Paul Mercer: The Spy Who Came into the Spotlight

Last month, the Guardian reported on exposed undercover police officer Mark Kennedy’s links to corporate spying:

The undercover police officer whose unmasking led to the collapse of a trial of six environmental protesters on Monday apparently also worked as a corporate spy, according to documents seen by the Guardian.

…In February 2010 – a month before resigning – he set up Tokra Limited, at an address in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire…

…Calling himself a logistics officer, Kennedy registered himself as sole director of the company. Intriguingly, the address he used is the work address of Heather Millgate, a solicitor specialising in personal injury, and a former director of Global Open, a private security firm.

…It first came to public attention in 2007 when it was implicated in the case of Paul Mercer, a friend of the then Conservative shadow defence minister, Julian Lewis, who was exposed by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade of spying for the arms firm BAE.

Paul Mercer (no apparent relation to Patrick Mercer) is the author of several books, including Longman’s Directory of British Political Organisations (1994) and an anti-CND exposé called “Peace” of the Dead (1986), which involved infiltration of the organisation. In the 1980s he was associated with the radical libertarian strand of the Young Conservatives and became a local councillor; along with his friendship with Lewis, the late Mike Keith Smith of the Conservative Democratic Alliance (who has featured on this blog several times previously, for example here and here) described him on a forum in 2007 as a “personal friend for years”. According to legal documents relating to CAAT, Mercer’s organisation is called LigneDeux Associates.

The link to Kennedy through Global Open has provided the hook for an interesting and refreshingly unsensationalized article on Indymedia, which overviews Mercer’s career and includes some new material about activities in Nottingham:

Mercer has a long-standing interest in protest movements. In his sworn affidavit to the court during the CAAT case, Mercer insisted that “most of my research involves the automated searching of public websites and newsletters,” indeed he claims to have “a good reputation for my ability to rigorously search the Internet.” Nevertheless, he says he has “a wide range of contacts” and “does sometimes receive information from anonymous sources, as do many journalists.” At a meeting organised by think tank Policy Exchange in January he described himself as having spent 29 years trying to “combine an academic study of extra-parliamentary groups with actually going and seeing what happens on protests.” He claimed to have “covered and having been on pretty well every major public order disturbance in London over that period,” including the Poll Tax Riots and Mayday 2001.

The article notes that the Policy Exchange meeting can be seen on YouTube here; Mercer was introduced by Dean Godson (blogged here) as “one of the pre-eminent authorities on extremism of all kinds in the United Kingdom” and as giving “a rare public appearance”. The Indymedia article summarizes:

For all his supposed expertise, the analysis he presented at the meeting is unremarkable, mainly notable for the way in which he deliberately obscures the distinction between protest and riot so that he can talk about “all the major riots: NUM, Poll Tax, BNP, Reclaim The Streets, criminal justice, J18, Mayday… Tamils, Palestinians and now the students.” He went on to suggest, following the same analysis, that the Poll Tax Riots were organised by the Militant Tendency, latterly the Socialist Party. Despite the role of Trotskyist groups in “organising” riots, Mercer contended that violence at protests was typically instigated by “anarchist groups, squatters and what the Home Secretary rightly referred to as this ‘feral underclass.'” This “underclass” is apparently made up of Millwall football fans (who he seemed to suggest, kicked off the Poll Tax Riots) and hunt saboteurs. Having offered these insights into the causes of public disorder, Mercer then sought to justify the use of kettling and argue that prosecuting police officers for instance of brutality against demonstrators had cultivated “a reluctance of police officers on the frontline to actually hit people as hard as is necessary.”

It’s telling that Mercer’s roll-call of disruptive protests makes no mention of the rise of the English Defence League. However, Mercer’s approach appears to have earned him some grudging respect from those he investigates; a commentator adds:

I remember Mercer when he turned up at some Greenpeace meetings in Nottingham.

I have no doubt that he had an ulterior motive in doing so but at the same he was quite open about the fact that he had had books published and that, politically, I remember he always said that he was a libertarian. (In contrast most Greenpeace activists seemed to be the opposite). But unlike any other infiltrator or undercover police officer I have read about recently he was capable of maintaining a coherent political argument.

He may have just been very good at what he did but on some issues such as opposing McDonalds restaurants near schools, putting an incinerator in the middle of a city or opposing GM crops he not only had a grasp of the issues but was passionate at the same time.

Certainly, although Mercer’s analysis may be politicised and arguable, it’s clear that he has made some serious efforts with his researches and that his professional success can’t simply be dismissed as the result of self-promotion or bandwagon-jumping. Given the number of charlatans, fantasists, manipulators, and propagandists who pass themselves off as experts on extremism (some of whom have featured on this blog), it’s worth remembering that some more serious persons exist.

FOOTNOTE: Incidentally, the latest Private Eye (1281 p. 28) has a piece on private spies at protests, noting the case of C2i, which closed following “Austin Powers-style blunders” by one of its employees; typically for the Eye, the mocking jibe has been lifted uncredited from a website, in this case that of the protest group Plane Stupid. The Eye adds that C2i was run by an ex-army officer named Justin King, who now heads a similar outfit called Lynceus. Advisers include John Dearlove, brother of the former head of MI6 and (quoting the organisation) “a member of the Cabinet Office Security and Intelligence Secretariat during the premiership of Mr Blair”, and Sir Neil Thorne, who founded, according to the Eye, “the Armed Forces and Police Parliamentary Schemes, which allow MPs to play at being soldiers and policemen”.

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