The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is a state-sponsored, privately-owned organisation accountable to no one which has been running its own operations, both high profile and undercover, since the 1980s.
Moving forward from its role as a national police force developed during the 1984-5 miners’ strike, ACPO put itself even further outside of state control when in April 1997 It was incorporated as a limited company, one month before the election of the Blair government.
Its dramatic expansion, which saw the infiltration of the climate change movement, took place during the rule of New Labour. ACPO’s operations are funded by the Home Office and tributes levied from the 44 police forces and the income from an annual exhibition.
ACPO describes itself as “an independent, professionally led strategic body” and “in times of national need ACPO - on behalf of all chief officers - coordinates the strategic policing response.” Planting agents inside the environmental movement comes under that heading and is “proportionate to the risk”, according to Liverpool chief constable Jon Murphy. Defending the use of agents, he says:
"There are many people who have got perfectly legitimate concerns about any numbers of issues about which they may wish to protest …Unfortunately, in the midst of some of these groups – recent history would evidence this to be true – there are a small number of people who are intent on causing harm, committing crime and on occasions disabling parts of the national critical infrastructure. That has the potential to deny utilities to hospitals, schools, businesses and your granny."
This is nonsense of course. The state protects infrastructure because it is corporate property. If any part of the state were truly concerned about grannies being without energy, they would do something about energy prices. In the winter months, around nine older people die every day as a result of cold.
Two more undercover cops have been outed. Lynn Watson, real name unknown, claimed to be a care worker from Bournemouth when she appeared in 2003 at a protest at Aldermaston nuclear weapons research unit. She moved to Leeds to become active in groups who used the Common Place social centre.
Jim Boyling, a serving officer in the Metropolitan police, used the identity Jim Sutton to infiltrate Reclaim the Streets and during his five years undercover started a relationship with a fellow activist.
Murphy claims this was a breach of discipline, and that agents are specifically banned from sleeping with the enemy – but presumably acting as an agent provocateur, as Mark Kennedy/Stone is said to have done, is OK.
He was a high profile activist, who trained others to take part in the proposed action at the Ratcliffe-on Soar power station, gathering over 100 people at a nearby school where they were arrested in a dawn raid after he tipped off police.
Of course, the presence of agents is not the reason climate activists have not succeeded in changing Britain’s energy policies. Actions and protests in and of themselves cannot change the basic capitalist power relationships in society. All policing is designed to protect these relationships as part of the work of the state. It is the state itself that we need to transform.
As those who threw down the Berlin wall showed, when a moment of real political transformation arrives, agents can’t prevent it – even in a country where the Stasi was woven into the fabric of society. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be wary of the activities of agents, and expose them when we can.
We can fight for the idea of a sustainable economy and alternative energy strategies most effectively by building People’s Assemblies. Linking the struggle to defend the eco-system with actions to defend livelihoods, jobs and communities is the way forward. The only way we can shift to a green economy is by transcending the profit-driven capitalist economy and that will require mass political action.