I was lucky. I never had sex with any of the undercover cops or spies I’ve known. I’ve never fallen in love with them, never planned a future together, never thought they were “the one”. I can’t imagine the pain, the betrayal, the feeling of being “raped by the state” as one woman put it. I cannot put into words the respect I feel for all the people bringing the case against the cops, and the bravery of the women sacrificing their anonymity to fully describe the impact of what has happened to them.
However, I have loved them in different ways. I have let them into my life. I have respected, socialised and been on the streets with them. I’ve formed close friendships, shared intimate secrets. Some of them have met my family. Some held my baby and brought him presents. My therapist always asks where I feel the pain. Right now it is in my stomach, deep in my gut; utter painful sickness, vicious bile leaving a foul taste and hatred for all the bastards who have done to this to me and so many of my friends.
There is also sickness for what is yet to come. This isn’t the end, and so many of us are faced with the prospect of years of discovery or confirmation that friends and/or lovers were undercover. Not only is this is a painful thought, it’s an exhausting one as well – the thought of this never ending roller coaster of grief, of feeling as though someone close to you has died.
We all knew there were undercover cops amongst us, we all knew we were being spied on in one way or another. However, I can’t stress how little difference this knowledge brings to finding out someone you were close to was spying on you, reporting on you, and betraying you.
I also can’t express how important it is these revelations are coming out, and the depth of the operation against so many people is being exposed. We need to know who these bastards were, and we need to get their names and faces into the public domain. But it isn’t easy, and the psychological impact is massive.
A vast range of people have been deeply affected and traumatised by these revelations, ranging from the horrific spying and attempt to smear the Stephen Lawrence family, spying on groups exposing police brutality and corruption, animal rights groups, environmental groups, anti-war groups. The list goes on, but all were targeted because of their desire for social change.
I watched the Dispatches on undercover policing cuddling my old blue teddy bear. I won this bear in a raffle at school over thirty years ago. It was on a day when we had to watch a schools programme which always terrified me. I was so pleased to have won him, because it meant I could hide behind him during the show, he protected me, and as the Dispatches credits rolled, I knew I had to have him with me.
Admitting this, and reading it back feels weak and pathetic compared to the amazing strength of everyone who spoke out, but it’s important to get these feelings out in the open. It’s important to recognise the impact this has on people, to give these feelings credence, to own them.
Whilst I’m glad the ex police whistleblower has spoken out, it was grating to hear how easily he had accessed support for PTSD when I know how hard it’s been to get treatment as an activist. We have to take mental health issues seriously, we have to support one another, and devise our own structures to ensure this happens. Our strength is in our solidarity, and this is something they can never break.
Last evening, I was meant to edit some gut reactions and questions I have about Martin into something resembling a blog post. However, I got distracted by Ellie Mae O’Hagan’s CiF on the psychological damage police surveillance and intimidation can cause, and it inspired to me to edit down a piece I wrote several years ago about my breakdown in 2002.
Looking after, and acknowledging the mental health problems activism can bring is vitally important. It is very easy to dismiss our problems, feel guilty because there’s so much to do and there’s so much suffering in the world. Often we don’t give ourselves enough time to process the trauma we experience, and this in turn can lead to serious and long lasting mental health problems.
This piece is about my first proper breakdown in 2002. Chronologically this occurred about two weeks after a previous post I published last year about the Queen’s jubilee, and as I wrote then it was a time of intrusive policing with Forward Intelligence Teams working on a direct mandate to deter protesters. Somewhat naively, I was using a very personal diary as a coping mechanism, acting tough on the streets and processing my feelings through self-obsessed prose. Knowing the cops had read my insecurities and vulnerabilities was one of the final straws for me, and it took many years for me to reclaim my writing.
Like so many of my arrests over the years, the charges from this particular incident were dropped before trial (and I eventually accepted a caution for disrupting a public meeting).
Collapse was imminent. I was at breaking point but oblivious to the obvious until I found myself in hospital on a drip, screaming and hallucinating cops in the place of paramedics. I’d vomited blood and been told my blood pressure was dangerously low and I saw his fat fingers. I saw his fat fingers.
It was June 2002, and I was answering bail in Watford for disrupting a public meeting, contrary to the 1902 Public Meetings Act. Some bright PR spark had decided it was a great idea to invite War Resistance International to a Meet the Army presentation. They had responded with red paint and disruption. I had been asked to take the photographs.
I was charged, given residency and signing conditions and was just about to leave the custody area, when I was aware of three large men surrounding me.
“Emily, my name is DC Lovell from CO6 I am arresting you on suspicion of violent disorder at the Israeli Tourism Office you do not have to say anything…”
I slumped on the floor, got out my book, and pretended to read. The Israeli Tourism Office? Nothing had happened that day. In fact it was a total failure. We’d attempted an action at the Israeli Embassy but we’d been pushed off the fence by security with large umbrellas and chased down the road by police officers with big sticks. I was wearing soft soled shoes and stood on a spike trying to climb the fence at the Embassy, puncturing my foot. I was in agony, could hardly walk, but agreed to go along with our back-up plan, occupying the Israeli Tourism Office. We got into the building, went up in the lift, but the door was locked on us before we could enter and we went home very dejected.
“Emily, we know what you’re like. Are we going to do this the easy way or the hard way? It’s up to you. You can co operate and come with us in the car, or we can cuff you and get a van sent up from London.”
“I’ll co operate on the condition I can phone my friends who’ll be waiting for me in the pub and you let me have a fag.”
“Fine with me,” he replied.
Two hours later, back at Paddington Green, they decided they wanted to search the house and accompanied me home as a prisoner.
I sat on my mattress and smoked fags, trying to look nonchalant. I stared at the photos on my wall. Happy scenes of life in Cornwall, dancing with my sister, hugging my mum, singing with my dad. But they didn’t seem real, they seemed so distant, so alien.
My housemate Katie stood at the door, a can of Stella in her hand, goading them, giving me long slurps when they weren’t looking.
And then I saw his grubby fat fingers caressing my diary, his small squashed eyes glancing through my neat handwriting. His fat fingers on my black notebook. His stomach pushing through his white shirt, sticking out from his cheap crumpled suit.
The third made his way through the mess on my floor. A black walking boot lay in the centre, its partner lost under the piles of legal papers, books and clothes. A pair of jeans and a dressing gown lay in a tangled mess, like lovers entwined in a passionate embrace on the pink carpet. He glanced casually through my pile of books, books waiting to be read, precariously making their own Tower of Babel, waiting to fall and drown me in words.
I sat in the cell. I saw his fat fingers. I read the crime stoppers number tattooed on the ceiling. I saw his fat fingers. I was charged with violent disorder. I saw his fat fingers. They told me I’d be kept overnight for court. I saw his fat fingers. I woke from sweaty dreams on the harden wooden bench. I saw his fat fingers.
I rolled to the wall, pulled the blanket over my head and cried. I saw his fat fingers and I sobbed. I saw his fat fingers and wanted to scream. I saw his fat fingers and wanted to choke on my grief.
My solicitor didn’t think I’d get bail. We sat in a partitioned room and talked through a phone. She looked small and neat, her black hair pulled back in a simple pony tail, her navy suit immaculate. I felt dirty and dishevelled; messy and messed up.
“Emily, I’m really sorry, but I really don’t think I can get you bail on this one.”
“Please don’t say that, please. I can’t cope with prison. Not now. Not at this moment.”
“I’ll do everything I can. Katie’s bringing down your passport – the police are saying they read in your diary that you’re planning to go to Palestine and they’re using this as a reason to say you’re going to skip bail and go abroad.”
“Yes, but this is a serious charge. Plus you don’t have a good bail record and you’re on bail for other offences.”
I waited for court, biting my lips, having morbid thoughts about how the State always manages to fuck up anarchists. There was no violent disorder, it was a total set up.
Statement of Wilcock, Ben, CO906
On Tuesday 28th May 2002 I was on duty in plain clothes and attended Paddington Green Police Station where I met DC Witney. At 1050hrs, DC Whitney showed me a number of photographs that had been labelled with a series of exhibition reference numbers…I was informed that the series of photographs related to a group of people who had entered the Israeli Tourist Office…I immediately recognised two of the females amongst the group. The first female who I know is APPLE, Emily…She is wearing dark clothing and she has short dark hair. She is laughing in the pictures and the images show her to have a ‘toothy’ laugh. I have known Emily APPLE for a number of years, due to her involvement in protest activity.
But I was granted bail. I had to surrender my passport, the £500 surety was split between friends credit cards and I was free to go. But something was still wrong. Freedom was sweet, but there was a bitter edge. I went home and drank a bottle of whiskey. I lay down, curled in the foetal position, the pillow soaked through on both sides, cuddling my old blue teddy and sucking a make do security blanket.
I’ve got to start somewhere. It may as well be here. This is going to be difficult. It’s going to be hard. To be honest, I feel violated, alone, vulnerable and scared. They’ve taken something so Where do I go from here? I really don’t understand. Yet I understand I’ve come the closest I’ve ever felt to complete breakdown. Had I now been lying in a cell in Holloway, then I think I might have lost it. I actually prayed to my Guardian Angel today, prayed so hard. After everything that happened, I knew I didn’t have the mental capacity to deal with prison. I knew I couldn’t cope, that I needed time out to digest, to comprehend the invasion.
It was the tequila that finished me off. We’d been drinking heavily for months, but that night we polished off five bottles between six of us, not to mention the bottle of vodka and a couple of bottles of red. Jess was leaving, going to Palestine for four months and we wanted to give her a good send off; wanted to drown our concern for her in large quantities of booze.
It was a good night. A fucking good night. Up to a point, of course. I remember rolling around the kitchen floor laughing hysterically. And then I don’t remember much. Our kitchen floor, bright lights, but then nothing up to the point of fighting paramedics.
I spent three nights in hospital before the moans, groans and screams from the old man opposite reduced me to a state of desperate mania.
“I’m leaving,” I said to the nurse, “I can’t take this anymore.”
“You can’t leave.”
“Your blood pressure is still dangerously low. You cannot leave. You can see the doctor in the morning.”
“I don’t want to see the doctor, I just want to leave this fucking place. I can’t stand being here another minute.” Tears were streaming down my face and I repeatedly played with my fingers, trying to tear them away from my hands.
“Just calm down. You’ll be okay.”
“No I won’t. I’m leaving.”
“If you leave, you have to sign something to say you’ve discharged yourself.”
“I’m not signing anything. I’m leaving.”
I picked up my bag and walked out of Homerton hospital, not getting beyond the double doors before collapsing in exhausted hysterics on the nearest bench. Katie discovered me, half an hour later, having been summoned by the hospital to come and find me.
I want to run away and hide, bury my head under the sand. I’m almost at the stage of thinking, come on you fuckers, come bang me up, throw away the key for all I care. At least then I don’t have to worry about the rest of my life. I am stressed out of my mind. I’m exhausted and feel as though I could sleep for years.
I’m so scared. I’ve never been this scared. Compared to a normal average person, I faced quite a lot of shite, but I’ve never been so afraid. I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’m scared that I’m spinning out of control.
Finally discharged and back at home, unable to sleep, I lay on my bed in the half light of the orange glowing streetlamps which penetrated my pale curtains. The night was hot and humid, stifling and strangulating. A big hand had reached down and squeezed the life out of the city, choking us on our own polluted nightmare. I listened to the drunken shouts of the East London night, listened to the sirens that constantly screamed across the inner-city landscape.
Fragile and hysterical, I paced those London streets. 3am, black hoodie jammed over my head, I walked down Amhurst Road, not attracting even a second glance, grateful to live somewhere where seeing nutters is part of daily existence. I sat at a bus stop which had long since picked up its final passengers, and cried.
Please excuse the cliche, but I think we need to talk about Martin. It’s been a while coming – next year it will be ten years since we first found out our friend, colleague and comrade was in fact a BAE spy, but it’s finally time to write about what happened in detail and with the hindsight of perspective.
So, I’m planning to write a book about my dear “friend” Martin, the secular Godfather to my son, and my close friend for the best part of five years. This will be the account of our times together, from planning meetings and pints, to arrests and tear gas on the streets of international summits. This will be the story of what I believed was our journey together, and how this narrative has been shattered and replaced only with questions.
But I would also like this to be a piece of exploration and examination. There is so much which will always remain unanswered. There are no truths, because the one person who could answer so many of the questions is a professional liar. I don’t know yet whether Martin will be prepared to talk to me. I don’t know whether I want to talk to him. Although I know, without doubt, that if the opportunity arises, I will grab it with both hands. But I’m not holding my breath. He hasn’t had any contact with anyone for years, and I doubt he’s suddenly going to break his silence now.
However, I want to explore his motives and agendas; the relationship he had with other people. This is going to involve many painful and honest conversations, and I really hope people will feel able to engage and talk with me both about their experiences, but also their analysis of who they think Martin really was.
Over the years, I have come up with a myriad of excuses for what Martin did ranging from complete denial to a vain hope that there was a limit to the information he was passing on. However I am coming to accept this was just naive posturing. There can be no excuses for what Martin did, for the betrayal, the manipulation and the lies. There is no middle ground, no half truth that makes sense of his actions. This has been the hardest part to accept; not to make excuses for my friend; not to let him still have a small piece of my heart.
So, does anyone else want to talk about Martin? I’m asking anyone who knew him, loved him, or simply worked with him to get in contact. I’m hoping to get as much information as possible to build the fullest picture of Martin that we can, what he said, they way he operated, thoughts, feelings and gut reactions. I want to dissect the whole sorry mess. I know that’s it’s painful, and I know it may be too difficult to talk about. However, I’m also hoping it could be a positive experience, both in understanding how a corporate spy lived and worked amongst us for so many years, and in processing the pain.
With another sickening waste of taxpayers money – aka the royal wedding – taking place in a few weeks, this is a look back at what happened last time there was a major royal event – the Queen’s jubilee in 2002, and the media hysteria and police repression of the event. Little has changed.
In articles containing an uncanny resemblance to the media storm currently taking place, the Observer regaled us with stories of “Anarchists plan Jubilee mayhem” with supposed plans to throw fireworks and take control of the Millennium Bridge alongside the, usual at the time, media hysteria about Mayday.
It was a time of intrusive policing – FIT outside every political meeting and at every protest, using endless flash photography, following known activists at protests for hours at a time, and repeated stop and searches. As one told me once, “I know who you are. I’m going to be your shadow for the day”.
On the day of the golden jubilee parade, there were no major protests, but 41 people were arrested, most of whom were sitting in the pub having a drink when the cops entered, told them they were under arrest for breaching the peace, and commandeered London buses to take them to police stations. If UKUncut protesters were surprised at being arrested for occupying a shop, try imagining the surprise of people nicked for drinking in a pub. All were released without charge, and 23 people sued the police resulting in an apology and a total payout of £80k.
I wasn’t with them given I was already in custody having been arrested the previous day on dubious charges for which I eventually received compensation. I wrote this account of what happened several years ago, but in light of recent events, and promises by Assistant Commissioner Lynn Owens for a “robust” response to protests, and calling for “the application of the Human Rights Act” to be “different” for the royal wedding, I felt it was worth revisiting the events of 2002.
The sun graced the Queen’s Jubilee weekend. God bless her. We sat outside an East London squat having what was advertised as an Anti-Jubilee Party and was, in reality, a few friends sitting in the sun, drinking potent punch and inhaling the aroma of sizzling Soya as the vegan sausages barbequed.
I arrived with Adam and Kate. We were not expecting a police presence. It’d been advertised, but it was never intended to be any form of action. We saw the car first, then caught sight of them on the opposite pavement, brandishing their camera. CO906, a prominent FIT officer, unctuous and ugly in his piggy little glasses.
“Afternoon Emily,” he called.
“Fuck off,” my now standard response.
“Why don’t you get a proper job?” Kate asked, flicking her blonde hair and turning her back on them.
“Hey, I’m on overtime here Kate, what are you on?”
Adam gave them the finger.
“Good afternoon to you too, Mr Stevens.”
The squat was on a residential street in Stoke Newington. Painted in bright blues, reds and greens and with strawberries growing in tubs outside, it was set up as a Social Centre, a community resource where local residents could come and have free food, Spanish lessons, drumming classes and, of course, get information on radical politics.
“Nice banner,” I complimented one of the residents, pointing to the Welcome to the Police State banner draped out of the top window.
“Couldn’t resist,” he grinned at me, “there’s punch inside.”
About thirty people had turned up to drink to the queen, including members of Movement Against Monarchy, resplendent in royal fancy dress. The rest were the usual mismatched scruffy bunch, with hoodies, tattoos and piercings. Most were familiar faces and I spent a while catching up, before settling outside with Adam and Kate.
I drank and joked, but I felt their presence. Occasionally I glanced up and felt their eyes leering, their lips smirking. They cast an ugly shadow on the beautiful June day, a vision of state repression shimmering in the sunlight.
A few drinks later, a plan was circulated to continue at another party at The Foundry in Old Street. Around fifteen of us left, processing down Stoke Newington Church Street led by our bedecked royals. The cops followed, but we were tipsy and loud about our escort.
We caught the bus, spreading out over the top deck while the cops stayed below. As we neared our stop, we heard sirens, saw ominous flashing lights. We looked out of the window and saw lines of black streaming onto the bus, two riot vans boxing the bus into the stop.
“What the fuck?” Kate asked.
“Surely, that’s not for us,” Adam said scratching his head.
We tried walking down the stairs, but our path was blocked.
“Stay back. Stay back.” They shouted.
We were allowed off the bus, one by one. As I got to the bottom of the stairs, I heard CO906 saying, “That’s her, grab her.” I tried to get away but there was nowhere to go They threw me against the luggage rack, twisting my arms painfully behind my back.
“Are you at least going to tell me what you’re nicking me for?”
“Breach of bail conditions”
Shit. I racked my head trying to think what bail conditions I’d breached. They dragged me off the bus, threw me against a fence and cuffed me.
“Smile for the camera!”
The flash went off in my face before I was able to look away.
I was taken to one of the vans and watched in bewilderment as the van gradually filled up with cops and drove away.
Back at Shoreditch police station, I accumulated a Section 5 charge (causing harassment alarm and distress) for wearing Fuck the Jubilee stickers on my trousers and a possession charge for the small bit of weed I had in my pocket. My pile of We are Everywhere WOMBLEs stickers also disappeared into an evidence bag, but they never clarified what they were evidence of.
Metropolitan Police Service
INCIDENT: Breach of Bail Cond/Sec 4 POA/Poss of drugs
ARREST: Emily Apple
Mon day the 3rd of June 2002
at 18:00 time at Old Street, London 100yrds from the junction with Old Street roundabout.
Officer Reporting Mark Keller
On Monday 3rd July 2002 at about 1745hrs I was on duty in full uniform in the company with other officers in a marked police carrier (U233) when at the time we were directed by specialist operations (GT) to attend the vicinity of Old Street, N1 to intercept a bus that contained a female called Emily APPLE who was wanted by police for breach of bail conditions. We made our way @ speed and arrived at about 1758 having driving 100 yrds into Old St, N1 from the Old Street roundabout. The bus was slowly driving towards us. I could see the hazard warning lights flashing and police officers standing adjacent to the driver. The driver stopped and opened the doors. I got onto the bus and went to the bottom of the stairs to prevent Emily APPLE from leaving the bus prior to being identified. PC WOODALL was aboard next to me. We were directed to allow people to filter slowly off the bus via the open back door. People slowly exited the bus. The bus was densely crowded with both males and females of all age groups. Within a very short space of time a white female with short black hair, blue denim jacket and a skirt came down the stairs towards me. I could see over her shoulder she had a large cream coloured satchel with a white sticker clearly displayed on the side. I did not read the sticker as I was watching her hands. A member of the forward intelligence team pointed to her and said she was Emily APPLE. As he did this she tried to push ahead of the queue towards the open door. To prevent her escaping PC WOODALL took hold of her right arm and I took hold of her left. Miss APPLE tried to pull away from us and she was shouting loudly at me although I cannot remember what she said. At this point about 1800, PC WOODALL said to her “I am arresting you for breach of bail conditions.” She started struggling again, PC WOODALL cautioned her fully to which she made no reply. Once on the pavement area and off the bus she was still struggling and was therefore handcuffed by PC WOODALL to the rear stack position. These were checked for tightness and double locked. At this time PC WOODALL informed Miss APPLE that she had breached her bail conditions by failing to sign on @ Wandsworth Police Station as directed when she was charged with an offence under Section 4 of the public order act in Kenley, Surrey.
She was placed in the rear of U233 and conveyed to SHOREDITCH POLICE STATION. On arrival I noticed the sticker on her satchel said “BOLLOCKS TO THE MONARCHY. And on her right thigh was a sticker that said “FUCK THE JUBILEE – BOLLOCKS TO THE ROYALS.” Once I read this I was disgusted and alarmed that I could read this and its contents. I am employed to keep the Queen’s peace and am offended by derogatory words said or written down which is against our Queen. I find it offensive and unacceptable. At 1820 PC WOODALL further arrested and cautioned Miss APPLE for displaying writing, signs or visual representations which cause and are likely to cause harassment alarm or distress contrary to Section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986 – she made no reply to caution. She was searched by PC22 184 CUNNINGHAM and PC22184 found a Kleenex tissue packet containing a small amount of herbal cannabis. I recognise it as such due to its smell, appearance and texture. At 1835 PC WOODALL further arrested her for possession of cannabis, she made no reply.
I was charged with the three offences, the breach of bail conditions being a failure to sign on regularly as part of the original bail conditions I had when I got out of prison. Bail conditions, I believed, had long ago been dropped by the court, but I was still worried. If I had been due to sign and I was found guilty of the breach, it was likely I would be remanded back to Holloway, and I couldn’t contemplate being back there. However sure enough, at court the next morning they could find no proof of the breach, and I was released on unconditional bail for the other two offences.
Back at home, I got stoned and let the hard-edged street persona crack enough to reveal my feelings. The months, the years, of arrests, assaults and harassment were getting to me. I felt tired and drained, bruised around the edges, frayed like a tatty screwed up, never finished sewing project.
I sat on my mattress on the floor, looking at the off white duvet embroidered with elegant pink poppies and stained with ash that had missed the tray. I caught a glimpse of myself in the dirty, smeary pine mirror leaning against the opposite wall, a contorted and confused image like in the fairground mirrors I remembered from my childhood, making me either tall and super thin, or short, squat and fat. I turned around and stared in disbelief at the image reflected back at me. I raised my hand to my face and felt the smooth skin, noticing the angry red wheals that still graced my wrist.
I turned my attention to my journal and watched the jet black ink from my italic pen glide across the page. I allowed a therapeutic wave to wash over me as I began to assimilate yet another traumatic encounter
It should be noted that I was either acquitted or had charges dropped for all offences referenced in this piece. Other people in this account are fictional but based on amalgamations of people I knew. All cops are accurate and their witness statements are genuine.
My Grandma died at the beginning of the year. She was 94, and had been ill for a while. I had a special relationship with her, and whilst politically we were very different, we both respected each other as strong, independent women. I miss her deeply; miss her friendship, her warmth and her love, not to mention her knitting advice. Things happen and I think about calling her and telling her the news before I remember she is no longer around.
I was with her when she died, alongside my parents and sister. I’d never watched anyone die before and had been expecting to feel freaked out, but it was a beautiful, amazing experience. We were able to kiss her goodbye moments before she went, and held her as she peacefully took her last breaths.
I returned to her house whilst the rest of my family were waiting for the doctor because I was expecting my son to be dropped off. Her living room was as she’d left it when she went into hospital a week and a half previously. On her table was her knitting – a complicated baby’s cardigan in double moss stitch. I picked it up, and sat in her chair, crying, holding this small piece of white knitting to my face like a security blanket.
Eventually, having found out my son would be delayed for another hour, I went into the kitchen and made tea, trying to calm myself down. As her old fashioned, noisy kettle was boiling, I heard a noise from the other room. She had a speaking clock – one designed for blind people as her sight had been bad. Grandma often used it as a means of communicating with us when we were caring for her. If she was having a nap, I’d tell her to press her clock when she was awake or needed anything and I’d come downstairs.
I walked back into the living room and the clock was speaking – it’s electronic voice incessantly repeating the time. I smoked a cigarette, shaking and shocked as it sustained its soliloquy for several minutes, unsure of what to do, desperately wanting it to stop, but also wanting it to continue.
The week she died, the mainstream media went into overdrive with undercover cop stories. Although the activist community had been aware of Mark Stone/Kennedy for several months, we weren’t prepared for the intensity of media interest. I was asked to write something about Mark for the Guardian a few days after her death. I nearly refused, but I could hear Grandma’s voice berating me for turning down writing work on her account.
In the piece I also wrote about my ex friend Martin Hogbin, the BAE spy. This was the first time I had written about Martin, seven years after discovering his betrayal. I had never questioned my reluctance to write about Martin, never queried why pen had never touched paper, but I know it’s because the truth is sometimes too hard to write about, too hard to really accept and acknowledge.
Martin wasn’t just a friend, he was one of my best friends. We were so close I asked him to be a godfather to my son – well in secular kind of a way. I knew his wife and kids, we worked together closely, and socialised regularly. We plotted and planned, got drunk and silly, and shared thoughts and feelings both politically and personally. I trusted him totally, loved his sense of humour, and found his lack of activist self-righteousness refreshingly honest.
I still have affection for the good times. I can’t erase the happy memories and the experiences we shared together. Obviously, these memories are tainted and I have questioned and re-examined them, but I cannot re-write history, and I can’t get rid of the nostalgia. Only Martin could tell you if any of these joint endeavours meant anything, whether there is any truth in my memories. I still cling to the belief that some of them were genuine – the laughter and the tears. Maybe it’s naive, but I find it necessary for survival.
I first met Martin in 1999 at an action camp against the first ever DSEi (Defence Systems Equipment International – now the world’s biggest arms fair). He was a familiar face at many protests, but it wasn’t until a chance encounter at the IMF protests in Prague in 2000 that we started talking about working together. I still have the photos of us posing in front of the riot cops. Martin was working as the action co-ordinator at CAAT (Campaign Against Arms Trade) and wanted someone to reinvigorate their action network, I was happy to get involved.
We worked closely for the next three and a half years both in the UK and abroad. Our lives were a whirlwind of organising and actions – I could write a book just on the things we did together. In the UK, we regularly targeted arms conferences and companies, including BAE Systems, causing regular disruption.
We got gassed together at the G8 in Genoa, narrowly missed being beaten and arrested at the World Economic Forum protests in New York, and it was a result of late night smoking and drinking sessions in Paris during protests against the Eurosatory arms fair that the idea of Disarm DSEi was born leading to the biggest mobilisation against an arms fair in 2003.
When the news first broke about Martin, I defended him vociferously, and for far longer than I should have done. There’s still part of me, despite all the evidence, that can’t quite believe it’s true, a small part that still clings to the belief there has to be some rational explanation for what he did. I miss my friend, and still think about him a lot. I still want answers, desperately crave the closure I know will never happen.
Grandma’s funeral was beautiful. We had a green burial at a picturesque site, sitting in a circle and sharing our memories of her long and inspiring life. I facilitated the funeral, not wanting strangers to be speaking our words about someone we loved so dearly. We toasted her life, my Dad played guitar and a family friend sung. My seven year old son stood up and told everyone how much he’d loved “GG” and how much he missed her.
The evening of the funeral, the Guardian published details of another undercover cop, Marco, from Cardiff, although it was Fitwatch who named him after the Guardian bowed to pressure from the cops to keep his identity a secret. I knew Marco reasonably well, having spent a lot of time with him during the G8 summit in Germany in 2007, although I wasn’t nearly as close to him as my Welsh friends.
Again, like Mark, we knew Marco was a cop before the story broke. However, unlike Mark, we hadn’t had confirmation, hadn’t had enough proof to run the story even within activist communities, and seeing the story in black and white was sickening. I remember sitting in a cell at HMP Bronzefield, following our remand at Kingsnorth Climate Camp, saying to my friend how we owed Marco a drink after learning he had taken our possessions back to Wales for us.
And it doesn’t stop there. In the following week I had several conversations with friends regarding another former activist who I was very close to who we strongly suspect was another undercover. Again, we don’t have the evidence to name him, but the nature of his disappearance had made me suspicious some time ago, and various pieces of evidence have subsequently come to light.
I managed to talk to people about it objectively, almost feeling detached from the situation. However, an off the cuff line in the Guardian article about yet another undercover cop, Jim Boyling, suddenly made the situation feel real, and I sat, paralysed by the deep heavy feeling of coming to terms with yet another betrayal.
With all the undercovers I have known, I have wasted hours replaying conversations, re-assessing events, trying to remember timelines, and ultimately questioning the veracity of my instincts and judgements. However, being open and trusting towards people is important to me, personally and politically, and this is something I hope I can maintain.
I am not a naive liberal shocked at state or corporate infiltration of protest movements. I know I’m regarded as a nasty, violent domestic extremist – I have the files to prove it – and like many of my comrades, it’s always been a question of “who” rather than “if”. However, this can never detract from the pain of betrayal and the grief of losing a close friend.
In the Cif I wrote, I said this pain was the equivalent of someone you love dying, and dealing with real death and metaphorical deaths simultaneously has been a strange experience. Yet with death, there is closure – of course there are questions I would like to ask my Grandma – but I know her feelings were genuine. I know she loved me, I know our relationship was special, and nothing can take that away.
With former friends who have betrayed me, who I have lost, there are only questions, and there will never be answers. I want revenge, but I also want understanding. I want to be able to talk to them, to question them about what they did. And yet I know this is a pointless wish. Even if I had the opportunity, I obviously could not trust any of their explanations, and I am left in an abyss of confusion and pain.
The arrogance it takes to walk around in the world the way you do
It turns my brain to jelly every time
The rage and fear I’m feeling have begun to make me sick
And I think that I might be about to commit a crime
With lyrics from Mika, T-Pain, Paloma Faith, Sarah Blasko, and Allison Moorer
The music used in this piece is based on the random tracks I was listening to at the time. They were not chosen deliberately, but in dealing with what happened, I interpreted them to echo my experiences.
This is the hardest story that I’ve ever told
No hope, no love or glory
Happy endings gone forevermore
I don’t want to tell this story – it’s taken me months to attempt to contain stream of consciousness ramblings into any form of narrative. Not only is it a hard story, but it’s one I’m sick of telling. I’m sick of writing about what the nasty police have done to me, sick of the trauma, sick of guilt for feeling traumatised.
And I wish I could vomit away this pain, expunge my system, use this narrative as my projectile vomit splattered across the room for all to see. This is an assertion, an exertion, a real fucking effort but I refuse to be ashamed.
Three months ago I was due to appear at Bradford Magistrates’ Court for a plea hearing for obstructing police (see post below). The case was listed for the Monday morning and I was due to see the doctor in the afternoon to get a letter excusing my attendance. However, the court were not prepared to wait, and issued a warrant regardless.
I emailed the letter from the doctor to my solicitor the following morning, she arranged for the case to be listed on Wednesday, and I presumed it would go no further. However, Helston police, probably grateful for something to do, came and arrested me around 7pm just as I was sitting down to watch Scooby Doo with my son. The only decent thing they did was allow me to find someone to collect him.
At Camborne police station I refused to get out of the car. Nothing violent, nothing dramatic, just a quiet refusal to accept their authority, a refusal to co-operate with what was happening. Several officers dragged me into a cell where male officers held me down while I was stripped of my clothes. No explanation was given – the first I knew about it was when they started pulling down my trousers. They left me, naked on the floor, with a grey paper suit to wear.
No attempt was made to assess my fitness to travel despite being in possession of a doctor’s letter stating I wasn’t. I saw a nurse briefly. She entered my cell accompanied by a male cop who refused to leave, giving me no privacy to discuss my health. I told her why I was on medication, but she didn’t listen, wanting only to work through her checklist of possible illnesses. Later I saw she had marked me down as epileptic despite having told her my tablets were mood stabilisers. Either way, I was not given my medication.
During this ‘examination’, the custody sergeant entered yelling at me, telling me I didn’t have any rights. When I argued back, he threatened to cause me pain before forcing me to the floor in a wrist lock. I wasn’t allowed to speak to my solicitor until the following morning.
This industry is my circus
I know that it hurts, just sit back
And take pain like I used to
But I can’t take the pain and it hurts more than it used to. Each arm lock building on the echo of pain from the one that came before, leaving custody suites exhausted from violence and hatred.
And it hurts in other places, hurts now, deep pain in my belly, in the tightness in my head, in the jumpiness of these words.
They gave me my clothes back in the morning, and after 11 hours in a prison van, we arrived at Bradford too late for court, so I was taken to the police station for the night. I nearly got through the booking in process, but an argument over plastic buttons on my cardigan and refusing to show my tongue to check for piercings led to being dragged violently to a cell. They left me on the floor, crying, my trousers and knickers around my ankles where they had fallen down, with a black eye and a damaged elbow.
They sent four cops to escort me to the doctor, telling me I had to be handcuffed because of my violent behaviour. I didn’t object, I wanted to see the doctor. The doctor apologised and told me it wasn’t his idea, eventually asking for them to be removed so he could take my blood pressure. I asked for a sleeping pill which he refused on the grounds of a head injury. Objectively, I understand his reasoning, but at the time I wanted something to block everything out, and I started crying, begging him to give me a pill.
Instead of giving me five minutes to calm down, several cops entered, grabbed me and threw me on the floor, slamming my head hard into in the concrete floor, and ramming my arms up my back before applying cuffs. Ignoring, or more likely because of my screams of pain, they walked me back to the cell, pulling my arms up to such an extent my feet barely touched the floor, forcing weight and pressure onto my injured elbow.
In the cell they forced me back onto the floor, and held me there, pressure pointing my neck, increasing the pressure in my arms, yelling in my ear “have you got the message yet?” They left me sobbing and hysterical on the floor, a floppy mess with no dignity, no shame.
Goodbye sweet angel
Sail away on teary seas
Tattooed the time we had
On my memory
My legs are weak
Yet despite being hysterical, there was also clarity. Things couldn’t be the same again, something had to change. A part of me, a strong stable part of me I liked was drifting away, the tide sucking it far out into the horizon. A different reality forced into my existence.
I used to be so strong, a pretence at being hard, never showing weakness. Of course it was bravado but I valued not crying in front of cops. There were occasions when I shed a tear in a cell, but it was always under a blanket, out of sight and controlled. Out of 72 arrests and hundreds of assaults, I can count on one hand the number of times I have cried in front of them, but never to the point of desperate hysteria they achieved in that cell.
But these turning points, these experiences from which things can never be the same again, there’s been a few of those, a reoccurring theme. I forget, and it takes old diaries to remind me – ten years of documented harassment – of writing “that was a fucked up one” and “where do I go from here?” And it’s this accumulation. Incident piled upon incident creating a heavy weight, and I’m worried I’m running out of boxes to compartmentalise these experiences. They’re seeping out, and blending into each other, making it hard to concentrate as images flash into my head without warning.
Maybe I’m soft, too sensitive, too weak. It’s highly possible, but what happened was wrong and I still want to expose it. And in some fucked up way, exposing the weakness makes me stronger. It’s something I learned from all those years of being tough and implacable.
I’m finally mad
Like a rush of blood to my weary head
No longer sad
The emotional tide has turned and I see red
After a night in the cells where I was denied the right to speak to my solicitor and hot drinks on the grounds I was too violent, I was finally taken to court. The breach of bail was not put to me as there was medical evidence before the court. I wasn’t even asked to enter a plea.
There was no apology, no recognition of the consequences of the power hungry lay bench who couldn’t wait until an afternoon session before issuing a warrant. No mention of the fact my doctor had said I wasn’t fit to travel and yet I’d been dragged hundreds of miles for nothing.
Just a travel warrant, and a long weary journey back to my distressed son in Cornwall, pretending to be normal to the chatty woman sitting next to me on the packed train, trying to ignore the equal measures of anger and despair coursing through my body.
You can’t understand the shit that comes out of my head…
And I’m trying to stop cursing but I don’t give a fuck
I’m going to curse you with lyrical voodoo
I think my PNC entry reads along the lines of violent psychopathic bitch who hates cops. I certainly have numerous markers for violence in custody. Yet I have no convictions for any of this behaviour; have never even been charged for any of the incidents.
I’m not co-operative in custody. I may struggle, but I am not violent. Not out of any pacifist paradigm but out of pure pragmatism. Whilst many alleged assaults on cops are justifiable, even within legal parameters of self defence, I don’t want to either spend months on bail for assault, or give them the excuse to deny bail. Besides, when there’s just you and lots of cops who want to cause you pain, there’s not a lot you can do to change the situation.
But my pragmatism only goes so far, and even on occasions when I’ve tried to co-operate, my fuck you impulse has been stronger. Yet maybe this is also pragmatic. My survival depends on that ability to say no. The moment I start bowing my head and subjugating myself to their procedures is the moment I lose.
And they don’t understand why I don’t calm down, and I don’t understand why locking anyone in a box makes them calm down. I’m not drunk, I’m not on drugs – there’s nothing to sober up from.
So maybe I give them a hard time and they give me a hard time and all’s fair in love and war? And given I’m actively challenging their authority, don’t I just deserve what I get?
I have sympathy with this argument, but I know they are the words of the victim. Knowing what to expect doesn’t mean I deserve what happens, doesn’t make it right. If I refuse to give my fingerprints, for example, I know the cops are going to do it by ‘reasonable force’, and there are occasions when this has been done where I have no complaint, sometimes simply efficient, sometimes bordering on farcical. However, when ‘reasonable force’ is interpreted as license to punish, and used, in the words of a Cardiff cop to “cause you immeasurable amounts of pain”, then it is not deserved and has to be challenged.
I do hate cops. I know this is a simplistic and childish statement. I know there are some good apples struggling to survive in a big rotten barrel, but I hate what they represent. I hate their attitude. I hate what they have done to me and my friends. I hate what they have done to countless strangers. I hate what they think they can, and do, get away with.
But out of hatred comes hope. I know through my experiences, through friends and neighbours, how endemic these abuses are, and I want to start challenging and monitoring them. I am working on a proposal to start a police custody watch project to start exposing these regular abuses taking place in custody suites across the country.
If the blues have you convinced the end is certain
Well be strong ‘cause it’s gonna feel good when it stops hurting
There have been some dark moments in the last few months, darker than I really like to think about. It was the Israeli storming of the Freedom Flotilla taking aid to Gaza and killing nine people which first snapped me out of my traumatised stupor. I knew beautiful brave people onboard the ships, people who were in Gaza during the bombing, and there is no comparison. My experiences are trivial, inconsequential blips which should be nothing more than inconvenience.
Unfortunately this revelation doesn’t take away the pain. I was well versed in this line of thinking long before I woke to the news of the deaths on the MV Mavi Marmara, but it was a sharp reminder, and it is important to keep things in perspective.
I know if I was advising any other person on trauma, I would tell them it doesn’t matter what others have been through, and to anyone who I’ve spoken to about trauma, I really mean this. I just can’t apply it to myself, because it does matter to me, although it’s not a particularly effective strategy and simply adds guilt to the pain.
But maybe I’m looking at this from the wrong perspective. Maybe I should see survivors, people who have experienced unspeakable things, but have come out strong, still fighting. And if they can do it, it gives me strength and hope that I can. I want to fight this feeling, not succumb to despair and darkness.
My legs are weak
Sometimes I wonder why I’m so slow to write these accounts. Weeks pass before I’m able to formulate the words to describe very simple events. However, I’ve realised, as much as I try and deny it, each incident leaves scars, physical and mental. A slow seeping trauma oozes like thick mud through my veins, bogging up my thought processes, increasing my agitation, making me slow and heavy, unable to function as a normal human being.
I made the decision to go to Bradford at the last minute – there was space in the car, I had childcare and it was a demo for a new campaign and I wanted to show solidarity. Bradford university are performing pointless experiments on animals including testing alcohol, pcp and ketamine on rats and have refused repeated opportunities to engage in a public scientific debate about their tests.
My other motivation for attending was as a Fitwatcher. Animal rights (AR) protests are notorious for repression, harassment and general over policing. However, whilst climate camp protesters, and even anti militarists, fill the column inches, Animal Rights has been ignored with a few high profile actions demonising the entire movement. When two climate camp people got stopped coming into the country under anti-terrorist legislation, the liberal media went mad. However, when it happened to two AR activists returning from a gathering two months earlier, they weren’t interested.
Passionate speeches and tea and cake provided by the amazing Veggies started the day. Policing was minimal towards non-existent with none of the familiar faces from the Public Order Unit on the streets. Two local Forward Intelligence Team (FIT) cops lurked in a van, quickly winding up their windows when we approached with cameras and notebooks but it was a pleasant surprise not to be met with hordes of cops, the usual smirking faces and intimidating flash photography.
Loud and vibrant, echoing to megaphone chanting, the march took to the streets towards the university. Up ahead, at the first junction, FIT were waiting, the civilian camera man brandishing an enormous camera. We approached, holding placards towards the camera, but were quickly pushed away. This pattern repeated itself throughout the route of the march but with more people trying to block the camera it was clear the crowd were not going to tolerate their presence without objection.
Arriving at the university, private security blocked the doors, and the intensity of the chanting increased. FIT retreated to a high unreachable ledge and I went to speak to them. I wanted to see if they had leaflets about why they were filming and wanted to question them about what their duty was in filming the protest.
A few questions quickly led to a call for back up, and yet again I was pushed away.
“Next time this lady gets hands laid for anything on her she gets arrested – obstruction of police officer”, ordered one of the cops.
The FIT moved, climbing to the top of a grass verge. We followed still asking questions.
“Can you tell me why you’re filming today?” I asked repeatedly.
One of the cops who’d been repeatedly pushing me pulled out his handcuffs out and started walking towards me. I ran back down and into the crowd, but with nowhere to go and cops everywhere, it wasn’t long before I was thrown to the floor and arrested.
Forced onto the floor in the back of the van, a cop kneeling on my legs, I tried to shift position to make myself more comfortable.
“Stop struggling”, ordered one.
“We haven’t double locked your handcuffs,” another smirked, “which means every time you struggle we can tighten them.” He leant over me, ramming the ratchet on the already cramping cuffs, and the next two hours passing into a blur of hazy sweaty pain.
At the custody desk I refused to give my date of birth and informed this makes me an unknown person despite repeatedly stating my name and address. Meanwhile other cops started searching me and I pulled away, trying to focus on getting my details recorded, worried any noted refusal would be excuse enough to deny bail.
They forced me onto the floor and dragged me backwards towards the cells. A woman detention officer chased us, brandishing her metal detector, trying to hit me on the legs.
“Come on love,” I laughed at her, “you know you want to. You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
In the cell, they forced me onto my front, pressure pointing me deeply, applying Velcro leg restraints on my ankles and thighs before turning me over and completing the search. The belts removed, they leave me, ignoring my repeated requests to speak to my solicitor, telling me I’m too violent to be given my rights.
After a couple of hours, I’m eventually allowed to speak to my solicitor and see the doctor. I burst into tears with the doctor, repressed emotions bubbling over, the bravado gone. Whilst not hostile, he’s more bemused than sympathetic, giving me painkillers without making any effort to document my injuries.
Charged with obstruction and released in the early hours, I’m welcomed by friendly faces, hugs and tobacco. After a few hours sleep at a friend’s house, I head straight back to Cornwall to collect my beautifully buoyant six year old. Mum hat firmly in place, I play and laugh, dismissing the nasty graze on my face as a bad fall.
Hot water bottle made, story read, child asleep, Tom Waits on the stereo, I sink into a hot bath. This isn’t an isolated incident, it’s an ongoing theme, a constant narratological thread. I’m jam packed of violent incidents I’ve conveniently put in boxes and locked away somewhere in my subconscious.
It’s the gruff refrain which catches me unawares, causing the tears to start flowing.
“I want to know the same thing
We all want to know
How’s it going to end?”
The salty stream smarts my grazed face and I want to scream. I am not a victim, I am fighting repression, I am trying to do something about it. I don’t want to feel weak, whinging about what the nasty police have done to me, but it’s also necessary to acknowledge what they’ve done.
And the same rough refrain resonates, the same ambiguous unanswered question.
How’s it going to end?