Chas from Flowers In The Dustbin on Hackney Community Defence Association and spycops

Originally posted on Facebook on 25th June 2013

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From Chas :

I was on TV again today but this time regarding something more important than my book – the infiltration by an undercover police officer of Hackney Community Defence Association – for whom I was a volunteer 20 years ago – and other political campaigns in Hackney. I was briefly on BBC London news calling for a public inquiry into the activities of special branch at the time. I’m not complaining – it’s good to get any coverage for the issue – but its in the nature of these things that only a tiny portion of what you say gets used – so here’s what I wanted to say:

Hackney Community Defence Association was a voluntary organisation – a self help group for the victim of police crime. We exposed corruption (in particular Stoke Newington drug squad), took up cases of people framed by police officers and people beaten up by police officers. Our position was not anti police, it was that police officers should not be allowed to get away with criminal activity. I don’t think all coppers are bastards nor do I think there is a contradiction between campaigning against police crime and looking to the police to tackle crime – quite the opposite. There are brave police kind police , police who deal with absolute monsters, idiots and scum. I played a minor part in bringing to justice some corrupt and/or violent police officers and helping some innocent people get off. I have also caught a burglar, intervened to prevent a mugging, given evidence against another mugger and against someone guilty of assault.

I joined HCDA because I was wrongly arrested and falsely accused by two members of the TSG (riot police) and it was thanks to HCDA that I was able to find two witnesses for my defence and thanks to their support that I stood up to the advice of my barrister (who wanted me to lie) and told the truth in court and was acquitted. For four years (1990-4) I helped other people in a similar position.

Among the cases I recall were an arthritic woman thrown in the back of a police van and racially abused; a couple assaulted in Stoke Newington police station when they went to complain about an assault by police they had witnessed; a man beaten on the steps of his home in front of the editor of ITV’s London news programme and a vicar who both gave evidence in his defence (he was convicted as I recall of attacking the police even though he had been holding a baby at the time, but I may be misremembering) a bricklayer unable to work after a beating from police, who defied even our advice to get his day in court and won his case; a group of squatters systematically tortured in Stoke Newington police station after being (in most cases) wrongly arrested – this led to a police officer being jailed for assault (largely through the efforts of decent police disgusted by his actions), a police officer who made 2 grand a week selling crack; a police officer arrested driving a lorry load of weed through customs; police officers running protection rackets in Turkish gambling clubs.

Those are the ones that stand out in my mind. I saw bruised and beaten and distraught people given the support they needed to fight back and in many cases win. And I also saw people lose and be denied justice over and over again until all that was left was the sympathy of people who understood what they had been through. It’s all a long time ago now and I have not been involved in any of that for years.

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Our office was burgled and only the computer hard drives were taken (we had a database of discredited officers) – on the wall they wrote ‘Hard Luck Matey’. We accused special branch but nobody listened. After I left HCDA to become an academic, a police officer joined the organisation undercover – he had access to confidential papers in legal cases in which the police were accused of crimes/misconduct; he became involved in running both campaigns for justice and a legitimate trade union attempt to reduce deaths of workers in the buildings industry. Merely by being involved he undermined those campaigns, I suspect deliberately but perhaps inadvertently as he tried to maintain his cover. He was centrally involved in a campaign to overturn the conviction of a man accused of killing his cell mate in a police station. That man complained of being spied on on several occasions to me. I thought he was paranoid. I was wrong.

Police Spy Mark Jenner

Police Spy Mark Jenner

The undercover officer began a long-term relationship with one of my former colleagues who had no idea while he shared her bed that she was simply being used to bolster his cover. She wanted kids. He wasn’t up for it. A former colleague of mine told me he was being spied on and met me and some others in Clissold Park to discuss it because he thought his home was being bugged. I thought he was cracking up. At the end of the meeting as I got up to leave I saw a woman behind him taking a photo of her companion with me my friend and the rest of the group obviously in shot. I didn’t mention anything because I didn’t want to fuel his paranoia. Now I feel stupid and I wonder where that photo is.

HCDA was not trying to overthrow the state; it was not involved in criminal activity. It was an entirely legitimate organisation. What Special Branch did to us was particularly wrong because it was simply a police force spying on some of its most effective critics – what possible crime did they think they were preventing? But we weren’t the only ones with cause to complain.

The recent revelation of what Special Branch did to us and to many others are symptomatic of a society which is utterly corrupt. These actions are vile (in particular I think the sexual activity of these people amounts to rape – it’s certainly non consensual); they are illegal; they make a mockery of justice; they demonstrate a complete lack of democratic accountability; they are overtly political in a manner that is unacceptable for a police force in a democracy. They are a hugely disproportionate way of dealing with groups that were not involved in serious crime (if they were involved in crime at all). AND they are operationally dubious: these undercover officers tended to ‘make themselves useful’ to their targets (one of them drafted the McLibel leaflet, others are accused of criminal actions) they provided vans and expertise, they seem to have advocated more extreme acts in several cases, in order to gain credibility.

But the people we associate with influence our ideas and actions, so at what point could you rule out the possibility that a particular member of a group was taking part in an action because they had spent 4 years in the company of someone consistently trying to appear more radical and more committed? Incitement and entrapment can be more subtle than simply saying ‘lets go out and burn down a bank’.

If Special Branch are not properly held to account for all this we deserve to live in a dictatorship.

What am I asking for? – a public inquiry – preferably one in which the victims of undercover policing are involved – we have a long track record of successful investigation – we aren’t stupid, we are lawyers, academics, journalists etc now – we have the expertise and the experience to uncover the truth and only we can be trusted to do so. The then Met commissioner claims ignorance – all the more reason for a public inquiry.

What am I asking for – share this, quote this, read about what has happened. Don’t let anyone tell you it is over and could not happen again and take every opportunity to say the truth should come out.

The BBC described me as a former activist today. Not very edifying is it?

More info:

Police Spies Out of Lives campaign

Flowers In The Dustbin website

Hackney Community Defence Association info on this site.

(Recollections of the group from other people who were involved in HCDA are also welcome, as are additional documents – see the Wanted page for more info)

HCDA – On The Border Of A Police State, 1993

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I have now added the contents of this pamphlet to the site.

It is an interesting policy/campaigning document that makes a number of suggestions that should probably still be implemented today. (For example the Police Complaints Authority has now been replaced by the Independent Police Complaints Commission – but this new body has been criticised heavily only today for not being toothless and independent enough).

For information on the invaluable practical and investigatory work that Hackney Community Defence Association did, see the companion document Fighting The Lawmen and various issues of their newsletter Community Defence on this site.

The general introductory/index HCDA archive page can be found via the link at the top or here.

Stamford Hill Estate squat evictions, March 1988

By March 1988, with over 120 flats squatted on the Stamford Hill Estate alone, the council brought in riot cops to attempt a mass eviction. After a three day stand off, with burning barricades, hundreds of masked squatters and local supporters, the estate was finally lost.

– From Hackney Anarchy Week’s “Hackney’s Anarchic 90s” text.

Squatters Set Fire To Cars To Block Eviction – Glasgow Herald, March 8th 1988

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(this image courtesy of http://flickrhivemind.net/Tags/stamfordhill/Interesting via Throbbings of Noontide)

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(Counter Information text via Libcom. Counter Information was a free one-sheeter distributed widely across the UK from the mid 80s until 2003)

With thanks to History Is Made At Night for passing on three of the images above from Facebook.

The green poster above is currently on display at the Hackney Museum as part of their Hackney@50 – the People’s Choice exhibition: “50 objects, 50 stories, 50 years of Hackney.”

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(Image nicked from twitter, with thanks and apologies to whoever the handsome man shown is).

See also Chris Dorley Brown – squatters evicted, stamford hill 1988 on Flickr (another burned out car image with some good comments below).

If you have any recollections of the evictions or of squatting in Stamford Hill, leave a comment below or get in touch.

“Englarged Lives” exhibition of feminist silk-screen posters at Chats Palace

Looks great:

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Jess Baines (formerly of See Red feminist print workshop) has written a really good text explaining the background and history of the print workshops and the posters they produced at the ever-excellent What Is Chats Palace site. (There are also lots more scans of great posters to look at there).

See Red has its own archive website too:
https://seeredwomensworkshop.wordpress.com/

Chats Palace, 42-44 Brooksby’s Walk, London E9 6DF

“Out and Proud in North London” 25th February

The next meeting of the Radical History Network of NE London group will focus on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) struggles.

During the last half of the twentieth century LGBT people in the UK moved from being invisible and illegal to being a campaigning force for equality to be reckoned with. Tonight’s meeting will look at the history of these struggles, including Clause 28, the age of consent and the everyday battle for survival.

Come along and share your experiences, and discuss how this history connects with campaigns today.

Speakers will include:

Vince Gillespie, a former Tottenham Labour Party Councillor who was a key figure in the Haringey Positive Images gay rights campaign in the mid-1980s. (Vince later got into trouble with Labour Party bigwigs for his support for the local anti-Poll Tax campaign).

Plus discussion and exchange of news & views.

Free to attend, all interested people welcome.

Wednesday 25th February 7.30 p.m.
Wood Green Social Club
3 Stuart Crescent, N22 5NJ
(off the High Rd, near Wood Green tube)

http://radicalhistorynetwork.blogspot.co.uk/

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Hackney Gutter Press issue 5, September 1972

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This issue:

Cover story on council rent increases.

Dock strikes – dockers sold out by the union.

A Cautionary Tale – The eviction of a family squatting on Sandringham Road E8. “There is no such thing as squatters rights” […] “if we organise ourselves, the sky’s the limit: we can defend whole streets of squatters, as they started to do in Bride Street Junction: we could take over blocks of flats, new hotels, as they have done in Italy (and did in England after the war). We could stop communities like De Beauvoir and Mapledene being ‘redeveloped’ into luxury flats, and the poor being pushed out into new towns…

“Many of us have squatted ‘successfully’ – without being evicted – for a long time now. But it’s not enough: we haven’t won until there’s no more homeless, until the system that made us homeless and makes profit out of empty houses, that puts the rich in palaces and the poor in overcrowded ghettoes is TOTALLY OVERTHROWN.”

“There are squatters meetings every week in a different house: contact CENTERPRISE  to find out when and where the next one is. CENTERPRISE, 34 Dalston Lane E8″

A Living Income For All“I’m not interested in the right to work, what must come is the fight for a share of the wealth that’s going”

Shitting Bricks – builders’ strike.

Strikers and the SS“The Social Security is the biggest strike fund of them all! Strikers are beginning to realise this on a large scale and organising with Claimants Unions to make sure they get their benefits”

Antisocial Insecurity – on how protest movements have forced welfare concessions from the state.

Courting the Union – the continuing saga of three Claimants Union members who were charged with criminal damage after a protest at the Lower Clapton Social Services office the previous February. The three defended themselves and challenged the jury selection process (rejecting managers from standing and challenging the lack of black jurors).

The main allegation was that the defendants “smashed up two cubicles and kicked open the door separating staff from claimants”.

The defendants countered this by highlighting discrepancies in the prosecution witnesses testimony and pointing out that “people had been waiting for over four hours, how the office was packed with about 80 claimants, how many of these claimants had been deprived of their rights, how the SS clerks stopped working apparently because of the noise and how one SS clerk, John Fawcett, hit a claimant in the face and smashed his camera. They all said that [defendant] Chris Ratcliffe had been sitting in the waiting area at the time of the damage and [defendant] Eddie Rose didn’t arrive until well afterwards. The defence witnesses described how the cubicles were smashed up by about 20 or 30 angry claimants.”

One defendant was acquitted, the other two were found guilty and conditionally discharged and ordered to pay £20 costs each.

Laughter in Court – another set of Claimants Union activist on trial, this time following a demonstration at Bonhill Street Social Security the previous March. 3 of the 4 defendants were women. One of them was pregnant and asked for an adjournment because she felt ill. This was refused and resulted in the defendants disrupting proceedings until an adjournment was granted.

Women and the Tory Rent Act – being disproportionately effected by rent increases.

Asian Invasion – against the Powellite racism against immigrants from Idi Amin’s repression against Asians in Uganda.

Plus updates on the Stoke Newington 8, attempted eviction of squatters by Acetel Housing Association and the usual classified ads (click to enlarge):

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Despite the “this could be the last time” story on the back page (see above,) there was at least one further issue of Hackney Gutter Press.

After this the paper merged with Hackney Action to form the much longer running Hackney People’s Press. More about which in due course…

A Hackney Autobiography: Remembering Centerprise- 24 January 2015, London

Thanks to the kind commenter who brought this event to my attention.

Previously posted on this website: Centerprise, working class history and local publishing (1977) and other material.

The text below is taken from The Oral History Noticeboard:

When: 24 January 2015, 2 – 5 pm.

Where: Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London EC2M 4QH. Venue is wheelchair accessible.

What: Free public event for all those who remember Centerprise. Bring photographs, publications, documents from the time and your memories. Refreshments provided. RSVP to On the Record.

Oral history organisation On the Record has received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for A Hackney Autobiography: Remembering Centerprise. Centerprise was a community centre, bookshop and publisher that hosted ground-breaking work in oral history, literacy, community history, life story writing and much more. On the Record are looking for people who remember Centerprise – or who want to help with the project – to join the project steering group, be interviewed or volunteer.

For more information about volunteer opportunities visit: http://on-the-record.org.uk/volunteers-needed-centerprise-project/

A Hackney Autobiography will be launched on Saturday 24 January 2015 at a relaxed gathering with refreshments and poetry. This event will bring people together to discuss Centerprise and share memories of the time. All are welcome, please RSVP to On the Record.

Centerprise was open from 1971 to 2012. It hosted a bookshop, publishing project, reading centre, café, youth club, creche and more all under one roof in Dalston. It not only sold books, it made it possible for local people to write and publish their own works of poetry, autobiography and history. It conducted oral history interviews and published the books created by oral and local history group and Workers Educational Association class the ‘People’s Autobiography of Hackney’, including their two volume chronicle of working life in twentieth century Hackney: Working Lives.

The project will not only reflect upon Centerprise and Hackney’s past, it will work with young people and adults living in Hackney today to set this history in the context of the borough’s rapidly changing landscape. Writer, project steering group member and original publishing worker at Centerprise, Ken Worpole, says:

“Modern Hackney is changing so fast that it is vital that the documentation of its past industrial, social and political heritage, carried out for many years by Centerprise,  is remembered. This is especially important in a culture which is often blind to the struggles and achievements of earlier generations in shaping their own lives, and creating the townscapes and ways of life which are enjoyed in Hackney today.”

A Hackney Autobiography will run from December 2014 to July 2016. It will remember Centerprise, in particular its work in the 1970s and 1980s, through oral history, gathering a public archive at Bishopsgate Institute and by running free workshops and events. A Hackney Autobiography will culminate by curating a digital map showcasing some of the material collected and publishing an in-depth history of Centerprise.

About On the Record:

On the Record Community Interest Company is a not-for-profit cooperative, established in May 2012. Our mission is to create and improve opportunities for a broader range of people to discover and participate in heritage and cultural activities. Previous projects run by On the Record include an oral history of Speakers’ Corner [http://soundsfromthepark.org.uk] and a volunteer research project about the arms trade and the First World War [http://armingallsides.org.uk] Read more here: http://on-the-record.org.uk

About the Heritage Lottery Fund:

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported almost 35,000 projects with more than £5.3bn across the UK. www.hlf.org.uk

For further information please contact info@on-the-record.org.uk