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'These men were trained liars' - women duped into relationships with undercover police call for Irish inquiry

Activist “Lisa” was in a six-year relationship with undercover UK police officer Mark Kennedy before she exposed him in 2011.

mk1 Mark Kennedy Source: BBC

It feels more like the plot of a film when I tell it.

A NUMBER OF women who discovered that they were in relationships with undercover British policemen have called for a public inquiry in Ireland to determine whether the gardaí had a working understanding in place with those undercover agents when they were present here.

Several of those British agents have been exposed as having embarked on long-term relationships with female protesters and activists – women who were involved in activist actions on Irish soil like the Mayo Shell-to-Sea protests between 2004 and 2006 or the 2004 Dublin May Day demonstrations, women who had no idea who their partners really were.

Seven such officers have been exposed, men who were deployed over at least a 20-year-period, often in Ireland, returning home to their wives and families when they were not called upon to infiltrate social and environmental activist causes.

The exposure of the undercover police officers led to eight women taking human rights and common law claims against the London Metropolitan Police in the UK High Court. That action eventually saw the Met delivering an unqualified apology, as well as admitting full liability regarding the relationships, to four of those women.

Meanwhile, on foot of the revelations, the Pitchford Inquiry was launched in 2015 to investigate the circumstances whereby women in protest movements were allegedly tricked into relationships in England and Wales.

13 British men and women, under the banner Police Spies Out Of Lives, are now campaigning for full inquiries to be launched in other countries across Europe in which they and the undercover agents were present on multiple occasions during their relationships – including Ireland.

At present, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, and Germany have all been excluded from inquiries into the nature of the undercover assignments. The most recent movement on the subject saw Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan raising his “concerns” regarding the issue with UK Secretary for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire in February.

Targeted

The four women who have thus far received apologies from the Met recently wrote to Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald to ask “why they were targeted in Ireland for abusive relationships by UK undercover officers”.

shutterstock_419140285 Source: Shutterstock/Kokulina

They are also asking: who authorised the undercover operations in Ireland; whether or not gardaí hold files on them and if so why can’t they access them; how the Irish state might justify such undercover officers having “intimate relationships” with those women “in violation of their human rights”; and how many other UK agents operated in Ireland.

One of the four, ‘Lisa’ (a pseudonym – her anonymity has been guaranteed by the UK courts), was in a relationship with possibly the best known of the now-exposed officers, Mark Kennedy, for six years between 2004 and 2010.

It was Lisa who eventually established not only that Kennedy (who she knew as Mark Stone) was secretly a police officer, but also that he was married with two children. And it was she who exposed his true nature.

“When I found out what he was, I let it be known in the activist community, where it quickly became public knowledge. From there it suddenly became massive news,” she told TheJournal.ie this week.

“He was my partner for six years. We were as close as anyone in such a relationship could have been.”

He was at my father’s funeral. He’d met my family. We did everything together, or so I thought. He ‘worked away a lot’. I now know that he was married with a family, who lived in Ireland, and that he travelled there every time he was on leave.
It feels more like the plot of a film when I tell it.

Activist Lisa was already in a relationship with Kennedy before she first came to Ireland for the Rossport demonstrations against the Corrib gas (Shell-to-Sea) pipeline in Co Mayo in late 2006. He had already embarked on one previous tryst in the protesting community with another activist, Kate Wilson. On the way back from Rossport, Lisa met Kennedy “for a holiday, what I thought was a social visit”. “Possibly his handlers didn’t know he was meeting me. But the key is he had already been arrested in Ireland before (in 2004 at the May Day riots in Dublin). So the authorities certainly knew who he was.”

mk2 Source: BBC

Kennedy was tall and lean and charming, heavily tattooed with long hair. He claimed to be a climber. He certainly didn’t look like a police officer. Yet police officer he was.

Over the next six years he lived the quintessential double life, travelling with the activist community and his partner from place to place and country to country, participating in protests (the building of the Karahnjukar Dam in Iceland; the Drax power station in Yorkshire, England; anarchist movements in Germany), and all the while remaining in contact multiple times daily with his 24-hour handling officer in the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) of the Metropolitan Police, giving away strategic details of what the protesters were up to.

He claimed to Channel Four News in 2012 that he had saved the UK taxpayer “millions of pounds” via his actions, “working nearly 24 hours a day for years”.

Asked whether or not he had ever “gone native”, his response was simple: “No I didn’t.”

Looking back on things, Lisa says that perhaps the evidence was hiding in plain sight.

“I was at my fair share of demonstrations that didn’t go according to plan because the police knew what we were about to do and were ready,” she says. “Even surprise demos at power stations and the like, and they would have been there before us.”

But that’s hindsight. At the time I found out about his double life I had absolutely no idea who he really was. It came as a total shock.

Acting strangely

She first began to suspect that something was awry with Kennedy/Stone in 2010, when he returned from a prolonged absence and “started acting a bit strangely”.

“He seemed depressed, a lot less stable, more unpredictable. Now talking to other women who’ve been through the same I know it’s a classic sign that an agent is to end their deployment. They come to just before they leave,” she says.

Then we were on holiday together and I found his passport, and I realised I hadn’t ever really seen it before. It had a different surname and it said he had a dependent. I had no idea he had kids.

That led Lisa to start doing some rooting of her own. She investigated Kennedy’s emails and his phone. She found another phone with texts addressing him as ‘Dad’. At first Kennedy denied everything, and had an explanation ready to go, something Lisa suspects is probably part of an undercover agent’s cover.

At the time you don’t believe that you can be caught up in something like that. You know these guys exist, but it was like a movie. It was just too dramatic. So it’s easier to give him the benefit of the doubt. But then his lies started to fall apart a bit, and he kept changing his story. So I looked harder, I looked deeper.

What she found were a series of official certificates, and not in the name of Mark Stone, but under the title of the stranger whose passport she had found. She found a marriage certificate, and then a birth certificate for one of Kennedy’s children, whose father’s occupation was listed as ‘police officer’.

Source: Channel 4 News/YouTube

“And then he just couldn’t deny it any longer. It was such a strange game, because I was also getting a taster of what it’s like to live a double life. It wasn’t just him, I was doing it too, living normally and delving into his life while he wasn’t looking,” Lisa says. “He finally admitted it at the end of 2010.”

She doesn’t see the fact that she ended up in a relationship with Kennedy as any sort of coincidence, citing the Met Police whistleblower Peter Francis’ assertion that using married officers and encouraging them to form physical relationships with those they were investigating was actual police policy.

“He says that it was deliberate policy because it meant that these guys would have something to come home to, to fall back on. I’m sure Mark’s wife knew he was an undercover agent for example. But I doubt she knew about me,” she says. “The officers I’m sure were encouraged to have relationships to deepen their cover”.

There was a systematic disregard for all these women on both sides. It was totally devastating. And most of their marriages broke down.

Lisa hasn’t had a relationship since. “I’ve rebuilt my life but I’ve had no relationships, no. There’s too much work to be done in getting answers. I mean a lot of times we went to places and I thought we were on holiday. I still don’t know to this day if we went to certain places because he’d been sent there? Were we alone? When we were in Ireland was Mark being tracked by the Irish state? Did someone else know we were there? It’s really hard to move on from something like this when you don’t have the answers.”

Was Kennedy remorseful when he was finally exposed? Does she have any sympathy for the situation he found himself in?

“Was he remorseful? It’s really hard to say. You have to remember this person was a trained manipulator and liar. When we exposed him he looked and acted like a complete mess (other activists recorded phone calls at the time with Kennedy where he professed to be distraught with what he had done).”

Source: Northernvoicesmag/YouTube

He lost everything. His life and family and his undercover family as well. He was really screwed over as well. I don’t think he even knew who he was in the end.

She has theories as to how Kennedy, and the other men in his position (like fellow exposed agents Mark Jenner, who operated in Northern Ireland, and John Dines) end up in such a situation. Giving as much as a decade of their life to a lie.

“Maybe he thought it was exciting to begin with. Living out a fantasy like. There were lots of things he didn’t get to do in his real life. He went climbing, he was in a band. It was a good life. I could see how someone would get attached to that,” she says. “He had a picture of himself with his face covered at the May Day riots in Dublin on his wall.”

Maybe he even had that little boy thing of pretending to be, or wanting to be, James Bond.

Limited sympathy

Her sympathy is limited though: “At the end of the day he knew he was going to leave and I didn’t”.

“In Germany activists compared such undercover operations to how the Stasi (the secret police in what was formerly East Germany) had operated. But at least those people finally saw their files. We still haven’t.”

From an Irish standpoint, the key question is how much the gardaí and Department of Justice knew about undercover operatives like Kennedy’s activities.

Last month, The Times revealed that former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan had defended in 2011 any “confidential” arrangements the gardaí might make with foreign policing bodies.

That revelation was contained in a secret Department of Justice report that was finally released to The Times under Freedom of Information after Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald had rendered its secrecy moot by speaking of it in Dáil Éireann. It is this report which inspired the four women to write to the Irish government demanding answers.

90242690_90242690 Martin Callinan

In a letter (which can be read here) to the Secretary General of the Department of Justice in March 2011, Callinan defended the arrangement, saying “the use of such agents/police officers from other jurisdictions is a recognised and necessary tactic in the special circumstances where external activists with a track record of violence and whose identities are unknown to local police seek to shape and control violent protest actions”, and adding that such arrangements are “vital for national security arrangements”.

In response to a query from TheJournal.ie, a Garda spokesperson said the force “cooperates with external police services, on intelligence related matters, as circumstances dictate”.

Such cooperation is governed by strict protocols relating to conduct and confidentiality.

The Department of Justice meanwhile says that “no evidence has been established that the person in question (Kennedy) had been involved in any criminal activity while in this jurisdiction”.

“If any evidence of any criminal wrongdoing is available it should be brought to the Garda authorities in order that it might be fully investigated. There could be no question of any person being permitted to engage in criminal activities here in any circumstances,” a spokesperson said, adding that a “fresh report” had been requested by Minister Frances Fitzgerald from Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan regarding “any issues arising” from the establishment of the Pitchford Inquiry. However:

In that context there are no plans to establish a further form of inquiry at this time.

Recovery

Lisa says that the activist community, from which she has since mostly withdrawn (“I don’t want to meet another one” is her simple explanation as to why), has recovered “pretty well”.

Everyone was reeling. I mean you don’t want to be suspicious of any newcomers. But then how do we know who’s an undercover cop? The most important thing is to carry on, and not to be constantly suspicious.

Things did not go particularly well for Kennedy following his exposure. He finally left the police force and had his actions disavowed by his superiors, who claimed in a 2012 HMIC (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary) report regarding the UK’s undercover policing of activism that Kennedy had become “resistant to management intervention” over time, “defied instruction”, and “worked outside the parameters” of his role.

But Lisa is certain of one thing – despite assurances from the likes of the Metropolitan Police that such undercover programmes have been disbanded, they haven’t gone away.

“I’m sure they still exist, although maybe in a different way. We just have to keep making it really hard for them to operate in the way they did. Assurances that it’s not happening are hard to believe unfortunately.”

For her, at least the subject is now “easier to talk about”.

“I didn’t do any interviews for ages, but he had done so many I didn’t want to be looked at in that way. I didn’t want to be sensationalist about it,” she says.

Meeting the other women who had been through the same experience was “kind of comforting, and kind of not”. There was some release in the knowledge that others had been through the same trauma. One of the other women, ‘Alison’ (also a pseudonym), had been in a five-year live-in relationship with Mark Jenner in the 1990s. That ended when he quite literally disappeared from her life one day in 2000 without explanation.

“When Helen (Steel, who had been in a long-term relationship with John Dines) contacted me, and told me that something very similar had happened to her, I was in a terrible state,” says Lisa.

“She wanted to bring a legal case, and I wasn’t interested – this was done by the State, what chance would we have I thought? But we found a lawyer, and they were interested. And we won.”

So it’s comforting, and it’s not. It is definitely good for us that we met each other. But it turned out it wasn’t a one-off thing. It was deliberate policy. That is not so comforting.

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