Eveline Lubbers, 23 March 2018

In March 2018, the Undercover Policing Inquiry published the Special Demonstration Squad Tradecraft Manual, written in 1995, and updated in 1996. It was authored by Andy Coles, while he was still undercover in London animal rights groups as Andy Davey from 1991 – 1995.

Vile Content

The Tradecraft Manual is part of a bundle of advice for future undercover officers, it is not dated, but the most recent – redacted – document is from November 2002. It includes a chapter from the activist book Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching warning against ‘Police Undercover Operations’, as well as an example of how a group on the extreme right investigated someone they did not trust – unfortunately this bit has been redacted. There are sections on the law (although of course there is not a lot on undercover operations), and a 20-page long analysis of the names that are most common in the UK – for aspiring spycops to choose their cover name from.

The heart of the bundle is a 44 page guide, written by Andy Coles. To summarise the whole manual would be too much, but here are some examples to give a taste of the tone and intent. The entire guide is steeped in disdain not only for the people being spied on (dismissively nicknamed ‘wearies’; the spycops calling themselves, ‘the hairies’ because they typically sported long hair and a beard in the early days) – but also disdain for anyone else the officer was likely to come into contact with or effect. Take for instance the section on building a fake identity, this included finding a birth certificate of a child that had died early. They had specific requirements – Coles then choses to make some morbid jokes:

Newcomers to the activist scene get to hear what sort of approach will not be successful. ‘Treating members of the group with flippancy or aggression is inappropriate, as is the use of racist, sexist, speciesist or sizeist language in the left wing and libertarian circles.’ The extensive advice on behaviour and looks is littered with predictable prejudice, such as: ‘Being a little untidy, smelly and rumpled is the natural state for many of the people in our target groups. Close associates may discern the small of fresh clothing from the suburban washing line […] potential for suspicion…’


Quite crucial for the still ongoing court cases of women who have been deceived into relationships with undercover officers is the following:

In the past emotional ties to the opposition have happened and caused all sorts of difficulties, including divorce, deception and disciplinary charges. Whilst it is not my place to moralise, one should try to avoid the opposite sex for as long as possible.


This sentence acknowledges relationships have happened and damaged those involved – one wonders what ‘disciplinary charges’ were brought as a result. The fact that the author says it is not his ‘place to moralise’ implies this was a guidance-free zone, left to individual judgement/taste/morality/(in)discretion. (That said, it could also refer to the author’s own relationship while undercover with ‘Jessica’ who was just 19 at the time, while Coles, pretending to be 24, was in fact 32 years old, married and about to have his first kid in his married life – and now denies this.)

There is the recommendation to have ‘fleeting and disastrous relationships’, but that’s only ‘if you have no other option but to become involved with a weary’. Yet we know that some undercover officers moved in with their activist partners, took part in their family life, in some cases went to counselling together, and even proposed marriage. At least one had a planned child. The exit strategy, including fabricating ‘personal difficulties’ before disappearing, appears without any thought for the impact on the people left behind.

If nothing else, the Tradecraft Manual allows a peek into the mindset of the Special Demonstration Squad. The best means of entry to almost any field is on the back of a national campaign, or large anniversary demonstrations. Good examples of such events are Poll Tax protests, opposition to the Gulf War, protests against the Criminal Justice act:
‘The camaraderie which develops at large demonstrations between the protesters makes the job of infiltration very much easier.’ It’s the cynicism in conjunction with what is considered ‘extremism’ that shows the unit’s true colours:

Involvement in crime

The advice given to future undercover officers is not just unclear, it is sometimes completely contradictory within the space of a few paragraphs. Take the sections on ‘Involvement in crime‘ and ‘Arrest’.

It starts with a bit of a mysterious reference: Some field officers will be fortunate in that their tour will never bring them into the realms of confidentional memo 4, dealing with participating informants. (copy attached at appendix E). Unfortunately there is no memo 4 in appendix E in the current Binder.

Then some clear guidance in 5.7.1: ‘Stated simply, you cannot take part in crime unless you had any part in planning an incident and take a minor part in the crime itself. At no time can you instigate, counsel or procure others to commit a crime.’

However, the next paragraph acknowledges that whilst this is ‘laudable’, ‘the boundary between right and wrong in the SDS arena is never as clear cut’. This paragraph concludes with: ‘If at any time your organisation invites you to break the law, you must be prepared to take whatever advice comes from your supervisors and your colleagues.

Further down the sliding scale in the next paragraph, 5.7.3: ‘If you are in a position where you either take part in crime or face immediate personal danger from your organisation, good sense dictates that self-preservation is the order of the day.’

The section on ‘Arrest‘ discusses the increased risk of getting arrested following the introduction of the 1994 Criminal Justice Act. Another problem is the tactic favoured by animal rights groups to plead guilty when arrested and cop the fine and Coles’ appeal is that ‘management should support the field officer’s appraisal of his situation’.

The bonus of having spent a night in the cell is that ‘the wearies will find it harder to believe any rumours that you are an infiltrator after you have gone through arrest and a court appearance.’

And it does not end there. In animal rights, and specifically the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), committing crimes is almost a condition to success. ‘7.3.5 The most difficult part of infiltration the ALF is to decide how far to go. […] without getting your hands dirty, your chance of correctly identifying an ALF activist is very low.


The section on dealing with paranoia has a sentence that has since come back to haunt the SDS and the author of the Manual, Andy Coles, who was forced to step down in May 2017 from his role as Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner of Cambridgeshire after he was exposed as a former undercover officer: ‘The wearies are generally not sophisticated in their counter intelligence capacity.’


So much for what is in there, now for what is not included. What does the Table of Contents tell us?

It confirms that the Special Demonstration Squad focused predominantly on groups on the left. Of the twelve target groups discussed, the Manual distinguishes varieties from anarchists to militant, and pacifists to anti fascists, there is the category ‘Irish’, while the last one is a catch-all ‘the extreme right’. And while the advice on how to infiltrate these groups is hilarious at points, at a certain moment Andy Coles’ inspiration dried up, it seems like he never got round writing the final bits:

Furthermore, it’s flabbergasting how little the Manual has about the actual gathering of intelligence, what the spycops should be looking for, and how they would get it. The Table of Contents jumps from Launch to Living a Normal Life to Withdrawal, without any mention of the aim of the operations. It appears that the ultimate goal of a deployment is not getting caught.

Or, as Simon McKay, a barrister specialising in national security law including covert policing, said in a tweet:

Having read the Coles’ “manual” for undercover officers insofar as published, it strikes me the author was immersed in an existence where he couldn’t distinguish fact from fiction and discarded those he/his officers interacted with like characters in a third rate novel.


The redactions [removed full stop]

Although there are fewer redactions than previous versions (see below), essential parts are still blacked-out. There is a lot we are not allowed to know on Preparation and Withdrawal, and about Compromise and Absence.

The appendix section misses a January 1995 document concerning ‘the provision of additional manpower in support of the clandestine bona fides of SDS field operatives’. Apart from identifying details, this document contains ‘common features of a legend’. Appendix C and D seem to be earlier versions, or rather a collection of notes on life undercover, partly incorporated in the Tradecraft Manual.

The first 12 pages of Appendix G have been redacted in full ‘on a provisional basis’, while the full 21 pages of Appendix H have been removed ‘pending further consideration of its relevance and necessity’. This sounds like there might be a next less-censored version available sometime in the future. Interesting, because the only two unredacted pages concern some musings on ‘SDS End of Tour Departure Strategy’.

Furthermore, some of the content is deemed to be ‘outside the Inquiry’s terms of reference’, which is arguable knowing both the aim of the document and the Inquiry.

Where is Tradecraft Manual Binder number 1?

The first sheet of the Manual as released says Tradecraft Binder 2, which makes you wonder about Binder 1. In his application for anonymity to the Undercover Policing Inquiry, the officer known as HN109 confirmed that he was ‘aware of the Tradecraft document‘ when he was undercover in the 1970s. This must relate to a very early version of the Tradecraft Manual.

Furthermore, HN109 returned to the SDS as a manager in the late 1980s/early 1990s. It might be worth noting that during that period he was ‘made responsible for ensuring compliance with regard to the regulatory framework governing operations of numerous UCOs [Undercover Officers]’. Not much is known about the existence of this regulatory framework (by nature probably not the same document as the Tradecraft Manual) or breaches of it.

History of the release and the redactions

The Tradecraft Manual was the first document to be released by the Undercover Policing Inquiry in the three years since they started working in the summer of 2015. The Inquiry is proud to have published this version, stating: ‘it shows how the generic grounds for restriction can be applied while still enabling more material than ever before to be placed in the public domain‘. Still the March 2018 release has crucial sections censored, it comes with a list of redactions.

The release of the Tradecraft Manual has a long history. The first request under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) was done in January 2012 by Rob Evans of the Guardian, after the document was mentioned in the second report of Operation Herne. This review of undercover policing by the Metropolitan Police included a section on the welfare of undercover officers, and Evans requested all documents related to it. There was the usual delay and obstruction until 2013 when the Met released a part of the documents, including some small first portions of the Tradecraft Manual. An appeal with the Information Commissioner’s Office was needed to force the Metropolitan Police to release the rest of the documents. In July 2014, a heavily redacted version of the Tradecraft Manual was then also released to Nicola Cutcher and Jac St John who had independently asked for it.

And just to be complete, Jason Sands again asked for a copy of the Tradecraft Manual in March 2015. He received a quite extensive response, referring to the previously released, redacted version, and also explaining issues with FoI request while Operation Herne was still ongoing and the Inquiry about to start. The response also includes a list information about the SDS already in the public domain at that time.

Our article on the SDS Welfare Policy describes how we discovered upon analysing the Herne Report that it quoted freely from the then still heavily redacted Tradecraft Manual:

In fact – strangely enough – one of the internal police reviews into the undercover policing scandal has more detail of what is contained in the SDS Tradecraft Manual than is revealed in the actual document itself. In March 2014, Operation Herne published the results of an investigation into the allegations of Peter Francis, the former undercover officer turned whistleblower. The Report cites the Tradecraft Manual as evidence providing ‘informal tacit authority and guidance for officers faced with the prospect of a sexual relationship.’
Continue reading in the SDS Welfare Policy – story.

Also see:

Further reading:

Milan Rai, The undercover cop’s guide to being an undercover cop, Peace News, March/April 2018.

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