Police Spies in Hackney

Guardian journalists Rob Evans and Paul Lewis are publishing a book on police infiltrators in activist movements. The book has been previewed in the Guardian and in a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary which aired last night.

The Dispatches programme is disturbing viewing. Allegations include infiltrating the campaign for justice for Stephen Lawrence and a number of other entirely legal protest groups.

Even more seriously, a number of the police spies have deceptively involved themselves in relationships with activists (and one non-activist) as part of their cover. Some of them even fathered children with their partners before disappearing when an infiltration was finished.

Bristle has published a useful Spycop Timeline.

The radical history of Hackney has lead to police spies being active in the Borough.

In 1984 Bob Lambert (AKA ‘Bob Robinson’) was infiltrating animal rights groups. He met ‘Charlotte’ outside Hackney Town Hall and began a relationship with her. The couple went on to have a child together, before Lambert disappeared.

In 1987 John Dines (AKA ‘John Barker’) was sent to Hackney to infiltrate activist groups including London Greenpeace. He eventually embarked on a fraudulent relationship with Helen Steel of London Greenpeace who was later one of the McLibel defendants. (See a recent statement here on the police infiltration of London Greenpeace from Dave Morris, the other McLibel defendant).

I have previously written about Mark Jenner (AKA ‘Mark Cassidy’) and his 1990s infiltration of the Hackney Community Defence Association and the Colin Roach Centre. Details of his fraudulent relationship with ‘Alison’ have now been published.


The Police Spies Out of Lives group are

“supporting the legal action by eight women deceived into long term intimate relationships with undercover police officers who were infiltrating environmental and social justice campaign groups.

As part of our support, we are exposing the immoral and unjustified practice of undercover relationships, and the institutional prejudices which have led to the abuse. We are calling for an unequivocal end to the practice, a full inquiry into the past, and changes to prevent it ever happening again.”

The group is seeking financial and other support.

The Hackney Flashers


The Hackney Flashers were a collective of broadly socialist-feminist women who produced agitprop exhibitions in the 1970s and early 1980s.

“The collective’s original aim was to document women in Hackney, at work inside and outside the home, with the intention of making visible the invisible, thereby validating women’s experience and demonstrating women’s unrecognised contribution to the economy.” (1)

The group evolved out of the radical Photography Workshop in 1974 when two of its members (Jo Spence and Neil Martinson) were seeking women photographers to contribute to a project on “Women and Work” for Hackney Trades Council. (Many of the participants had met previously in the Half Moon Gallery’s 1972 “Women on women” project.) “Women and work” was part of the Trades Council’s anniversary celebrations, with the un-feminist umbrella title of “75 years of Brotherhood“.

flashers1 flashers2

1. Women and Work (1975)

This was a series of (mainly) black & white photographs and hand-written text acknowledging the hidden contribution women made to the economy and was a strong statement for equal pay.

Women and Work was first exhibited at Hackney Town Hall, appeared at a Socialist Feminist International Conference in Paris (1977) and was hung in many venues in between.

The group’s self-criticism is refreshingly thorough, firstly about subject matter:

“One comment made about the exhibition was taken to heart – there wasn’t enough on the difficulties childcare presents for women. A small exhibition on childcare facilities was subsequently produced for the Under-Fives campaign in the borough. That was instructive for what it didn’t show. The photographs of nurseries and playgroups were useful enough, but the real issue was the long list of children waiting for nursery places, and unlikely to get them. Hackney, for example, had a thousand children on its top priority waiting list for day-care, to say nothing of all the other under-fives who weren’t considered to be in desperate need.” (2)

And secondly about the medium of photography itself:

“The limitations of documentary photography became apparent with the completion of the Women and Work exhibition. The photographers assumed a ‘window on the world’ through the camera and failed to question the notion of reality rooted in appearances. The photographs were positive and promoted self-recognition but could not expose the complex social and economic realities within which women’s subordination is maintained. We began to juxtapose our naturalistic photographs with media images to point to the contradictions between women’s experience and how it is represented in the media. We wanted to raise the question of class, so much obscured in the representation of women’s experience as universal.” (1)


2. Who’s Holding the Baby (1978)

The second major Hackney Flashers exhibition was more sophisticated in its thinking and style. A designer and an illustrator had joined the group; the collective experimented at workshops and studied the work of John Heartfield when producing montages. These were used alongside a series of photographs documenting Market Nursery in Hackney. The lightweight, laminated panels were ideal for use in non-gallery settings and, as well as the photographs, included colour illustrations and montages. Its first showing was at Centreprise Community Centre in Kingsland Road, Hackney:

“According to Liz Heron, a later member of the collective, the exhibition was intended as an ideological analysis of motherhood and childcare, showing the mutually reinforcing effects of class and women’s oppression, rather than a straightforward documentation of women’s lives.” (3)

For example, the poster Who’s Still Holding the Baby? took the form of montage made up of illicit direct action, cartoons, collage, graphics, photographs and texts:


“This image was entirely constructed and had nothing to do with documentary photography. We graffitied the wall late one night then photographed it. A photograph of a mother and children was laid underneath the hole cut in the print of the wall. Then a banner headline was added. Thus the link could be made between the WHY of struggles for childcare facilities, and the HOW.” (2)

The exhibition toured the country and was included in ‘Three Perspectives on Photography’, at the Hayward Gallery in 1979. (Apparently there was some controversy about this? Tell me about it if you know!)

3. Domestic Labour and Visual Representation (1980)

An education pack (24 slides and a booklet) using the work of the Hackney Flashers; and intended to encourage students’ active, critical participation in the issues.

Who were The Hackney Flashers?

According to Wikipedia: “From the start the Flashers’ output was distributed as the work of a collective. It was a political decision that individual names were never listed, specific images or writing never credited.”


A Hackney Flashers meeting

Jo Spence lists the following members (from various eras of the group) in her autobiography:

(I’d be happy to add to the above and am conscious that membership would have been fluid. The Wikipedia page states that of the two men listed above, Terry Dennett was an observer rather than a member and that Neil Martinson was only involved at the outset)

The group apparently split up in the early eighties, citing political differences – but it seems that many members continued to work with each other.

Further Reading

Jo Spence – Putting Myself In The Picture: A Political Personal And Photographic Autobiography (Camden Press, 1986)

Jo Spence – Cultural Sniping: The Art of Transgression (Routledge, 1995)

(Both of these are out of print but can be found 2nd hand for reasonable prices if you look long enough. Spence died of cancer in 1992 and her later work documents her illness very powerfully).

Astrid Proll (ed) – Goodbye To London: Radical Art & Politics in the 70s (Hatje Cantz, 2010)

Hackney Flashers Wikipedia Page

Jo Spence online archive

Rosemary Betterton – Maternal Embarrassment: Feminist Art and Maternal Affects (pdf) Studies in the Maternal Volume 2, Issues 1 & 2, 2010


1. Three Perspectives On Photography Hayward Gallery exhibition catalogue, (London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1979), p 80

2. Liz Heron ‘Hackney Flashers Collective: Who’s still holding the camera?’ in Jo Spence and Terry Dennett (eds.) Photography/Politics: One (London: Photography Workshop, 1979, p.124 – quoted at length in Jo Spence’s “Putting Myself In The Picture”.

3. Rosemary Betterton – Maternal Embarrassment: Feminist Art and Maternal AffectsStudies in the Maternal Volume 2, Issues 1 & 2, 2010.

Support your friendly local ex-Angry Brigader!

Bristle has written a blog post about a Kickstarter project to fund the publication of John Barker’s novel “Futures”, which I have reproduced here:

John Barker – former Stoke Newington Eight defendant and convicted ‘Angry Brigade‘ prisoner – wrote a novel called Futures. It was about the 1987 Great Storm, the subsequent Black Monday stock market crash, criminals, corrupt cops and cocaine. It was published in French and German.

Now he and publisher PM Press (which in 2010 republished the classic Gordon Carr text The Angry Brigade with extensive new material, and has also published an impressive twovolume account of the Rot Armee Fraktion amongst many other interesting titles) wish to release it in English for the first time.

To do this they need to raise £5,000. In one lump sum, that’s a daunting task. But crowdfunded by dozens or hundreds of donors – each of whom will be rewarded in kind – it is much more easily achievable.

The pot is nearly full, but there are only 24 hours to go. So please consider throwing a fiver or a tenner or more into the pot at the Futures Kickstarter page.

[John Barker still lives in Hackney as far as I know and the Kickstarter is 95% funded at the time of writing. So a project worth contributing to if you like the sound of it and want to support independent radical publishing. There’s a film of him on the Kickstarter page talking about the book but I can’t get it to work here.]

Wapping Dispute film – showing in Hackney on Monday

Some friends are showing this film:

Despite The Sun: Wapping and the Print Unions (Film/Video, Spectacle, September 1987)

on Monday 10th of June at 7pm in Pogo Cafe, Clarence Road, London E5 8HB

“All welcome, there will be a short discussion afterwards and comrades who were involved in the dispute are especially invited to come and share their experiences.”

About the film:

In January 1986 Rupert Murdoch moved News International, publishers of The Sun and The Sunday Times, from Fleet Street to Wapping in East London. Over 5,000 print workers, clerical staff, cleaners and secretaries were sacked in one day. Despite the Sun is a montage and eyewitness account of the year long dispute which shook the newspaper industry.

Produced from the point of view of the residents and print workers we see the effects on Wapping residents harassed by the police, Murdoch’s lorries and cavalry-like horse charges on the picket lines. Ownership and control of the press is discussed, media access, and impact of the so called ‘new technology’.

One of the first camcorder activist tapes, it sold over 400 copies and was ‘bootlegged’ (with the blessing of the producers) by the pickets and sold on picket lines. This is an historical account of a dispute that’s effects will be felt for many years to come, one that was over-simplified by the media at the time.

“The video knows that one telling image is worth a thousand words and sequences like the riot dressed mounted police trotting through Wapping to the homely reassuring tune of East Enders and the sheer boredom of daily picketing caught in a collage of images set to choral music, mean you can all but smell the vile fumes of TNT diesel.”
Nigel Willmott, The Tribune

Despite the Sun is … I think one of the most gripping pieces of political documentary to be made in this country in the last 50 years, it’s a phenomenal piece of work. They all went scooting round through people’s houses and so on to get stories that the national media weren’t getting, and it’s a fabulous piece of work. So it was very important aesthetically as well as in terms of its politics.”
Sean Cubitt (Professor of Film and Communication, Goldsmiths)

More info on Wapping at Libcom.