Days before the 25th anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s murder, we learned a little more about how the state used spies to undermine the Lawrence family.
It is part of a much bigger picture, and it underlines what “institutional racism” means.
Nobody in the police questioned the cops’ right to spy, to lie, to undermine the Lawrences and to seek to destabilise those who supported them.
It was just normal. This is what the state did—and does.
Last week’s revelations concern a spy at the heart of the Lawrence campaign. He has been known for some time as N81 but we now know the cover name he used while infiltrating left wing and justice groups was Dave Hagan.
Like every other piece of truth about the police’s role in the case, it had to be dragged from the cops. They had opposed revealing Hagan’s cover name, and his real name is still hidden.
Hagan targeted the Movement for Justice (MFJ), the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Class War and the Movement Against the Monarchy from 1996-2001. Members of the SWP remember Hagan as hanging around the party in west London, although the SWP has no record of him as a member.
The existence of spying operations against the Lawrences and their supporters has been known for some time.
In June 2013 Peter Francis, a former undercover cop who used the cover name Pete Black, revealed he was told by his superior officers to find “dirt” on the Lawrence family, shortly after the murder.
Francis trawled through photo and video evidence of a demo against the Nazi British National Party headquarters for days in order to find Stephen’s friend Duwayne Brooks.
This led to Duwayne being arrested and charged in October 1993. A judge threw out the case.
Francis was part of a covert unit known as the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS).
In August 2014 Francis told the Guardian newspaper, “From being in two groups, Youth Against Racism in Europe and the Movement for Justice, I—along with help from other SDS Officers, via their groups—managed to monitor about 12 different well-known black justice campaigns when I was deployed from 1993 to 1997.”
Hagan, starting his infiltration in 1996, was probably his replacement.
Police resources that should have been used to find Stephen Lawrence’s murderers were instead used to smear anti-racists.
Fear ran through the police during the 1998 Macpherson inquiry into the policing around the case.
A Special Branch briefing note on the inquiry from the time says, ““After a slow start, the extreme left-wing and black press are beginning to pass comment on the proceedings of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.
“The black press are keen to connect the racial nature of the attack and police actions in order to support their view that the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) is irredeemably racist.
“The left, meanwhile, see the episode is further evidence of the corrupt nature of the capitalist state and the police as bourgeois lackeys.”
Given this bitterly hostile approach from the police, it was clear that no ammunition could be given to the anti-racist enemy. The inquiry had to be prevented from discovering the truth.
In 2010 Francis (then known as Officer A) said, “When the Macpherson inquiry was first announced there was huge, huge internal concern whether or not the remit of the Macpherson inquiry would mean that we had to disclose that the entire time there was actually undercover police officers devoted to the black campaigns.
And the man whose existence could never be revealed was precisely Dave Hagan.“The SDS come Special Branch Senior Management decided that there was no way could anybody actually know there was undercover officers deployed in those campaigns.”
Hagan had to be hidden and protected. And the spying activities never appeared in the Macpherson report.
The inquiry into the police’s failings was deliberately prevented from knowing the truth.
As Eveline Lubbers wrote in a powerful article on N81, “The Macpherson Inquiry ruled that the police were institutionally racist and the Lawrence family’s description of the police behaving like ‘white masters during slavery’ accepted as fact.
“As such, the Metropolitan Police could not afford to be seen as hiding things from the Macpherson Inquiry; yet they chose not to disclose the SDS spying operations, let alone the extent of it.
“An important question would be who in Special Branch took the decision to not reveal this”
But N81 could not be concealed for ever. There had to be an investigation after Peter Francis had made his claims about undercover policing.
The one run by the police (Operation Herne) found that there was not enough evidence to substantiate Francis’ claims.
But the 2014 Stephen Lawrence Independent Review—commonly known as the Ellison Review—came to a different conclusion. This found that N81 had produced:
- Material on the relationship and intention of the target group [now known to be MFJ]
- Decisions by the Lawrence family on whether to allow demonstrations outside the (Macpherson) Inquiry venue
- Reports of protests;
- Who was and who was not supporting what the Lawrence family wanted, including the call by Doreen Lawrence for the resignation of the [Metropolitan police] Commissioner [Paul Condon] in August 1998
- The internal working of the Lawrence family campaign
- Personal details of the Lawrence family
The information included private details of the state of the Lawrence’s marriage.
The police had inside knowledge of the Lawrence family’s preparations for, and strategy at, the Macpherson inquiry.
Ellison would conclude that there was “an MPS spy in the Lawrence family camp during the course of judicial proceedings in which the family was the primary party in opposition to the MPS”.
The police later claimed that they weren’t really targeting the Lawrences. It was just that the “extremist” groups they tracked had become involved, and the spies followed them.
This was not what an SDS summary of N81’s deployment record, prepared in 2001, stated—“N81 is quite candid in admitting that [N81] was largely responsible for [MFJ’s] adoption of the Stephen Lawrence case, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
But N81 denied this, telling Ellison, “It is laughable that I persuaded them to do that… I did not dissuade… I was quite happy to do that… I was supportive of it… but did not come up with the idea… they were always going to do that… they asked and I said ‘Yes, why not?’”
But he did admit, “they [his handlers] were very happy when it [MFJ] went into Lawrence… I was reporting back verbally every day… if they had said that I shouldn’t I would have pulled back.”
The Ellison inquiry also highlighted a meeting between N81 and Detective Inspector Richard Walton in 1998.
Walton was part of the Lawrence Review Team. This was a group of police who were preparing Commissioner Condon’s submissions to Macpherson.
It was therefore a meeting between the undercover cop betraying the Lawrences and the cops who were on the other side to the Lawrences.
The meeting was arranged by Bob Lambert who was the detective inspector with responsibility for N81 within the SDS. It was held at his house.
Lubbers writes that the meeting, “showed that information gathered by spying was used to mould the Commissioner’s response to what was supposed to be an independent inquiry”.
SDS files record that they had a “fascinating and valuable exchange”.
Who knew about all this at the top of the Met?
In 2013, then Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe declared he was “personally shocked” by Francis’ claims.
He said, “If these allegations are true, it’s a disgrace. Smearing the family of a murder victim would never be acceptable to me or my officers.”
However, Mick Creedon, head of Operation Herne, told the Commons Home Affairs committee that his investigation had recently found documents recording “covert deployments which reported intelligence which relate” to the Lawrence family and that Hogan-Howe had been made aware of this.
Condon also denied the claims and speculated to Ellison that other officers might not have told him about the spying because he was known to be such an ethical officer and that he would have been appalled.
It’s 25 years since Stephen Lawrence’s murder, and yet still there are revelations that have the power to shock.
When the police say they have changed, remember that today, a quarter of a century on, they are still trying to prevent the truth about Dave Hagan coming out.
The racist filth of 1993 are still the racist filth of today.