Scotland Yard and the spy who ‘went native’
Environmental protestors have escaped prosecution, after a police mole who spied on them sensationally changed sides. Everyone’s angry – but who’s in the right?
He was the perfect protester. Confident, athletic, daring, he looked the part with his tattoos, roll-up cigarettes and long hair. And he was generous, always ready to lend a bit of cash or give lifts in his van.
But Mark Stone, eco-activist, was really Mark Kennedy, police spy.
Kennedy joined the environmental protest movement in 2003, and quickly became a well-known figure among activists. Friends from the time remember him as an 'alpha male', who was less interested in issues and discussion than in bold action.
Slowly he won the trust of a close-knit group of protesters. He may even have had a romantic relationship with one of them, living on a canal boat with the woman for years, despite, it is reported, being married with children.
So when environmentalists hatched a plan to shut down the Ratcliffe-on-Stour power station in 2009, Kennedy was one of the first to know. He led activists on reconnaissance missions, discussed ways to break into the plant, and helped hire a truck to be used in the raid.
But he also tipped off Scotland Yard. When 114 activists met in Nottingham to discuss plans, police swooped, arresting all of them.
After the arrests, Kennedy bought drinks in the pub and comforted his friends about the protest’s failure. It was then, he later claimed, that he really regretted the things he’d done.
When he was finally unmasked as a police officer in October 2010, he wept. 'I’m sorry,' he told one activist 'for everything.'
And when 6 protesters went on trial for their roles in the power station raid, Kennedy, allegedly, offered to give evidence for the defence. On Monday, the case was abandoned.
It is not known whether Mark Kennedy’s offer was the cause. However, one lawyer said: 'one has to ask if the police were facing up to the possibility their undercover agent had turned native.'
Kennedy had become close to his activist friends and had begun to accept their arguments for the environmentalist cause. Yes, their actions might be illegal, they could have said, but they were necessary in order to save the planet.
However everyone, and especially a policeman, has a duty to obey their employers and to uphold the law. The activists were planning to trespass on private land and to illegally shut down a legitimate business. Surely he was obliged to stop them?
In the end, Kennedy was trapped in a conflict of principles, with the law on one side and his new found cause on the other.
- Is it ever right to break the law in order to do what you think is right? If so when?
- When is it right for the police to use undercover officers? And what sort of rules do you think should govern how they behave?
- 'It is never right to break the law'. Prepare a short speech arguing either for, or against, this proposition.
- Do some research into the history of people 'going native'. Write a short essay explaining what the term means. Why might the term be controversial?
Some People Say...
“We should ignore all laws and just do what we think is right.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Who was Mark Kennedy working for?
- He was working for the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (the NPIOU), a special branch of the Metropolitan Police at Scotland Yard. The NPIOU was set up to keep watch on extremist protestors and activists in areas like environmentalism or animal rights.
- Are there many undercover officers?
- There are. Undercover officers generally try to infiltrate drug gangs, terrorist organisations or organised crime. But Mark Kennedy is said to have revealed that there were many at work among environmentalists.
- But how dangerous can environmentalists be?
- It’s debatable. They aren’t known for violence (unlike some animal rights activists, whose tactics can be extreme). However, illegal protests at power stations, for example, can cost companies a lot of money, and disrupt important services.