Sexual relationships, fathering a child, using dead children’s identities and a false name in court – in a wide-ranging, exclusive interview Bob Lambert talks about his years as an undercover officer.
The first time I tried to get Bob Lambert on camera was in January 2010. “Er, no,” he declined politely.
“I think Jonathan would be much better suited than me for that”, or words to that effect, referring to his colleague Jonathan Githens-Mazer sitting beside him.
The two Exeter University academics had just written a report on Islamophobia in Britain and they were trying to drum up media interest. I put Lambert’s reticence largely down to modesty or a general nervousness about how he’d come across on camera. Eighteen months later I came across the following headline in the Guardian: “Progressive Academic Bob Lambert is Former Police Spy”. The penny dropped.
Lambert was exposed as a former undercover police officer, the most senior to date, in October 2011. Challenged at a conference by former activists in the London Greenpeace movement, he was chased down the street. He ran, but the unravelling scandal of undercover policing would soon engulf him.
Up until then the focus had been largely on another police spy, Mark Kennedy, exposed for having infiltrated a group of climate change campaigners and found to have possibly acted as an agent provocateur. Now Lambert stands at the heart of this spying scandal, accused of firebombing a department store, giving a false name in court, co-authoring the famous McLibel leaflet, and fathering a child with a “target”.
Watch the video: Bob Lambert's extended interview with Andy Davies
Last week, in a Dispatches documentary, his old unit was linked to an alleged smear campaign against the family and supporters of the Stephen Lawrence campaign, at a time when Lambert was second-in-command. “There was no smear campaign,” he insists, but he and his old friends at Special Branch are under scrutiny like never before.
It is the revelations regarding Lambert’s behaviour with the women he duped while undercover which have drawn the most intense public indignation. He admits that during his four-year deployment infiltrating the Animal Liberation Front, he slept with four women linked to the groups he was targeting.
With hindsight I can only say that I genuinely regret my actions, and I apologise to the women affected in my case. Bob Lambert
Incredibly, he even fathered a child with one of the women. She recently described her treatment at the hands of the Metropolitan police as amounting to “state rape”.
Did his wife know what was going on? “No”, he replies. Does he accept that what he did was morally reprehensible? A gross invasion of people’s privacy? “Yes, I accept that” says Lambert, quietly.
“With hindsight I can only say that I genuinely regret my actions, and I apologise to the women affected in my case.”
At one point he ventures: “I’d always been a faithful husband. I only ever became an unfaithful husband when I became an undercover police officer”.
He denies there was a deliberate tactic to target the women and talks of love, emotional immaturity, weakness, adding: “Probably I became too immersed in my alter ego, Bob Robinson”.
It will be up to a major police investigation, Operation Herne, currently examining allegations of widespread misconduct by undercover officers, to establish the truth of that latter claim.
Bob Lambert became “Bob Robinson” in June 1984, four years after he’d joined Special Branch from the panda patrol life of a police constable based in Hampstead. As was routine, it seems, for members of the Met’s elite Special Demonstration Squad during that period, the cover name would have been picked from a list of dead children. In Lambert’s case, the identity belonged to Mark Robert Robinson, a seven-year-old boy who died of a congenital heart defect, on 19 October 1959.
The tactic of “harvesting” dead children’s identities, revealed during the Guardian’s investigation into undercover policing, has been roundly condemned.
“A careless and bullying intrusion into the most shattering human grief”, wrote the former Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald recently; “gruesome” said a committee of MPs.
Lambert says he didn’t give pause for thought at the time on the ethical considerations: “That’s what was done.” He adds that later, as a manager in the SDS and after the death of his own daughter, he helped introduce “alternative approaches”. Perhaps more significantly, however, he claims that the resurrection of dead children’s IDs was a practice “well known at the highest levels of the Home Office”.
Lambert’s “tour of duty” lasted four years. He became the first undercover officer to infiltrate the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), some of whose members would become involved in a campaign of arson attacks across the country. His alter ego Bob Robinson, the long-haired radical who emerged onto the scene from relative obscurity, had honed his “anarchist” credentials whilst based with the London Greenpeace movement.
But did he take his immersion role too far? Did he become an agent provocateur? It was claimed in parliament last June that he planted an incendiary device in a Debenhams store in Harrow in 1987. Lambert is quick to deny it as a “false allegation”.
He does, however, appear to make a significant admission on another highly contentious issue currently under investigation, namely the use of false identities in court. Bob Lambert, in his wide-ranging interview with Channel 4 News, reveals that he was arrested “four or five” times while undercover and that in 1986 he appeared in a magistrates court charged with what he claims was a “minor public order offence”.
He can’t remember if he was convicted but maintains he had to appear as “Bob Robinson”, his alter ego, in order to “maintain cover”. Others may view this differently, as the actions of someone who knowingly duped the court and could be investigated for possible perjury. Lambert himself won’t be drawn further on the issue.
I was certainly a contributing author to the McLibel leaflet. Bob Lambert
Bob Lambert also confirms that he was one of a group of activists who co-authored the so-called McLibel leaflet. It prompted one of the longest libel trials in British history, as McDonald’s sought to prove, at great cost, that the leaflet was defamatory.
“I was certainly a contributing author to the McLibel leaflet”, he says. “Well, I think, the one that I remember, the one that I remember making a contribution to, was called What’s Wrong With McDonald’s?”. I ask him if it was ever disclosed to the court that one of the supposed activists behind the authorship of the leaflet was in fact a Special Branch man. “I don’t know the answer to that question,” he replies.
There are plenty of questions for Bob Lambert over the coming months. Still working as a lecturer, he says he’ll cooperate fully with any investigation. He is a man seen by many as utterly discredited, but he still hopes to salvage one aspect of his career – the Muslim Contact Unit which he set up at Special Branch to foster ties with Muslim groups post 9/11:
“My reputation is never going to be redeemed for many people, and I dont think it should be. I think I made serious mistakes that I should regret, and I always will do. I think the only real comfort I can take from my police career is that the Muslim Contact Unit was about learning from mistakes.”
Whether he and other colleagues exposed over this scandal are believed – after so many years of consummate deception and duplicity – will now be a matter for the various inquiries. It appears the men and women of the Special Demonstration Squad, for so long protected from public scrutiny, are being called to account in a way they never imagined.