Good to see our main local paper covering some radical history and mentioning current struggles around spycops. Hackney Community Defence Association and the Hackney Trades Union Support Unit were both based at the Colin Roach Centre.
I’ve now added this document in a more readable format to the Hackney Community Defence Association section of the site:
Lots of eye-witness accounts of conflict with the police outside the town hall, shops being vandalised on the Narroway and even an attack on Hackney police station. With guest appearances by Paddy Ashdown and Glenys Kinnock.
(Not to mention the usual sterling work by HCDA in assisting people who were falsely arrested and fitted up).
The recent meeting about spycops at Chats Palace was disturbing and inspiring in turn. Disturbing because of the level of state-sanctioned emotional abuse suffered by activist women – and inspiring because of their dignified and tenacious campaign for justice.
“Alison” (formerly of the Colin Roach Centre) and Helen Steel (formerly of London Greenpeace, McLibel etc) were joined on the platform by Graham Smith (founder member of Hackney Community Defence Association) and Mark Metcalf (formerly of HCDA, Colin Roach Centre, Hackney Trade Union Support Unit etc).
It was good to see the Hackney Community Defence Association banners in action once again (see pic above – “Alison” understandably did not want to be photographed, hence the empty stage).
Even better than that was the diverse cross-section of Hackney radicals who were present – I reacquainted myself with people from my union branch, Hackney Independent, Hackney Anarchy Week, various radical history initiatives and from doing zines in the 1990s.
Attendees were all given a useful HCDA timeline, which I have now added to this site.
The meeting picked up coverage in the Hackney Gazette amongst other places.
The ongoing campaign is ably covered by Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS).
Since the meeting, Mark Metcalf has republished scans of two pamphlets of interest on his blog:
I’ve not had much time to work on this site recently, but will steal both of those and add them here in due course. In the meantime, do check them out on Mark’s blog alongside his other writing and see what he has to say on twitter.
Also since the meeting, Graham Smith has written an interesting blog entry on Undercover Policing, Democracy and Human Rights which covers HCDA and the forthcoming Pitchford enquiry into undercover policing. Graham can now be found on twitter here.
This site also includes quite a bit of material by and about Hackney Community Defence Association.
The campaigns around spycops are an inspiring example of how radical history can be linked to current struggles.
Why did undercover cop Mark Jenner infiltrate Hackney campaigns in the 1990s?
The Special Demonstration Squad’s Mark Jenner was deployed using the name Mark Cassidy.
The Undercover Research Group’s extensive profile of Jenner shows the range of issues he spied on – anti-racist campaigns, trade unions, Irish republicanism and Hackney community campaigns. He chaired meetings, wrote articles and instigated action.
Why was he there?
Graham Smith – former secretary of Hackney Community Defence Association, founding member of the Colin Roach Centre
John McDonnell MP – shadow chancellor and social justice campaigner
Female speaker from Police Spies Out of Lives who was affected by undercover policing in Hackney
Mark Metcalf – founder member of the Colin Roach Centre, NUJ member, editor of the Unite Rebel Road and book of the month projects
Friday 26 February
Doors open 7pm for prompt 7.30 start
42-44 Brooksby’s Walk, London E9 6DF
0208 533 0227
Mark Metcalf wrote There Is No Way Of Knowing How Much Damage Jenner Caused shortly after Jenner was exposed.
“A Crime is a Crime is a Crime” is report by Hackney Community Defence Association, submitted to the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice which was set up following the release of the Birmingham Six from prison on March 14th 1991.
It is a very readable (though upsetting) account of the misdeeds of the police in Hackney, and how HCDA tried to address them. A number of short case studies and press cuttings are also included.
The corrupt arrogance of the police is particularly evident in some of the accounts of court proceedings as cops contradict themselves, or are too ill to attend court, or complain about fracturing their knuckles on handcuffed suspects whilst in the back of a van:
The officers, all from City Road Station, claimed the men had become violent in the back of a police van when they were forbidden to smoke. They alleged that Lavery ‘bounced up and down’ on a woman PC, fracturing her pelvis while Eaton ‘lashed out madly’ with his feet and fists, fracturing the knuckles of another officer.
Defence counsel told the court, however, that the WPC sustained her injury when the police van screeched to a halt, throwing Eaton and a PC Underhill on top of her.
Two bystanders told the jury that police had repeatedly beaten both men while they lay handcuffed and face down in the road. Doctors who examined them later found almost 40 injuries including head wounds apparently caused-by a truncheon. The men claimed they were assaulted at the scene of their arrest, in the van, in the custody suite at City Road station and later in the cells.
Originally posted on Facebook on 25th June 2013
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.
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.
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?
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)
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.