- Undercover officer ‘Carlo Neri’ encouraged trade unionists to firebomb a shop
- The inquiry heard that activists were told the charity shop was run by a Fascist
- Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group said Neri tried to get them sent to jail
- Undercover Policing Inquiry is looking into tactics used by two police units
An undercover police officer encouraged trade union activists to firebomb a charity shop in a bid to get them sent to prison, a public inquiry heard today.
Dave Smith, secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, said the officer was an ‘agent provocateur’ who set out to deliberately ‘entrap’ activists.
Appearing via video-link this morning, Mr Smith told chairman Sir John Mitting that the officer, known as Carlo Neri, told three unionists to firebomb the store.
Neri, who was active between 2000 and 2006, told Frank Smith, Dan Gilman and Joe Batty that the charity shop was run by an Italian Fascist, Mr Smith said.
Members of trade unions were blacklisted from construction jobs after the groups were infiltrated by undercover officers.
The Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI), which was set up in 2015 by then-home secretary Theresa May, is looking into the tactics of two police units over 40 years.
It is examining the function of the Metropolitan Police’s SDS unit, which was established amid Vietnam War protests in the late 1960s.
The SDS initially targeted only far-Left groups and those associated with Irish civil rights campaigns, but went on to snoop on the Stephen Lawrence family justice campaign and squatting activists including Piers Corbyn.
Undercover officers also allegedly compiled files on figures including former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, Lord Peter Hain and Dame Joan Ruddock because they campaigned against racism and apartheid.
‘We accuse Carlo Neri of being an agent provocateur, who deliberately set out to entrap those trade union activists and to get them sent to prison,’ Mr Smith said.
‘Carlo Neri encouraged core participants Frank Smith and Dan Gilman, and another trade union activist, Joe Batty… to firebomb a charity shop.
‘The undercover officer claimed that the charity shop was run by an Italian Fascist by the name of Roberto Fiore.
‘These people, who are trade union activists and anti-racist campaigners, completely refused to have anything to do with it because they’re not terrorists and never have been terrorists, despite how the undercover officer tried to entrap them.’
Mr Smith also said Mark Jenner, another officer sent to spy on activists, who went by the alias Mark Cassidy, breached international law through his activities with the Union of Construction, Allied Trades & Technicians (UCATT).
‘We accuse Mark Jenner… of deliberately interfering with the internal democratic processes of an independent trade union,’ he said.
‘This is in direct contravention of international law that has been ratified by the UK.’
A blacklist of construction workers was exposed in 2009 with the discovery that an organisation called the Consulting Association kept secret files on thousands of trade union members, often for raising concerns about safety on building sites. Workers on the illegal database were denied employment on construction projects.
Millions of pounds has since been paid out in compensation by some of the country’s biggest construction firms.
Mr Smith said some blacklisted workers committed suicide, while others’ wives had to work several jobs to pay the bills or even decided against having a second child because of the financial hardships of prolonged unemployment.
The UCPI is looking at two units – the Metropolitan Police SDS which existed between 1968 and 2008, and the undercover section of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), which existed between 1999 and 2010.
Part of the probe will examine the role of police intelligence gathered by undercover officers in the blacklisting operations.
But Mr Smith said: ‘We do not expect this public inquiry to provide justice.
‘Participation in this inquiry is with a slim hope… that more and more evidence will become uncovered, will come to light about this – the anti-union hostility of the upper echelons of the British secret political policing units.’
He said that instead of being transparent and open, the inquiry looked like ‘a good old-fashioned establishment cover-up’, with most observers only able to follow evidence via a live transcript of proceedings.
He also compared the inquiry’s suppression of the real name of Carlo Neri – which is already in the public domain – to ‘stepping into an alternate universe’ as in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.
‘And just to be clear, it’s the alternate universe that’s a bit sinister, where the Magisterium cling on to power by holding on to an outmoded view of the world, denying people to be able to see the truth and deciding what people are allowed to know and what they’re not allowed to know,’ he said.
Sir John’s rulings mean the cover names of 51 officers must remain secret, along with 119 of the real names of officers and staff.
The mammoth investigation is being heard in tranches by date.
The hearings will include opening statements by core participants, followed by evidence on the activities of the SDS between 1968 and 1972.
The first evidence heard by the undercover policing inquiry will focus on the roots of a shadowy Metropolitan Police unit.
Counsel to the inquiry David Barr QC previously said that the SDS was set up amid protests over the Vietnam War in the late 1960s.
There were official concerns that public anger over the issue and unrest in Europe, particularly in Paris, signalled that far-Left political groups in England and Wales were planning disorder on home soil.
Initially, the SDS, also known as the Special Operations Squad and nicknamed the Hairies because of undercover officers’ hippie appearance, targeted only far-Left groups and those associated with Irish civil rights campaigns.
At first officers were deployed undercover for weeks or months, rather than the years-long assignments seen later.
Documents from the time suggested that the unit had only a budget of a few thousand pounds per year, excluding salaries, between 1968 and 1973, whereas in fact it had funding of £500,000.
The start of the Troubles in the late 1960s is thought to have fuelled ongoing SDS interest in groups campaigning on Irish issues in England and Wales, and meant the unit continued to exist.
More than 200 witnesses, ranging from the undercover officers, their superiors, Whitehall officials and politicians, are due to give evidence to the inquiry.
Peter Skelton QC for the Met previously told the inquiry: ‘It is necessary to acknowledge the real concern about the way undercover policing has been conducted in the past.
‘The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) fully appreciates that the inquiry will be properly and directly informed by testimony of the experiences of those affected by undercover police operations.
‘The MPS is acutely aware of their continuing anger and distress.’
In his opening statement, counsel to the inquiry David Barr QC set out the background to the investigation and why it was established in 2015.
He said: ‘This inquiry has been set up as a result of profound and wide-ranging concerns arising from the activities of two undercover police units.
‘The information reported by these undercover police officers was extensive. It covered the activities of the groups in question, and their members.
‘It also extended to the groups and individuals with whom they came into contact, including elected representatives.
‘Reporting covered not only the political or campaigning activities of those concerned but other aspects of their personal lives.
‘Groups mainly on the far Left but also the far Right of the political spectrum were infiltrated, as well as groups campaigning for social, environmental or other change.’