07:32, August 04 52 0 theguardian.com

2017-08-04 07:32:02
Undercover, with Rob Evans and Paul Lewis  UK undercover police inquiry names three spies who infiltrated leftwing groups

Three undercover police officers who spied on political groups have been identified by a judge-led public inquiry into undercover police operations.

The spies infiltrated leftwing groups as far back as 1968, amid heightened establishment fear that radical groups would challenge the status quo.

One spy operated under the fictitious name of “Rick Gibson” between 1974 and 1976. He infiltrated Big Flame, a leftwing group, and the Troops Out Movement, which campaigned to end British rule in Northern Ireland.

According to police, Gibson became a leading member of the south-east London branch of Troops Out Movement. His deployment was cut short after activists from Big Flame became suspicious. They confronted him after discovering a death certificate that appeared to show he had died as a young child.

Gibson, who has since died, claimed he was wanted by police and had used the false identity to escape arrest. He disappeared shortly afterwards, leaving the activists sceptical but unable to prove conclusively that he was an agent of the state.

The use of dead children’s identities was commonly used by undercover officers to develop their false identities.

The second spy used the fake name of “Doug Edwards” during his deployment between 1968 and 1971. He infiltrated a series of anarchist and leftwing groups, including the Independent Labour party. According to police, this gave him the credibility to become the treasurer of one of the groups, the Tri-Continental. During his mission, he told the activists he was a long-distance lorry driver.

Edwards told the inquiry: “Some of the people in these groups were really nice, pleasant, intelligent people. They were different politically in their views, but in this country you can have different political views.”

Edwards also said that during his deployment, he went to the wedding of one of the activists he was spying on. He gave him “one of those fancy tin openers and he seemed quite pleased with it … I had to go because I was invited; I could hardly avoid going.”

The third spy went under the name of “John Graham” between 1968 and 1969, when he infiltrated protest groups opposed to the US war in Vietnam. He pretended to be a leftwing activist in the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, attending meetings in Kilburn and Willesden in London and going on demonstrations.

He also spied on another leftwing group, the Revolutionary Socialists Students Federation.

According to police, his fake identity was more rudimentary than the undercover officers who were later deployed to infiltrate political groups – “he grew a beard and simply ‘turned up’” at the meetings of the groups. He told activists that he delivered cars from one garage to another for a living.

The disclosure of the trio on Thursday is significant as it is the first time that the public inquiry – now being led by Sir John Mitting – has identified undercover officers. The spies who have been previously been exposed were unmasked following investigations by campaigners and the media.

Since 1968, at least 144 undercover officers were sent by police to spy on more than 1,000 political groups.

The progress of the inquiry - set up in 2014 - has been delayed as police are arguing that many of the undercover officers must be kept secret. Mitting is considering whether to accede to a raft of police requests.

On Thursday he said he had decided that a further three undercover officers who have died, and seven officers who managed or assisted the covert operations, will be identified “in due course”.

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