activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Tag: mark kennedy

united kingdom’s top criminal court overturns convictions of twenty-nine climate change activists

In June 2008, climate change activists ambushed a freight train carrying coal to Europe’s largest coal-fired power station, Drax. An undercover Metropolitan police officer, Mark Kennedy, played a role in the protest. According to today’s Guardian article,

… the train was stopped by two men posing as Network Rail staff, wearing orange jackets and hard hats, who held up a red flag. Moments later, the train and a nearby bridge were scaled by the protesters wearing white paper boiler suits and carrying banners. The protest lasted 16 hours, causing delays to numerous freight and passenger services and the clean-up operation cost Network Rail nearly £37,000.

Today the United Kingdom’s top criminal court overturned the 29 activists’ convictions, because the prosecution failed to disclose Kennedy’s involvement and related evidence during the trial. This is the third case in the past few years in which charges have been dropped, or convictions overturned, because Kennedy’s involvement and related evidence was suppressed. Kennedy spent seven years infiltrating left-wing protest groups, traveling to 11 countries on 40 occasions, and slept with at least three female activists.

undercover police cultivated intimate relationships with activists to spy on radical groups

Does the law allow state agents to develop sexual relationships with the people on whom they intend to gain intelligence? In the UK, six undercover officers cultivated relationships with several women while infiltrating environmental and social justice groups between the mid-1980s and 2010. The relationships ranged from 7 months to many years.

In December 2011, eight of the women brought legal claims against the Metropolitan Police. (A separate case involves a woman who had a child with an undercover officer she believed was a fellow animal rights activist.) According to a press release announcing the legal action,

Through their collective experiences the women have identified a pattern that covers more than two decades of police operations and is therefore indicative of systemic abuse of female political activists involved in a range of different groups. … After the women formed loving relationships with these men, they disappeared when their posting ended, leaving the women to cope with the trauma of not knowing whether or not the person they were in love with would return, not knowing if they should be worried or angry and trying to discover what was real and what was not.

The police sought to have the case heard in a secret court, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), in which complainants cannot see the state’s evidence, have no guaranteed right to an oral hearing, and cannot appeal. Yesterday the High Court in London granted the officers’ application for a secret hearing as to the claims under the Human Rights Act, but rejected their application as to the common law claims (e.g., deceit, negligence, and assault). While the common law claims will not be heard in secret, those claims will now be put on hold pending the verdict of the IPT on the claims under the Human Rights Act.