McLibel leaflet co-written by undercover police officer Bob Lambert
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Sat Jun 22 20:39:59 BST 2013
Many of us knew Dave and Helen well
- makes me wonder if TLIO was ever targeted by the same Stasi tactics?
McLibel leaflet was co-written by undercover police officer Bob Lambert
Exclusive: McDonald's sued green activists in
long-running David v Goliath legal battle, but police role only now exposed
Paul Lewis and Rob Evans - The Guardian, Friday 21 June 2013 14.54 BST
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Bob Lambert posed as a radical activist named Bob Robinson.
An undercover police officer posing for years as
an environmental activist co-wrote a libellous
leaflet that was highly critical of McDonald's,
and which led to the longest civil trial in
English history, costing the fast-food chain millions of pounds in fees.
The true identity of one of the authors of the
"McLibel leaflet" is Bob Lambert, a police
officer who used the alias Bob Robinson in his
five years infiltrating the London Greenpeace
group, is revealed in a new book about undercover
policing of protest, published next week.
McDonald's famously sued green campaigners over
the roughly typed leaflet, in a landmark
three-year high court case, that was widely
believed to have been a public relations disaster
for the corporation. Ultimately the company won a
libel battle in which it spent millions on lawyers.
Lambert was deployed by the special demonstration
squad (SDS) a top-secret Metropolitan police
unit that targeted political activists between
1968 until 2008, when it was disbanded. He
co-wrote the defamatory six-page leaflet in 1986
and his role in its production has been the
subject of an internal Scotland Yard investigation for several months.
At no stage during the civil legal proceedings
brought by McDonald's in the 1990s was it
disclosed that a police infiltrator helped author the leaflet.
The McLibel two: Helen Steel and David Morris,
outside a branch of McDonald's in London in 2005
after winning their case in the European court of
human rights. Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian
A spokesman for the Met said the force
"recognises the seriousness of the allegations of
inappropriate behaviour and practices involving
past undercover deployments". He added that a
number of allegations surrounding the undercover
officers were currently being investigated by a
team overseen by the chief constable of Derbyshire police, Mick Creedon.
And in remarks that come closest to acknowledging
the scale of the scandal surrounding police
spies, the spokesman said: "At some point it will
fall upon this generation of police leaders to
account for the activities of our predecessors,
but for the moment we must focus on getting to the truth."
Lambert declined to comment about his role in the
production of the McLibel leaflet. However, he
previously offered a general apology for
deceiving "law abiding members of London
Greenpeace", which he said was a peaceful campaign group.
Lambert, who rose through the ranks to become a
spymaster in the SDS, is also under investigation
for sexual relationships he had with four women
while undercover, one of whom he fathered a child
with before vanishing from their lives. The woman
and her son only discovered that Lambert was a police spy last year.
The internal police inquiry is also investigating
claims raised in parliament that Lambert ignited
an incendiary device at a branch of Debenhams
when infiltrating animal rights campaigners. The
incident occurred in 1987 and the explosion
inflicted £300,000 worth of damage to the branch
in Harrow, north London. Lambert has previously
strongly denied he planted the incendiary device in the Debenhams store.
While McDonald's won the initial legal battle,
at great expense, it was seen as a PR disaster.
Photograph: Image Broker/Rex Features
Lambert's role in helping compose the McLibel
leaflet is revealed in 'Undercover: The True
Story of Britain's Secret Police', which is
published next week. An extract from the book
will be published in the Guardian Weekend
magazine. A joint Guardian/Channel 4
investigation into undercover policing will be
broadcast on Dispatches on Monday evening.
Lambert was one of two SDS officers who
infiltrated London Greenpeace; the second, John
Dines, had a two-year relationship with Helen
Steel, who later became the co-defendant in the
McLibel case. The book reveals how Steel became
the focus of police surveillance operations. She
had a sexual relationship with Dines, before he
also disappeared without a trace.
Dines gained access to the confidential legal
advice given to Steel and her co-defendant that
was written by Keir Starmer, then a barrister
known for championing radical causes. The lawyer
was advising the activists on how to defend
themselves against McDonald's. He is now the
director of public prosecutions in England and Wales.
Lambert was lauded by colleagues in the covert
unit for his skilful infiltration of animal
rights campaigners and environmentalists in the
1980s. He succeeded in transforming himself from
a special branch detective into a long-haired
radical activist who worked as a cash-in-hand
gardener. He became a prominent member of London
Greenpeace, around the time it began campaigning
against McDonald's in 1985. The leaflet he helped
write made wide-ranging criticisms of the
company, accusing it of destroying the
environment, exploiting workers and selling junk food.
Four sources who were either close to Lambert at
the time, or involved in the production of the
leaflet, have confirmed his role in composing the
libellous text. Lambert confided in one of his
girlfriends from the era, although he appeared
keen to keep his participation hidden. "He did
not want people to know he had co-written it," Belinda Harvey said.
Paul Gravett, a London Greenpeace campaigner,
said the spy was one of a small group of around
five activists who drew up the leaflet over
several months. Another close friend from the
time recalls Lambert was really proud of the
leaflet. "It was like his baby, he carried it
around with him," the friend said.
When Lambert's undercover deployment ended in
1989, he vanished, claiming that he had to flee
abroad because he was being pursued by special
branch. None of his friends or girlfriends
suspected that special branch was his employer.
It was only later that the leaflet Lambert helped
to produce became the centre of the huge trial.
Even though the activists could only afford to
distribute a few hundred copies of the leaflet,
McDonald's decided to throw all of its legal
might at the case, suing two London Greenpeace activists for libel.
Two campaigners Steel, who was then a part-time
bartender, and an unemployed postal worker, Dave
Morris unexpectedly stood their ground and refused to apologise.
Steel and Morris outside the high court at the
start of the first proceedings in the McLibel
trial in 1990. Photograph: Photofusion/UIG/ Getty Images
Over 313 days in the high court, the pair
defended themselves, with pro bono assistance
from Starmer, as they could not afford to hire
any solicitors or barristers. In contrast,
McDonald's hired some of the best legal minds at
an estimated cost of £10m. During the trial,
legal argument largely ignored the question of
who wrote the McLibel leaflet, focusing instead
on its distribution to members of the public.
In 1997, a high court judge ruled that much of
the leaflet was libellous and ordered the two
activists to pay McDonald's £60,000 in damages.
This sum was reduced on appeal to £40,000 but
McDonald's never enforced payment.
It was a hollow victory for the company; the
long-running trial had exposed damaging stories
about its business and the quality of the food it
was selling to millions of customers around the
world. The legal action, taking advantage of
Britain's much-criticised libel laws, was seen as
a heavy handed and intimidating way of crushing
criticism. However, the role of undercover police
in the story remained, until now, largely unknown.
On Friday, Morris said the campaign against the
burger chain was successful "despite the odds
overwhelmingly stacked against us in the legal
system and up against McDonald's massive and
relentless advertising and propaganda machine.
"We now know that other shadowy forces were also
trying to undermine our efforts in the most
disgusting, but ultimately futile ways. All over
the world police and secret agents infiltrate
opposition movements in order to protect the rich
and powerful but as we have seen in so many
countries recently people power and the pursuit
of truth and justice is unstoppable, even faced
with the most repressive and unacceptable Stasi-like tactics."
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