email@example.com (TR) | 20.12.2010 15:23
A police officer spent seven years undercover living as a hippie and environmental activist to infiltrate peaceful protest groups
He drank with them, he climbed with them, he even seemed to love them and was loved in return. But Mark “Flash” Stone was living a double life as perhaps the most deeply embedded undercover police officer in Britain.
Questions are being asked this weekend as to what the police officer achieved in seven years, living at the taxpayers’ expense as a hippie and environmental activist. He infiltrated protest groups that were mainly peaceful in nature, moved in with them and travelled to Iceland and all over Europe.
His double existence ended when friends discovered documents showing his true identity, leaving a trail of emotional wreckage and a sense of bewilderment that the authorities should invest so much time for a seemingly modest reward.
Stone — real name Mark Kennedy — was among 114 people arrested last year on the eve of a planned invasion of a power station. The aim was to shut down Ratcliffe-on-Soar in Nottinghamshire for a week, preventing the release of 150,000 tons of carbon dioxide from one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in Europe.
He drove the car on the initial reconnaissance and even hired a 7½-ton truck for the main event. But charges against him were dropped, leaving 20 others to be convicted last week of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass.
With his long hair, tattoos and body piercings, nobody suspected that their comrade in saving the planet was a detective. But Stone is thought to be a member of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), a secret unit known as “the Hairies” because officers can wear their hair as they please.
According to one former member, only married officers are accepted into the unit, as they are less likely to “go native” if they have families to return to.
Called “Flash” because he had more money than other activists, Stone became a familiar face in Nottingham, hanging about at the Sumac centre, a vegan cafe and social club for people concerned with human and animal rights, the environment and pacifism. He lived with activists in the city.
His former friends say he was vehemently anti-police, a pose slightly at odds with a community more inclined to organise workshops on what they perceive as “bad policing” than to fight about it.
For the takeover of the power station, the protesters drew up health-and-safety plans and a rule that there would be no violence. They were to stop the conveyor carrying coal into the boilers, climb the 653ft chimney and unfurl protest banners.
The workers would be given leaflets reassuring them that jobs could be created by greener energy, while costlier but cleaner gas-fired stations would come on line to supply the National Grid, keeping the nation’s lights on.
Eon, the owner of the station, knew about the action five days beforehand and could have sought an injunction. Instead, the protesters were allowed to assemble and were then arrested.
Stone was unmasked as a suspected police officer 18 months later, just before the trial. Confronted by six friends with paperwork showing his real name, he admitted being in the Metropolitan police. The six published a short account of his confession in the green media, to general disbelief.
“Look at the bloke,” said one activist. “What did they do, send him from Hendon [police training centre] to spend five years smoking rollies and living in a tent? It boggles the mind that he’s spent so long doing basically f***-all, expending so much effort in terms of debate, slow, dull legwork and campaigning — and still be thinking, ‘Aha, fooling these oh-so-dangerous activists brilliantly’.”
Last week two police forces confirmed Stone’s status to The Sunday Times. “The individual is a Met officer,” said Nottinghamshire police. “He’s an undercover officer,” said the Metropolitan police. “We can’t say more.”
Scotland Yard refused requests for information about the SDS, a unit of the Met with a remit to prevent disorder. It was set up in 1968 after violence at anti-Vietnam war protests.
An insight into its methods came this year, when an SDS officer from the 1990s described his work. For four years the officer, Peter Daley, spent one day a week with his wife and family and six as a hate-filled Trotskyist on the wrong side of a riot shield. He was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and won an out-of-court settlement.
Stone has disappeared from Nottingham, leaving friends in shock. One said: “Whatever else Mark is, I do believe he had genuine feelings for those he had meaningful relationships with in the last seven years.”
The friend added: “I don’t believe he could be with such beautiful, wonderful people and not feel love.”
The protesters will be sentenced next month.
Sunday Times: Tim Rayment & Jonathan Leake 19th Dec 2010