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Lena C. Emery
"Urban Nature" photograph series
In the eighties, an animal-rights activist fell in love with Bob Robinson and had his child. Years later, she learned that Bob Robinson was Bob Lambert, and Bob Lambert was a spy. Lauren Collins reports.
Bob had been a member of the Special Demonstrations Squad, the domestic-intelligence-gathering arm of the Metropolitan Police. The S.D.S. was established in 1968, after the Grosvenor Square protests against the Vietnam War. Conrad Hepworth Dixon, the squad’s first chief, when ordered by his superiors to do something about the protests, is said to have replied, “Give me a million pounds and ten men, and I can deal with the problem for you.”
The unit’s mission—to provide “sufficient and accurate intelligence to enable the police to maintain public order,” according to an internal document obtained by Evans and Lewis—was as broad as its techniques were particular. Officers, known as “deep swimmers,” transformed themselves into facsimiles of their targets, taking on new identities that they inhabited for years. They got perms and new passports; they acquired tattoos, accents, and, if necessary, drug habits. “For the whole time they were undercover they would never wear a uniform or set foot in a police station, unless, of course, they were dragged in, kicking, screaming, and handcuffed,” Evans and Lewis write. “They would find flats or bed-sits, preferring those at the back of houses in case fellow activists went past at night and noticed the lights were off and no one was in. They would take up jobs with flexible working hours and travel, such as laborers or delivery van drivers, so they could disappear for, say, a day with their family without arousing suspicion.”
The revelation of the extent of the British police’s spying, and the dubiousness of some of their tactics, caused a scandal that has yet to be resolved. Reporters and activists have confirmed that at least nine police officers—including one woman—conducted sexual relationships with unsuspecting citizens during their undercover deployments. At least twelve women, including Jacqui, are suing the Metropolitan Police for deceit, assault, misfeasance in public office, and negligence. Those whose relationships began after 2000 are also bringing suit under the Human Rights Act, arguing that the Met’s “systemic abuse of female political activists” breached Articles 3 and 8, which forbid inhumane treatment and guarantee the right to private life. Jacqui has said that she feels as though she were “raped by the state.”
Without consulting her local allies, Gomperts changed strategy. She appeared on a Portuguese talk show, held up a pack of pills on-screen and explained exactly how women could induce an abortion at home — specifying the number of pills they needed to take, at intervals, and warning that they might feel pain. A Portuguese anti-abortion campaigner who was also on the show challenged the ship’s operation on legal grounds. “Excuse me,” Gomperts said. “I really think you should not talk about things that you don’t know anything about, O.K… . I know what I can do within the law.” Looking directly at him, she added, “Concerning pregnancy, you’re a man, you can walk away when your girlfriend is pregnant. I’m pregnant now, and I had an abortion when I was — a long time ago. And I’m very happy that I have the choice to continue my pregnancy how I want, and that I had the choice to end it when I needed it.” She pointed at the man. “You have never given birth, so you don’t know what it means to do that.”