“The real story with all of this is how systematic it was.”

In 2010, Lisa Jones* discovered that her partner was not who he seemed.

Mark Stone - a committed activist Lisa had met after getting involved with environmental campaigning in London - was actually Mark Kennedy, a (married) undercover Metropolitan Police officer.

Kennedy had infiltrated Lisa’s circles in the early 2000s to gather intelligence on their political activities. As Mark Stone, she loved him deeply - they holidayed together, and he had ridden in the mourner’s car at her father’s funeral - but over the course of their six-year relationship, he’d been continually feeding information about Lisa and her friends back to his police handlers.

The National Wales: Lisa and Mark in Iceland to protest against the building of Kárahnjúkar dam in Iceland, 2005. (Picture: Lisa Jones, Penguin Random House)Lisa and Mark in Iceland to protest against the building of Kárahnjúkar dam in Iceland, 2005. (Picture: Lisa Jones, Penguin Random House)

He was part of a covert police operation, set up by the Met in 1968, which sent undercover officers to spy on left-wing activist groups across the UK.

Over the operation’s more than 40 years - led by the Met’s Special Branch and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPIOU), a unit set up by the Association of Chief Police Officers - its targets included anti-apartheid groups, climate change activists, women’s rights campaigners and the family of Stephen Lawrence, a Black teenager murdered in a racially-motivated attack. 

The “Spycops” were given false passports and driving licences, created using the identities of long-dead children, and were coached on techniques to quickly develop trust with their targets.

READ MORE: New UK government legislation could kill the right to protest in Wales

Many of the officers, who were often already married with kids, began sexual relationships with the women they were surveilling - Mark Kennedy is believed to have done so with at least ten women using his false identity.

Another Welsh victim of the scandal, Rosa, married and had two children with “Jim Sutton” (real name Jim Boyling) before discovering his deceit.

Now Lisa, along with four other women victimised during this operation - Alison, Belinda, Helen Steel, and Naomi - has chronicled this expansive web of lies in Deep Deception, a new book set for release with Ebury Publishing on 31st March.

The title is in part a reference to “deep swimming” - the term used by the spycops to describe their long-term surveillance activities.

Deep Deception and the Spycops Inquiry

“Telling my own story has always been important for me, but it would never have felt right for me to just be writing this on my own,” Lisa says.

“I think that the real story with all of this is how systematic it was - the fact that it happened over years, multiple times.

“It's not an isolated incident, it’s not one rogue officer - It's a pattern. It's a tactic.”

The book begins in the 1980s with Belinda (then 24 years old) and her 18-month relationship with undercover officer Bob Lambert, weaving between the women’s stories chronologically as they each endure the cycle of intense bonding, seeming emotional breakdown and sudden disappearance that has become so characteristic of the spycops’ behaviour.

The National Wales: Bob Lambert and Belinda on a visit to Belinda's parents in north Wales, 1987. (Picture: Belinda, Penguin Random House)Bob Lambert and Belinda on a visit to Belinda's parents in north Wales, 1987. (Picture: Belinda, Penguin Random House)

“It's really startling,” Lisa says.

“When I met the other women, the thing that struck me the most was how similar all our experiences were. 

“I think with this book we don't actually even have to say that in so many words, because you just see it - you see the parallels, and you know there's no way that wasn’t deliberate.”

The men were kind, charming, and disclosed personal tragedies early on - hard childhoods, bereavements - which served not only to build trust with their victims, but also to establish why they seemed to have no family or friends of their own.

“You start off with a woman who's young, quite idealistic, you know, really trying to do some good in the world - and these men come in and become part of that,” Lisa says.

“In lots of ways, we lived quite an idealised life together, at least from my perspective.

“I'm with somebody who shares my values, and we do so many things together - demonstrations, festivals, holidays, rock climbing.

“You know, it's an exciting life that we led.

The National Wales: Mark Kennedy on holiday with Lisa in Italy, 2010. She discovered his real passport on that same holiday. (Picture: Lisa Jones, Penguin Random House)Mark Kennedy on holiday with Lisa in Italy, 2010. She discovered his real passport on that same holiday. (Picture: Lisa Jones, Penguin Random House)

“He liked the same music, he liked climbing, he shared all my interests - it was my friends, my personal life, my political life.

“It was everything -  he was really reflecting back at me what I was most looking for in a person.

“That’s really difficult, we just had no chance against that.”

Another of the book’s contributors is Helen Steel, a Greenpeace activist who was famously sued by McDonalds in the decade-long “McLibel” case - the longest trial in English legal history.

Helen had been living with “John Barker” (real name John Dines) for two years when he suddenly disappeared, claiming he’d been struggling with his mental health and had gone to South Africa to “sort his head out”. 

Lisa went through a very similar process.

The National Wales: John Dines with Helen Steel in Scotland, 1990. (Picture: Helen Steel, Penguin Random House)John Dines with Helen Steel in Scotland, 1990. (Picture: Helen Steel, Penguin Random House)

“They don't just up and leave one day, there's an emotional breakdown that they have - or appear to have, beforehand,” she says.

“That is incredibly painful. Somebody becomes the most supportive person in your world, and then you have to watch them falling apart. 

“For them, it was just an exit strategy.”

Rosa, the Welsh woman who was deceived into marriage with the officer surveilling her, had also intended to write her story - but found revisiting the memories too traumatic to continue.

“We've tried to do justice to her story a little bit, and we’ve dedicated the book to her.

“For me… There’s a lot that’s been written about my story, but it feels really good to have this come from me.

“It’s weird, but hearing people talk about what happened to me in terms of a story arc has also been quite helpful, quite cathartic.

The National Wales: Left: Helen confronts John Dines at Sydney Airport, 2016. Right: A tearstained letter from John to Helen on his disappearance in 1992. (Pictures: Helen Steel, Penguin Random House)Left: Helen confronts John Dines at Sydney Airport, 2016. Right: A tearstained letter from John to Helen on his disappearance in 1992. (Pictures: Helen Steel, Penguin Random House)

“You have our really low periods, but then you have the court case, what we did with that - us coming together was a real high point in some ways.

“It's been really helpful for me to think about what we've achieved.”

In 2011, Lisa and seven other women launched legal action against the Met over their ordeals. They eventually got settlements and an official apology from the force, and the case led to the establishment of the Undercover Policing Inquiry in 2015.

Last year a tribunal ruled that Kate Wilson, another Mark Kennedy victim, had been subject to a “formidable list” of human rights breaches by the Met Police.

READ MORE: Leanne Wood: 'We must redouble our efforts to counter state oppression'

The Undercover Policing Inquiry, though, has been labelled “one of the most complicated, expensive and delayed public inquiries in British legal history.”

Seven years in, it’s still considering evidence from the late seventies.

Lisa hopes that Deep Deception will help keep the pressure up.

“With the public inquiry being so delayed and so rubbish, it's quite hard to keep hold of what we've really achieved in terms of bringing this story to public attention,” she says.

 “There was a time when I had all my hopes pinned on the public inquiry - now, I don't so much.

“But actually, through this book, I've been able to see hope.”

The National Wales: Mark Kennedy with Naomi in Northumberland, 2005. (Picture: Naomi, Penguin Random House)Mark Kennedy with Naomi in Northumberland, 2005. (Picture: Naomi, Penguin Random House)

 

Met corruption and 'crushing dissent'

The Metropolitan Police force, and the corruption, bigotry and misconduct in its ranks, has rarely been out of the news since the chilling murder of Sarah Everard in 2021.

The story of Child Q, a Black schoolgirl called out of an exam in 2020 and strip-searched for cannabis, has sparked protest and fresh allegations of institutional racism in the force, while a recent police watchdog report labelled the Met’s procedures for tackling corruption “fundamentally flawed”.

In December two Met officers were jailed for photographing the bodies of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, two sisters who had been stabbed to death in a London park, and sending the images to colleagues. Describing the sisters as “dead birds”, one superimposed his own face onto an image to make it look like a selfie.

READ MORE: Daughter of Cardiff Three's Tony Paris on trauma of miscarriage of justice

Lisa sees the Spycops case as part and parcel of this culture - but is keen to stress that it’s a police problem, not a Met problem.

“I think the Met Police have more of an air of entitlement about them,” she ponders.

The National Wales: Protestors outside the Royal Courts of Justice, 2013. (Picture: Penguin Random House)Protestors outside the Royal Courts of Justice, 2013. (Picture: Penguin Random House)

“Whenever I've been involved in big events that have had multiple police forces in attendance, there's always sort of an arrogant reputation that comes with the Met officers.

“However, that character is in all police forces - that sense of being untouchable. It’s just a bit extra with the Met, I think partly because of the way London is - it’s a big and arrogant city, the world revolves around it.

“But Mark Kennedy worked with the Nottinghamshire Police, West Yorkshire Police, as well as the Met.

“And South Wales Police were in charge of Marco Jacobs, who infiltrated the South Wales Anarchists group.”

The National Wales: Alison, who also tells her story in Deep Deception, with spycop Mark Jenner in Crete, 1996. (Picture: Alison, Penguin Random House)Alison, who also tells her story in Deep Deception, with spycop Mark Jenner in Crete, 1996. (Picture: Alison, Penguin Random House)

Last year it was revealed that South Wales Police had attempted to recruit Lowri Davies, a member of Swansea’s Black Lives Matter group, as an informant. The group disbanded earlier this year, citing the mental health of its members.

“This is the conversation I want to keep alive,” Lisa says.

“All throughout my activist history, I’ve known people approached to be informants.

“Of course, there’s misogyny in the police, the blatant institutional sexism - but it’s also the attitude of the police and the government towards dissent.

READ MORE: Sexual misconduct in South Wales Police among highest in UK

“The way that police generally in this country view protest is generally the same, and Lowri’s case really illustrates that - they view it as something that has to be controlled.

“It’s - ‘how can we get enough information to make sure this protest has the least impact possible?’

“Which is crazy.

The National Wales: Black Lives Matter protestors in Cardiff, 2021, after the death of Mohamud Hassan following police contact. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)Black Lives Matter protestors in Cardiff, 2021, after the death of Mohamud Hassan following police contact. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)

“There are so many other people whose lives were impacted and devastated by these undercover police, who weren't necessarily in a relationship with them. 

“They were people who were trying to build something, who were campaigning alongside them. 

“When you look back at who was targeted - climate campaigners, trying to do something 15, 20 years ago - and now it’s something that’s accepted, that we have to deal with the climate crisis.

“Imagine if we hadn’t been scuppered.

“Lowri’s case made my heart sink, to think they’re still viewing protest as something to be crushed.

“I was so angry - how dare they try and curtail that campaign, it's so important. 

READ MORE: The Women’s Liberation Movement in Wales

“All of the campaigns they infiltrated - women's liberation campaigns in the seventies, anti-apartheid - these are things that should have succeeded far sooner than they did.

“We think of this stuff as something that happens in other countries, like Putin's Russia, you know, crushing dissent - but it happens here.”

The National Wales: A protest against the UK Policing Bill in Cardiff, January 2022. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)A protest against the UK Policing Bill in Cardiff, January 2022. (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)

Lisa brings up Westminster’s incoming Policing Bill, labelled “deeply authoritarian” by human rights group Amnesty International, which will introduce heavy restrictions on public protest, including prison terms for those that cause “serious annoyance”.

While the Welsh Government has formally condemned many parts of the new law - including the criminalisation of Gypsy Traveller communities and a new offence that could punish vandalism of statues with a ten year prison sentence- it controversially chose to endorse the “serious annoyance” measure, as well as the extraction of data from mobile devices by police.

Last year a Bristol demonstration against the Policing Bill became a riot, with police vehicles set alight, and protestors were jailed.

Jasmine York, 26, was imprisoned for nine months after pushing a bin against one burning vehicle, apparently in an attempt to add fuel to the fire, and livestreaming the protest on her phone. Bristol Crown Court heard that she was bitten by a police dog and hit several times with batons during the incident.

The National Wales: Bristol protests against the Policing Bill continue, January 2022. (Picture: PA Wire)Bristol protests against the Policing Bill continue, January 2022. (Picture: PA Wire)

Another, 25 year-old Ryan Roberts, was sentenced to 14 years in prison after smashing police station windows and lighting two vehicles on fire.

Meanwhile fourteen Insulate Britain campaigners, aged between 20 and 63, have recently been jailed for glueing themselves to roadways in an attempt to pressure the government for action on fuel poverty.

“Protesters have had quite heavy sentences,” Lisa adds.

“We really need to examine what we think of as our so-called free country. 

“That's the conversation that I really want to bring to the fore.”

Taking heart: Advice for activists

In the midst of all these bleak headlines, the spectres of jail and informants and undercover officers, it’s not hard to see why young people might feel political activism is more trouble than it’s worth.

What does Lisa make of this? 

“It's tricky. 

“I think it's really important not to let this fear of infiltration stop you doing what you're doing, because then they've won. 

“If what I went through makes people unwilling to trust new people in their group, then they've won without even having to do it. 

The National Wales: Lisa and Mark Kennedy at Glastonbury Festival's Environmental Campaigns Tent, 2008, and right, climbing in Italy in 2010. (Pictures: Lisa Jones, Penguin Random House)Lisa and Mark Kennedy at Glastonbury Festival's Environmental Campaigns Tent, 2008, and right, climbing in Italy in 2010. (Pictures: Lisa Jones, Penguin Random House)

“We end up policing ourselves, and it’s crucial that doesn't happen. 

“But on the other hand… You know, what happened to me was something that I had no concept of even being a possibility.

“I didn't think that they would go to that level, so I wasn't prepared for that discovery.

“Some research groups now have produced quite a useful pamphlet about, you know, questions to ask if you do suspect someone of being an infiltrator - it's kind of a checklist of things you could go through. 

“It doesn't mean that anyone who raises suspicions is an infiltrator - that's the kind of thing that can really tear a group apart, not trusting each other. 

“Finding some kind of happy medium around that is useful.”

Lisa’s heartened by the recent surge of movements like Extinction Rebellion, BLM, and groups like Sisters Uncut campaigning against police corruption.

“My hope with this book… I really don’t want people to feel like there’s no point.

“Armed with information about what the state might try and do to scupper you - that could be really strengthening for your campaign.”

Deep Deception is out with Ebury Publishing, part of Penguin Random House, on 31st March. 

You can pre-order the book here, or with all major book retailers.

*All women mentioned in this article, except for Helen Steel and Kate Wilson, are using pseudonyms to protect their identities.

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