The Guardian has been publishing reports of people who have been victimized by undercover police officers, groomed as unwitting informants via romantic engagements. For the women targeted in these ventures, their feelings are often genuine–and they must endure a shocking betrayal that is not only legal, but sanctioned by the state.
Like Jessica, I too was deceived. I understand the shock, disbelief and disorientation that come from this appalling discovery, that someone so close and so trusted could actually be a spy sent to infiltrate and disrupt legitimate protest and political movements.
I was tricked into a long-term relationship with the SDS (Special Demonstration Squad – the Met’s undercover unit) officer who I knew as “Carlo Neri”. We met in London in September 2002 at an anti-war demonstration. Neri was a steward at the march and on that day he was with friends I knew socially and through work – who just happened to be trade union activists and anti-racism campaigners.
Neri and I were inseparable. Within six weeks he’d moved in with me. We lived together for two years and in that time we got engaged and talked about having children. My family and friends loved and trusted him too, and he became very much central to all our lives.
Neri left me after appearing to have a breakdown, during which he disclosed trauma and domestic and sexual abuse within his family. This trauma was re-emerging and deeply troubling him. Leading up to his final disappearance from my life, he went missing several times and threatened suicide. This had a massive impact on my life and my wellbeing.
It was in the summer of 2015 that I discovered that Neri had in fact been leading two lives: one with me, as a locksmith and leftwing activist, and the other with his wife as a highly trained police officer, operating in the so-called elite SDS, a secretive unit within the Metropolitan police.
Like Jessica, for over a decade I had no inkling that the man that I had lived with was in fact a state spy. It was activists and researchers who had suspicions about Neri’s sudden disappearance who put all the fragments of this strange jigsaw together. They provided me with unquestionable proof that Neri was an undercover police officer, his profession documented on his marriage certificate and his children’s birth certificates. To be invited to join this elite unit, it was a prerequisite to be married and to have a stable home to go back to when the long undercover deployment – or “deep swimming”, as they referred to it, ended.
The impact of the discovery has been profound. It has re-opened old and painful wounds, which never quite healed. This real-but-not-true person has come back into my life – uninvited. When this happens, when your life narrative becomes a fiction, time itself becomes fragmented. There’s a ripple effect. It impacts your family, your relationships, your career, your health. There are still many missing pieces, questions unanswered and a huge sense of loss.
I urge you all to do a bit of digging to see how drastic your local governments can get when it comes to surveilling domestic activists.
Read more about the UK’s actions here.