What price would you put on your life? Not in a hostage situation, but how much is the life you live right now worth?
It’s impossible to measure, of course. A lifestyle, a family, the person you wake up next to, have breakfast with, come home to and say good night to, year in year out, cannot be quantified in cash.
Nevertheless, the Metropolitan Police has settled on a sum of £425,000 as compensation for invading one woman’s life 30 years ago, changing its course for ever, and then vanishing. That woman is Jacqui. She was a 22-year-old activist and hunt saboteur in 1984 when she met Bob, a long-haired radical with Greenpeace credentials. They fell in love and a year later had a child. Then, when their son was two years old, Bob disappeared. The next time Jacqui saw him was in 2012, on the front of a newspaper when he was unmasked as an undercover police officer called Bob Lambert.
In a story that makes one’s mouth drop and stomach turn all at once, it turned out that Jacqui’s former lover and father of her child was not Bob Robinson. He had harvested that name from a dead child. That was only the start of his sinister intrusion. As part of the Special Demonstration Squad, or SDS, he was tasked with penetrating the Animal Liberation Front, whose members were thought to be planning arson attacks.
All the time Bob was with Jacqui, he had a wife and family at home and was sleeping with three other activists besides. His own children suffered, and later died, from a rare genetic disorder, but when Jacqui said she wanted a child, he did not reveal this for fear of breaking cover. This was deception upon despicable deception from someone acting, apparently, in the interests of the law.
It is impossible to imagine how one would feel if faced, like Jacqui was, with existentially devastating questions like: who is the father of my son? Did my 14-hour labour constitute overtime for him? Was I really loved? “My foundations are all built on sand; they’re not real,” she said. “Nothing in the past 30 years of my life has been real.”
Not surprisingly, Jacqui suffered a breakdown, exacerbated by the fact that for nearly two years after Bob’s identity was revealed, Scotland Yard refused to admit that he was an SDS operative. It now apologises “unreservedly” and with cash, though £425,000 seems a paltry sum for a life turned upside down and 30 years of single parenthood.
This is not a solitary scandal. Jacqui is one of 11 women suing the police for damages, having embarked unwittingly on sexual relationships with officers. There may be many more. They talk of the “psychological torture” of discovering the truth, that they had been not cherished, but used. Jacqui felt like she had been “raped by the state”. Indeed, if a person is tricked into having sexual relations with a stranger, how else to describe it but in terms of abuse?
The idea that sex can be a legitimate tool for keeping the peace in a civilised, modern democracy is absurd. To use it as a tactic, as in Jacqui’s case, to disrupt protest is grotesque. There is a reason that the honey trap is a device beloved of film-makers. It is the stuff of fantasy – fitting in a land of movie morality but reprehensible in real life.
And yet, according to Peter Francis, who also worked for the SDS, sex was used by “almost everyone” in his unit. The Met never had a policy to say we could use sex, he told BBC’s Today. “What they actually mean is that they never had a policy that said we couldn’t have sex.” There is a tacit “never say never” approach. Do what you have to do and hope the consequences stay hush-hush.
The Met is shamefully mealy-mouthed on the case. Mealy-mouthed in apologising – commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe is noticeably undercover – and mealy-mouthed on what it deems to be overstepping the line. In a hearing of the women’s cases last year, the judge cited James Bond among other fictions which, he said, “lend credence to the view that the intelligence and police services have for many years deployed both men and women officers to form personal relationships of an intimate sexual nature… to obtain information or access”. In other words, everyone knows it goes on and there’s no law against it.
But this isn’t a Bond film, and Jacqui was no femme fatale. She “gave out a few leaflets, went on a few demos”, in her early twenties, like thousands of other young idealists. Of the payout, she says she would rather have had “less money and more truth”. One imagines that she would like the past 30 years of her life back, too, but this isn’t a movie and, tragically, that cannot happen.
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