'Systematic sexism'

Spy cop victim’s complaint upheld – but perpetrator faces no consequences

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Unite has welcomed the news that a spy cops victim is one step closer to justice after an internal police investigation has found ‘credible evidence’ she was duped into an intimate sexual relationship with an undercover police officer. But the union has criticised the fact that the perpetrator will not be held accountable for his actions.


Known as ‘Jessica’, the animal rights activist was deceived into a relationship in 1992 when she was only 19 with 32-year-old police officer Andy Coles who had posed as 24-year-old activist. He infiltrated animal rights groups and maintained the relationship with Jessica for over a year.


Part of the undercover Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), Coles would later go on to write a manual used to train other police officers on forming undercover relationships. He wrote that intimate relationships with women should be ‘fleeting and disastrous’.


When his story of deception first came to light in 2017, Coles, who then served as Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, denied Jessica’s claims and dismissed them as ‘lurid’. Still, despite the denials, he resigned from his position as commissioner. He still holds his seat as a Tory councillor for Peterborough Council.


Now, an investigation by Scotland Yard has officially upheld Jessica’s complaint. If Coles hadn’t already retired from policing in 2013, the investigation found he would have had a case to answer over gross misconduct – an offence for which he would likely be sacked.


Jessica is also pursuing a case against the Met, which have said they will no longer contest the case and will now move to discuss compensation.


Jessica is only one among countless women who were deceived into intimate relationships with undercover police officers over the last several decades. Speaking to the BBC, she told of how her harrowing experience has left lasting damage.


“I have problems sleeping, and some pretty awful nightmares,” she said. “I have lost friends and people I’m close to over this. I’m on medication now and just have to try and fight my way through it.”


Unite has long supported the Police Spies out of Lives campaign to expose undercover police officers who systematically infiltrated social justice campaign groups, including trade unions.


In 2018, a database compiled by the Undercover Research Group and the Guardian showed that 124 mainly left-leaning organisations – including trade unions and anti-racist groups – were spied on for decades by undercover police.


A public inquiry into undercover policing was opened in 2015 but nearly five years later, it has yet to hear any evidence at all. The inquiry, one of the longest-running in British history, has come under fire for its slow progress and lack of transparency. Of the 160 police officers still alive who were part of the now disbanded Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) unit, 100 requested anonymity as part of the inquiry – inquiry chair Lord Mitting granted two-thirds of these requests.


It is estimated that the inquiry’s final report will not be published until 2023.


Jessica welcomed today’s news that her complaint was upheld but decried the “lack of accountability”.


“Andy Coles was allowed to retire in 2013 at a time when the revelations about undercover officers having sexual relationships and even children with unsuspecting women had started to come out,” she said. “I would like to know what his superior officers knew or ought to have known about our relationship. Was he properly supervised?”


Jessica highlighted the case of Kate Wilson who is in court later this week fighting to find answers to what happened to her. Like Jessica, Kate was an environmental activist deceived into a relationship by an undercover cop.


“Her relationship with an undercover police officer happened decades after mine,” Jessica said. “This is not historic abuse. It’s systematic and institutionalised sexism in the police.”


Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail agreed and said much more must be done to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes.


“Unite has been proud to support Police Spies Out of Lives campaign and the coalition of campaigns to expose undercover policing,” she said. “The targeting of individuals engaged in legitimate campaign and trade unions is a chilling undercurrent of ‘secret state’ tactics that have no place in a democracy. Yet the intrusion into women’s lives, the false intimate relationships for political policing ends is beyond hideous. In the shadow of the Weinstein verdict where quite rightly that perpetrator of predatory sexual assault and rape will be imprisoned, the women survivors of undercover police intrusion deserve no lesser verdicts.”

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