Back in 2014, a woman who we will call “Jacqui” was awarded 425,000 pound sterling ($685,737) from London Metro Police after discovering the father of her child was an undercover cop sent to spy on her.
VICE News met with Jacqui in her lawyer’s office in King’s Cross, London. She said she is feeling relieved, but that there are still questions she would like answered.
“Why was I targeted? How was I targeted? What did they have on me for whatever reason? Did they think that this sort of money should be spent on spying on me?” she said. “And I want to know what actually happened. For instance when I was in labour, 14 hours, was he on overtime? Was he reporting back every contraction? What did they know about me?”
She met Bob Lambert — who was operating under the alias Bob Robinson at the time — in 1983. Jacqui was 22, and heavily involved in the animal rights movement. Lambert was a good bit older, but actively began to chase her, initially by offering her lifts home from protests.
Overcoming her initial hesitancy, Jacqui fell for Lambert, and they were together for several years.
“He was my first love, my first pregnancy, my first giving birth, and he stayed with me until just after our son’s second birthday,” she said. “He was a hands-on dad, and I know this is a funny detail but we even had a cat together, so it was a family home.”
Jacqui said that she’s since learned that Lambert’s police unit acted as “deep swimmers,” meaning they only got time off every few weeks.
“He did disappear a lot but we’re talking about a time before mobile phones where you can’t track people like you can now, so he would say he was on animal-rights action,” Jacqui said. “Once I had the baby I was overwhelmed with motherhood… He would, as he said, be going on actions where it wouldn’t have been suitable to take the baby.”
Lambert joined the police force in 1977 at age 25. Three years later, he was moved into the special branch, and was then taken on by the Special Demonstration Squad, a top-secret unit that spied on protesters.
Jacqui said the animal rights movement had been creating chaos for a while.
“We’d get 50,000 on a demo and it was becomingly increasingly a bit of a pain in the arse to the establishment, and no one ever got hurt, there was never any violence or anything,” she said. “But there was a lot of economic damage being caused.”
As the movement gained followers and ground, it also attracted interest from the state. Responding to the question of how aware she was that there were undercover police around, Jacqui said: “Bob was the person who always used to go on about it. He once did a bit for our newsletter… He actually wrote an article called ‘How to Spot an Infiltrator’. And he was always saying to me you’ve got to be careful who you’re talking to, you’ve got to be careful what you’re saying, you can’t trust this person, you’re too open… One particular person he pointed out to me he said he was a police informer, and made me tell everybody else. We all ostracized this person. And yet [Bob] was the enemy within.”
Jacqui claims that it wasn’t just the state who monitored their meetings, that companies like McDonalds would hire “corporate spies” to infiltrate them too. She said she thinks there were, at times, more corporate spies and cops than there were activists at the meetings.
In 1987, the activists targeted three Debenhams stores after the department store refused to stop selling fur. An attack on a store in the London suburb of Harrow resulted in an estimated £340,000 ($430,721) in damages, according to the Guardian. Geoff Sheppard and Andrew Clarke were jailed for their participation, something that Lambert’s testimony enabled. Afterwards he told Jacqui that he had to go on the run to escape arrest.
“He always said he’d be in touch as soon as he could; he’d never abandon his own son. And that’s exactly what he did,” Jacqui said.
Jacqui said she tried to trace Lambert, but her searches turned up nothing. She eventually gave up hope of him coming back. She married again and had another child, but when she was 31, her 36-year-old husband died suddenly.
Devastated, but financially secure, she returned to university. She said she “loved it, and stayed for eight years.” Jacqui now works as a lecturer.
In June 2012, Jacqui opened the Daily Mail to see Lambert’s face staring out at her. The exposé made it clear that he was a former undercover officer, operative in the 1980s. He had admitted to having a child with an activist. Jacqui knew that was a reference to her. After nearly 25 years without contact, she felt her world falling apart.
“What I realize now is that his time with me was his work. When I thought he was at work that was not work. When he was at work was our everyday life,” she said. “So he went to family functions with me. My parents treated him as a son-in-law. My sister treated him as a brother-in-law. He was in family photos, stuff like that, and he’s a ghost. It turns out he’s nothing.”
Lambert is now an expert on Islamophobia. From 2002 to 2007, he was in charge of Scotland Yard’s Muslim Contact Unit. Since 2006 he has lectured in St. Andrews and Exeter. After he was outed in 2011, he spoke to some journalists. In a statement to Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches’,he said: “The work of an undercover officer is complex, dangerous and sensitive and it would take some considerable time and the co-operation of my former police employers to provide the full background, context and detail necessary to address the matters which have been raised.”
In another interview, he said: “With hindsight I can only say that I genuinely regret my actions. I apologize to the women affected… My reputation is never going to be redeemed for many people, and I don’t think it should be, I think I made serious mistakes that I should regret, and I think the only real comfort I can take from my police career is the fact that it is about learning from mistakes.”
While living under his false identity he was arrested at least four times, he told Channel 4.
How much of their relationship was contrived, an act, a man following standard practice? Jacqui said that she and other women taking similar cases have all met and talked about it, realizing the courtships were exactly the same. “The way they meet: having the vans, offering lifts, the Valentine’s cards, suddenly not being there and them just pursuing you and pursuing you,” she explained.
She said she has tried to get answers from Lambert, but he has not given up any information. “Was it because I was vulnerable?” she asks. “I left home at 17. I was young. I was totally on my own.”
The whole time he was with Jacqui, Lambert was married with two children. When she gave birth he was in the hospital room with her. He was there through all 14 hours of labor. “I thought that this guy had had this really terrible childhood and I was giving him this concrete lovely family life. I tried to make our home lovely for us both,” she said.
Since 2012, her son and Lambert have begun to form a relationship that is positive and may continue.
“Unlike the other women who didn’t have children, I will have Bob Lambert in my life forever. We’ll share grandchildren, weddings, things like that,” she said. “So I kind of have to deal with the fact that this ghost has returned.”
Lambert’s personal life has been touched by tragedy too. The two children he had with his first wife died of a rare genetic condition, something that Jacqui’s son could have inherited. Jacqui said his relationship with her son gives him “a chance to be a granddad again.” She adds: “You’ll notice that I don’t sit here and slag him off. I wouldn’t do that with any of the fathers of my children.”
Hollywood wants to turn her life into a love story, but Jacqui isn’t so sure. “I’m getting lots of offers. I’ve got offers where I could be involved, tell it in the political way, and I’ve got movie offers where they just want to buy my life rights.”
Following the 2012 revelations about Lambert, Jacqui suffered a breakdown. “I’ve been really ill and my psychiatrist at the Priory hospital thinks that I should just take the money and let them do what they like, because there has to come a point where I can put this to an end and carry on with my life.”
Closure, Jacqui said, is “going to come through therapy and doctors and lawyers and friends. I don’t think I’m going to get the answers from the establishment.”
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), the UK police watchdog organization, revealed earlier this month that 1,229 undercover officers are currently operating in 43 units across England and Wales. The Met has not condoned police officers getting in sexual relationships with targets, but they have also not said outright that this is wrong in all situations. In a judgment delivered in July this year, the ruling judge said that the Met’s lawyer, Ms Carss-Frisk, had argued: “Never say never: It might be legitimate for an officer to sleep with someone on a single occasion in order to obtain information about an imminent terrorist act.” This lack of outright condemnation is what human rights lawyers have begun referring to disparagingly as the ‘Austin Powers rule’.
Jacqui’s lawyer, Jules Carey, is representing four other women taking similar cases. Harriet Wistrich at Birnberg Pierce & Partners has a further eight.
There are a few things that Jacqui claims she can’t forgive. One is the fact that Lambert and the other officers succeeded in their goal of diminishing the force of the animal rights movement. Another is the role of the state. “The state, remember, is us the taxpayers,” she says.
However, the main message she wants to pass on isn’t directed at the government, or at Lambert, or at other activists.
“I teach young people, and I try to teach them, especially young women, about the autonomy of their bodies, and the ways they’re portrayed and I think there is a message I want to get across to young women: don’t let this sort of thing happen to you.
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