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Undercover & InfoWar Ops in Yorkshire (5) Special/Ports Branch

November 12, 2017 Police

Undercover & InfoWar Ops in Yorkshire (5) Special/Ports Branch



This is the fifth article on the subject of undercover and information warfare operations in Yorkshire.

The first covered the influence of the military on armed and undercover police operations and can be read here: Undercover and Information Warfare Operations in Yorkshire 1

The second covered the influence of the military on police information warfare operations and can be read here: Undercover and Information Warfare Operations in Yorkshire 2

The third covered information warfare operations by Local Government Organisations and can be read here: Undercover and Information Warfare Operations in Yorkshire 3

The fourth covered information warfare operations by public bodies, in this case North Yorkshire Police (NYP) and the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (OPCCNY) and can be read here: Undercover and Information Warfare Operations in Yorkshire 4

Update to: UIWOY 1 Undercover Policing. 

UIWOY 1 Undercover Policing covers the impact of undercover policing in North Yorkshire and the effect this has had on the undercover policing relationships scandal and is really an update to the undercover operations part of Undercover and Information Warfare Operations in Yorkshire 1. In the original article I stated that I was unaware of any Special Branch Operations in North Yorkshire. Being a part time citizen journalist and having to research the articles in my spare time, I did not have time to fully research this aspect of the article. However, I have now had time to complete my inquiries and have been able to give more information on some of the operations conducted by “the Branch” (as they are known in the police) in North Yorkshire.

On this basis, in accordance with the above editorial policy, I am publishing an update to UIWOY 1 Undercover Policing, covering some of the Special Branch Operations in North Yorkshire.

Before I do that, to give balance, I want to write more generally on Special Branch, its evolution, controversies and its modern role.

Special Branch

To do this, I can do no better than to quote from the Wikipedia article

“Special Branch has had various changes of name, while its function has stayed much the same. It was formed in London in 1883. Branches were formed in Ireland (before the Republic of Ireland was founded) and later Northern Ireland. The Metropolitan Police had their own Special Branch, until it was merged with the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Branch (SO13) to form Counter Terrorism Command or SO15 in 2006.

Wiki on Special Branch:

The main function for all these branches was to collect evidence and arrest the enemies of the United Kingdom who lived on home territory. Special Branch has contact with the Security Service and the Home Office. They use the prefix “Detective” in front of their ranks, and are governed by the same laws as the general police. Under British law, MI5 officers are not permitted actually to lay hands on members of the public. Observations, wire taps (“lawful interception“), arrests, interrogations and preparing cases for prosecution are usually done by the Special Branch.” (On behalf of MI5).

“Special Branch have responsibility for the personal protection of (non-royal) VIPs, and are examining officers at designated ports and airports, as prescribed by the Terrorism Act 2000. Most, if not all UK police services still maintain a Special Branch.” [2]

Special Branch is an organisation that has been continually mired in controversy:

  • Allegations that the Tory Peer, rapist and paedophile Lord Robert Boothby [2] was protected by MI5 and Special Branch [6] as was the Labour MP Tom Driberg [2], who as well as being a paedophile that along with Boothby abused boys provided for them by Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Was also alleged to have been an MI5 agent (not a member of the Security Service) and a KGB double agent codenamed “Lepage”.
  • Allegations that Special Branch Detectives intervened to prevent the conviction of Liberal Party Leader Jeremy Thorpe, to prevent his conviction for attempted murder, along with three other men and a fourth who supplied the gun used to assassinate his former boyfriend Norman Scott comprehensive article here [3]. The NYE succeeded in getting the investigation into the disappearance of another of Thorpe’s other lovers Henry Upton re-opened. We recently reported in a national exclusive that the investigation into these allegations by Gwent Police had sent a file to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) but it had concluded “there was insufficient evidence to proceed with this investigation”. NYE article here.
  • Allegations that Special Branch and MI5 protected the Paedophile Information Exchange and Cyril Smith. In particular that they raided the office of leading investigator Don Hale, threatened him and seized the files. According to evidence submitted to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, MI5 knew about Cyril Smith. Don Hale’s comments on the Cyril Smith cover up are here. NYE coverage here.
  • Allegations that senior police officers from Derbyshire Police protected Labour Peer and child abuser Lord Janner. NYE investigation here. Was this because of pressure from the Derbyshire Police Special Branch Unit at the request of MI5?
  • The shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in which a Special Branch Officer was cleared of deleting evidence.
  • Allegations that undercover members of Special Branch were present at the Elm Guest House when children were abused. The Metropolitan Police have confirmed that:

“Can confirm that allegations of historical sexual abuse against two former officers, alleged to have taken place in the 1980s, were passed to the IPCC for their consideration. They referred the matter back to the MPS for local DPS investigation.  

DPS investigation commenced in June 2014.
This is Operation Yvonne.
The officers were PCs.
This relates to allegations of historical sex abuse at the Elm Guest House
.” [14]

DPS is the Directorate of Professional Standards [14].

  • The perverted investigations into the Guildford Bombing and the Birmingham Bombing, in which Special Branch featured prominently and were alleged to have beaten up the innocent men to make them sign confessions. BBC coverage of the Guildford Bombings here. NYE coverage of the Birmingham bombings here.
  • The Undercover Policing Scandal NYE coverage here and below.

Recently it has been alleged that the police found pornography on a computer belonging to First Secretary of State and Minister for the Cabinet Office Damian Green [2]. However no action was taken. Could this be another example of a powerful politician being protected from prosecution by the police? Mr Green denies the allegation, his comments can be read here.[4] The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has confirmed that he was aware of the allegations, but did not pursue them. His comments can be read here [14].

North Yorkshire Police Special Branch

North Yorkshire Police has a unit called “Ports Branch”, although it is part of Special Branch. A very good summary of its duties can be found here, courtesy of the NYP website: [15]

The standard activity for a regional Special Branch unit is arranging protection for visiting VIPs, monitoring domestic extremists, anti-terrorist operations and support for the Security Service (MI5) when necessary. This is important and dangerous work. In 2003 a very brave Special Branch Detective Constable from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) Stephen Oake, was murdered while on an operation to arrest terrorists at the request of MI5.

Detective Constable Stephen Oake, Special Branch Officer murdered on duty, pictured in GMP Uniform Branch

During the inquest into his death, an officer from the GMP Special Branch disclosed that Special Branch dealt with police officers from outside Special Branch” on a  “need to know basis”. This illustrates the segregation of Special Branch Officers from the rest of the force they nominally belong to, their orientation to national – not local – command and the secrecy that they routinely operate under. They are a force within a force, subject to a different centralised command and operating on different policing priorities.

A significant part of NYP Special Branch duties relate to monitoring shipping and aircraft movements. Guardian article here. Hence, like Humberside Police it is known as “Ports Branch”, although it is a fully integrated part of Special Branch. It is responsible for Project Kraken and thought to be involved in/responsible for Project Servator and Project Argus.

It works closely with the North East Counter Terrorism Unit [16] and other neighbouring and regional Special Branch Units [16].

Project Kraken in Scarborough and Whitby

Project Kraken is a national campaign which aims to increase vigilance along the UK’s coastline and navigable inland waterways. Standard Special Branch work. It encourages the maritime and waterways communities to work together with Police and other agencies, to provide a hostile environment to terrorism and serious organised crime, and is part of the Government’s National Counter Terrorist Strategy.

In 2014, NYP Special Branch oversaw a Project Kraken event in Whitby.

In 2015, NYP Special Branch oversaw a Project Kraken event in Scarborough and Whitby which was broadcast on Crimewatch.

Operation Kraken – 2015

Project Servitor in York 

Project Servitor [15] is an initiative to disrupt reconnaissance by terrorists planning an attack. The intention being to disrupt terrorist reconnaissance at an early stage. This is an innovative and pre-emptive strategy, which is new to North Yorkshire. Information on NYP Project Servitor Operations here [15].

Project Argus in North Yorkshire

Project Argus [15] is a National Counter Terrorism Security Office initiative for businesses that takes businesses through a simulated terrorist attack.

Undercover Operations in North Yorkshire

NYP Special Branch also supports operations involving undercover Special Branch officers from other forces when required.

Since the publication of UIWOY1: Undercover Policing, it has become clear that the major event in unravelling the undercover policing scandal occurred in North Yorkshire and that a NYP operation was the catalyst for it.

The 2003 Earth First environmentalist conference at Grewelthorpe

In 2003, the annual gathering of environmental activists “Earth First” was held in North Yorkshire at Lime Tree Farm near Grewelthorpe. Everyone who was anyone in the environmentalist movement was there, including Special Branch, in the form of NPOIU Undercover Special Branch Officer Mark Kennedy. [13]

Each undercover officer from the SDS/NPOIU had a contact officer whom he contacted every day. His role was to provide support for the officer, receive and pass on information and to monitor his progress and wellbeing. He would be supported by the local (NYP) Special Branch if necessary.

The 2006 Drax Coal-Fired Power Station Protest

One area where we know Special Branch was active was in the effort to contain the Drax Power Station Protests by climate activists.

Briefly, the Drax coal-fired power station became a target for climate protesters because of the enormous amounts of carbon dioxide it sends into the atmosphere. In 2006, activists set up a “climate camp” to publicise the issue. Some protestors planned to mount a direct action against the station by cutting through the fence and entering the power station.  At least two undercover officers that featured in the previous article were deployed there. One was Detective Constable (DC) Lynne Watson. The other was DC Mark Kennedy.

To contain the protest, North Yorkshire Police – which commanded the operation to police the climate camp – drafted in officers from other forces

Drax: DC Lynne Watson’s story

In Undercover and Information Warfare Operations in Yorkshire 1, I covered DC Watson’s operations in West Yorkshire. However, she also operated in North Yorkshire and attended the Drax Power Station climate camp undercover to obtain intelligence on the planned protest, including the planned entry into the power station.

As with other undercover officers she entered into a sexual relationship with one of the climate campaigners whilst at the Drax Climate Change Camp [15]. It is not clear if this was (a) to gain intelligence, (b) to improve her credibility and therefore her ability to penetrate the organisation, or (c) if she had developed a genuine personal affection for the campaigner and had perhaps been overcome by the romantic surroundings of the climate camp, in the shadow of the power station.

DC Watson was one of twelve protestors that cut through the wire and entered the grounds of the power station. One of the others was another undercover Special Branch Officer DC Mark Kennedy. I have no doubt neither of them knew the other was also an undercover police officer. [15].

DC Lynne Watson in her warpaint, posing as a clown army protestor

Drax: DC Mark Kennedy’s story

DC Mark Kennedy also attended the Drax Power Station climate camp undercover to obtain intelligence on the planned protest, including the planned entry into the power station. Although married, he was also involved in a relationship with a protester. He was one of the twelve protestors, including DC Watson and his girlfriend, who cut through the wire and entered the grounds of the power station and entered, where according to Kennedy, he was badly beaten by police officers that were guarding the power station. [15].

I would emphasise that it is not clear which police force they were from, although they were operating under the command of North Yorkshire Police. Their alleged actions started DC Kennedy’s disillusionment with the police service and undercover policing, leading eventually to his resignation from the police and going public on his activities. This was one of the major events in unravelling the undercover policing scandal.

The 2009 Drax Coal-Fired Power Station Protest

DC Kennedy also assisted in the 2009 Drax Power Station protest, when he ferried the protestors to the place where they stopped and boarded a train taking coal to the power station. This became known as the “Great Train Ambush” [2]. This Special Branch operation was also coordinated with the British Transport Police Special Branch. The quality of the information that North Yorkshire Police received from an undercover officer was impressive and an example can be seen here.

The 2017 fracking protest at Kirby Misperton

NYE readers will be aware of the controversial issue of fracking in North Yorkshire. This has led to confrontation between North Yorkshire Police and demonstrators and there have been arrests. BBC Report here.

I have no doubt that NYP will have infiltrated the fracking protestors with informants to assist in their operations. Yet recently, two men and a woman climbed up a rig at the hydraulic fracturing site in Kirby Misperton in the early hours of Saturday 21 October and staged a protest. According to an NYP Statement, police were unaware of any protest until they were called by site security. This would indicate that on this occasion police intelligence efforts were unsuccessful.

Here I speculate, but it appears to me that the protestors may have worked out that the police intelligence capability is now so effective that the large trespass protests that previously occurred at Drax and elsewhere are no longer possible, without the police knowing about them in advance. If so, then they have changed their tactics and appear to be more security conscious, hence perhaps the reason that only three people were involved in the protest.

Happily, in a very successful and creditable operation, NYP were able to bring them down safely from the rig and then arrest them NYP statement here.

Time for some accountability and answers from MI5 and Special Branch about protection of politicians that committed serious crimes.

Don Hale’s experience during the joint MI5 and Special Branch operation to protect Cyril Smith are recorded above. He then went on to discuss Special Branch generally. His comments that historically Special Branch was a Government Protection Unit that was ruthless and a law unto themselves are in my opinion accurate and incisive.

Special Branch acted as the executive arm of MI5 which in turn was shrouded in secrecy and reported to the Home Secretary. Throughout these articles a picture has emerged of Special Branch as a force within a force that was unaccountable and a law unto itself. It protected the great and the good, no matter what crimes they had committed.

If the allegations above are correct, then some of the police and MI5 officers that were involved in this misconduct could still face charges. However, it is a source of concern to me that:

Operation Yvonne

The Metropolitan Police investigation into allegations of police involvement in offending at the Elm Guest House has been ongoing since June 2014 with no explanation for this extraordinary longevity and no charges brought. When asked for an explanation, the Metropolitan Police refused to comment further than “the investigation is ongoing”.

Operation Velum

The Jeremy Thorpe investigation referred to above has been inconclusive and Gwent Police initially tried to supress information on it. Even though no charges were preferred and it was closed. NYE article here

Both operations appear to have been kicked into the long grass. As with NYP’s Operation Hibiscus, the NYP investigation into Peter Jaconelli and Jimmy Savile – which, following denial after denial, confirmed that NYP had failed to arrest them, despite numerous opportunities to do so – no police officer was punished.

The recent murder of courageous citizen journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia – NYE coverage here – shows that political assassination of people that are embarrassing them is unacceptable. So are secretive police investigations and cover-ups into paedophiles, corrupt policemen, MI5 Officers and politicians.

I think that Don Hale is correct that the allegations of the involvement of Special Branch and MI5 in paedophilism should be examined by the IICSA.

Throughout the articles, references to the above Information Warfare Operations terms are in brackets.  

Sources are accredited in brackets as follows:

[1] Guardian article.

[2] Wikipedia article.

[3] Daily Mail article.

[4] BBC article or broadcast.

[5] Forces TV broadcast.

[6] Daily Telegraph article.

[7] Northern Echo article.

[8] Ministry of Defence.

[9] Cleveland Police.

[10] Scarborough Borough Council

[11] Birmingham Mail

[12] Home Office

[13] Undercover by Rob Evans and Paul Lewis

[14] Metropolitan Police

[15] North Yorkshire Police

[16] North East Counter Terrorism Unit

[17] Independent article

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