  • On 13 September 2018, the Inquiry noted that a ruling to restict the real name was still in place.[13]

Covernames released and women accepted autumn 2018

HN16's cover names 'James Straven' and 'Kevin Crossland' were released on 20 September 2018, and 'Ellie' was accepted as core participant to the Inquiry on the same day.[5] 'Sara' was accepted on 25 October 2018.[3]

Revoking of restriction order over real name

On 12 February 2019, Mitting lifted the restiction order granted over the officer's real name, stating:[20]

On 10 and 25 October 2018, I designated "Ellie" and "Sara" as core participants on the basis that HN16 had admitted conducting a sexual relationship with each of them in his cover name while deployed. They are entitled to be told his real name and there is no longer any good reason why it should be redacted from contemporaneous documents in which he is named, whether as author or subject. In those circumstances, there is no good reason for the maintenance of the restriction order which I did make in respect of his real name.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Sir John Mitting, Applications for restriction orders in respect of the real and cover names of officers of the Special Operations Squad and the Special Demonstration Squad: Ruling, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 5 December 2017 (accessed 9 December 2017).
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Sir John Mitting, Core participants Ruling 21 Undercover Policing Inquiry, 20 September 2018 (accessed 21 Sep 2018)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Sir John Mitting, Core participants Ruling 23 Undercover Policing Inquiry, 25 October 2018 (accessed 29 Oct 2018)
  4. Sir John Mitting. [https://www.ucpi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/20190221_press_release_NPOIU_Issues_list_and_Minded_to_and_ruling_14.pdf PRESS NOTICE New issues lists published as Inquiry makes further anonymity decisions], 21 February 2019 (accessed March 2019)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Undercover Policing Inquiry, HN16's cover names released, Press Notice, 20 September 2018 (accessed 21 Sep 2018)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 David Reid, N16 - Risk Assessment (mostly gisted), Metropolitan Police Service, 10 November 2017 (accessed via UCPI.org.uk).
  7. 'HN326', Open personal statement of HN326, Metropolitan Police Service, 2017 (accessed August 2018).
  8. 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 (UCPI.org.uk), 3 August 2017 (accessed 3 August 2017).
  9. John Mitting, 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, Undercover Policing Public Inquiry (UCPI.org.uk), 3 August 2017 (accessed 5 August 2017).
  10. David Barr & Kate Wilkinson, Counsel to the Inquiry's explanatory note to accompany the 'Minded to' note 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 Policing Public Inquiry (UCPI.org.uk), 3 August 2017 (accessed 5 August 2017).
  11. 11.0 11.1 Sir John Mitting, Supplementary 'Minded-To', Undercover Policing Inquiry, 23 October 2017 (accessed 23 October 2017 via UCPI.org.uk).
  12. 12.0 12.1 Supplementary ‘Minded to’ note on anonymity, updated and additional hearing dates, directions to the Metropolitan Police Service, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 23 October 2017 (accessed 23 October 2017 via UCPI.org.uk).
  13. 13.0 13.1 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.
  14. Phillippa Kaufmann, QC & Ruth Brander, Submissions on behalf of the Non-Police, Non-State Core Participants re the Chairman's 'Minded To' note dated 23 October 2017 concerning restriction order applications, 6 November 2017 (accessed 3 February 2018 via UCPI.org.uk).
  15. Maya Sikand Submissions on behalf of Peter Francis re The Chairman's supplementary 'Minded To' note dated 23 October 2017 re restriction order applications, 6 November 2017 (accessed via UCPI.org.uk 3 February 2018).
  16. Counsel to the Inquiry's Explanatory note to accompany the 'Minded-To' Note (2) in respect for restrictions over the real and cover names of officers of the Special Operations Squad and the Special Demonstration Squad, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 14 November 2017 (accessed 15 November 2017).
  17. Transcript of hearing of 21 November 2017, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 21 November 2017.
  18. Phillippa Kaufmann, QC & Ruth Brander, Non-police, non-state core participants response to consultation on disclosure in the context of SDS anonymity applications, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 11 January 2018.
  19. David Barr, QC & Kate Wilkinson, Counsel to the Inquiry's note on the future approach to the publication of open evidence in support of key anonymity applications, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 31 January 2018 (accessed 3 February 2018 via UCPI.org.uk).
  20. Sir John Mitting, 'Minded to' note 14 and Ruling 14, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 21 February 2019 (accessed 7 April 2019).