03:04 GMT20 June 2021
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    On May 3 2018 former undercover police officer Jim Boyling was found guilty by a Metropolitan Police disciplinary panel of gross misconduct, for pursuing an unauthorized sexual relationship with an individual using his false identity, failing to inform superiors of the extent of the relationship, and disclosing confidential information.

    The judgment was a long-time coming — he'd spent the prior seven years suspended on full pay — and the punishment hardly severe — he was dismissed without notice, the highest sanction available to the panel.

    Still, in the process Boyling became the first police spy in Britain to be officially censured for conducting a sexual relationship while undercover, a significant development given the overwhelming majority of ‘spycops' unmasked to date did so, often with more than one person — the Special Demonstration Squad, of which Boyling was a member, even offered advice on sexually targeting women in its training manual

    Jim Boyling undercover as 'Jim Sutton' © Police Spies Out Of Lives
    Jim Boyling undercover as 'Jim Sutton' © Police Spies Out Of Lives

    While the Metropolitan Police have acknowledged undercover officers' romantic affairs constituted "a violation of women's human rights, an abuse of power and caused significant trauma", the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has to date declined to prosecute any officers for sexual offences or misconduct in public office.

    Shock Exposure

    In the mid-90s, ‘Monica' (a pesudonym) was an environmental campaigner with Reclaim the Streets, a protest collective that occupies roads and demands community ownership of public spaces — just one of the movements targeted by Boyling during his five-year covert deployment under the alias ‘Jim Sutton'.

    The pair met at one of the group's meetings and immediately hit it off — quickly becoming close friends, after a year their bond intensified into a romantic one.

    "He became a central part of my life, I felt very strongly for him…I was so glad to be with someone who seemed to truly care for me, and trusted him deeply," Monica says.

    The relationship lasted six months, but they remained good friends afterwards, and she would look back on their times together with fondness — until 2011, when old activist associates informed her ‘Sutton' didn't exist, and was in fact an undercover officer sent to spy on and sabotage their activites.

    "The revelation sent shockwaves through my life and I'm still dealing with the after-effects. I've struggled to understand and cope with what happened ever since. Initially I still felt connected to Jim on some level, although very confused and hurt…over time, I've stopped perceiving the tenderness and intimacy as real and see it for the manipulation and deceit it really was. He was a well-trained and highly capable covert infiltrator who pursued me because he wanted sex, and to enhance his fake identity. I would never, ever have consented to sexual activity with him if I knew who he really was and what he was really doing," Monica says.

    Victims of UK Police Spying Protest Outside Royal Court of Justice, London © Sputnik 2018
    Victims of UK Police Spying Protest Outside Royal Court of Justice, London © Sputnik 2018
    Not long after Boyling's unmasking, the CPS launched an investigation into whether he and other ‘spycops' should be charged with rape, indecent assault, procuring a woman to have sexual intercourse by false pretences and misconduct in public office. In August 2014, it announced there was no realistic prospect of conviction for any offences against any of the officers — the CPS based its decision on case law, stating while a man's failure to use a condom or withdrawing before ejaculation after promising he would may constitute rape, lying about one's identity wouldn't. 

    "In order to prove the offence of rape the prosecution must show the complainant did not consent to sexual intercourse…consent can be negated if there has been a deception as to the nature of the act…the identity of the suspect is relevant to a very limited extent," the CPS stated.

    Putting it mildly, Monica wasn't satisfied with the outcome, and has battled ever since to challenge their decision, seeking a full judicial review of the issue.

    On November 13, her arguments were finally heard by High Court judges in London — if her quest is successful, a seismic precedent could be set, and every undercover police officer who engaged in sexual activities may be open to criminal prosecution.

    Watching the Detectives

    The suggestion an individual's identity wasn't particularly relevant to sexual consent was central to the case presented by Monica's legal team, led by Phillippa Kaufmann QC.

    "This was not a case in which Boyling lied about personal attributes such as wealth or connections. His deception [covered] every aspect of his identity apart from his body. Both his past and present was entirely fabricated, carefully crafted to ensure his true identity would not be revealed to the groups he infiltrated. [Monica] hated police when she was in the movement. Most women don't decide to have a sexual encounter with someone simply on the basis of their appearance. If the law is going to support women's sexual autonomy, it needs to recognise there are other factors critical when giving consent. A slow burn is critical to how women make their choices," she arguedThere's a growing body of case law to support such a notion — in recent years, there have been several cases of women deceiving other women into having sexual intercourse by pretending to be men, all of which have produced convictions, and in some cases lengthy prison sentences.

    In response, Gareth Patterson QC, acting for the Department of Public Prosecution, said the decision not to prosecute was correct as Boyling's "deception as to name and occupation does not of itself prove [Monica] did not consent". Moreover, he went so far as to say the deception by was not carried out in order to engage in sexual intercourse, but "was a mandated requirement of his employment as an undercover officer acting in the public interest" — a suggestion met with a chorus of grunts and gasps from the public gallery, incredulous and disgusted in equal measure.

    It wasn't merely spectators who were outraged — presiding judge Mr. Justice Jay interjected, saying while it may have been in the public interest to collect intelligence via infiltration, "a red line was clearly crossed". Responding, a clearly flustered Patterson replied "no one" was arguing a line hadn't been crossed, "but the issue is whether it was rape".

    What Next?

    A ruling in the case, Mr. Justice Jay said, will be announced "at a later date" — meaning an outcome may be many months away. Still, Monica is heartened by the "outstanding" job Kaufman did, and considers herself extremely lucky to have been supported by them, campaign groups such as Police Spies Out Of Lives, and "other women who've been abused in the same way".

    "It's amazing we've got this far — that my legal team's well-considered arguments were heard by the UK's highest judges is pretty impressive. I know how motivated they are to take this as far as we can, in order to chip a way at institutional sexism. If the judges find in favour of the CPS, we'll take the case to the Supreme Court if we are able — if it's referred back to the CPS, they'lll have to come up with better reasoning as to their decision not to prosecute. I don't even expect their decision will be a prosecution should proceed. Ultimately, a large part of our motivation is to get whatever disclosure we can concerning these violations. As much as I can be critical of state institutions, the law is the most effective means of challenge," Monica says.

    Nonetheless, the hearing was light on seismic revelations — although Monica did learn Boyling had given a statement to the CPS in respect of Monica which had not been provided to the Justices — "much to their annoyance", or her legal team. She believes this a "telling" indication of how little the CPS is interested in accountability, transparency and truth.

    The statement is highly unlikely to ever see the light of day, a shocking failure of disclosure given what it could reveal about the extent to which his superiors knew about and even directed and controlled their relationship — a highly significant question, given pursuing an "unauthorized sexual relationship" was apparently grounds for his dismissal.

    In a perverse irony, another disciplinary charges of which Boyling was convicted — disclosing confidential information — was in fact the catalyst for the spycops scandal erupting.

    Boyling was romantically involved with several other women while undercover, culminating in a highly intimate relationship with ‘Rosa' (a pseudonym), another RtS activist he met in 1999 — within months, the pair were living together, and planning to start a family.

    However, their relationship began to deteriorate when he started subjecting her to a concerted campaign of mental abuse. He claimed to be suffering from a psychological breakdown, but his behavior was in fact a ruse, part of a carefully crafted ‘exit strategy' — a well-established and officially-advocated policy for undercover officers, designed to provide cover for exfiltration from deployment.

    He went duly went missing months later — but Rosa refused to move on, searching doggedly for him for a year and a half, while struggling to remain sane when her investigations revealed 'Jim Sutton' didn't exist. Unbeknownst to her, she was on the brink of unravelling the ‘spycops' scandal — but her serendipitous detective work was brought to a halt when Boyling walked into the shop where she worked.

    He told her he'd been sent by police to spy on her and her friends, but instead of acting against them had protected the movement — and was now terrified the police would find out what he really was. He also alleged he was the only such officer, and needed her help to flee from his superiors.

    Such was her extremely fragile emotional and psychological state, she believed his story — and they reunited. A mere fortnight later, Rosa was pregnant with the first of couple's two children, and the pair were soon wedded — but the marriage rapidly broke down, due to Boyling's manipulative, controlling and abusive behaviour.

    Rosa believes Boyling — "an actor, a random police officer, who 'played' my partner" — used his training in deception and manipulation to undermine everything she stood for and her traumatized self, isolating her from friends, family and associates. His maltreatment extending to physically violence on many occasions, in 2007 she fled with their children to a women's shelter — she also relayed what Boyling told her about undercover political policing to fellow activist Helen Steel. These disclsoures confirmed Steel's suspicions her former partner 'John Barker' (real name John Dines) was an undercover officer, and the exposure spread through activist circles, reaching 'Lisa', the partner of 'Mark Stone' (real name Mark Kennedy), encouraging her to pursue that line of inquiry when she began to suspect he wasn't who he claimed to be. His unmasking as an undercover police officer finally blew the lid on the state conspiracy.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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    undercover operation, police spying, undercover police, spying, Metropolitan Police, United Kingdom
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