As a human being it is very difficult not to have sympathy for somebody that I cared about deeply, but it is also important to remember that that person that I cared about deeply did not in fact exist. I cared deeply for somebody whose life was intermingled with mine, and that person’s life story is a fiction.
These are the words of an activist, named only as Lisa, who gave evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee last month. Lisa’s testimony about her ex-partner is part of the Committee’s Interim Report on undercover policing, a subject which has rightly caused a great deal of outcry and controversy over the last year or so.
The collapse of a high-profile court case against a group of environmental activists in early 2011 revealed that a police spy known as Mark Stone (real name Mark Kennedy) had successfully infiltrated various activist groups over a long period of time, acting as what can only be described as an agent provocateur.
This case was just the start of a series of revelations concerning the activities of Kennedy and a number of other undercover officers – revelations which have left many within the activist community quite rightly shocked and angered, and have led to wider calls for public inquiries and investigations into the use and tactics of police spies like Kennedy and his colleagues (hence the Home Affairs Committee’s involvement) .
The fact that these undercover officers were basically used as agents provocateur against peaceful protest groups was bad enough, but even worse was the way that, in a number of cases, they (appallingly) used the identities of dead children for their cover stories, and that many of them started often very serious romantic relationships with women within these activist groups as further cover for their actions – women like Lisa and the other female activists who gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee.
Lisa’s comments above are very telling of the human cost of such thoughtless and entitled police tactics. And it is this human cost that needs to be remembered. When physical relationships with activists are formed by police spies, it seems to me that their presence becomes less about undermining and informing on groups and movements (although the paranoia and suspicion that leaves behind is deeply damaging), and more about destroying the personal autonomy and free will of the individual women concerned.
Most of us have had at least one relationship in our lives in which our ability to trust has been dented by the actions of a partner, for whatever reason (I know I have) – but very few of us have found ourselves in the situation that these women did: in a relationship with a fiction, where our trust and everything we thought we knew has been utterly and comprehensively betrayed by a partner who was not who or what he said he was.
None of the women who gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee deserved to have the presumed certainties and emotional commitments of their lives and relationships totally ripped apart because they stood up for what they believe in – and were therefore targeted by the likes of Mark Kennedy. I can’t begin to imagine the sense of shock and anger they must feel, but I wish them all the best as they begin to heal from this trauma and betrayal.
The complete Interim Report can be read here.