Fundamentally, it is an investigation by The Guardian’s two journalists into the UK’s undercover policing operations and whether we as the British public consent to what has gone on by those we have asked to uphold the law on our behalf.
Undercover, doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
The book is a thorough examination of the lives wrecked by Britain’s secret police and this includes police officers as well as the protestors they were told to spy on, with many being left with psychological damage. Whilst undercover, cops were not just gathering intelligence on protest groups but having sexual relations with many of those they were ordered to spy on and in some cases fathered children.
Without a doubt, the book is a sad indictment on the police and I cannot imagine the trauma I would feel if I found out that my dad had only got with my mum just to spy on her and that my being was just a task.
That said, nothing in the book surprised me and there were some familiar names and places. As I was being re-sworn as a Special Branch detective on 27 October 2008 following my transfer from the Manchester CID, my colleagues in the counter terrorism Special Demonstration Squad where down the road celebrating 40-years of undercover policing. But, this book highlights nothing to celebrate.
As someone who served in Britain’s two biggest forces and now writes whilst advocating for social justice and equality I take no side when it comes to the lawful protest against environmental damage and the prevention of crimes by the police, as both have a part to play in any successful society.
However, what I do condemn outright is the blatant deception by the police to those women and men identified in Undercover into believing they were in loving relationships with someone who turned out to be a police spy. And, it’s clear from the book that the fast majority of people were not criminals at all.
The UK Parliament together with the British Home Secretary who has now announced a public enquiry into the SDS and its successor the National Public Order Intelligence Unit are looking into whether State entrapment and other misdemeanors by the police took place, and will then take any necessary action.
It’s clear from the book which has been well-written that the Constabulary is in for a rough time ahead as not only has it been alleged that police officers were spying on families like that of the murdered London black teenager Stephen Lawrence, but Members of Parliament themselves. Those people we as the public elect to make our laws, and to keep our public bodies like the police in-check. What is clear, is that no one should be above the law and this includes the police and its leadership.
Undercover is an excellent book which gives those who have had no interaction with the police a true insight into one of its many units. The book is in no way anti-police but without a doubt raises issues of public importance, and accountability. For that, the authors should be congratulated.
Kevin Maxwell ****
Kevin Maxwell is a writer, advocate and former detective of both the Greater Manchester Police and London’s Metropolitan Police. He was born in Liverpool, spent a decade in Manchester and now lives in London. His début memoir, Broken, about discrimination and depression in the police force is out soon. He tweets @kevin_maxwell