‘I was young and naive’: Deceived into sexual relationship by UK ‘spycop’ when she was just 19, ex-activist tells of her struggle
As part of UK police operations to infiltrate activist groups they dubiously deemed ‘extremist’, undercover cops tricked women into relationships. One such ‘spycop’ even wrote a how-to guide – and remains a public figure.
In May 2017, it was revealed Andy Coles, Cambridgeshire’s Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, was a former undercover operative in elite national security policing unit the Special Demonstration Squad, and had under the guise of ‘Andy Davey’ infiltrated animal rights and anti-war campaign groups in London from 1991 – 1995.
At an Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI) hearing 9 November, Phillippa Kaufmann QC mentioned Coles in a statement, which documented in shocking detail the stories of 21 separate women all deceived into long-term romantic relationships by undercover police.
‘Serial sex pest’
Jessica (a pseudonym) was among them. Kaufmann noted how one night in early 1992, ‘Davey’, with whom Jessica had crossed paths on a few occasions prior but never particularly spoken to, arrived at the front door of the house she shared with other activists.
When the pair were alone, he made a sexual advance on her – then just 19-years-old, she was surprised and confused as it was so unexpected, and she was in no way attracted to him. However, due to her inexperience, she didn’t know how to respond, and lacked the confidence to tell him it wasn’t what she wanted.
“I felt no romantic feelings for him whatsoever, but he was very determined. I was embarrassed, awkward, and didn’t want to hurt his feelings, somehow. I was a very young and naive 19 – had I been older it would never have happened. It certainly wouldn’t have happened if I knew he was a police officer. I had no way of giving informed consent,” Jessica says.
‘Davey’ continued to visit the house subsequently, spending ever more time with Jessica. After a while, he seemingly assumed they were ensconced in a romantic relationship, and their connection eventually grew intimate, and he became Jessica’s first proper boyfriend. He represented himself as 24, but was in fact 32, and had been married for four years when they met.
Likewise unbeknown to her was his reputation in activist circles for lecherous, predatory behaviour. Several women allegedly targeted by Coles have shared their disturbing stories publicly, although the experience of Joy (pseudonym) is representative.
Dubbing him a “serial sex pest” and “known creep,” she recalled how one night he turned up at her flat and proceeded to pursue her round her living room repeatedly attempting to initiate a kiss, despite her clear and repeated rejections. It was some time before he eventually left.
Jessica and ‘Davey’ parted ways amicably in August 1993, remaining friends until some time in 1994 when they lost contact with each other. He left the activist scene in February 1995, and was never heard of again.
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When she learned of her former partner’s true identity, Jessica didn’t question it at all – the revelation explained a lot. Nonetheless, she didn’t sleep or eat for days afterward, and now takes medication for depression, the truth having triggered all manner of adverse psychological and emotional reactions within her ever since.
Jessica demands answers to many questions. When did the police start spying on her? Were files created on her family? What information did Coles possess on her and others when they met? Was she recorded when she went round to his flat, and/or covertly photographed and videotaped?
In a perverse sense though, she was somewhat fortunate. Unlike dozens of other women deceived into romantic relationships by undercover officers, ‘Davey’ wasn’t the love of her life – in fact, she had no strong feelings at all, describing him as “one-dimensional”, and their relationship “boring, dead and awful” long before its conclusion.
Several other women, however, were much more deeply involved in the fake relationships with police spies, and planned to have children with their bogus partners. They may now never have sons and daughters of their own, having wasted their child-bearing years on the undercovers’ manipulation, deceit and exploitation.
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Taking cues from targets’ troubled past
Still, her experience is significant, for Coles played a highly influential role in British undercover policing during and after his deployment, and there are sinister indications his own experiences directly shaped spycops’ tactics and strategy.
For instance, it was standard practice for spycops to train their successors upon return from the field, and it’s likely Coles tutored Mark Jenner (alias Mark Cassidy) and Jim Boyling (alias Jim Sutton). ‘Davey’ told Jessica’s friends her parents very much approved of their relationship, as he, like her, was adopted.
That she was adopted wasn’t something Jessica had disclosed to anyone in her activist circles, least of all her then-boyfriend — but Boyling would falsely claim to be adopted while undercover. More eerily still, Jessica’s brother was also killed by a drunk driver when he was 11-years-old — Jenner told ‘Alison’ (a pseudonym), who he deceived into a long-term relationship, that his father was killed by a drunk driver, when he was eight-years-old.
Jessica can’t help but wonder whether her real-life experiences were learned by Coles via surreptitious means then relayed to his pupils, which in turn influenced their cover stories. Many spycops spun bogus tales of troubled pasts to people they spied upon, in order to dishonestly engender sympathy and rapport.
“If those tremendous sources of pain in my past were cynically exploited by undercovers to gain the trust of their victims, that’s absolutely disgusting. You can tell from all the flippant gags and vile language in the SDS tradecraft manual Coles had contempt for people he spied on, and got sick pleasure from manipulating them,” she despairs.
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‘Best practice’ of deceit
The manual to which Jessica refers was authored by Coles in February 1995, while still undercover. In it, he outlines assorted ‘best practice’ tips and guidance for officers on deployment. His virulent disdain not only for surveillance targets — derogatorily dubbed “wearies” — but anyone adversely affected by undercovers’ activities is writ large throughout.
One section specifically offers advice on “romantic entanglements” while deployed. While noting that “in the past emotional ties to the opposition have happened and caused all sorts of difficulties, including divorce, deception and disciplinary charges,” Coles doesn’t proscribe such activities, implying it’s up to an officer’s own discretion to do so or not.
“If you’re doing your job properly men and women in the field will experience occasional approaches from males and females…There may come a time when your lack of interest may become suspicious. If you’ve no other option but to become involved, you should try to have fleeting, disastrous relationships…One cannot be involved with a weary for any period of time without risking serious consequences,” he wrote.
The passage makes abundantly clear SDS higher ups were acutely aware undercover officers had in the past engaged in sexual activity with those they spied on and deceived surveillance targets into relationships, were highly likely to do so in future, but weren’t concerned about the prospect. It’s an open question how many spycops were encouraged and emboldened in deceiving women into sexual and romantic relationships as a result of Coles’ words.
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Following his unmasking as a former undercover officer, Coles resigned as Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Inexplicably though, he remains a Conservative member of the local council.
Coles took on many roles lending him a veneer of civic credibility in the city in the years following the spycops scandal’s eruption, including serving as governor of two schools in Peterborough, despite many undercover officers who’d done similar deplorable things while deployed having been named and shamed. In 2015 he was even a public face of the Children’s Society’s ‘Seriously Awkward’ campaign, which sought to protect older teenagers from grooming and sexual abuse by older men.
To this day, Coles contends having deceived Jessica into a romantic relationship, despite an internal police investigation determining in February this year there was “credible evidence” he had indeed done so. In a statement to the Peterborough Telegraph in response, he said he denied the accusations “completely”, and sought to depict his deployment as part of a fight against “animal rights extremists who used violence for political ends.”
Jessica thinks such characterisation risible, given the groups he infiltrated are public knowledge, and their activities almost exclusively consisted of leafleting campaigns, sabotaging fox hunts and horse races, and picketing shops selling fur coats. In fact, the only illegal activities her group engaged in were encouraged and organised by Coles himself, she recalls.
“I’ll never understand why we of all people were targeted by police spies. We were a small group who’d often struggle to get enough people together just to hand out leaflets, people who’d frequently end up sleeping in and missing the group transportation to demonstrations,” she laughs bitterly.
Jessica also thinks it unconscionable he retains any position of power and trust today, and as part of campaign group ‘Sack Andy Coles’, established October 2017, has played a leading role in protest actions aimed at spreading public awareness of his past conduct, and unseating him from the council.
Evidently irate in the extreme at their activities, in April 2019 Coles filmed, chased and allegedly assaulted Jessica and one of her friends as they distributed leaflets door-to-door in his council ward. His actions went unpunished by police, but whether he will be able to cling on to his public roles much longer now the inquiry has begun is an entirely different matter.
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