Mark Stone appeared at Nottingham’s Sumac Centre in 2003. He established a persona, dribbling out bits of his cover story piecemeal: he’d been involved in drug running; he’d made a lot of money; he was looking for a new direction. He quickly wormed his way into a community of vegans, leftists and activists. He was generous and a bit of a lad. Two years later, he was involved in the G8 summit protests and feeding intelligence back to his handler. Mark Stone was an undercover cop.
Born Mark Kennedy, his father a policeman, he got his start in life as a court usher, then joined the force himself. He married, had children, settled down into a cosy suburban lifestyle. Almost as if to compensate for such conformity, he took up rock climbing and started riding motorbikes. A passion for long-distance running begs cheap Freudian analysis: Mark Kennedy as a middle-class middle-achiever who wanted to break free from a “normal” life.
In the late nineties, he started working undercover for the drugs squad, posing as a buyer. His success rate brought him to the attention of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU). He was recruited to go deep cover as part of Operation Pegasus. He would target left-wing environmental groups. He would gather information. He would befriend people – live with them; sometimes sleep with them – and turn them in. He would be expected to maintain his cover story for several years. Kennedy responded enthusiastically; he transformed himself into Stone. Very quickly, he acquired his targets and got close to them. It seemed like a job he was born to do. But gradually Kennedy/Stone would come to question who he actually was; and where his loyalties lay.
By the time of the G8 protests, he was in charge of logistics for a key environmental campaign group. That same year, he travelled to Iceland to protest against the controversial dam construction project at Mount Karahnjukur. Stone’s then girlfriend chained herself to one of the huge earthmoving trucks and when a workman, with no regard to the campaigners’ lives, started up the vehicle and tried to drive it forward, Stone waded in unhesitatingly. He clambered onto the truck, managed to get the bonnet open, and yanked at cables and joints until the engine died.
It was the kind of derring-do that earned him serious kudos with his comrades. But was it also the point at which Stone became the dominant personality, not Kennedy? Or did it happen in 2006, at the Climate Camp protest at Drax power station. Here, Stone witnessed a female activist trying to crawl through a cut section of wire fencing. When the very officers his intelligence had tipped off broke ground and began assaulting the woman, striking the back of her legs with batons, Stone broke the golden rule of undercover operatives. He was supposed, at all times, to remain on the periphery of direct action, not to participate, and certainly not engage with fellow officers. But that’s exactly what he did, taking on half a dozen of them. Predictably, Stone came off worse: a prolapsed disc, forehead gashed, fingersbroken and extensive bruising.
As he railed against his bosses that the officers involved should be penalised, Stone’s reputation at the NPOIU began to tarnish. The golden boy who had the inside track was becoming a loose cannon – unpredictable, dissenting and unwilling to follow protocol. It all came to a head at a primary school in Sneinton in 2009. Stone had been drafted in to provide logistics for a daringly conceived act of environmental protest: the occupation, and forced closure for a week, of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station.
Somewhere in the region of 150 activists, from across the UK, converged on the Iona School. The facility was closed for the Easter holidays; one of the protestors had a set of keys. The plan was to depart for Ratcliffe-on-Soar under the cover of night: zero hour was 3am. Nobody made it to the power station. 200 officers in full riot squad gear entered the school just after midnight. There were 114 arrests. Awkwardly for his superiors, Stone was one of them.
What happened next was catastrophic to the NPOIU and blew the lid off a culture of undercover policing that stretched back to the formation of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) under Conrad Dixon in 1968. The story of the SDS, the NPOIU, the double lives of their operatives and the psychological toll of living a lie twenty-four-seven is told in Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police by Guardian journalists Rob Evans and Paul Lewis. When The Guardian published its exposé of Kennedy in January 2011, it was hammerblow to the prosecution case against the activists (charges against Kennedy had been quietly dropped). It also started a chain reaction, with Pete Black – another veteran of years-long deep cover operations – coming forward; and the very public shaming of Dixon’s protégé Bob Lambert, a man notorious for going to highly intimate and inappropriate lengths in his surveillance of the McLibel protestors.
The book demonstrates unflinchingly that no-one who undertakes this kind of role comes
away without severe psychological scarring, and that readjustment is often impossible. The fallout includes ruined marriages, alcoholism, confused identities and PTSD exacerbated by the lack of any provision for counselling or reorientation post-mission. These officers were simply expected to trot back to a desk job as if the four or five or – in Kennedy’s case – seven years they’d just spent living as a totally different person didn’t matter.
The fallout for Kennedy involved an attempt, even after he’d left the NPOIU and taken on work as a security consultant, to recreate his past life of Stone. His reappearance in Nottingham raised suspicions, not least because his behaviour was erratic. He didn’t seem to be the same person. Had the mask slipped, or the personas merged? No way of telling. Kennedy did not cooperate with Evans and Lewis in the writing of Undercover. He was, however, the subject of a Channel 4 documentary, Confessions of an Undercover Cop, while the testimonies of those who knew him form the basis of Jason Kirkpatrick’s film Spied On which had its premiere at Broadway Cinema in October.
It is Evans and Lewis’s book, though, that gives the widest context of Kennedy’s story while acknowledging that, in terms of what has been made public about the SDS and the NPOIU, this may only be the tip of the iceberg. Undercover ends on a downbeat note: a parliamentary committee headed by Sir Denis O’Connor was set up to investigate the NPOIU; it returned a flotilla of recommendations designed to clean up the department’s act. None have been initiated. Police officers are still going undercover, infiltrating anti-racist groups, environmental campaigns, left-wing collectives, anything the government chooses to include under the all-inclusive heading “domestic extremism”.
There’s an old joke: just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not really out to get you. Read Undercover. You’ll find the joke isn’t funny anymore.