An undercover UK police officer who wrote a secret report referring to protesting Black workers using offensive language has told an inquiry that race was “not a problem” in the 1970s, and that he received no training about race “whatsoever”.
The Undercover Policing Inquiry is looking into the activities of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, which together infiltrated more than 1,000 protest groups in the UK from 1968 to 2008. Officers from the SDS assumed false identities, including stealing the identities of children who had died, had sexual relationships and even had children with women whose political groups were being investigated. The inquiry is investigating undercover operations that took place between 1973 and 1982.
Officers giving evidence to the inquiry have controversially been granted anonymity. An officer known to the inquiry as H45, who used the name “Dave Robertson” while on deployment spying on left-wing political groups until he was compromised in 1973, used language regarded as an offensive racial slur when he wrote a report on a protest of Black postal workers saying, “Most of the Post Office workers were coloured and from time to time gave the clenched fist ‘Black Power’ salute”.
Asked whether he was instructed to report on the race of participants in protest groups, H45 said, “That didn’t come into it. I just reported it as it was at the time.”
Asked why he mentioned the race of the participants, he said: “I don’t know. I just did, you know, because they were and it was unusual to have people from that union, from the Post Workers union. I’d never come across them before and I just reported it as it was.”
Asked if he had received any training about what to report about the race of people he was spying on, the officer said, “Race – race wasn’t a problem in my day and there was no training whatsoever. I never – I’ve never heard it mentioned until now.”
The 1970s were a decade of widely acknowledged racism in the British police, with officers using “sus” laws, which were used to stop and search anyone who they considered suspicious before they were repealed in 1981. While the “sus” laws have been repealed, disproportionate use of stop and search is still a prevalent issue in the UK, with human rights groups saying the powers should be suspended.
H45 told the inquiry that at this time they received no instruction about what to include in their reports, and went on “initiative”. Officers were looking for subversion and extremism, but what those mean was “left to your own initiative and discretion”, H45 said.
Asked if everything was fair game for reporting, H45 said: “Yes and someone else would sort out what was important and what wasn’t.”
The inquiry previously heard that H45 threatened an activist who accused him of being a police officer. Diane Langford, an activist in one of the groups infiltrated by H45, said that the officer manhandled another activist called Ethel who had identified him as an undercover cop and told her that “if she said anything to me about his true identity, something bad would happen to her family in Ireland.”
H45 denied this accusation today. He said that Ethel greeted him at a meeting saying, “here are Scotland Yard come to take us away”. H45 said he responded by saying, “I went up to Ethell, pretended to give her a hug and whispered in her ear, ‘I’m getting out of here now, say as little as you can about me’.”