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Undercover Policing Inquiry Spycop who infiltrated women's rights groups in the ’70s says her work was not worthwhile

by Bethany Rielly

A SPYCOP who infiltrated women’s rights groups in the 1970s does not believe her undercover work was worthwhile, a public inquiry  heard today. 

The former officer who spied on the Women’s Liberation Front (WLF), told the Undercover Policing Inquiry that the police should not be involved in undercover work at all. 

Now in her 70s, the officer, known only by her cypher HN348, joined the Maoist faction of the women’s rights group in 1972 after being recruited to the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) in 1971, and served in the unit until 1973.

The officer claimed the group was of interest to Special Branch because of its links with “more extreme groups” such as the Angry Brigade and “Irish extremists.” 

As part of her undercover profile, HN348 used the name Sandra and pretended to be a Goldsmiths student. She told the inquiry that she did not wear makeup, donned a “simple” style of dress and took off her wedding and engagement rings. 

The officer said that she might have been recruited to the unit because of her gender, given that the “women’s movement was really growing” at the time. 

The WLF, which later became known as the Revolutionary Women’s Union, campaigned for equal pay, access to contraception and paid maternity leave.

As part of her deployment, “Sandra” attended weekly meetings, including those held at campaigners’ homes. 

Reports she had written during her deployment were put to her by Kate Wilkinson, standing in for lead counsel David Barr. 

Some included seemingly inane details, including that campaigners had asked members to “contribute homemade sweets and cakes,” and the date of a jumble sale. 

She said she did not see any of the members she spied on acting violently or committing crimes. Instead the purpose of spying on the group was to know whether it was “worthwhile” to infiltrate it, she said. 

“I do not think my work really yielded any good intelligence, but I eliminated the WLF from public-order concerns,” she said in her written evidence.

When asked to reflect on her deployment, the former officer said: “I stand by what I say – I could have been doing much more worthwhile things with my time than my work with the SDS.”

In her written statement she wrote: “I question whether police officers should be undercover at all. 

“It seems to me that perhaps undercover work should all be dealt with by the security services, simply with links to senior police officers.”

The inquiry, led by retired judge Sir John Mitting, is tasked with understanding how the police set up a secret unit in 1968 that went on to infiltrate more than 1,000 protest groups over the next four decades.

Due to anonymity restrictions, the evidence from police witnesses is only accessible to the public via a rolling transcript to the inquiry’s website. 

Today campaigning actor Maxine Peake read out the live transcript of the inquiry proceedings, playing “Sandra.” 

To make the proceedings more accessible, Police Spies Out of Lives, an umbrella group for women deceived into relationships, is reading out the transcript each day. 

The inquiry continues. 

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