On Easter weekend 2009, Nottinghamshire Police raided a school in Sneinton, arresting 114 people. They were activists discussing whether to go ahead with an ambitious plan – to shut down the coal-fired power station at Ratcliffe-on-Soar power as a protest against climate change. The police operation was called Aeroscope, and among those arrested was one ‘Mark Stone’.
The arrests were not pivotal in the uncovering of Stone’s real identity as undercover police officer Mark John Kennedy in October 2010. However, that discovery lead some of those arrested and facing trial in January 2011 to seek full disclosure of his role – leading to the dramatic collapse of their trial when prosecution abruptly dropped the case the day the trial due to start.
This was the moment that the issue of spycops – the political infiltration of protest groups – became a national scandal. It was the hard tug on the string that unravelled the entire saga. In the months and years that followed, more undercovers were exposed and with them numerous wrong-doing, ultimately leading to the Undercover Policing Inquiry.
The immediate fallout from the collapse of the trial lead to several official reports into what went wrong. Less well-known is a set of documents disclosed in that trial which related to Mark Kennedy role in the planning of the protest. The disclosure is remarkable in itself, a rare insight into day-to-day intelligence gathering by the likes of Kennedy and how it was used. The picture grows considerably when all the material is put side by side.
Re-examining the material
This report is a full re-examination of the official reports in the light of that disclosure, and provides profiles of the officers involved. In the process, it illuminates key questions that have bothered many of those targeted. In particular, who knew what when about Kennedy’s deployment and how the unit that ran him, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), interacted with mainstream policing. It also allows one to begin to see how NPOIU control of information led to miscarriages of justice. The answers we find here, we strongly believe, will be similar for other undercovers from the same unit, such as Lynn Watson and Marco Jacobs.
The analysis raises other awkward questions. It was clear the original investigative reports did not give a full account. People occupying key positions were not questioned and their roles downplayed, especially for the top echelons of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Nottinghamshire Police. It is quite clear the full story was deliberately not told in those official reports, especially regarding how much policy decisions at top levels to keep the role of an undercover officer secret set the stage for the cover-up and miscarriages of justice that followed.
The re-analysis opens the way for wider issues to be considered. Was what happened in Nottinghamshire in 2009 a one-off, or is there a systemic problem, indicating that miscarriages of justice were likely taking place where other undercovers were deployed. In 2004, the Government established cross-agency forums targeting protestors, leading to the formation of ‘domestic extremism’ units within the police and CPS.
For this reason, we believe the methods and approaches that played out in Operation Aeroscope were the norm not the exception, something the Undercover Policing Inquiry will need to address, including putting the CPS under the spotlight.