‘Real world’ wives of UK ‘spycops’ seek justice for lives shattered by the undercover police operation
FILE PHOTO. © Getty Images / Aneta Pucia / EyeEm
By Kit Klarenberg, an investigative journalist exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions. Follow Kit on Twitter @KitKlarenberg From 1968 – 2007, at least 30 women were deceived into long-term relationships by undercover officers. They have had their apology, but what of the wives back in the ‘real world’ – where is the contrition for them?
The spouses of police officers who engaged in romantic relationships while undercover are finally being heard.
Using not only fake names but entirely fabricated personas, their husbands infiltrated political campaign groups for years at a time, posing as anti-war, anti-racist, environmentalist, and human rights campaigners, among many other guises. In some extreme instances, they even proposed marriage and fathered children with the women they spied on.
Top brass at Britain’s elite security policing unit, Special Branch, were all too aware of the risk of operatives ‘going native’ while embedded in activist organisations, at least one officer having refused to return from the field in the past. To avoid a repeat fiasco, strict policies of only using career officers whose loyalty to the force was beyond doubt, and who were married, was implemented, to ensure spies had “something in the real world to come back to.”
The long-delayed Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI), launched March 2015 by then-Home Secretary Theresa May to investigate numerous controversies surrounding the British state’s use of clandestine operatives, has finally begun hearing evidence.
In the intervening time, several heart-rending tales of betrayal and duplicity by Britain’s police spies have been told by the individuals they were surveilling, and in several cases romantically entangled with. However, another set of victims’ stories have largely gone unmentioned and unacknowledged until now – those of the wives and partners of officers in the “real world.”
In a statement to the UCPI November 4, Angus McCullough QC, representing three undercover officers’ former wives, laid bare the ravaging ramifications of their husbands’ careers for them and their families. To say the least, they feel betrayed – not just by their spouses, but by the force itself. Read more ‘Rather than catch my son’s killers, the police spied on us. People of colour don’t get justice, cops don’t think we deserve it’
McCullough made clear each woman has their own unique experience, but there are clear common themes between them. For one, they all considered themselves “police wives,” a fundamental facet of their partner’s public service, respectable members of the community, investing in their husbands’ honourable profession.
When their partners were recruited into the Special Branch, they felt proud, believing they would help keep Britain, and Britons, safe. They willingly made the sacrifice of not seeing their partners for months at a time, worrying they could be in significant danger at any moment, and fearing they or their children could also be at risk. In the process, they also consented to being unable to talk to friends and family about the realities of their husbands’ careers, and the significant toll inflicted on them psychologically and emotionally as a result.
Despite their sacrifice, they received no support from the force, save for occasional home visits, in which senior officers encouraged them to keep the faith and stand by their man. While their husbands had fellow officers, managers and supervisors with whom to share their strife, they had no one, and didn’t know other women like themselves existed.
It was only years later they learned their marriages were based on lies, and their husbands’ jobs had actually entailed undermining democratic rights, surveilling and disrupting the work of peaceful protesters who posed no threat to anyone, breaking laws with impunity, infidelity of the most perverse sort, and worse. They live with that realisation’s shattering impact to this day.
“They were a vital part of the modus operandi, a way of trying to keep the officers grounded, of ensuring they remembered which ‘side’ they were on, a tether to ‘normal’ life,” McCullough said, “this has cost each of them their marriage and had a profound ongoing psychological impact. They have been left to reconstruct their lives, and those of their children, forever tainted by their connection with men who behaved so appallingly. What once brought them pride, now brings them shame and fear.”
Last Thursday British media reported that the UK’s Metropolitan Police would pay £425,000 (about $686,000) in a settlement with a woman, known only as Jacqui, who was conned by a man who fathered her first child, said that he loved her, and then one day disappeared. She knew him as Bob Robinson. His real name, as she would learn 25 years later, was Bob Lambert. He was an operative with the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), a special unit within the British police that infiltrated a host of environmentalist groups to gather intelligence. In several cases the operatives, almost always men, established long-term intimate relationships with women in order to gain access to the world of underground animal rights or environmental activists.