Helen Steel, together with four other environmentalist and anti-capitalist activists, had their lives shattered by relationships with undercover cops. They were groomed by officers Bob Lambert, John Dimes, Mark Jenner and Mark Kennedy who pretended to be activists in order to spy on the women and their political organisations.
Deep Deception explores how these men slotted into their lives only to violate and turn those lives upside down. An arduous legal battle that began in March 2011 would end in an apology, an out of court settlement and an ongoing inquiry. Police from the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad and the National Order and Public Intelligence Unit even married and had children with multiple women they spied on.
The stories each officer told about their lives contained eerie similarities, such as traumatic childhoods and lack of family. They managed to charm everyone around them. Yet they would disappear for weeks at a time, telling their “partners” they had precarious offers of work. Upon their return they would often have spare cash. And then the undercover cops would suddenly disappear altogether. They would lie, saying it was because the police are “onto them” or for made up mental health reasons. Once they were gone, there was no way of contacting them.
The cops were able to quickly integrate themselves into pretend relationships thanks to the police tactic of “mirroring”. “They were taught to mimic and reflect back to us our own interests and desires to create that feeling of connection and intimacy,” Belinda writes. Helen’s life with John seemed “idyllic” as they planned their futures together. But it fell apart once the surface was scratched and the lies were revealed. Alison joked with Mark that he’d better not be a cop—she was part of a radical anti-police network.
Even after they’d argued about his false names, wearing an England T-shirt and the royal family, she was made to believe she’d found her soulmate. It wasn’t until she was abandoned that she connected the dots. “I began to exist in a world of paranoia—apart from people I’d known all my life. I didn’t know who I could trust,” she writes.
Helen dug for information about John after he deserted her. The years of deception shook her “to the core and destroyed the foundations of everything”. The women who had been deceived eventually found each other. When the time was right they were clear about what they wanted to do. Eight women brought a case against five men that abused them over 24 years.
None of this could have happened without the permission of senior officers. These weren’t “rogue cops”, it was a systematic policy from the top of the hierarchy. The women were determined to “fight this cover-up” and access the information held on them. How much of the intimacy they shared was taken back to the station?
Yet they weren’t always believed. Even when giving evidence in parliament to the Home Affairs Select Committee, Lisa writes, “I felt like they were asking me what I’d done to deserve it. It felt like he still had the protection of the state.” The cops obstructed and delayed the truth. They even challenged the women to prove they were duped and abused.
As Lisa says, the number one priority “was to protect themselves from criticisms”. Despite a formal apology, the women haven’t had all their questions answered. The permanent culture of secrecy surrounding these policing units “allows and actually encourages the abuse of state power,” Helen concludes. “Our lives were derailed—for what? So that the police could prevent change, undermine democracy and prop up the interests of the wealthy and powerful in our society.”
A tried and tested tactic
Joint struggle can create unity