Police target student to spy on peers – again

Amy Provan 17 March 2014

Three people have come forward claiming that Cambridgeshire police offered them money to spy on campaigning groups in the area. One of the targets was a student of the University of Cambridge, raising further concerns about the extent of police spying on student activism.

Last November the Guardian published a secret video that showed a police officer asking a young protestor to spy on leftist groups comprised of Cambridge students. The video had been filmed secretly by a young activist asked to become an informant in return for money. The officer asked for information on "student-union type stuff", demanding the names of students who were attending protests, the names of leaders, and a list of vehicles they used to travel to protests.

Another Cambridge student has come forward with a similar experience. He explained how he had called the police after feeling concerned about two suspicious men who he had thought were looking to burgle houses on his street. When invited to the police station to discuss the situation he was offered money to become an informant, rather than to discuss the potential burglary.

The second target of the most recent recruitment attempt was a single mother and member of Cambridge Unite Against Fascism, who was told that she would be arrested if she told anyone about what had been requested of her. She told The Guardian, "I felt at the time a bit of blind panic. It took me off my guard. It knocked me for six. You kind of feel like your back is against the wall, and you did not even know that you were going to be there, or why."

The third incident occurred when a Cambridge resident was followed into a supermarket and had money thrust into his hand, after police had twice previously arrived unexpectedly at his house, all with the aim of inducing him to pass information to the police concerning environmentalists in Cambridge.

These new revelations come after a meeting last month between Cambridgeshire police and students, in which officers pointedly avoided questions on police surveillance. Many students were left severly disappointed.

A police spokesperson explained to The Guardian: "Officers use covert tactics to gather intelligence, in accordance with the law, to assist in the prevention and detection of criminal activity."

But denied the recent allegations, claiming "in the application of these tactics we wouldn't engage in behaviour which has been described by the individuals".

Yet the Cambridge MP, Julian Huppert, stated that he was "alarmed" by the allegations, and wanted an explanation from the Cambridgeshire chief constable, Simon Parr, of "what has happened here, particularly if people are feeling threatened by the police".

He continued: "The police clearly have a role to keep us safe and to try and understand what is happening. But the sort of methods that are described here seem to me to be simply inappropriate. I do not believe that the sort of steps that are being taken here are proportionate to the actual risks there are."