Newly uncovered documentary evidence shows how police officers infiltrated campaigns by construction workers protesting against deaths on building sites. The documents include a series of letters written to and from Mark Jenner, an undercover officer from the discredited Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), who during the late 1990s claimed to be a carpenter while infiltrating the construction union UCATT. Using the cover name of Mark Cassidy, the spycop ingratiated himself with the Colin Roach Centre (formerly known as Hackney Trade Union Resource Centre) and targeted a series of trade unions and union backed campaigns, attending union branches, conferences, picketlines and pay talks.
The new documents give an insight into how deeply, the police went to embed themselves into even grassroots union campaigns. On 21st March 1997, Cassidy / Jenner wrote a letter to a number of different organisations regarding the ‘Building Workers Safety Campaign’,which he describes as a ‘rank and file organisation run by building workers’, asking for support in getting ‘information on deaths on building sites’ in order to visit ‘the site within one week after the event and ask workers to stop work’. The police authored letter continued: ‘We believe that only by hitting production can we hope to stop the killings on building sites’. This was in 1997, when the fatality rates in construction were averaging around 3 deaths a week.
The identical letter was sent to a number of trade union bodies including Haringey UNISON, Hammersmith UNISON, TGWU North London Textile branch and civil servants in the CPSA union (forerunner to PCS). The police spy also sent the letter to the charity ‘Inquest’ that provides free legal advice to people bereaved by a death in police custody. Why a charity dealing with deaths in custody would be an obvious source of information about deaths on building sites is difficult to fathom but raises questions of public interest about what the undercover police officer was trying to achieve.
One response from the local authority funded and well respected safety charity the London Hazards Centre, identifies HSE inspectors, the Coroners Office and the local police as sources of information but highlights that the authorities ‘can be very tight lipped when it comes to giving out information’ – this no doubt brought a smile to Jenner’s face when reading it.
The documents were uncovered by Brian Higgins, a 75 year old Glaswegian grandfather and blacklisted retired bricklayer based in Northampton who was the national secretary of the rank & file Building Worker Group (BWG). Brian Higgins has been granted ‘core participant’ status in the Pitchford public inquiry into undercover policing alongside a number of other union activists from the Blacklist Support Group, as information gathered by police officers appears on a number of blacklist files kept on construction workers by the notorious Consulting Association.
Brian Higgins commented:
“The police would be infinitely better employed investigating, prosecuting and jailing the corporate criminals responsible for the killing and maiming of many building workers, rather than spying on those of us who dedicate our industrial lives to trying to put a stop to this wanton carnage and the terrible grief which accompanies it. Intelligence gathered by these police spies has found its way onto an illegal blacklist in the construction industry. They say justice never sleeps: time it woke up over this!”
Alison (not her real name) was the female activist that Mark Jenner deceived into a long term relationship and lived with during his deployment. It was from their shared address in hackney that the undercover police officer joined the construction union UCATT and became a regular attendee at the Hackney branch meetings. Alison is one of the women that has received an unreserved apology and compensation from the Metropolitan Police for the abuse and human rights violations they suffered due to the activities of undercover police. Alison recalls having numerous conversations about the building industry and trade union campaigns which she describes as ‘a key part of his work’ and ‘a big part of what he was doing during this period’.
Another trade unionist who was spied upon by Mark Jenner and has been granted core participant in the Pitchford inquiry is the RMT Senior Assistant General Secretary, Steve Hedley. He commented:
“Mark Jenner gained my confidence and even stayed at my mothers home in Ireland. When I learned that he was a police spy I was dumbfounded .Why the police would be interested in a trade unionist like me is quite frankly astonishing. All my activities were open and transparent and usually even minuted. What kind of a society are we living in, when the state feels it’s necessary to employ people at the taxpayers expense to snoop on people carrying out perfectly legal activities?”