Spycops have a long and baneful history of infiltrating health and safety groups. DAVE SMITH reports
AMID the protests and non-stop press coverage of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, there are some big questions that are still to be asked.
Specifically: were undercover police infiltrating the Grenfell Action Group? Do the names of the residents who warned about the safety deficiencies at Grenfell Tower (or other council housing projects) appear on the Met Police’s domestic extremism database?
To many, this may seem an odd question, but to community and trade union activists who have campaigned on safety issues for decades, being ignored by those in authority while at the same time being victimised and spied on by them is par for the course.
Last year the High Court heard how a corporate spy called Rob Moore posed as a journalist to infiltrate various anti-asbestos groups and spy on campaigners, including relatives of those who had died from the deadly fibres.
Construction workers who raised concerns about safety on building sites have been repeatedly dismissed, kept under surveillance and blacklisted by multinational companies who saw them as a threat to their profits.
Blacklist files record such activities as workers organising a petition on social housing, participating in the Construction Safety Campaign or complaining about the unsafe electrical equipment and disposal of asbestos.
But it was not only big business that targeted those who raised safety concerns: the police were implicated too.
The Special Demonstration Squad, National Public Order Intelligence Unit and the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit all spied on activists who were vocal on health and safety issues.
The undercover police officer Mark Jenner posed as a carpenter while infiltrating a campaign by building workers to reduce deaths on building sites and targeted the well-respected London Hazards Centre.
Activists who campaigned on safety issues have found themselves placed on the Met’s domestic extremism database and a “two-way exchange of information” existed between the police and the blacklisting companies.
Following disclosure at the Pitchford public inquiry, it is now known that around 250 undercover officers have infiltrated more than 1,000 campaign groups since the late 1960s.
This included not just trade unions but environmental campaigns, anti-racist groups, peace activists and even the grieving parents of murder victims.
Progressive housing campaigns and squatters’ rights groups have been kept under surveillance by these political policing units too.
In the overwhelming number of cases, those spied upon have committed no crime. The purpose of the state intrusion into their lives was not to detect criminality but to keep tabs on anyone considered a troublemaker.
Often that simply meant participating in a perfectly lawful campaign that asked difficult questions — the very same questions about how the rich get rich at the expense of working-class communities that the whole of the country is now asking in the wake of Grenfell.
In many cases the undercover police are accused of acting as agents provocateurs or deliberately disrupting and destabilising the campaigns they targeted.
The Grenfell Action Group is part of a wider coalition of community groups called the Radical Housing Network, which has campaigned for many years against gentrification and the underfunding of working-class housing stock.
Repeated attempts by the Grenfell Action Group to alert those in authority to serious risks fell upon deaf ears.
But have these housing activists, who have been proved right in such a catastrophic and tragic manner, been targeted by undercover spycops?
Because of the police refusal to answer any questions about the operation of their political undercover police officers, I do not know the answer to that question. But given what we know about how these anti-democratic units operate, it’s one worth asking.
If this turns out to be true, then why are the resources of the British state being used to spy on perfectly legal residents’ groups with genuine concerns rather than investigate the real criminals?
How many lives might have been saved if the police had investigated the legitimate concerns raised by activists rather than continuing to spy on them?
To answer these questions might pose real difficulties for Theresa May and the entire British secret state apparatus.
Tottenham MP David Lammy has sensibly called for all the documents relating to the Grenfell Tower refurbishment to be seized by the Met Police to stop potential evidence being destroyed.
I just hope documents don’t get accidently shredded by the Met themselves.