The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) ran for decades in the shadows of the British secret state. A private company bringing together the chief police officers of the 40+ police forces in England and Wales, it developed national police policy, made and broke government proposals, and contributed to the creation of a national political police monitoring dissidents across the country.

Amongst (many) other things, it created and controlled the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), set up in 1999 to infiltrate activist groups across England and Wales, following the example of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad in London.

Since folding in 2015, ACPO’s historical archive has become available at the Hull History Centre. The files have been heavily filtered: the 556-page ACPO archive catalogue contains only one mention of any of the known political policing units. In response to a 2014 Freedom of Information request, ACPO stated that its records would be made public ‘after weeding’.

Connor Woodman spent a week in Hull – the result is an interesting selection from a sanitised archive. The files cover ACPO’s increasingly large role in national public order and political policing, often developing in response to the largest mass struggles in British 20th century history: the 1968 demonstrations, the 1980-1981 urban riots, and the 1984-1985 Miners’ Strike.

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Remember, these are only the files that the authorities chose to disclose and may only represent a small fraction of the total files held. Also, what police officers report to their superiors is not necessarily true.


Connor Woodman carried out this research whilst the 2017/18 Amiel & Melburn Trust Research Fellow, hosted by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. Thank you to the Hull History Centre and Jim Townsend for their assistance during the research phase of this project.

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