She met him at one of the largest protests in UK history. As a million people marched through the streets of London demonstrating against the war in Iraq, there he was – her one in a million, a steward for the march.
He was charming and easy to talk to; popular among those in her social circle who believed in fighting for a better world.
So began a whirlwind romance for Unite member Andrea* whose involvement in social justice causes formed the bedrock of her relationship with Carlo – theirs was no superficial infatuation but by all accounts a meeting of minds.
Within six weeks, he moved in. They would go on holiday together. He got to know her family, although he was always guarded about her meeting his.
But then, one year in, he started to change. He became volatile and distant. He would disappear for days on end. Andrea put it down to his father’s ailing health and problems with his family. But one day, Carlo moved out and took everything with him. He eventually cut off all contact — for all intents and purposes, he vanished.
The pain of an intensely close relationship ending so seemingly abruptly was for Andrea naturally devastating. But the truth she would learn years later would be more than she could bear.
Invented by the state
In 2015, Andrea discovered that Carlo was no social justice campaigner; he was not passionate about ending the war; his trade union activism was all a lie. The Carlo she knew – ‘Carlo Neri’ – wasn’t even his real name. In fact, all the things she thought her partner was served only as a cover to work against the very ideals she held so dear.
While ‘Carlo’ was ‘at work’ – he told Andrea he was a locksmith – he was out spying on others, including trade unionists like Unite member Frank Smith, who would later be blacklisted from work in construction.
Andrea is one of several women involved in trade unions, environmental, anti-racist and other left-wing groups who’ve fallen victim to police spying. These women have paid the ultimate price in the spycops scandal because it wasn’t just their privacy that was violated, but the most intimate parts of themselves – their bodies and their spirits.
“It’s one of the most disorienting things you can ever imagine,” she told UniteLive. “A huge part of your life has been an entire cover for someone’s fiction. But for you it’s your real life.
“When you’re so deeply involved with someone at that level – they spend time with your family, they live in your house, they go on holiday with you – for an extended period of time; to find out later that they didn’t exist; that they were invented by the state – it’s mind blowing.
“It takes a lot of time and reflection to figure out what it all means. You start to question everything; start to question yourself — what happened in the past; the decisions you’ve made.”
High court case
Andrea this week joined Unite at a Police Spies Out of Lives demo in support of Monica*, an environmental activist and another victim in the spycops scandal whose case was heard at the High Court this week (November 13 and 14).
Like Andrea, Monica was deceived into a relationship with an undercover police officer, Jim Boyling, who went on to have relationships with two other women, including one with whom he had children, while he worked undercover.
The Metropolitan Police issued an unprecedented apology in 2015 to the women who had formed relationships with these undercover officers. The Met even admitted that the way in which the women were duped into these relationships was a violation of the women’s human rights, including the right to privacy and the right to freedom from torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment.
Despite the apology, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has refused to prosecute any of the officers involved. Monica appealed the decision, but the CPS wouldn’t budge. Now, her case has been taken to the highest court for a judicial review of the CPS’ failure to charge Boyling with sexual offences, include rape, and misconduct in public office.
“I am challenging this decision on behalf of all the women who have been deceived into intimate relationships with undercover officers,” Monica said ahead of the hearing. “Relationships in which we gave the best of ourselves to people whose sole purpose was to deceive.
“If I had known that Boyling was a serving MPS officer, paid to deceive, control and manipulate the environmental direct action group of which I was part I could never have consented to sexual intimacy with such an individual.”
Unite national officer for equalities Siobhan Endean said that Unite is fully committed in its support for women like Monica.
“Monica was peace campaigner, a campaigner for our environment, for justice – that’s not something the police need to be spying on,” she said. “It’s not in any way a justifiable use of police resources.
“We want to make sure that this never happens again – trade union activists need to be informed about the decisions that were taken and to ensure that there is fairness, transparency and justice in the future so that police are never allowed to form intimate relationships and get involved in our families that’s caused irrevocable damage.”
Monica told UniteLive that her case goes to the very heart of what the state is, what it should be and who it should be for.
“Especially in the time that we live environmentally, if we’re limiting the creative voice of alternatives then we’re limiting our chances of survival,” she said. “We should be supporting people who are raising these issues, not spying on them.
“I know they might be trying their best but institutions such as the CPS and the police and government start out with good intentions and end up being corrupt. That corruption must end – or else we won’t find the really important answers we need at this time when our survival as a human race is under threat.”
Andrea agreed that their story goes beyond them as individual women whose lives were turned upside down.
“We sit in the middle of so many anti-democratic scandals, from Stephen Lawrence, whose justice campaign was also infiltrated, to blacklisting in construction and others,” she said. “This isn’t only about sexism and misogyny; it’s about race; it’s about class. That’s why it’s vital that we have the backing of the whole trade union family, including Unite, who have been incredibly supportive. One of the main reasons some of us were targeted was to infiltrate trade unions. We have that direct link.”
“Beneath all the secrecy and lies and shredding of documents there’s the truth. And we need to find that truth, both for our own personal healing — and for justice.”
*Names changed to protect identity.