Rod Richardson: environmental targets
Rod Richardson was the alias of an undercover police officer who infiltrated London-based and environmental groups from 1999 to 2003. This page looks at his activities with environmental focused groups and his time at the Rettendon protest camp and in Nottingham.
- Rod Richardson (main page)
- Rod Richardson: London targets (MAM, WOMBLES, international protests)
- Rod Richardson: policing (undercover policing and chains of command)
Note from Undercover Research Group: while we have chronicled many of his known activities, there are still gaps in Rod's activities. If this is something you can shed light on, please contact us. We are interested in hearing from anyone who knew Rod even if it is to confirm what others have told us.
Rettendon Protest Camp, 1999
In 1999 Essex County Council was seeking to build the Southend Relief Road (A130 Bypass), and had contracted the CountryRoute consortium (made up of construction firms Laing - later Laing O'Rouke - and Hyder) as part of an early Private Finance Initiative scheme. Permission to build was given by Transport Minister John Reid in April 1999. Along the route was Gorse Wood, an ancient wood and local beauty site, which became the focus of a campaign against the road.
At the time, the anti-roads movement was still strong and came to support the Save Gorse Wood campaign. In May 1999 a protest camp was established. It was active until February / March 2000, when it was evicted. With up to 50 protestors on site, tree-houses and a complex tunnel network were constructed as part of defences against eviction. Costs for the security would be met by the public purse until construction began, at which point it would be the responsibility of the consortium.
Rod Richardson first turned up at the Rettendon protest camp in Essex in the Autumn 1999. He presented as a local supporter who lived in a nearby flat, and was interested in what they were doing. Away during the week, he would turn up on Saturdays, collect the large cooking pans the protest site had, and return with them in the evening full of food, usually rice and chilli, along with cider. From this basis he ingratiated himself with the people based in the camp. He came across as being very helpful and at the time nobody had any doubts about him.
Early on in his presence at the camp he drove a fellow protestor to the Townhead community in South Yorkshire to deliver a package. While at Townhead, he apparently took magic mushrooms. He also opened his flat to protestors as a place they could get a shower.
The £6 million eviction operation by Essex County Council began on 6 February, with the tunnels causing significant problems for the under-sheriff and bailiffs conducting the operation. Rod was around for the beginning of the eviction in early 2000, being up a tree with other protestors. However, he left before the end, claiming that he had to go for a knee operation.
Though the trees defences were cleared relatively quickly, five campaigners occupied the tunnels for 40 days before being dug out on 17 March, the longest such protest. It is not recalled that he was involved in the tunnels on site, but he would have known they were there and have some understanding of the site's defences. Nevertheless, a protestor on the camp there during the eviction, Jo Wilding, noted that the police seemed to have had surprisingly little knowledge of the tunnels.
Essex Police ran Operation Fathom to assist the Under-Sheriff evict and considered it to have had a 'peaceful resolution', though there was 28 arrests, mainly for obstruction or resisting. An article in The Law, the newspaper of Essex Police, said:
- The Essex Police role in the operation was a delicate one. The police have a legal obligation to assist the Under Sheriff, but police officers do not get involved in the removal of people in tunnels or up trees. Officers had to police the protest impartially, recognising the right to protest peacefully and within the law, but also the right of the developers to go about their lawful business.
The article went on to say that in the aftermath, the force formulated an 'Environmental Protest Policy', which identified the importance of liaison officers, and that they should be put in place at the start of any environmental protest.
After the eviction, Rod put a number of protestors up at his flat. They never met his apparent girlfriend, though this was not considered surprising at the time as she had apparently not shown any interest in Rod's protest activities. Another campaigner also noted that Rod allowed campaigners to use the phone at this flat, which was likely to have been monitored.
Commenting on his infiltration, Jo Wilding, who knew him from the Rettendon protest camp said: 'If their objective was to provide someone with a history in the protest movement without raising suspicions then they did it well.'
Rod's first recalled appearance in Nottingham was when he turned up at the Rainbow Centre. Based on Mansfield Road, at the time, the Rainbow Centre was a hub for many groups in and around Nottingham, including peace campaigns, environmentalists and animal rights activists. Nottingham was also in general a key city for activism on a national level at the time. and had a strong community of environmental and animal rights activists.
He said that he was based in London but thinking of moving to Nottingham. He stated he had been doing stuff in London with the WOMBLES, which gave him a way in politically. Though he moved there late 2000 / early 2001, it felt to people in Nottingham that Rod's main political crew was London and that he was very much into 'summit-hopping' with the WOMBLES. He also kept his activities in London and Nottingham quite separate.
In Nottingham, it was clear in hindsight that he had focused on targeting a number of campaigners who had been prominent in the anti-roads movement; this included visiting their homes on various occasions as well as going drinking with them. One activist who knew him in Nottingham, 'Mark Pointer' said that he would turn up on a Friday and get stuck into whatever was happening politically; then on Sunday night or Monday morning he would drive back down to London. As he was not around during the week he was not involved in many of the meetings that took place, but he did make the effort to go to weekend events. His appearances in Nottingham were sporadic overall, and he would not turn up for periods at a time, sometimes supposedly because he was travelling abroad - people in Nottingham would occasionally receive postcards from abroad in support of this.
Just before he arrived, a new housing co-operative linked into the radical scene in the city had been established (2000). When a room became available he took the opportunity to apply to become a new member and was accepted to live there. His tenancy agreement listed his date of birth, which would later help lead to his unmasking.
In 2001, the Rainbow Centre began its move to a new building in the Forest Fields area, officially opening as the Sumac Centre a year later in June 2002. In the run-up to the opening in June, Rod helped out with the redecoration of the building. The Sumac centre was a key target of Mark Kennedy when he arrived in Nottingham in 2003.
By the time Rod turned up in Nottingham the focus of environmental campaigners was switching from road protests to genetically modified crops. This initially lead to a general move away from open protest camps, to smaller, tighter affinity groups taking direct action. Following the successful destruction of many small scale trials, the government allowed the industry to move to larger field-scale levels, which then required a larger mobilisation of affinity groups in secret. Surprisingly, Rod showed little interest in this activity, despite him having being known to people involved and that he would have been trusted enough to have taken part.
Similarly, though he was interested in anti-fascism campaigning, attending various demonstrations and political events, his arrival in Nottingham coincided at the tail end of the local anti-fascist group being particularly active, though it continued to mobilise for particular events. Nevertheless, it is thought that he acted as a look-out for some anti-fascist actions in the area.
Though the focus of activism in Nottingham at the time was changing somewhat, Rod took part in hunt sabbing, environmental actions and anti-fascism. There was no inexplicable police attendance (or lack of) on activities he was involved with at the time. Specific actions he can be placed at included:
- A counter-protest called by Nottingham Anti Fascist Alliance against a National Front demonstration being held at the local prison on Perry Road, 3rd March 2001. The 30 NF members were met by 400 protestors from various different groups across the left including the Anti-Nazi League. There was a large police presence which sought to corral the counter-protest. People set up barricades and sought to push through police lines, something Rod was deeply involved with. He was not arrested though 15 others were, 13 of whom were charged. The police use of batons was criticised by a local councillor and police authority chairman John Clarke who had come as an observer. Policing was overseen by Nottinghamshire's then Assistant Chief Constable for Operations, Sean Price.
- Going out with the Nottingham Hunt Saboteurs, most weekends when it was the hunting season. Through-out his time in the city, Rod would join the group once or twice a month. They focused on hunts in South Nottinghamshire and the Quorn, though would also join with the Derbyshire group to sab in that county as well. When out with the group, Rod was generally well-behaved and did not act as a provocateur or liability.
- Rod initiated taking a car of Nottingham-based activists to a protest in Huntingdon as part of the campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences in Cambridgeshire; this included a protest in the town centre followed by a demonstration at offices of related companies. Damage took place to the latter, and as it was clear people were being caught on camera, Rod and some others sought to get at CCTV cameras to prevent this. A week after Rod attended the Derbyshire Earth First! Gathering, he drove several activists to another Huntingdon Life Sciences related protest, a national protest against HLS client, pharmaceutical giant Yamanouchi. Over a thousand people participated in the mainly peaceful event in central Oxford on 11th August 2001. He otherwise did not show much interest in that particular campaign.
In late 2002, the Nottingham housing co-operative Rod lived in was raided by police, though he was not present at the time. This raid was part of a coordinated intelligence-gathering effort which saw a number of similar raids across the north of England. It was in response to an October 2002 action at the Grimsby headquarters of the New Tribes Mission. It had been organised by the new group, Solidarity South Pacific, a group who acted in solidarity with indigenous peoples struggles in that region.
Rod is known to have maintained links with groups in Norfolk, attending meetings, protests and parties there, particularly in Norwich. Given the small size of the city, the anti-globalisation, animal and environmental groups overlapped considerably. His known activities include:
- An interest in anti-GM (genetically modified food) campaigns in Norfolk. and attending one action and a meeting there along with other campaigners from Nottingham. Norfolk campaigners also recalled him presenting as being interested in GM as part of his political identity in Nottingham. He may also been involved with London-based groups carrying out secret anti-GM protests which were nevertheless heavily policed, though this remains to be confirmed.
Rod also attended a meeting of local activists involved in Movement Against Monarchy (see under Rod Richardson: London targets for more details of Rod's involvement in this group). One of the London activists in MAM reported of this:
- On another occasion a friend and I went to Norwich to meet up with some people we had recently met, to discuss working together on some anti-monarchist actions. When we arrived at the house for dinner, which was a small affair of about eight people, I was really surprised to see Rod there as I wasn't aware he had any connection at all with these individuals or Norwich in general. I remember asking him how come he was there, and him being slightly affronted by the question. He shrugged and said he had been invited. It was the flash of discomfort on his face that triggered my suspicions. It just didn't seem right – there was a total sense of disconnect about his presence there.
'Tug', a Norwich based activist confirmed Rod's presence at meeting, noting that it was not covert, and nothing stood out about him.
Earth First! networks
Earth First! Summer Gatherings
Rod is known to have attended three of the Summer Gatherings for the ecological defence network Earth First! in the years 2000 to 2002.
In summer 2000 he drove people from Bristol to the Gathering, which took place in Snowdonia from 7th to 11th June including people he knew from the Rettendon protest camp. One of them recalled that on the journey he demonstrated a quite detailed knowledge of the activities that the campaigner Jo Wilding had got up to at Rettendon. As he was picking up people then living in Brixton, the journey would have also allowed him to get an insight into a very active protest scene there.The gathering itself was the subject of considerable overt police surveillance. 
- 2001: Derbyshire, 1st-5th August
- 2002: Dartmoor, 10th-14 July (set up started 9th July) There he gave a workshop on the WOMBLES.
At the gatherings he was considered handy and useful being practical and getting on with jobs that needed doing. Nevertheless, at both the Derbyshire and Dartmoor events he was part of the drinking circles at the camp. Another activist recalled that he turned up at one gathering with a bin-bag full of cans of Strongbow which he shared out; his party trick around the campfire was to put a safety-pin through his eyelid.
In hindsight, one of the Gathering organisers thought that his involvement in setting-up the Gatherings paved the way for Mark Kennedy's focus on logistics as an entry point for the latter into the eco-defence movement in general. It is also known that another London undercover officer, Jason Bishop attended Earth First! gatherings during these years.
In 2002, the Scotts Peat Works on Hatfield Moor, near Doncaster in Yorkshire, was the subject of a campaign by pressure group Peat Alert!, seeking to halt destruction of the local peat bog. An important ecological site, English Nature had agreed to purchase mining rights from Scotts for £17million following a ten-year campaign. However, peat mining would continue for another two years and Scotts had increased its operation in the meantime. In February that year, six of Scotts' offices nationwide were occupied in a coordinated protest by Earth First! activists amongst others.
Over Easter that year (25-28 March), a camp was held with four days of protests by around 100 people, including a sizeable contingent from Nottingham. It was met with a large police operation (outnumbering protestors four to one according to campaigners), under Ch. Supt. David Turner. It included searches for blockading material that had been stashed, and 'snatch squads' targeting those in black and masks, and those with arm tubes or other equipment. 50 people were arrested following a 'sit-down' protest, all for public order offences. The police operation was condemned as being heavy-handed, something police rejected saying it was for the protestors and the peat company's safety.
Rod participated in the camp. He also took part in an 'arm tube' action, where people locked their arms together in a circle by linking arms inside reinforced tubes. The arm tubes had been hidden before-hand under a motorway, and the purpose was to peacefully prevent access to the Peat Works. However, the heavy police presence meant that things did not go to plan and at one point Rod was seen running to escape the police still wearing his arm-tube. He and others from Nottingham were arrested (the only known arrest of Rod while with Nottingham activists), but all involved had charges dropped before the first court appearance.
- Tim Wood, Laing/Hyder face road protestors, Contract Journal, 9 June 1999 (accessed via Nexis).
- Polly Ghazi, Losing the plot, The Guardian, 14 April 1999 (accessed 8 January 2017).
- Oh Hockley-Cokey, schNEWS, Issue 224, 20 August 1999 (accessed 30 November 2015).
- Carry on Camping - Reports from UK Direct Action Camps, Do Or Die, Issue 9, September 2000 (accessed 30 November 2015).
- Undercover Research Group: Interview with Jo Wilding, active in the Rettendon protest camp with Rod Richardson, 27 November 2015.
- Swampies get dug in, The People, 6 June 1999 (accessed via Nexis).
- Sarah Hall, Tunnellers fight to halt £90m road, The Guardian, 18 February 2000 (accessed 8 January 2017).
- At the end of the tunnel protest, a bill for £6m, The Evening Standard, 17 March 2000 (accessed via Nexis).
- Policing the protestors, The Law, Issue 319, May 2000 (accessed 8 January 2017).
- Undercover Research Group: interview with Merrick, 24 November 2016.
- Undercover Research Group: interview with Mark Pointer (alias), a Nottingham activist who worked and lived with Rod Richardson, 9 August 2015.
- Undercover Research Group: interview with B, a leading anti-roads campaigner of the 1990s and close friend of Rod, 11 September 2015.
- Undercover Research Group: interview with 'Yvette', Nottingham activist close to Rod, 16 August 2016.
- schNEWS, The Great Escape, veggies.org.uk, 24 March 2001 (accessed 8 January 2017).
- Caroline Graham, 'I'm the victim of smears': Undercover policeman denies bedding a string of women during his eight years with eco-warriors, Mail on Sunday, 17 January 2011 (accessed 9 January 2017).
- NAFA, Front not tolerated in Nottingham, Notts Indymedia, 15 March 2001 (accessed 24 July 2016).
- NF Jail in demo clash, Sunday Mercury, 4 March 2001 (accessed via Nexis).
- 13 arrested at city jail demo: 'Heavy-handed policing' criticised, Nottingham Evening Post, 5 March 2001 (accessed via Nexis).
- Demo police win backing, Nottingham Evening Post, 6 March 2001 (accessed via Nexis).
- NF Jail in demo clash, Sunday Mercury, 4 March 2001 (accessed via Nexis).
- Information on "Rod Richardson", suspected undercover cop, Indymedia UK, 6 February 2013 (accessed 24 December 2015).
- Hundreds march on Oxford city centre, SHAC.net, 12 August 2001 (accessed via Archive.org)
- Undercover Research Group: email from 'Yvette', 7 January 2017.
- South Pacific Solidarity, Do Or Die, Issue 10, 2003.
- Undercover Research Group: Norfolk meeting with a group of activists who knew Rod Richardson, May 2016.
- Undercover Research Group: interview with Harriet (alias), an Earth First! activist who worked alongside Rod Richardson, 6 December 2015.
- Undercover Research Group: email from 'Tug Wilson', 7 February 2017.
- Laura Oldfield Ford, How I met 'Rod', the suspected undercover police officer, The Guardian, 1 March 2013 (accessed 10 January 2017).
- Action Diary, Earth First Action Update, Issue 69, June 2001 (accessed 20 July 2016).
- Undercover Research Group: phone call with Julie Chadwick, 26 May 2017.
- EF! Summer Gathering 2001, Earth First Action Update, Issue 76, June-July 2000 (accessed 20 July 2016).
- 'act up', Earth First! Summer Gathering 2002, Indymedia UK, 25 June 2002 (accessed 20 July 2016).
- Jason Bishop – new allegations of undercover policing of protest, Network for Police Monitoring, 25 July 2013 (accessed 21 July 2016).
- Blockade, PeatAlert.org.uk, 2002.
- Email from Peat Alert, 14 February 2002 (archived at WUSSU.org, accessed 24 July 2016).
- Geoffrey Lean, Peat bogs saved as US giant is bought off, The Independent, 24 February 2002 (accessed 24 July 2016).
- For Peat's Sake, Schnews, Issue 343, 22 February 2002 (accessed 24 July 2016).
- Great Scott!!, Schnews, Issue 344, 1 March 2002 (accessed 24 July 2016).
- David Powell, Eco warriors occupy north Wales factory: protestors aim to stop peat bog dig, Daily Post (North Wales), 19 February 2002 (accessed via Nexis).
- Blockade, PeatAlert.org.uk, 2002.
- Easter 2002 Scotts Hatfield Moor Peat Blockade, EarthFirst.org.uk, 2002 (accessed 24 July 2016).
- Peat protest to continue, BBC News Online, 26 March, 2002 (accessed 24 July 2016).
- Police revised this figure up from the original number of 38. See David Kessen, Peat protest continues, despite arrests, The Doncaster Star, 28 March 2002 (accessed via Nexis).
- Peat protesters say police arrests at site went too far, Yorkshire Evening Post, 26 March, 2002 (accessed 24 July 2016).
- David Kessen, The battle of Thorne and Hatfield Moors, The Doncaster Star, 26 March 2002 (accessed via Nexis).
- Emma Dunlop, We weren't heavy-handed, insist police, Yorkshire Post, 28 March 2002 (accessed via Nexis).