Undercover Met officers may have infiltrated Hackney CND

Gerald Holtom and his daughter Anna in 1958 carrying a cardboard cut out of the symbol he designed f

The Hackney branch the CND may have been targeted by an undercover Met police unit in the 1980s. - Credit: Anna Scott

A judge-led inquiry into undercover policing is examining whether the Met police placed spies in a well-known UK peace organisation, with one officer believed to have been based in it's Hackney branch. 

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), known around the world through it's peace symbol used in British anti-nuclear activism since 1958, has been granted "core participant" status in the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI). 

Kate Hudson, general secretary of the CND, said the organisation has a long record of non-violent "democratic engagement", adding: "It is shocking to discover that public resources were wasted on ‘infiltrating’ CND as if we were a risk to life and limb or a threat to the security of the realm.

"We hope that the inquiry will provide us with an understanding of why this happened and help to ensure that our democratic rights to peaceful protest are assured."

April 30 1962

April 30 1962: The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s mock funeral march through the centre of Cambridge caused traffic congestion, provoked an anti-CND march and met with a noisy reception from undergraduates in the Market Square. - Credit: MIKE PETTY / FENLAND HISTORY

Core Participant status means the institution will have a significant role in the judge-led inquiry into undercover policing, chaired by Sir John Mitting QC.

The inquiry is examining evidence that the peace group was targeted for infiltration during the 1980s by both Special Branch and the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) of the Met, a former undercover unit that was in existence between 1968 and 2008. 

The Met has said it is assisting the inquiry, which is looking into how undercover policing has been conducted in England and Wales in the past 50 years.

A CND protest at Molesworth in 1983.

A CND protest in 1983. - Credit: ARCHANT

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The Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) is representing the CND at the inquiry and says that files released under the 30-year rule indicate police spies, under the cover names John Kerry and Timothy Spence, infiltrated CND’s head office and East London branch, sending regular reports to Scotland Yard and MI5 on the organisation’s activities.

The true identities of the officers are still not publicly known. One is believed to have been based at CND's Hackney branch. 

The files revealed that the Met's Special Branch reported on a number of CND events, including a national demonstration in October 1983 attended by over 200 000 people.

To support its case the PILC is appealing to current and former members of the group to come forward with any information about the activities of the two undercover officers. 

The UCPI was announced by the government in 2015 in response to independent reviews which found "appalling practices in undercover policing".

The inquiry is due to report its findings in full in 2023.

Police attend the CND march to keep the peace Picture: OWEN HINES

Police attend the CND march to keep the peace Picture: OWEN HINES - Credit: Owen Hines

It will hear evidence in relation to CND’s infiltration by undercover officers in early 2022.

Paul Heron, solicitor at PILC, said: “The SDS was set up in 1968 to monitor public disorder and criminality.

"It is therefore disturbing that officers were sent to spy on CND, a peace organisation.

"The extent to which the British state has actively sought to infiltrate and potentially destabilise peaceful and democratic protest movements should alarm the general public."

CND protesters with their banners Picture: OWEN HINES

CND protesters with their banners Picture: OWEN HINES - Credit: Owen Hines

 "We are urgently looking to hear from any current or past CND members who may have information about the activities of 'John Kerry’ and ‘Timothy Spence’ so that this information can be brought before the inquiry."

A spokesperson for the Met said that undercover policing is a "vital tactic in the fight against serious crime and terrorism", which plays a "critical role in gathering evidence and intelligence to protect people from harm". 

"Sometimes it is absolutely the only way to keep people safe," the spokesperson said.

"SDS officers were deployed into and reported on a wide range of activist groups, including those involved in social, environmental, justice and political campaigning.

"The Met will support the UCPI as it explores whether specific undercover operations and deployments were justified, and properly authorised and managed."

CND's logo, created by Gerald Holtom in 1958, was first shown in Hackney and is commemorated on Blackstock Road near Finsbury Park. 

Anyone with information on the two undercover officers is urged to contact solicitor Paul Heron by email via paul.heron@pilc.org.uk