James Straven (alias)
In September 2018, the Inquiry revealed that the undercover officer known as HN16 had been using two identities 'James Straven' and 'Kevin Crossland'. He was said to be deployed into the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Brixton and Croydon Hunt Saboteurs between 1997 and 2002. He deceived two women into intimate relationships while being deployed.
Straven was an undercover officer with the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), and he now is a core participant in the Undercover Policing Inquiry. On 8 December 2017, the Inquiry Chair, John Mitting, granted HN16 anonymity in his real name.
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.
This profile is a work in progress, we are still looking for people who knew James Straven (or Kevin Crossland for that matter). If you can help fill in the gaps, please get in touch.
- Also see part two of the profile: James Straven (alias) and the Undercover Policing Inquiry
- 1 Deployment
- 2 Personal Details
- 3 Personality
- 4 Targets
- 5 Relationships
- 6 Abroad
- 7 Suspicions: 'James Blond'
- 8 Exit
- 9 Overlap with other undercover officers
- 10 Further reading and resources
- 11 Notes
According to the Inquiry, James Straven was deployed into the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), and the Brixton and Croydon Hunt Saboteurs.
Straven's involvement with the Croydon Hunt Sabs is extensively documented here. His involvement with the Brixton group, however, seems unlikely - in fact non-existent. Croydon and Brixton saboteurs (referring to themselves as 'sabs' or 'hunt sabs') agree it did not reach beyond sharing the back of a van when they went out together to disrupt hunts, but that was it. Brixton was much more of a closed group, much harder to get into. Croydon sabs was more easy-going, everybody was welcome. It was a group of friends who would go to festivals together, to gigs and parties.
Why the ALF is mentioned on James Straven's record is not clear. It is possible that through engaging in hunt sabbing he wanted to try and get to people that the police considered 'persons of interest'. It seems he did not get very far. Generally, Straven was regarded as not trusted enough.
The cover name 'James Straven' was a creation of the SDS and not taken from the Births and Death registry. It is also the name activists remember him by. In the mid-1990s the SDS had started to phase out the use of cover names based on the identity of a deceased child. However, James had a second cover name, which was based on a child who died in a plane crash in 1966, Kevin J. Crossland. The Inquiry is investigating why and how the name was used. (See also James Straven (alias) in the Inquiry). James appeared on the electoral registry as both James Straven and Kevin Crossland at the address he used as an undercover (see below, under Residence).
James said he was the son of a Scottish laird, and that his father had an army background, those two stories kept coming back in interviews, though details are vague and divergent. There was a family association with a small Scottish village; he claimed his family had their own pew in the local church. He half-jokingly said his family owned half of Scotland. He also said that his father was in some kind of Special Forces in Scotland; Marc remembers he had been relatively high–up in the Gurkha regiment. (See below, in Abroad - India).
James said that he had two brothers and a sister, and that he was born overseas (Oman maybe). He went to boarding school in England, possibly to a military boarding school. He claimed to have been expelled for misbehaving.
His presumed army background would explain certain habits. 'Straven always had clean boots which stood out for a sab. Most of us would at best just scrape the worst of the mud off before the next outing. He knew how to camp. Going to a festival, he was the only one to bring a field bed and other practical stuff, while the others would sleep on mats on the floor.
Straven said he had three children who were a priority in his life, two girls and a boy, age range between 7-11 years. According to Sara, he talked about his ex-partner, not his ex-wife; she's sure he was not married. Others say he was divorced with two late teenage daughters, but they did not discuss his family much with him. All agree he used having to visit his children as a reason for being able to disappear at short notice, and for days at a time.
Straven told Sara she was two years his senior, thus born in or around 1968 and 30 or 31 in 1998 when they started going out. Ellie says he told her he was 33 or 34 when they had a relationship, they once celebrated his birthday on 24th November. In reality he was born in December 1963.
'Everybody liked him, got on with him, he had a good sense of humour, very dry, and was intelligent. He was a bit of a rebel, his family had expected an army career, and he bailed out of that. He said going into animal rights and another career was a sort of rebellion', according to Sara.
Straven was always there, when we were having dinner, going to gigs. We felt a bit sorry for him, because he was always on his own, that's how he managed to get under our radar. He would come to the pub after going out sabbing. He wasn’t one of the heavy drinkers, when they were at the Womad festival, he would not drink or smoke, and only stayed for the day. Some people remember him being a vegetarian, while Sara is sure he was vegan.
Straven came out to help at the wildlife hospital were Ellie worked, with Marc and Ron. He was always helpful, always up for giving lifts. 'I really don't recall any kind of political discussions with him. I did not have that kind of relationship with him.'
Straven said he was a location manager/scout for TV programmes and films – his job was finding sites that would be filmed at. This meant he needed to be away for days at a time, travelling a lot. As part of his cover story he once randomly left a script in the back of the vehicle. He talked about having worked with Peter O’Toole, saying he was a good actor - though quite a drinker. James also said he knew Keira Knightly back when she was a child star.
Research has demonstrated that indeed there was a James Straven mentioned in the credit of several films shot during his time undercover (and not before or after); plus the actors he talked about featured in those films.
|Year||Title||James Straven position||Featuring||Source|
|1998||Coming Home, Part 1 and 2 (tv mini-series)||Location Assistant||Joanna Lumley, Peter O'Toole, Penelope Keith, Keira Knightley.||BFI|
|1999||Nancherrow (tv mini-series)||Location Assistant||Joanna Lumley, Katie Ryder Richardson, Lara-Joy Körner||IMDb|
|2001||Victoria & Albert (tv movie).||Associate producer||Victoria Hamilton, Jonathan Firth, James Callis.||IMDb|
Straven also referred to having his own production company that was separate from the BBC, called Own Two Feet based in London. He claimed to own the company with a David and a Tim or a Tom, and maybe an Andrew, David being the older one, in charge of things.
There is indeed a company called Own2Feet Production Ltd, which is owned by David Cunliffe and various others. All four films that mention James Straven have been (co-)produced by David Cunliffe (born in 1935). But then again, he is one of the largest in UK film history as his impressive filmography as a producer and director since 1962 shows. Own2Feet is a small company though, with 1000 shares worth 1 GBP each, with no mention of a James as either a director or a secretary.
Straven told Sara that he had met Rosamond Pilcher the author, while filming a book of hers in Scotland (and that she was a pain). This must have been 'Winter Solstice', which came out in 2003 and takes place in Scotland. Again, Cunliffe is the producer, but no 'Straven' is mentioned in the credits this time.
James had a green Land Rover Discovery, he said he needed it for work. 'It stood out as a posh car in our circles. He even talked about driving off road in it whilst scouting locations, though the car was always clean.' The Land Rover had a sticker on the windscreen saying: Film Unit. John has a clear memory of James parking the car at a demo and not worrying about the parking place – citing the sticker to keep him out of trouble.
Straven would not drive the group's van to go out sabbing, he would be a passenger in the back with the rest of the group. His own car was used to drive people to demonstrations and he would lend it to people.
- James lent me his car for a week one time, whilst he was 'abroad for work' I think. As I recall it was his suggestion that I could use it rather than me asking.' He left it on the driveway of the communal house in Surrey (Gatwick airport was close by). In hindsight perhaps this was done deliberately to see if we would use the car for an illegal purpose.
In March 2001, Straven went to France with a friend, where the Land Rover was allegedly stolen (see below under Abroad'). He hired a car, a Volvo, to drive back to the UK, and then got a black Volvo Estate on his return. Thinking back, Marc realised that the two vehicles James had were standard police models. 'The Land rover as well as the Volvo after that, something the police used. That was a sporty T5, a nice car to have, I remember thinking that.'
Straven' driving skills did not stand out. Sara says: 'His driving was good but not noteworthy. He actually ploughed through some bollards once on the motorway as we were so engrossed in conversation! No damage done.'
Several people recall his story about being stopped for speeding, but getting away with it. He didn’t lose his license due to a technicality where the police - allegedly - had made a mistake in writing down his car registration.
James said he had once been in a serious motor bike accident, probably the one in which he broke both his wrists. 'Riding up Box Hill (Surrey), an old lady came out of a side road and never saw him coming. James went into her; the impact knocked all breath out of him.'
Straven talked a lot about his passion for biking, but he did not own one when he joined the group. His motorbike may have been written off after the accident. When he was seeing Ellie towards the end of his deployment, he took her for rides on a BMW, but that bike might have been borrowed.
Straven had a flat in Vauxhall, just off Brixton road, near the Oval Cricket Ground (the building is no longer there). It looked unlived in, it was impersonal, cheaply and sparsely furnished. Most of the group only went there once or twice. Ron: 'A group of us went out in the area, it got late, it wasn’t planned, but we were going to his place to just to drop in for a drink. He couldn’t get out of that, no excuse. Even for a potential 'bachelor pad' there was very little there.' Marc remembers the flat was near to the Oval: 'It was strange, and looked unlived in, no food in the fridge, no personal possessions'. Sara: 'It certainly didn’t suit his usual style. I thought that was because he was travelling so much and wasn’t often at home. Ellie: ' was run down, which did not fit with his personality.'
The address of the house he used during his deployment was flat 2, 25 Southey Road, SW90PD. His cover name 'James R. Straven' appears on the electoral register for that flat from 1998 - 2003, and for the final three years, 'Kevin J. Crossland' is there as well. As yet, this is the only link between 'Straven' and 'Crossland'; James doesn't seem to have used his second cover name in activist circles.
Some remember he always had plenty of money. 'He got the nickname 'PoshSab', because of his accent and style, good quality clothes, decent car, latest mobile phone. And his Rod Stewart-like dyed hair.' 'James was generous with money, would by drinks, give lifts. It was taken as a fact that because he had work, he had more money than most of us. But he wasn’t flashy with money, not overdoing it.'
Others agree, he did not make himself stand out financially. Ron remembers going down to Devon or Cornwall for a day to help to sabotage the Randomised Badger Culling Trail: 'James drove us in his own car there and back and would not take any petrol money. We also stopped on the way back for a curry and beer which he paid for.'
James’ behaviour raised eyebrows in one incident. At the time, campaigners were funding their activism through a scheme whereby they would purchase other people’s cheque-books. They would agree a price significantly below the actual worth of the cheques. The sellers would report the cheque book as stolen so they wouldn't lose out and the buyer would then use the cheques. As Ron recalled:
- James was asked by these people to join this scheme and said yes. When they went to see him, bringing the agreed amount of cash, he delivered his cheque book but refused to accept the money, which they considered weird.
Martial Arts and Fights
James was 'a strong fighter', he would be at the forefront when attacked by police or hunt followers.
- He was a frontline sab. He was very much a part of the group whatever may have been happening or threatening to happen. He would not necessarily instigate things, but was not someone melting into the background either. He would be very much a part of events on the day.
Straven said he had been practicing martial arts since the age of seven. Most people remember he had a black belt in karate. Sara however thinks it was in another Eastern martial art. He went to a school with a master in that style. Might have been Aikido. He said he had trained in Japan, and had been offered the opportunity to live there to continue his training but turned it down:
- One time we were sabbing and desperate to get into a field to follow the hunt. There appeared to be a gap in a thick hedge. James was in the front and I was directly behind him. As we turned into the gap we saw a man working there with a chainsaw who swung around as we approached. James instantly reacted and moved back into a defensive martial arts style posture that showed some clear previous training.
Once, Straven got seriously beaten up at a Countryside Alliance demonstration. Before the hunting ban was introduced in 2004, there were huge rallies against it, with one in March 1998 bringing a quarter of a million people out on the streets of London. Animal rights activists would pop up as a counter force. Chris saw what happened: 'James stepped in to interfere with the battering of another member of our group. The guy got up, turned around and knocked him out with just one punch, into a car. James had no defence whatsoever.' Joe took James to a hospital where they kept him for three days. James had a broken jaw and a broken collar bone, and suffered from back problems since.
There were some things Straven never took part in. He would not come out when the far-right British National Party (BNP) had demonstrations, and there was a risk of confrontations on the street. Joe also remembers that at demos, people would be de-arresting activists, freeing them from the hands of the police, but James would not be involved in that. Nor would he join in when some of the group were messing around in a play fight.
James Straven first turned up when he approached a Croydon Hunt Sabs stall at a small event locally, either in a church hall or at an animal fair. 'He was interested and keen to join the group. James quickly became a part of our lives.'
Four or five people from the Croydon group lived in a communal house; Straven would often come around and invite himself in for tea. Little was thought of that at the time and his presence was not thought intrusive. He behaved in the same way at houses of other friends.
Hunt saboteuring - or 'sabbing' - has a long history in the UK. The first organisation to use direct action to stop fox hunting, the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA), was founded in 1964. They have been using the same basic tactics since their inception, the underlying principle being to disrupt a day's hunting:
- The HSA eschewed parliamentary reforms and instead went directly out onto hunting grounds to do everything they could, sometimes breaking the law and being consequently arrested, to prevent the killing of British wildlife. [...] The HSA uses tactics such as: hunting horns and whistles to misdirect hounds, spraying scent dullers, laying false trails, and locking gates to interfere with the progress of a hunt.
After the Criminal Justice Act came into power in 1994, hunt sab groups were often subjected to heavy and oppressing policing.
The SDS started targeting hunt saboteur groups in the mid-1980s; Bob Lambert - using the name Bob Robinson - infiltrated the Hackney Hunt Saboteurs. According the independent Undercover Policing Inquiry, more than a dozen groups have been targeted since. For an overview, see Spycops Targets: a Who's Who (and search for 'Hunt Saboteurs').
The Croydon Hunt Sab group attracted members from a wide area across the South East, including people based in Surrey, Sussex and Kent. At different times the Croydon hunt sabs would get together with other local sab groups such as Brixton, Guildford and Brighton for joint protests against a given hunt. Straven was a regular member of the Croydon Hunt Sabs between 1998 - 2001, and would come out sometimes even twice a week, enabled by the flexibility of his work. More specifically, people remember James sabbing the following hunts on a regular base:
- Surrey Union Hunt
- Crawley & Horsham Hunt
- Chiddingfold, Leconfield and Cowdray Hunt
- South Down and Eridge Hunt
- Old Surrey and Burstow Hunt
And less likely:
- Old Berks Hunt
- Hursley Hambledon Hunt
- Hampshire Hunt
Straven would come along to protests further away, such as Yorkshire for instance or Manchester, on so-called away days.
Demonstrations & Campaigns
- Save the Hillgrove Cats (SHAC). From 1997 to 1999, this campaign focused on an independent breeder of cats for vivisection based on a farm at Witney, Oxfordshire. It saw regular, large-scale protests, and a corresponding large police presence. The campaign lasted until August 1999, when the farm announced it was closing its breeding business. Also spied upon by Christine Green.
- Surrey Anti Hunt Campaign. Created in the wake of the injury to the hunt sab (see below), this campaign lasted several years with the explicit aim of shutting down the Old Surrey, Burstow and West Kent foxhunt, the first such attempt to target a fox hunt with the same tactics that were being used successfully in anti-vivisection campaigns.
- Surrey Fighting For Animals (SuFFA). This was at the time the main local animal rights group in north Surrey and south London, based in and around Croydon. Often its meetings, which took place at Ruskin House in Croydon, were a chance for people from different local campaigns to come together (including Croydon hunt sabs, SAHC) and meet each other and also speakers from other groups.
- Shamrock Monkey Farm. Based at Small Dole, near Brighton, this farm imported monkey for vivisection. A long time target of animal rights campaigners including seeing interventions by the ALF. By the time James was active, the campaign Save the Shamrock Monkeys had started to organise protests at the farm, building on experience learned at Hillgrove and SHAC. The campaign was successful with the farm closing its doors in 2000.
- Save the Newchurch Guinea Pigs The farm at Darley Oaks, Staffordshire was a breeder of guinea pigs for vivisection. Like with SHAC, the campaign emerged in 1999 in the wake of the victory at Hillgrove to close the farm down. The farm became a focus of regular large-scale protests and vigils, along-side with demonstrations at homes of workers and suppliers to the firm. Numerous arrests occurred, as well as notable interventions by the ALF. The farm closed its guinea-pig business in summer 2005.
It is as yet unclear whether James has made a serious effort to join one of more of the organising groups.
He seems to have shown most interest in the campaign to shut down the Shamrock Monkey Farm. Based in Small Dole, near Brighton, this was an import business for primates destined to be used for laboratory experiments. As such, it was the subject of a significant campaign over a number of years. Straven was photographed at one protest, his image being subsequently published in Argus. Another time, he took part in a ‘lock on’, where he and others locked themselves to an old vehicle at the gates of the farm, preventing access.
Other animal rights events that Straven went to, on one or more occasions:
- Animal Rights gatherings held at Friends Animal Sanctuary, East Peckham, Tonbridge
- Counter demos to the Countryside Alliance demos and several demos before the Hunting Act came into power.
Hunt Sab almost killed
James was considered as a good friend of the member of the Croydon group who almost died after he was deliberately driven over by a hunt supporter in a four wheel drive vehicle. He was very present at his bedside during his recovery.
The attack happened on 1 September 2000, when a small delegation of the Croydon Hunt Sabs turned up at a dawn meet of the Old Surrey Burstow and West Kent Hunt, attempting to prevent the killing of fox cubs. The event had a massive impact on hunt saboteurs and their supporters. A call want out for a demo the next day.
What started as a peaceful demo escalated at the kennels, where few police were seen in attendance. 'When we arrived two men came out - one with a stick, one with a pick-axe handle. After that it all kicked off. They were threatening people.'
There was quite some damage at the kennels, and 36 people were subsequently arrested, weeks later at their homes by detectives from Surrey and Sussex police forces who were investigating both the hunting incident and the subsequent demonstration. . Most were identified from CCTV images taken at a local railway station where the group had gathered before they had covered their faces, and from a traffic camera in a police car on the road into the location. John remembers that the images appeared in the trial depositions where some people were identified on the image, while others had a question mark above them as unidentified.
The driver of the car was charged with ‘grievous bodily harm with intent’, which carries a potential life sentence, and a court date was set for mid-November. However, in February 2001 the charges were dropped; the CPS citing 'the receipt of fresh evidence': a key witness was serving a prison sentence for matters unrelated at the time. In August 2004, the injured sab was awarded criminal injuries compensation.
Straven was not out with the group when the attack on the hunt sab happened; nor did he attend the demonstration the next day. Several people remarked that he was conspicuous by his absence. He was however in the hospital within 24 hours after the accident; he showed a lot of concern, which at the time seemed genuine. There were three or four people who were very much involved in taking care of the injured sab who remained hospitalised for weeks, and James was one of them.
Animal Liberation Front?
The Undercover Policing Inquiry lists the Animal Liberation Front as one of Straven’s targets, though it is unclear the degree to which he was successful it this. However, since much of the activism around animal rights was categorised by the police as 'ALF', Straven may have reported some of the things he was involved in as such.
During the time he was deployed, campaigners were starting to focus attention on trial badger culls taking place at different places in the west of England. At the time there were few local groups in the South West active against on the issue though people came from further afield. At one point Ron travelled down to the Devon-Cornwall area with Straven, noting: 'We took his car to drive down, talked to local people to get some details on where to go, smashed traps and reported back, and that was it.'
Marc recounts a time when three of them, including Straven, went out in the early morning, before the hunt would set off, and used bangers to put animals on alert, particularly the foxes. This was a technique used sometimes to disrupt the hunt’s ability to locate their prey: 'But I would call this civil obedience rather than anything else.' It was James who tried to make more of it:
- He gave us night vision goggles - rubbish compared to what you can get now, but they did work. Was quite something to have at the time, unheard of, he left them with us.
- Also when we were sneaking through the bushes, we suddenly did not see James anymore, he had dropped to the ground and was crawling like an army commando.
At Shamrock and Hillgrove demonstrations, activists sometimes carried out follow up actions immediately afterwards. For instance, a handful of people would go off to do different things, such as 'home visits' to shout at staff of the farms. Sara does remember that James went off with others, at least on one occasion. Other members of the Croydon group, however, cannot imagine Straven would have been trusted enough to be invited along. 'He was kept on the margins, people felt they did not know him well enough. He wasn’t mistrusted, but there was something there. You need to know someone’s soul before you do certain things together, with him that trust was not there.'
James had two relationships while he was undercover, and he developed strong friendships with other people. He went out with Sara from late 1998 until around Christmas 1999, after that they remained close friends until Sara moved abroad early 2001. He started dating Ellie around that time; they went out for just under a year, from early 2001 until he disappeared in early 2002 (it is unclear yet when exactly that was).
Sara met James when she started to go out sabbing. She felt an immediate connection on the evening out with him alone on their first date. They started seeing each other from then on. They went away together, taking day trips, meeting up regularly and remaining in contact when he was ‘working abroad’.
Around Christmas 1999, Straven disappeared for a couple of weeks, with Sara unable to reach him, despite trying. He returned to hand her a letter, seemingly very nervous, saying he would be back to talk about it. In the letter he explained his difficulties with intimate relationships, why he could not have one. Referring to abuse when he was at boarding school, he said he was unable to continue like before but hoped to still see her. What he said in that letter was shocking and Sara felt nothing but empathy for him. Due to the closeness and friendship that was a big part of their relationship, Sara continued to see him for more than a year.
A bit later, James came out with the story that his ex and her partner were moving to America and that he would be going too to be near his kids, and still do his job from there. They continued to see each other regularly until Sarah relocated in early spring 2001, at which point he still hadn’t moved to America.
When James started coming out on hunt sabs, he initially befriended one of the female members of the Croydon group. He took part in social activities, and came round to her house. She worked at a wildlife hospital, and James joined other friends coming there to help out. This is where he first met Ellie, who was neither an activist nor a hunt sab. At a certain point he asked the female sab to set them up and they started dating.
Ellie saw James a couple of times a week. He would be away on short notice with work, saying 'I’ll let you know when I’m back'. They would go out for dinner. They would go on day trips, sometimes away for overnight stays.
At one point they went abroad to Indonesia. On returning James gave her a collage of their time away together as a gift.
Straven had a motorbike at this point in time, Ellie is not sure it was his or borrowed. He would take her riding and paid for her motor bike lessons, including the next batch before he disappeared.
Ellie can't remember many details, she describes the relationship as 'meaningful', and she was in love. They remained in touch after he left.
James Straven, born in December 1963, was 37 when he dated Ellie in 2001; she was 21 years old at the time. He was her first love.
James Straven made several trips abroad while he was undercover, and in most - if not all - cases it was unclear why these trips were essential for his job. Most looked like holidays; even taking Croydon Hunt Sabs to an international animal rights gathering ended up as partying in Amsterdam instead.
Straven drove five people to the Netherlands around Easter 1998. As Chris remembers: 'This was ostensibly an animal rights trip where we stayed all together with other groups in a hall just sleeping rough on the floor, it might have been at a school. We were due to go to workshops and demos. Well, we made it to one demo at a SeaWorld-type place but that was about it. Instead we spent most of our time exploring Amsterdam. Now I can't remember if James smoked weed like the rest of us, but I'm sure one night he had hash cake.
Joe remembers that as well: James was sick off his face; however he tried very hard to control himself, I asked him if he was alright. In hindsight, he was of course trying to remain in control, afraid to spill the beans.'
The multi-day international Animal Rights Gathering (the first of its kind) took place at EuroDusnie, in Leiden. Apart from workshops, the programme included a demo visiting the Dutch Bio Primate Centre, the company responsible for cloning Herman the bull, and picketing of various McDonald's which led to confrontations with the police. At the demo at the Dolfinarium, the SeaWorld-like place, the activists just handed out leaflets since there was a lot of police blocking the entrance.
Straven went to India in late 1999 with some people from the Croydon Hunt Sab group to visit friends who had set up a cat and dog rescue centre there. Sara remembers he came back full of enthusiasm for how great India was, how relaxing, how he had played football with the kids on the beach, he really loved it. With some others, she went to India January 2000 for two weeks, he visited for a week because he had other things to do for his job. Sara: 'It was relaxing time, with no animal activity apart from helping out at the animal rescue centre.'
Marc thought it was a bit peculiar that Straven went there twice, though he was not that close to the people from the sanctuary. He also recalls a weird incident:
- In India, there was a Nepalese boy there who was very much trying to get into the Gurkha regiment, he was practising all day to pass the fitness test. Since James father purportedly was relatively high–up in the Gurkha regiment, he offered to provide a reference for the boy. The boy even invited us to his village, James wasn’t there himself in the end, but they received us. Though it was the thing James could do to help this boy, it never happened - James wrote some useless letter himself in the end. In hindsight, this poor boy, in one of the poorest countries, just got lied to.
Early 2001, Straven offered John a trip to France on the pretext of having to see a bank manager in Marseille to discuss a business venture to import golf carts. John:
- About 10 days after the initial conversation the trip was arranged and we drove from Calais to Marseille, across to Bordeaux (where Sara joined us) and back up to Calais via Dieppe. We were away for at least four days. The whole occasion had the appearance of spontaneity. We agreed to share the driving and rooms while away to save costs.
Alone in the car Straven engaged John in almost continuous conversation: 'Many subjects were talked about including group gossip, etc.'
In Marseille there was the incident of the stolen car. John was asleep in a hotel room when Straven sneaked out without leaving a note, to go to the police to report that his car had been stolen. To continue the journey a Volvo Estate was hired, John can remember that it was delivered to him very quickly:
- At the time it seemed very odd: James’ French did not appear that good, so how did he make this police report so easily? How did he even locate the police station without help?
Indonesia and Singapore
James took Ellie to Indonesia in September 2001, to visit the member of the group who was almost killed while out sabbing. The mission was to support him in a time of great need; James' ticket was paid for by the group. They left within a few days for a short holiday in Indonesia and Singapore. When they returned they were meant to meet with him again, however, this being around 9/11, they were evacuated Singapore due to terrorism threats in the area.
Suspicions: 'James Blond'
Initially there was some suspicion, because Straven did not fit the picture of a typical activist, but that was quickly overcome. 'He was quite straight and normal, a bit different. And alone, hadn’t seen his kids and wife', Joe says.
While the Croydon Hunt Sabs were well aware of the risk of being infiltrated, Straven as a character just seemed too obvious. Apart from 'Posh Sab', he also had another nick name. Ron:
- Behind his back we used to call him 'James Blond', a play on his hair colour and the fictional spy because of how he acted. There was always something not quite right about him but clearly we weren't suspicious enough. It was never really clear why he wanted to help animals, what was the reason for coming out sabbing. There was no real emotion to it, he was flat. Then again, there are lots of odd people in animal rights, and you don’t want to turn them away.
'The group would joke: careful what you say around James! Almost embarrassing now.' He acted odd. There was always the feeling one could not really trust him. 'In hindsight it's silly we never put two and two together.'
Sara recalls a weird incident which took place while he was abroad. She spoke to James on the phone and he complained about problems with his back, said he had to take rest. She asked for an address to send him something, ordered flowers and got a call the next day that the delivery had failed. 'The address was a B&B and no James Straven was known there. He made up a story about it being owned by family of his, and that maybe the employee was new and perhaps did not know he was there.' Sara remembers thinking it was a bit odd.
Straven used essential parts of his legend in his exit story. He claimed that his ex-partner was moving to the United States and that he would follow her to stay close to his children. Some remember that it was her new partner who got a job in San Francisco as the reason for the move. Straven claimed that being in the film industry, it would be easy for him to work from Los Angeles.
This exit of James Straven is very similar to many other known undercover officers: they all disappeared claiming to start a new life abroad somewhere. The only difference is that Straven began announcing his departure at a very early stage. He told Sara about it in the first half of 2000, about two years before he actually went. The same goes for feigning emotional distress to break up a relationship, a textbook tactic for spycops before him. Straven did this with Sara in early 2000, which is roughly mid-way his deployment instead of at the end. Also, he continued that relationship - be it without the sexual component - only to start a new one when he was apparently already on his way out. The early start of his exit strategy may very well be connected with the panic within the SDS by a fellow undercover officer, Christine Green, who left the police to be with her activist boyfriend, as explained below.
Overlap with other undercover officers
A timeline of undercovers indicates that James was part of a sequence of Special Demonstration Squad undercovers who targeted animal rights in south and west London. The earliest such undercover is Mike Chitty, who as Mike Blake lived in Balham and targeted people in Streatham 1983-1987. In November 1991, Andy Coles moved to Streatham as Andy 'Van' Davey, where he targeted Brixton Hunt Sabs and forerunners of London Animal Action. He was there until February 1995.
Christine Green and James Straven
Christine Green infiltrated animal rights groups from early 1995 to late 1999 / early 2000. The dates and initial targets of Christine’s deployment indicated that she was likely being put in place as Coles’ successor, as she started with a focus on Brixton Hunt Sabs and London Animal Action. However, having failed to be particularly successful in Brixton, she moved onto other London groups, and James appears to have taken up her baton, focusing on local hunt sab groups in the area.
James Straven and Christine Green worked in similar fields for about four years (1997 to 1999/2000). Like Christine, James struggled to be accepted by the Brixton Hunt Sabs, but with him in the Croydon group and her in the West London Hunt sabs, they must have been on the same events, and gone out sabbing together when groups joined forces to go to Reading or Southampton. While several of the people interviewed knew Christine Green, it is not clear that James and she openly knew each other.
In late 1999 Christine Green's deployment ended when she suddenly left with hardly a goodbye. She disappeared for six months and returned to go back to her activist partner, having quit the police. It is curious that this coincides with James Straven’s sudden disappearance around Christmas 1999, followed by his alleged psychological crisis as mentioned above; he stopped his intimate relationship with Sara but would continue to see her. Another contemporary undercover, Mark Jenner, also in a relationship, also feigned a breakdown around Christmas 1999. He ceased deployment in early 2000 - though his time in the field had reached its natural end. However, it is an open question whether Christine Green’s actions - defecting essentially - precipitated concern within the SDS, causing them to put contingencies in place in case James had to be extracted quickly.
Straven also overlapped with Dave Evans, who was deployed 1998 to 2005 against London Animal Action (like Coles before him and Green) and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, amongst other targets. Straven attended SHAC protests, but it is unclear as yet if their paths crossed there. Meanwhile, Matt Rayner had infiltrated the animal rights movement in north London from 1991 to 1996, targeting similar groups such as London Animal Action, Animal Liberation Front and West London Hunt Saboteurs. Likewise, Straven's time partly overlapped with fellow SDS officer, Jim Boyling who was deployed against Essex Hunt Saboteurs (and Reclaim the Streets) as Jim Sutton, 1995-2000.
It is highly likely that both Rayner and Coles helped brief and prepare Straven for his undercover role, and that both Green and Evans supported him in the field. All officers will have provided information to Special Branch's Animal Rights National Index, which in 1999 was restructured to become the national 'spycops' unit, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit.
Additionally, Straven served in the same period when fellow undercovers N81 (Dave Hagan) and other undercovers were focusing on family justice campaigns, including those associated the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence. As such, his time in the Special Demonstration Squad comes at a period of high significance, particularly with regards to the issues being investigated by the Undercover Policing Inquiry.
Further reading and resources
- Rob Evans, Police spy misleads inquiry about sexual relations with women, The Guardian, 6 January 2019.
- 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).
- Sir John Mitting, Core participants Ruling 21 Undercover Policing Inquiry, 20 September 2018 (accessed 21 Sep 2018)
- Sir John Mitting, Core participants Ruling 23 Undercover Policing Inquiry, 25 October 2018 (accessed 29 Oct 2018)
- Sir John Mitting. PRESS NOTICE New issues lists published as Inquiry makes further anonymity decisions, 21 February 2019 (accessed March 2019)
- Undercover Policing Inquiry, HN16's cover names released, Press Notice, 20 September 2018 (accessed 21 Sep 2018)
- According to Operation Herne, 'Christine Green' was the first undercover officer to get a fully fictional name in November 1994. See: Graham Walker, HN26 - Open risk assessment, Metropolitan Police Service, 24 July 2017 (accessed via UCPI.org.uk).
- Undercover Research Group, Interview with 'John' (pseudonym), 18 November 2018
- Undercover Research Group, Interview with ‘Sara' (pseudonym), 1 November 2018
- Undercover Research Group, Interview with 'Marc' (pseudonym), 26 November 2018
- Undercover Research Group, Interview with 'Ellie' (pseudonym), 9 October 2018
- Undercover Research Group, Interview with 'Ron' (pseudonym), 26 November 2018
- Undercover Research Group, Interview with 'Joe' (pseudonym), 29 November 2018
- Companies House,OWN2FEET PRODUCTIONS LIMITED, information on Company number 03749386, retrieved 7 January 2019
- Sara remembers him saying he was in Soho with them for work from time to time, while Ellie recalls he knew the Pall Mall area of London quite well. He knew a posh part of London quite well, Pall Mall / the Strand. He had memberships of clubs that were invitation only. Ellie worked at such a club, so that’s how they came to talk about it.
- Electoral Roles, Registers for the years 1998 - 2003, viewed at the British Library
- As Sara remembers this happened early days in his deployment, before she started going out with James, it was probably at the demo that took place on March 1, 1998, see UK BBC News, Countryside fields 250,000 protesters, 1 March 1998 (accessed 7 January 2018)
- Interview 'Chris' (pseudonym), 21 September 2018
- Wikipedia, Hunt Saboteurs Association, Last edited 8 February 2019 (accessed Fab 2018). See also the website of the Hunt Saboteurs Association.
- Andrew Buncombe, Kennels attack linked to assault on hunt saboteur, The Independent, 4 September 2000 (accessed January 2019)
- The award was the outcome of an appeal against an earlier decision not to award compensation. For more, see: Hunt Saboteurs Association,It's Official - Crown Prosecution Service say it is OK to try to kill Hunt Saboteurs, HSA News Release, 5 September 2001
- For more on the injured sab, see: Hunt Saboteurs Association, £18,500 compensation for hunt saboteur almost killed at cub hunt, HSA News Release, 25 August 2004 (accessed January 2019)
- EuroDusnie was a radical community centre. A diary kept by the organisers and published by the activist Dutch magazine Ravage actually mentions the English and the Fins arriving a day early and heading off to Amsterdam to explore the city. See: Margreet & Rochelle, Radicale dierenactivisten treffen elkander in Leiden, Ravage 258, 1 May 1998 (accessed January 2019)
- There are only a few undercover officers who did not completely disappear after talking about leaving. Matt Rayner had an extremely elaborate exit strategy, it took about 18 months to execute. Jason Bishop, allegedly moved to the Netherlands, returning seven months later to take part in anti arms fair protest, before disappearing for good three months later.
- Email to core participants, '20180501_UCPI_to_all_CPs_publishing_HN3_HN19_HN20_HN60_HN218_HN353', Undercover Research Group, 1 May 2018, referencing an update of the webpage UCPI.org.uk/cover-names.
- Email to core participants, '20180523_UCPI_to_all_CPs_publishing_HN1_HN12_and_CP_RLR_costs_rulings', Undercover Policing Inquiry, 23 May 2018, referencing update of the webpage UCPI.org.uk/cover-names.