Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
As many of you will be aware there is something of a row over the campaign run by high street store LUSH to raise awareness of the public inquiry into the deployment of undercover police in activist organisations. LUSH is a prominent supporter of many activist organisations, including several animal rights groups, and launched a clumsy campaign in shops across the country using a photograph of a uniformed police officer and the strap-line ‘Paid to Lie’.
Many police officers have, understandably, taken this as an attack on the police as a whole. LUSH, however, is adamant that its campaign is specifically about the deployment and activity of undercover officers and this might well be a case of incompetence, rather than malevolence. Those who have been following the public inquiry will understand why there is concern about the use of undercover police in some circumstances. It may, for instance, come as a surprise to hear that undercover police officers were actively involved in hunt sabbing in the 1980s and 1990s especially in Hampshire and the Thames Valley, but also as far afield as Cheshire and at the Waterloo Cup.
One female undercover police officer, who now lives with a prominent hunt saboteur and animal rights activist, was even involved in the release of 6,000 mink from a fur farm in the New Forest in 1998 which caused an ecological disaster in the area.
There are undoubtedly serious questions to be answered by the public inquiry. Was it really proportionate to deploy police officers on long term undercover operations to tackle the ‘threat’ of motley bands of hunt sabs and animal rights activists? How can the behaviour of undercover operators who entered into long-term relationships with activists and even had children with them be justified? And what was the purpose of the deployment if it was assisting, rather than preventing, criminal activity?
However, whilst the issue of undercover policing undoubtedly needs scrutiny this campaign exposes LUSH, and its owner Mark Constantine, as utter hypocrites. They have run fund raising appeals to buy “video equipment” for the Hunt Saboteurs Association to spy on hunts, and funded a sinister campaign of covert surveillance by the International Fund for Animal Welfare targeted at hunts in Mr Constantine’s home county of Dorset. This was the most intensive surveillance operation of individuals on private property we have ever seen. IFAW itself admits that recordings “have been made undercover in close proximity with the investigators posing as hunt supporters”. These surveillance operations were carried out by private investigators and ex-police officers who recorded thousands of hours of video of private individuals without their knowledge or permission. They were not authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act or any other legislation, and failed to ‘uncover’ almost any illegal activity.
No-one should be subject to unjustified intrusive surveillance by the state, or by activists. There are clear differences between the long-term deployment of undercover police and the surveillance of hunts, but the principle is exactly the same. By railing against one, whilst funding the other, LUSH and Mark Constantine reveal their essential bigotry.
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