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Undercover Policing Inquiry Spycops may have had intimate relationships with activists from their inception, inquest hears

Former officer says SDS officers were foot soldiers for MI5

by Bethany Rielly

INTIMATE relationships between spycops and campaigners may have occurred from the very inception of a secret Scotland Yard unit, a public inquiry heard today. 

It had previously been understood that relationships between officers working for the shady Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) — set up in 1968 to infiltrate protest groups — and campaigners did not begin until the mid-1970s. 

The Undercover Policing Inquiry heard evidence today from former officer Joan Hillier, one of the first SDS members.

Ms Hillier joined the secret unit in 1968, not long after it was formed as part of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch in the wake of a massive Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (VSC) protest that turned violent. 

The former officer said that the unit was set up in response to pressure from the then home secretary, James Callaghan, who wanted police to “find a solution” to prevent violence at a forthcoming protest in October that year. 

Ms Hillier, now in her late eighties, told the inquiry that she had reported on public meetings held by the local branch of the VSC in Notting Hill with fellow SDS officer Helen Crampton.  

It emerged during the session that Ms Crampton, who is now dead, may have been involved in a relationship with Notting Hill VSC chairman George Cochran. 

The potential relationship was raised by Rajiv Menon QC, representing a number of people who were spied on. Mr Menon said that he had recently received the information but did not disclose the source.

If true, it would be “the very first example of an officer of the SDS engaging in some form of intimate relationship with a member of a target organisation,” the lawyer said. 

However, when questioned about whether it was possible that they had any sort of relationship, Ms Hillier replied: “I doubt it very much.” 

At least 30 campaigners are known to have been deceived into long-term sexual relationships with spycops, some of whom fathered children while working covertly. 

In her evidence, Ms Hillier, also known by the cypher HN328, said that officers didn’t receive training or discuss whether sexual relationships, intruding into peoples’ personal lives or committing crimes was acceptable. 

Instead, she said that officers would know from “common sense” and “instinct”  not to engage in such behaviour.

The former officer also confirmed that the SDS officers were foot soldiers for MI5. In her written statement, she said: “We, as Special Branch officers, were an extension of MI5, were agents for them, carrying out enquiries on their behalf.”

When asked what volume of SDS reports was passed to the security service, she replied: “I would think probably most of them.”

Ms Hillier was the second officer to give evidence to the inquiry, which is examining the tactics of two spycop units that infiltrated more than 1,000 political groups over 40 years. 

On Thursday, a former SDS officer admitted that the secret unit had initially targeted groups not because they posed a threat of violence but because they held anti-Establishment views. 

The inquiry’s first phase, looking at the early years of the SDS between 1968 and 1972, is due to end next Thursday. 

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