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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
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Alias: unknown
Deployment: late 1970s / early 1980s
Anti-Nazi League, Socialist Workers Party, Grunwick

HN21 is the cipher given to a former Special Demonstration Squad undercover officer deployed in the late 70s / early 80s against one group and who reported on others. Is in his 60s. Originally his cover name was due to be revealed by the Undercover Policing Inquiry.[1] However, the Inquiry Chair, John Mitting, changed his mind in May 2018 to indicated he was minded to grant full anonymity to HN21 on mental health grounds,[2][3] making a ruling to that effect on 30 July 2018.[4]

  • For an explanation of the HN cipher system, see under N officers.

As a SDS officer

Joined Metropolitan Police in 1960s, Special Branch in 1970s and was part of SDS in the 1970s and 1980s.[5] The True Spies series lists him as a Metropolitan Police Special Branch officer 1974-2002.[6]

Prior to going undercover, spent time in the SDS back office preparing their legend and providing support to other undercovers. 'N21 was loosely monitored and mentored by one of the field officers. There was no official training.[7]

No express promise of confidentiality, but 'clearly implicit in everything we did', and said:[5]

I worked in a need to know vetted environment and I strongly believed that my real and cover identity would be protected. I would not have undertaken the role if I believed that my identity would be revealed, and I regret doing the role because the cost has been too high particularly in relation to the impact on my health. The whole set up was geared towards the identity being protected, and I spent time creating my identity. it being tested, and the focus was squarely on protecting that identity.

Attended the Anti Nazi League / Rock Against Racism event held 1978 at Victoria Park, where he was close to Peter Hain and helped look after money while arrangements were being made to have it collected - though says Peter Hain would not have known him as he was not part of any inner circle close to Hain, and would have just appeared as one of many volunteers.[5]

States they had no sexual relationships. Stopped and searched on a number of occasions but never formally arrested; such encounters were always reported to his line managers.[7]

Health suffered towards end of deployment, but did not feel supported by SDS management at that time.[5] According to the risk assessment: 'by the conclusion of their deployment, N21 was suffering from a number of health issues. Management were not informed of these. N21 describes a lack of support available to them in this regard.'[7]

In 1990s, HN21 was part of mentoring programme for SDS for a period of 18 months to 2 years.[5]

It was a structured programme and allowed officers to have someone they could approach if they had concerns that was out of the management chain.

According to the Risk Assessment, HN21 was mentor to a number of SDS undercovers.[7]

They appeared on True Spies as 'Geoff', reluctantly:[5]

I only agreed to undertake the documentary out of loyalty to Roger Pearce. When I received the letter from him, I did not want to do it, but discussed with my [redacted] and I considered that it was a way of recording what had been done.

They regret having taken part in the documentary.

According to the risk assessor, it is highly likely media will have an interest in HN21's deployment. The risk of physical harm and interference due to disclosure of cover name is 'negligible and minor' and generally classed the risk to HN21 from those they targeted as low.[7]

Appearance in True Spies

On tradecraft:[6]

Commentary: For Special Branch officers to blend into the alternative society required a complete makeover job.
Interviewer: What did you all look like?
Geoff: Metropolitan Police Special Branch, 1974-2002
Geoff: Big hair. That particular time long hair was in. One of the requirements was to grow your hair long, and also to have a beard. But my hair was very fine, so unfortunately it was decided that I’d have a perm.
Interviewer: A perm?
Geoff: A perm. Yes, a permanent wave. And so I ended up a bit Mark Bolan-y, it was easier to handle, and of course it was completely different.

Grunwick stike (1976-1978, North London):[6]

Geoff: I was present when Arthur [Scargill, President of the National Union of Miners] turned up with the miners to show solidarity with the workers. There he was neatly coiffured at the head of the brass band, it was like a scene out of a Ken Loach movie.

This can be identified as a mass picket held in summer 1977 in which the support of the mining union played a significant role and is discussed in other Special BranchF files.[8][9]

A number of Special Branch files related to the Grunwick dispute have been released. For more see: Jac St. John, Grunwick Dispute – Story,, 4 March 2016.

Episode 2 of True Spies explicitly identifies Geoff as infiltrating the Socialist Workers Party and the Anti-Nazi League:[10]

Geoff: There were only a few of us chosen so therefore I wanted to do it... it seemed a good thing to do and obviously you were young at that age.. you know.. you were young at that time, it was exciting, I mean it’s an old­fashioned word there was a bit of adventure involved and also it was a challenge.
Commentary: Geoff had no difficulty in joining the SWP which was hungry for members. Under the umbrella of the Anti­-Nazi League, a variety of left­wing groups thronged to a rally against Fascism in London’s Victoria Park.
Geoff’s main mission was warn his uniformed colleagues of the likelihood of violent disorder. In the process, he spied on the SWP’s leaders and got close to their associates in the Anti Nazi League – like the young Peter Hain.
PETER HAIN: Press Officer, Anti-­Nazi League, 1977­-80
Archive (Peter Hain):
"The significance of this is that we’ve brought together tens of thousands of people who’ve never been on this kind of anti-­racialist event before but who have done so today, it’s the beginnings I think of our fight­back against the racialist back­lash in this country."
Commentary: But what Peter Hain did not know was that Geoff, the Hairy, was watching ­ right at his side.
Geoff: I can remember sitting with Peter Hain on a large sack of cash, or money that was there, and we had to get Securicor to take it back to the Anti Nazi League headquarters because there was lots of money there.
Commentary: It’s debatable who gained the most. The Secret State who’d got inside the Far Left ­ or the Anti-­Nazi League who benefited from the organisational skills of a Hairy.
Interviewer: Did Peter Hain have any idea ­ he wouldn’t have thought ‘I’m sitting next to an undercover police officer’?
Geoff: You’d have to ask him that question, I don’t think he did.

Other material

Following their SDS deployment, they undertook a number of sensitive roles in the Metropolitan Police, none of which give rise to physical harm or interference.[7]

HN21 was subject to two medical examinations by Dr. Busuttil, which concluded that in March 2017 HN21 had depression that was being exacerbated by the Inquiry, and would be worsened if the real / cover name was released. The follow up examination of April 2018 stated that HN21's mental health had deteriorated, and revolved around the issue of whether or not the cover and real name would be released.[11]

In their personal statement, they wrote:[5]

The thought of my real and cover identity being revealed frightens me to death. I am concerned about my family's safety and am frightened about what might happen to them and feel helpless and unable to do anything about it. Given my [close family member's] health these concerns are much greater. I know that some of them are not rational but cannot help myself thinking and worrying about it to a degree where I become angry and am ruminating on bad things. I feel a real breach of trust by the State in even considering revealing my real and cover name and would not have done the job if I knew this would be the position.

In the Undercover Policing Inquiry

  • 11 January 2018: directed that restriction order applications to be submitted by end of that month.[12]
  • 7 March 2018: Mitting minded to restrict real name, application over cover name is refused.[1] According to Mitting, the risk to HN21 from groups they targeted is negligible. However, the former undercover suffers from depression, and the medical professional who examined him on behalf of the Inquiry, Dr. Busuttil, opined that HN21 is at high risk of recurrence if the real and cover names were published. Mitting however noted that deployment of HN21 is of 'some interest to the Inquiry' and needs a more thorough investigation than possible if explored simply under a cipher, stating:[1]
I am not, at present, convinced that measures cannot be take to avoid harmful impact on the health of HN21. I will afford an opportunity to HN21 to consider such measures in a closed session and/or submit that they would be ineffective. A closed note accompanies these reasons.
  • 23 May 2018: Mitting changes his mind to and stated intention to restrict both real and cover names, writing:[3]
Since the publication of 'minded to' note 5 on 7 March 2018, HN21 has been examined again by Dr Busuttil, who as produced a further report dated 24 April 2018. In his opinion, which I accept, HN21's health has deteriorated since he was last seen by him in March 2017. He is suffering a mild to moderately severe depressive episode and another long term condition. He is receiving treatment, in the form of mild antidepressant medication which does improve his condition. In the opinion of Dr Busuttil, which again I accept, prolonged uncertainty about the outcome of his application for restriction orders has contributed to and maintained his depression. If his cover name were to be disclosed, Dr Busuttil's opinion is that his psychiatric symptoms are likely to worsen and render the treatment recommended, including an increased dose of antidepressant medication, less likely to succeed. Conversely, if his real and cover names are not disclosed, Dr Busuttil would expect his depression to respond to intervention.
The evidence of HN21 about his deployment and service in the SOS and police service after it ended, are of significant interest to the Inquiry. Mr Sanders QC, for HN21, accepts that it will have to be given publicly even if it is given in writing. He also submits that if it is given in a cypher, so as to alleviate his concerns about disclosure of his identity, it is likely to be of better quality. This submission is founded on the opinion of Dr Busuttil. I accept that it has some force. There is, however, a significant and unavoidable risk that if worthwhile public evidence is to be given by HN21, it will lead to his identification in his cover name by those who knew him when deployed. This is a risk, which will almost certainly have to be run, to permit the Inquiry to get the truth. According to the risk assessor, there is a strong sterile corridor between the real and cover name. Objectively, therefore, the risk of interference in private and family life which might be caused by the intrusive attentions of others is small. The only reason for not publishing the cover name is that stated above. I am minded to make a restriction order in respect of it, but only on the basis that detailed public evidence is provided by HN21 under his cypher, notwithstanding the risk that this may lead to the identification of his cover name.
There are no further closed reasons.
  • 9 July 2018: provisional decision: restrict real and cover names with application documents released.[13][14]
It was also directed that any objections to Mitting's intention to grant the restriction order to be made by 20 July 2018.[15]
  • 30 July 2018: final ruling that real and cover names cannot be published, with Mitting writing:[4]
Further, it is likely that at least some contemporaneous intelligence reports produced by him or founded on his reports exist and can be retrieved and published without undermining HN21's anonymity. Members of the group will not know who HN21 was but they will be afforded the opportunity to come forward and give evidence as to he accuracy of the reporting and the activities of the group. In this way, I hope to obtain evidence about justification from both the officer and those in the target group.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Sir 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 Special Demonstration Squad - 'Minded To' Note 5, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 7 March 2018.
  2. 'Minded to' decisions relating to anonymity applications: Special Demonstration Squad Ruling on HN122, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 23 May 2018.
  3. 3.0 3.1 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 9 and Ruling 8, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 23 May 2018.
  4. 4.0 4.1 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: Minded to note 12 and Ruling 10, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 30 July 2018.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 'HN21', Impact Statement of HN21, Metropolitan Police Service, 31 January 2018, published 9 July 2018 via
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 True Spies - Episode 1: Subverting the subversives, BBC Two, 27 October 2002; transcripts.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Graham Walker, N21 - Risk Assessment, Metropolitan Police Service, 12 June 2018, published 9 July 2018 via
  8. Grunwick dispute, Wikipedia, undated (accessed 10 October 2019.
  9. Jac St. John, Grunwick Dispute – Story,, 4 March 2016 (accessed 10 October 2019).
  10. True Spies - Episode 2: Something Better Change, BBC Two, 3 November 2002; [ transcripts.
  11. HN21: Gist of Medical Reports, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 8 June 2018, published 9 July 2018 on
  12. Applications for restriction orders in respect of the real and cover names of officers of the Special Operations Squad and the Special Demonstrations Squad: Directions, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 11 January 2018.
  13. Publication of documents relating to anonymity applications: National Public Order Intelligence Unit & Special Demonstration Squad, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 9 July 2018.
  14. List of documents relating to SOS officers - published 09 July 2018, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 9 July 2018.
  15. Sir John Mitting, Applications for restriction orders in respect of real and cover names of officers of the Special Operations Squad and the Special Demonstration Squad and of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit - Directions, Undercover Policing Inquiry, 9 July 2018.