Socialist Worker

Spy cops followed Tariq Ali and hundreds of unnamed activists for years, inquiry reveals

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2731

Tariq Ali was spied on for decades by undercover cops

Tariq Ali was spied on for decades by undercover cops (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The marathon whitewash of the Undercover Policing Inquiry finally got around to hearing evidence this week.

Five years in, the first witness was Tariq Ali.

In 1968, Tariq was a key member of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (VSC), and the Ad Hoc Committee, which organised London demonstrations against the war.

Some 80 secret police reports between March 1968 and November 2003 are known to exist on Tariq.

David Barr, Counsel to the Inquiry, used the opportunity to produce an audiobook of Tariq’s book Street Fighting Years as he recounted lengthy passages.

Barr would read a bit of the book and then ask Tariq to defend it. Tariq would respond by pointing to his general reasonableness.

For instance:

“Barr—Were your ultimate aspirations revolutionary?

Tariq—Not in Britain.

Barr—You didn’t think the anti-Vietnam War protest would lead to revolution?

Tariq—You’d have to be deranged to think that.”

Barr was interested in the prospect of marbles being used against police horses on demonstrations. He suggested that an article in the newspaper Tariq edited, Black Dwarf, telling people not to bring marbles or fireworks was actually suggesting they should.

How the spy cops were set up to infiltrate the left
How the spy cops were set up to infiltrate the left
  Read More

Little new was learnt in the question on the 1968 anti-Vietnam demonstrations. But the search for insurrectionary intent on the minds of protests is never far from the Inquiry’s mind.

Barr didn’t see the need to ask about any police violence on the anti-war demonstrations. Tariq did mention the injuries to demonstrators due to police violence.

One Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) report lists 229 names of people identified from the 100,000 people attending the Anti Nazi League’s Carnival Against the Nazis. This was a free concert in April 1978. The report is entirely redacted.

So is a report with lists 69 people who attended an Anti Nazi League march and rally on 14 May 1978.

There is a document on all those arrested at a demonstration against the National Front in Southall on 23 April 1979. It is also entirely redacted.

This was the demonstration where the cops killed teacher and Socialist Workers Party (SWP) member Blair Peach.

On the day Tariq was with reggae band Misty in Roots when the police charged into the house, and pulled everyone out. They were made to run a gauntlet, and Tariq was truncheoned and passed out.

Police fractured the skull of Misty in Roots’ manager Clarence Baker. He was in a coma for five months.

No police officers were charged with anything.

Blair Peach himself had a Special Branch registry file, opened in 1978. It then said the East London Teachers Association had “come to the notice of Special Branch on numerous occasions.”

There were reports of various meetings that Tariq attended over the years including those against the Iraq war.

The evidence concluded with inquiry chair Sir John Mitting leading a rather trite discussion on the history of international Trotskyism.

The Inquiry continues

Transcripts available at upci.org.uk

Evans was spied on to a degree that the reporting provided details of his employer and landlord. It listed the same information about his partner, a fellow member of the SWP and a primary school teacher in Newham.

A photo of Evans was also included. The file came to light because he co-wrote a book with Tariq.


Phillippa Kaufmann QC said that we now know of more than 30 women who were deceived into relationships. The earliest case known dates to 1975.

The women say that extensive anonymity given to former spy cops by the Inquiry means that they will continue to be denied the truth.

Most of the women who were deceived were involved to some degree in political or campaigning activity. But some of the women were not themselves political, they just happened to be useful to officers giving them cover.

Kaufmann made it clear, there was no lawful excuse for such seriously abusive relationships.

Written opening statements for the women abused by the cops are here, and hereMany of their stories are also available in more detail at https://policespiesoutoflives.org.uk/our-stories/

  • A small number of people observing the inquiry are allowed to watch a live stream at a venue in London. It’s a room without power sockets. There is a ten minute delay on tweeting what is said.

For everyone else, there is a live transcript that cannot be paused or rewound.

Those who do follow the hearings are further inhibited by the fact that the inquiry publishes documents after each hearing. This means the evidence referred to in the transcript is examining and discussing things that those on the outside cannot see.


  • The parents of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence are again losing confidence in the ongoing public inquiry into undercover policing, their lawyers have said.

Undercover cops were sent to spy on Lawrence's family as they campaigned for justice. 


  • The Inquiry’s Chair, Sir John Mitting, has banned anyone from saying the real name of one spy cop even though it is well known.

Mitting has ruled undercover police officer Carlo Neri cannot be named as Carlo Soracchi. This prevented construction activist Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group from giving his opening statement.


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