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An Infamous Undercover Cop Has Been Tracked to Australia — Where He's Teaching Police Tactics

John Dines is just the latest to be traced in a long-running campaign to out more than 100 undercover police who spied on UK activist groups over a period of more than four decades from 1968.
Photo par Andy Rain/EPA

An infamous former "deep swimmer" undercover policeman has been tracked down from the UK to a university in Australia, where he's involved in directing police training courses.

More than two decades after he disappeared from London, John Dines is now working at Australia's leading graduate police college, the Charles Sturt University in Sydney, where he is reportedly involved in training officers in areas including identifying and sharing good practice, human rights, and gender sensitivity.


Dines is the latest to be traced in a long-running campaign to out more than 100 undercover police who spied on activist groups over a period of more than four decades from 1968.

Among those targeted by undercover police operations were Labour MPs, anti-racism groups, justice campaigners, trade unionists, and the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence. At least 57 convictions have since been quashed to date as a result of miscarriages of justice caused by undercover policing activities.

The undercover officers regularly stole the identities of dead children and often embarked on relationships with activists to strengthen their stories — with at least two fathering children. Away from work, most were married, leading completely separate lives.

Australian Greens MP David Shoebridge gave a statement to the New South Wales (NSW) parliament on Wednesday, saying: "It is offensive in the extreme that John Dines can be involved in teaching these matters to police in this state.

"This is a man who professionally and systematically abused human rights as a police officer in the UK and showed a culpable lack of gender sensitivity. He has no place teaching police in NSW or in any country that says it respects human rights.

"We need to ensure that similar abusive political undercover policing tactics are not replicated here or abroad. This must start with an investigation into whether NSW police have been trained by any officers from these UK units."


Related: This Woman Was Awarded $685,737 After Learning Her Boyfriend Was an Undercover Cop Sent to Spy on Her

On Saturday, Dines' former girlfriend Helen Steel flew from Britain to confront him at an airport in Australia, where he was greeting a group of Indian police officers he is involved in providing mid-career training to.

A video posted on the Guardian website shows the moment Helen Steel confronted John Dines.

Steel was in a two-year relationship with Dines — or John Barker, as he introduced himself when they met in 1987 — during the five years he was posing as an anti-capitalist activist.

The pair were friends before he asked Steel out in 1990. Then within six months they had moved in together.

When he vanished — faking an emotional breakdown — Steel managed to find out Dines' real name before discovering his marriage certificate, which listed his occupation as "police officer." However, it wasn't until 19 years after he disappeared that she finally got confirmation that he had in fact been an undercover policeman spying on her and others.

John Dines while undercover as activist John Barker. (Photo via Helen Steel)

When VICE News spoke to Steel in November, she said: "We can't regain the lost years of our lives. We can't regain the ability to not worry about being able to trust your own judgment and all the other psychological impacts that this has had on us."

She said she wanted to make sure these tactics weren't used again in the future. "No other women have to go through this."


After she confronted him, Dines emailed the Guardian saying: "You will already be aware that I met with Helen Steel on March 6, where I gave a her a personal and unreserved apology for all and any hurt that she may have suffered. I do not intend to make any other comment."

Meanwhile, Tracey Green, Charles Sturt University's executive dean of the faculty of arts, told the Guardian that Dines' role at the university was "solely administrative" and did not involve police training.

Related: 'We're Going Up Against the State Here': The UK's Victims of Deep Undercover Policing Tell of Their Trauma

Dines is not the first undercover policeman to move on to a university environment. Former head of the infamous Special Demonstration Squad Bob Lambert — who fathered a child with an activist while undercover — was a lecturer at London Metropolitan University and St. Andrew's University before resigning in December, after a series of protests by campaigners.

An inquiry into the destructive behavior of undercover police in England and Wales was launched last summer.

In November, as part of a settlement with a group of seven women tricked into relationships with undercover officers, the Metropolitan Police published a public apology in which it said the officers that entered into long-term sexual relationships with women were "abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong."

Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt said: "I acknowledge that these relationships were a violation of the women's human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma. I unreservedly apologize on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Service. I am aware that money alone cannot compensate the loss of time, their hurt or the feelings of abuse caused by these relationships."

Related: The UK Has Launched Its First Public Inquiry Into Undercover Policing, and the Findings Could be Explosive

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd