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‘It is like being raped by the state’

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police spies, women's rights, support group‘None of us gave consent’.

Alison lived with the man she knew as Mark Cassidy for five years before he vanished and discovered that in his true identity he apparently had a wife and children. He was an undercover police officer.

Five years.

Another undercover police officer, Bob Lambert, adopted a false identity to infiltrate leftwing and animal rights groups. He said he had an 18-month relationship with a woman who was not herself involved in political activism as part of his cover story.

And one woman had a child with Bob Lambert – when he was in fact spying on her. He was, she says, supportive when she became pregnant with their son in 1985, and wanted to have the child. But he later vanished from her life, claiming to be on the run.

“I was not consenting to sleeping with Bob Lambert,” she pointed out in an interview with the Guardian recently; “I didn’t know who Bob Lambert was. I had a spy living with me, sleeping with me, making a family with me, and I didn’t do anything to deserve that.”

At the time, Lambert was posing as “Bob Robinson”, an animal rights activist, on behalf of the then secret police unit known as the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS).

One of several women bringing a legal action against the UK’s Metropolitan Police for the trauma caused by long-term relationships with undercover police, she said: “We [the women bringing cases] are psychologically damaged; it is like being raped by the state. We feel that we were sexually abused because none of us gave consent.”

She added: “I’ve had apologies from Bob himself but I want an apology from the organisation that paid him and gave him the orders.”

In December 2011 eight women launched legal action against the Metropolitan Police for the harm caused by undercover officers deceiving them into long term intimate relationships.

The women assert that the actions of the Metropolitan police officers breached their human rights, subjecting them to inhumane and degrading treatment, and disrespecting their private and family life and their right to form relationships without unjustified interference by the state.

The women are also bringing claims for deceit, assault, misfeasance in public office and negligence.

And they seek to highlight and prevent the continuation of psychological, emotional and sexual abuse of campaigners and others by undercover police officers.

The women who are bringing this case, and their many supporters, believe that there are no circumstances in which it would be acceptable for an undercover police officer to engage in intimate relationships with either targets or members of the public under the guise of their undercover identity.

The fact that this has taken place repeatedly, despite being morally wrong and unjustifiable, shows that within the police forces in the UK there exists institutional sexism and institutional prejudice.

Institutional sexism, since women have been used to shore up undercover identities without regard for those women’s right to a private life: while men have been affected, evidence so far shows that it is primarily women’s lives that have been abused in this way.

And institutional prejudice against members of the public who engage in social justice and environmental campaigning.

Both these forms of institutional prejudice must be challenged and stopped; each has reinforced the other.

The women are calling for a clear and unambiguous statement that the abuse has ceased, and will never, in any circumstances, be permitted; for the past to be thoroughly and openly investigated, so that the damage may be acknowledged, and those responsible held to account, and so we can be confident that the practice has ceased; and for action and change to prevent these human rights abuses from ever happening again.

And they are calling for stronger support for whistle-blowers and greater protection for rights of association and expression.

Until these things happen, we have no reason to believe that these shocking and abhorrent abuses have stopped.

Or that the police acknowledge their actions are wrong and that they must change.

The women who are bringing this case, and their many supporters come from different backgrounds and have a range of political beliefs and interests, but they are united in believing that every woman, and every person, has a right to participate in the struggle for social and environmental justice, without fear of persecution, objectification, or interference in their lives.

And the eight women bringing this legal action are doing so to highlight and prevent the continuation of psychological, emotional and sexual abuse of campaigners and others by undercover police officers.

What you can do:

Sign up to – and share – the ‘Where We Stand’ statement

Demand accountability

Petitions and campaigning

Engage: write, create, reflect, discuss, propose, analyse, critique

Keep campaigning

Discuss the ‘Where We Stand’ statement with your friends and family; share it on social media; raise it with your colleagues and friends; add your group or your organisation’s name; publicise the statement through your networks

Or you can contact local councillors.

Your local council should be holding your local police force to account via the local Police Authority. The undercover unit responsible for the abuses is known to co-operate with many of the police forces across the UK and internationally.

Make it clear that this isn’t policing, it’s abuse.

And you could contact your Police and Crime Commissioner.

Make it clear that you are expecting strong statements from all sections of the UK police condemning the abuse of private lives and recognising that institutional sexism and institutional prejudice must be challenged.

Make it clear that this isn’t policing, it’s abuse.

  1. sue tapply says:

    I forgot to add this: The women are fundraising for counselling and legal costs – please donate here

    Many people are going to great effort and/or expense to bring this complex legal action. Navigating the legal system to bring a highly secretive part of the state to account is practically and emotionally difficult.

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