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by Bethany Rielly
AN ANTI-APARTHEID campaign led by future Labour peer Peter Hain was targeted by spycops because it was considered to pose a “huge” risk of violence and public disorder, the Undercover Policing Inquiry heard today.
The Stop the ’70 Tour (STST) was founded in 1969 to stop tours by the all-white South African rugby and cricket teams.
The campaign, led by a 19-year-old Mr Hain, involved protesters peacefully rushing the pitch and handcuffing themselves to goalposts to disrupt sports matches.
Giving evidence to the inquiry today, a former officer who infiltrated the STST said he personally chose to target the group in 1969 because of its supposed risk.
“There was an awful lot of passionate revulsion to … the anti-apartheid situation in South Africa [sic],” he said. “And the fact that the South African cricket team, and I think then subsequently the rugby team, were to visit the UK gave the protesters an opportunity to really vent their objections.”
In the witness statement of the officer, who used the cover name “Dick Epps,” he said the potential for violence and public disorder at demonstrations held by the STST was “huge.”
He claimed that the group had taken part in “well-publicised antics” including digging up the pitch at Lords cricket ground and pouring oil on the wicket.
This was challenged by the lead counsel David Barr and the officer conceded that he had mixed up the events with another protest some years later relating to a campaign against the incarceration of a bank robber in which a hole was dug at Lords in 1975.
The officer also claimed that another spycop called Mike Ferguson, who infiltrated STST and the anti-apartheid movement, had become Mr Hain’s “right-hand man.”
But the Labour peer wrote in the Guardian over the weekend that this is a “straight lie,” accusing undercover officers of a “systematic pattern of deceit and exaggeration.”
The officer told the inquiry that the STST leadership had issued instructions to attack police at a Twickenham rugby match in the protesters’ bid to rush the pitch.
When asked how the police were to be attacked, the officer stumbled to give an answer but claimed that at one point two people had “started to throw punches at policemen.”
Violence did occur at anti-apartheid protests at the games in 1969 and 1970 — but this was largely the doing of stewards hired for security, who beat up campaigners.
The anti-apartheid movement remained a target of the Metropolitan Police’s special branch for at least the next 25 years.
The evidence hearings are being live-streamed to a hotel in central London which members of the public are barred from, and can only access via a transcript online.
Police Spies Out of Lives, a support group for women deceived into relationships with spycops, today read out the live transcript onto Youtube.
The group said it had “taken matters into our own hands,” in order to make the proceedings more accessible to the public.
The inquiry continues.
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