“spycops” controversy

The “spycops” controversy refers to an operation conducted by police in the UK, where they assigned undercover cops to infiltrate movements (particularly environmentalist, animal rights, and anti-capitalist ones) to collect intelligence on them. The undercover cops were assigned to these movements for years on end, for so long in fact that some number of them entered into long-term relationships, and even fathered children, with female activists who had no idea of their true identity or allegiance. When the cops’ assignment came to an end, they would fake suicidal ideation and a mental breakdown before vanishing completely from their supposed partners’ lives.

The true number of “spycops” who entered into these fraudulent relationships is unknown. We do know that there were at least 30, and the true number is quite possibly multiple times that. Undercover cops have been assigned to infiltrate left-wing groups at least as far back as 1968. In some cases, their fake identities involved them stealing the name and date of birth of a real person who had died in childhood. Keir Starmer, in his pre-parliament role as head of the Crown Prosecution Service, conducted a sham investigation into the scandal which cleared all cops of any wrongdoing in the matter. The identities of the men who lied to and betrayed these women remain protected, although some have been exposed via the women’s own digging. Theresa May’s government launched a new public inquiry that is still ongoing, but it’s been criticised by victims for dragging everything out with interminable delays, conducting a lot of its hearings in secrecy, and in clearly prioritising the anonymity of culpable cops than in granting agency to victims.

In January 2021, the British government passed the CHIS Act, which granted undercover operatives carte blanche to commit any crimes they like in the pursuit of their spy work (an amendment was proposed to bar them from committing rape, torture or murder but the amendment was defeated), with immunity from prosecution granted. Obviously, entering into fraudulent relationships is not the only wrongdoing “spycops” committed – they were also used extensively as agents provocateurs, pushing heavily for the fire-bombing of random cars or businesses for example, to try to discredit left-wing groups (or even provide pretexts for criminal charges). Because of this, they have been described as the UK’s closest equivalent to COINTELPRO.

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