Undercover: The True Story of Britain's Secret Police. Image: Faber and Faber

Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police. Image: Faber and Faber

In 1999, high court judge Sir William Macpherson famously concluded that London’s police were “institutionally racist.”

After reading Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police by Guardian reporters Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, it’s probably safe to add “sexist” too.

Eleven women have begun a legal action against the Met, arguing they’ve suffered emotional abuse as a result of the spying operations by secret police.

“By any means necessary” was the motto of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), the original top-secret unit within London’s Metropolitan police, set up in 1968 with the idea of turning police constables into pretend political activists.

At SDS, romantic relationships with women protestors came with the territory, even for married officers. Maybe bosses thought sex was the only comfort their undercover officers could expect, having to live incognito in the grotty flats and anarchist squats of the 80s and 90s in Hackney where they were frequently deployed.

But these relationships were not the one-night stands you might expect. Officers engaged in long-term relationships and fathered children, unbeknown to their real wives and children. One former girlfriend felt “like an unknowing and unpaid prostitute” after finding out she had been cohabitating with an SDS spy for four years.

When the agents departed at the end of their tour, their girlfriends combed the country, often the globe to find them. Environmental activist Laura traveled to South Africa to try to locate her partner of six years, Jim Sutton, aka SDS agent Jim Boyling. “I used all my savings trying to find him.”

Although each unmasked agent has unique characteristics, all of them are united in their love of playing God in the lives of others and indulging their alter egos at the public’s expense.

The chapters on Mark Kennedy – the conflicted rogue agent who would inadvertently bring the whole greasy business to a head – are the jewels in the book’s crown.
Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police by Rob Evans and Paul Lewis is published by  Faber and Faber, 2013. ISBN: 978-0-571-30217-8, RRP: £12.99.

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