Death, grief, and undercover cops
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