Much of the horror of the spycops scandal comes from the impact of the actions of the undercover police on people who were out to change the world for the better. Whether it was deceiving women into relationships they’d have otherwise rejected, fathering children, the emotional trauma they caused, the theft of dead children’s of identities, the destruction of people’s careers through blacklisting, or the undermining of family justice campaigns, the litany is disturbing.

There is no doubt that the undercovers have much to answer for – they were there on the front line. However, they did not act in a vacuum. Each undercover in the unit was under orders from their managers. The managers monitored the lives of those they officers very closely, and not a few of those managers had been previously been undercovers themselves.

Once the original shock at individual actions wears off, the natural question to ask is, who authorised this, or even who turned a blind eye to it all? Given the natural secrecy of the units involved this is a difficult question to answer without talking to the officers concerned directly or seeing the paper trail. We hope much of this will be central to the evidence phase of the Undercover Policing Inquiry.

However, in the meantime we can start making inferences of exactly who should be being asked the questions. The Ratcliffe disclosure material is very useful in this respect. Our re-analysis of the official reports in connection with the disclosure allows us to flesh out the picture considerably.

Authorisation of undercovers

Up until the introduction of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) in 2000, authorisation of an undercover operation could be done by an officer of superintendent rank. In the Metropolitan Police Special Branch, that would have been the Controller of Operations. However, various material indicates authorisation usually went much higher, to the level of the Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations (ACSO), the third highest position in the Metropolitan Police.

We suspect, that for the most part, this was a rubber-stamping exercise, where the ACSO accepted positive reports passed up the line of command. Though, it was then-ACSO David Veness, who in 1998 initiated the formation of the National Public Intelligence Order Unit, taking the Special Demonstration Squad model[1]Established in 1968, the Special Demonstration Squad was a secretive unit within Metropolitan Police Special Branch which placed undercover officers within political protest groups. and rolling it out nationally. However, while it is clear that the likes of Veness had more than a passing knowledge of undercover policing units and their activities, it is not possible to say the same of his predecessor as Assistant Commissioners.

However, when Veness and the Metropolitan Police Special Branch helped found the National Public Order Intelligence Unit in 1999, with undercover police to be deployed nationally against political protestors, it faced two additional complications around authorisation. Firstly, the undercovers it deployed worked for a national unit nominally headquartered in London, but they were deployed into different regional police areas which all had distinct operational powers independent of any national body – powers normally guarded quite jealously within the police.

The introduction of RIPA also meant that more senior level of officers had to sign off undercover work of the kind the NPOIU undertook. In the Metropolitan Police, it was a minimum of Commander rank; for all other police forces, it would be someone of Assistant Chief Constable rank, normally the officer who had oversight of the local special branch units. This can be seen in practice in the Aeroscope / Mark Kennedy disclosure.

From 2004, the NPOIU came under the authority of the National Domestic Extremism Co-ordinator, a position of Assistant Chief Constable rank, then held by Anton Setchell. For this, Setchell was seconded from Thames Valley Police to the Association of Chief Police Officer’s Terrorism and Allied Matters Committee (ACPO TAM). In theory the National Co-ordinator had sufficient rank to sign-off Mark Kennedy’s deployment, but ACPO TAM was a technically a private enterprise as opposed to formal police unit, for all that it operated on the latter lines.

On the other hand, Mark Kennedy, being Mark Stone, was little different than being a private citizen living in Nottingham. It was only when he became directly involved in an activity that he needed authorisation. Thus, when in October 2008 his then-friends indicate to him they are planning an operation, he tells his handlers in the NPOIU, who then brief Nottinghamshire Police, where Kennedy was living as Stone, and seek further authorisation.

Role of Ian Ackerley and Nottinghamshire Special Branch

It is Assistant Chief Constable Ian Ackerley of Nottinghamshire Police who, on 5 November 2008, authorises Kennedy to carry out the undercover work in relation to the planned power station protest – even though it was not certain the protest would take place in Nottinghamshire at that point.

Ackerley was not in the chain of command for Nottinghamshire Special Branch; that role went to his colleague ACC Susannah Fish. However, she was absent on a secondment to the Home Office and her position temporarily occupied by an officer from Lincolnshire police. Thus at that moment in time, Ackerley was the best placed officer of rank to provide authorisation for what ultimately developed into Operation Aeroscope. However, it would be very surprising if Susannah Fish had not been involved in authorizing previous activities by Kennedy.

The role of Ackerley is central to matters. He not only gives the initial 2008 authorisation, but he is also the one who calls the ‘Gold level’ meetings of March and April 2009 as the intelligence picture builds up due to Kennedy’s work. And it is Ackerley who sets the policy about how that intelligence is to be distributed to the investigating officers for Aeroscope – particularly the need to protect Kennedy’s identity. Curiously, there is lack of thorough investigation of this policy setting and the role of Ackerley is glossed over in the office reports of what went wrong.

The first gold meeting was attended only by Ackerley, Chief Superintendent John Busuttil and two unnamed detective constables. Busuttil was the Nottingaham police officer who was in charge of territorial policing for ‘D Division’ – the area which included Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station. Many of the officers involved in the pre-arrest phase and the actual arrest operation were at that time immediately serving under him. The meeting of 7 April was attended by Ackerly, Busuttil and Supt. Paul Anderson who served as Deputy Divisional Commander under Busuttil. Also in attendance were Chief Inspector Ian Barrowcliffe, head of operations and planning for Nottinghamshire Police, and Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Waterfield, the force’s Director of Intelligence. Waterfield ‘had responsibility and oversight of all RIPA authorisations, CHIS and covert policing operations.'[2]Ian Waterfield, Profile, LinkedIn.com, 2017 (accessed 16 July 2017) . he was also line manager for Nottinghamshire Special Branch.

It is not known precisely what was discussed was at the Gold level meetings for Aeroscope. However, it is known that ‘protection of the source’ of the intelligence was one of the topics.[3]Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station (Operation Aeroscope) Disclosure: Final Report, Independent Police Complaints Commission, March 2012. It is probably not a coincidence that the second such meeting known of, that of 7 April, is also the date a report is submitted by Nottinghamshire Special Branch setting out the case for the continuing authorisation of Kennedy’s role. The report itself is anodyne, giving the semblance of due diligence while going through the motions.

Of more interest is that it was authored by a local Special Branch employee, one G. Newton, and endorsed by NPOIU, including ACC Anton Setchell. Nottinghamshire Special Branch was a smallish affair, led by an officer of Detective Inspector rank – at the time Andy Bateman. Between Bateman and Ackerley are three layers of management, including Waterfield, though as discussed later, he had direct access to Busuttil whom he regularly briefed on intelligence received from the Kennedy via the NPOIU.

Bateman does not appear in the official reviews and on the face of them it appears that, though he was being briefed by the NPOIU and on occasion passed on some of Kennedy’s intelligence reports, he has little role to play. It is the NPOIU who held the power.

For instance, Ackerley decides that it is the NPOIU who should be the conduit of information relating to Kennedy’s role after the arrests taken place. And from what we can tell, once the arrests occur on 13 April 2009, Bateman makes no further appearance in any of the documents. Indeed, if it was not for the disclosure there would be no trace of him at all.

None of this exculpate Bateman, who having charge of political policing in Nottinghamshire would have monitored the environmental groups long active in the city. In one sense, being closer to the ground, Bateman was in a better position to learn about Kennedy’s activities as he posed as an activist and interacted with the different political scenes in Nottingham. The disclosure is clear that there were those within Nottingham Special Branch, including Bateman, who knew who Kennedy really was.

Busuttil and officers under him were central to Aeroscope prior to and leading up to the arrest of the campaigners on 13 April. Several of them subsequently commented in the press, justifying the arrests by saying they were ‘intelligence-led’ and had ‘struck early to protect the critical national infrastructure’.[4]Activists plotted to ‘starve’ Ratcliffe power station, BBC News Online, 10 October 2011. However, they do not appear to have played much in the role in the subsequent investigation, which passed over to new officers. How much they knew of the specifics of Kennedy’s undercover identify and role is not clear.

Post-arrest investigation

On the day of the arrests in April 2009, Ackerley effectively changes the nature of the operation and replaces the investigating team. Some of these are officers new to Nottinghamshire Police and are who unaware of Kennedy’s role – indeed, at first it is deliberately kept from them, supposedly to protect the integrity of the investigation.

Nevertheless, they cannot quite avoid the information, though the reports indicate it is only released to them gradually. The Senior Investigation Officer for Operation Aeroscope is Det. Supt. Adrian Pearson, a recent arrival at Nottinghamshire Police; he was only appointed to lead the Aeroscope investigations the day after the arrests. When he gets indication that the intelligence that led to the raid and arrests in the first place was due to an undercover having been deployed, he raises the matter with an immediate superior, Det. Ch. Supt. Neil James. James is apparently ignorant of the activities of the undercover, but according to the official reports recognises the importance of the fact; it is he who says their needs to be a meeting with local prosecutors to discuss it.

This meeting took place on 7 May and included another Nottinghamshire officer, Det. Supt. Stephen Lowe. It is the only time Lowe appears in the official accounts, but it is worth noting he had been a predecessor to Bateman, having been head of Nottinghamshire Special Branch when another NPOIU undercover Rod Richardson was undercover in the city (2000-2003) and when Mark Kennedy was first deployed. It would be surprising if Lowe did not recognised the situation for what it was much more than is described in the reports. There is also the unexplained matter of why Lowe was invited to the meeting in the first place given he is seemingly not otherwise involved in Operation Aeroscope.

Within the official reports, mentions of Ackerley effectively end following the arrests. Instead, in both the Rose and IPCC reports the focus is on the role of the Aeroscope investigation team who pick up responsibility for matters after 13 April.

Thus, in the IPCC report into the affair, Pearson and his team come in for criticism for not considering the role of Kennedy as an undercover sufficiently. No such criticism is directed at Ackerley, even though it is clear he knew from the very beginning and actually set the policy on how information relating to Kennedy was distributed. As the ‘Gold Commander’, that was precisely his oversight role. It is very hard to understand how he was effectively ignored by the IPCC when all authority actually ends at his door and he signed off all the authorisations as well.

Insight from disclosure

The disclosure confirms that for NPOIU undercovers, the authorising officer was not just Anton Setchell but the Assistant Chief Constable for each police area where the undercover was to be part of protests and actions that might involve some breaking of the law. This would usually the one overseeing special operations. The local head of Special Branch was also kept in on the loop. What we pick up from our examination of Aeroscope material is that in this, they had little actual power – that seems to have remained with the NPOIU  – but they would have had some knowledge of matters.

The Kennedy related disclosure also puts ACC Anton Setchell in the frame as actively supporting the deployments. He was not so high above the ground that he did not know what was under his command.

Much of this has been suspected for some time by campaigners; what the Aeroscope documents do is provide strong backing evidence for this and a reason in the spycop scandal to focus attention on key people in regional police forces where they were deployed – heads of Special Branch, any Directors of Intelligence, and those at Assistant Chief Constable level.

Open questions

What is missing is how much the detailed knowledge of the deployment was being passed on. Particularly, how much did local Special Branch know of the tactics used by the undercovers to create and maintain their legends? What of the numerous relationships Kennedy had? Or was all this strictly kept in-house? These questions are still unanswered as these documents do not detail the history of Kennedy in Nottingham or specify what was said in briefings from the NPOIU.

It is known from a contemporary of Kennedy, Simon Wellings, an undercover in London who accidentally sat on his phone and so recorded a debriefing session, there was considerable interest in the personal lives of those he was targeting.[5]Undercover Research Group, Simon Wellings (alias), Powerbase.info, 2018. We also know that Special Branch are keen on running informers and grasses within local political scenes. On a personal level, we know of at least one person approached in the Nottingham environmental scene to be an informer and there are multiple other examples such as in Glasgow[6]Paul Lewis, Police caught on tape trying to recruit Plane Stupid protester as spy, The Guardian, 24 April 2009 (accessed 23 August 2018). and Cambridge[7]Rob Evans & Matthew Taylor, Cambridgeshire police tried to turn political activists into informers, The Guardian, 17 March 2014 (accessed 23 August 2018). show this practice was used by Special Branch to target environmentalists.

This leads to another question: did Nottinghamshire Special Branch run its own informers in the scene around Kennedy and thus learn of his activities through those reports? It is speculation at the moment, but it is hard to see that they would not have found out and been able to make the connection.

The NPOIU certainly knew. Kennedy had been deployed along with undercovers Lynn Watson and Marco Jacobs, who were aware of his relationships as they would have witnessed them and discussed them with activists.[8]Author: various conversations with individuals who knew Mark Kennedy, Lynn Watson and Marco Jacobs. All three NPOIU undercovers were active in scenes that overlapped considerably and on occasion targeted the same groups. Update: one person who was deceived into a relationship with Mark Kennedy wrote on twitter: “Indeed. #spycops including Lynn Watson knew exactly what #markkennedy was up to, she asked me about it on a number of occasions.

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References   [ + ]

1. Established in 1968, the Special Demonstration Squad was a secretive unit within Metropolitan Police Special Branch which placed undercover officers within political protest groups.
2. Ian Waterfield, Profile, LinkedIn.com, 2017 (accessed 16 July 2017) .
3. Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station (Operation Aeroscope) Disclosure: Final Report, Independent Police Complaints Commission, March 2012.
4. Activists plotted to ‘starve’ Ratcliffe power station, BBC News Online, 10 October 2011.
5. Undercover Research Group, Simon Wellings (alias), Powerbase.info, 2018.
6. Paul Lewis, Police caught on tape trying to recruit Plane Stupid protester as spy, The Guardian, 24 April 2009 (accessed 23 August 2018).
7. Rob Evans & Matthew Taylor, Cambridgeshire police tried to turn political activists into informers, The Guardian, 17 March 2014 (accessed 23 August 2018).
8. Author: various conversations with individuals who knew Mark Kennedy, Lynn Watson and Marco Jacobs. All three NPOIU undercovers were active in scenes that overlapped considerably and on occasion targeted the same groups. Update: one person who was deceived into a relationship with Mark Kennedy wrote on twitter: “Indeed. #spycops including Lynn Watson knew exactly what #markkennedy was up to, she asked me about it on a number of occasions.