Undercover policing of ‘extremists’: will we ever know the truth?

Police battle ‘anti-racist’ demonstrators during the Welling riot of 1993, when it now appears that undercover policemen were operating on both sides.

An official Undercover Policing Inquiry is under way in London, following a series of revelations about the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), an undercover unit of Metropolitan Police officers that operated against various radical political groups and individuals from 1968 to 2008.

Today’s hearings focused on famous Marxist activist Tariq Ali, born to a wealthy family in what is now Pakistan, but mainly based in England since his student days. Undercover police and MI5 officers monitored Ali going back to 1965 when he was President of the Oxford Union. Most famous for organising protests against the Vietnam War, Ali was one of the leaders of the International Marxist Group (IMG).

In relation to Tariq Ali and other less well-known targets, it has become obvious that the SDS had long-term agents inside militant ‘anti-racist’ and ‘anti-fascist’ groups. For example one heavily-redacted Special Branch document released today gave nine pages of names of anti-NF demonstrators at a march in Southwark, South London, in March 1980.

The Inquiry will later discuss SDS infiltration of anti-BNP groups in the 1990s. Earlier press revelations have included interviews with an officer who infiltrated ‘Youth Against Racism in Europe’, a front for the Trotskyist group Militant Tendency, who held one of several violent protests against the BNP bookshop in Welling, SE London.

Some accounts have suggested that undercover Met officers were present both outside the bookshop among the demonstrators, and inside the bookshop among a small group of nationalists defending the premises.

So far just two such police infiltrators inside the BNP have been named. One used the name Alan ‘Nick’ Nicholson and was supposedly active in BNP circles during 1990 and 1991. The other used the name Darren Prowse and supposedly attempted to join the BNP in 2007 before his mission was aborted.

We expect to hear more as the Inquiry progresses about the SDS role in targeting both the far left and racial nationalists. However the Inquiry is likely to ignore or hush up suggestions that the authorities deliberately stirred up violence between ‘anti-racists’ and the BNP, as well as between nominally radical racial nationalist groups and the BNP during the 1990s.

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