Before he was a Peterborough Councillor, Andy Coles was an undercover officer in a secret Metropolitan Police unit that spied on political activists.
People concerned about the issue have asked a number of questions about the affair.
Aren’t these just allegations? Isn’t he innocent until proven guilty?
The two key facts are clear and nobody, not even Coles, is contesting them.
1. Andy Coles was an undercover officer in the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad., infiltrating peace and animal rights groups from 1991 to 1995.
This disgraced unit’s activity and methods is one of the darkest episodes in Met history. After it was shut down in 2008, a scathing internal report said the SDS had acted as an unaccountable ‘force within a force’. This was more counter-democratic than counter-terrorist.
2. Whilst undercover he was sexually aggressive to a number of women, and groomed Jessica into a relationship.
This was abuse of police power and a violation of human rights. In identical cases, the Met have unequivocally agreed and used these exact words before paying compensation and giving a full and unreserved apology.
The public inquiry into these political policing units has granted Jessica ‘core participant’ status, something given to less than 200 of the most affected people.
Weren’t these protest groups dangerous?
The SDS infiltrated a very wide range of groups – more than 1,000 over the 40 years of the Squad. Put simply, there weren’t that many dangerous groups! They are known to have spied on trade unions, political parties and other public democratic organisations. During Andy Coles’ time undercover they spied on the family of Stephen Lawrence. A whistleblower has described being tasked to ‘find dirt’ with which to discredit the Lawrences.
If the SDS’ work was catching dangerous people, they would have secured convictions, but they rarely gathered evidence for legal proceedings. They were given strict instructions not to get involved in court cases (though they ignored this on occasion). Instead, they were deployed to get intelligence and steer protest groups. SDS officers not only made a personality trait out of mocking activists for not being hardcore enough, they also organised actions and encouraged the indecisive to join in.
Jessica campaigned with the London Boots Action Group, who would leaflet outside Boots’ shops in protest against the company’s use of vivisection (something Boots later stopped doing). They held public, legal protests of the kind we see on most high streets. To this day, she does not have a criminal record.
Beyond all this, nothing justifies deceiving women they spied on into long-term life-partner relationships. The Met themselves, though they vigorously defend the use of undercover officers, completely and unequivocally condemn this abuse of women.
Jessica knew what she was doing didn’t she?
Coles physically pounced on a number of women without warning. The others fended him off, but Jessica didn’t have the self confidence for that. Coles exploited her vulnerability. He said he was 24 and single, and she didn’t know how to deal with his approach. She described it:
‘Although I was 19, I had never been in a proper relationship before. Events in my life had taught me it’s best to keep people at arm’s length. So, I didn’t know how to react when he made advances towards me, I was embarrassed, awkward, and what truly makes me feel sick now, is that I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I look back now and realise I was naive, idealistic, unsophisticated and a very young 19. Appallingly I also now know my new “boyfriend” was a 32 year old, married undercover policeman working for the SDS, Special Demonstration Squad.’
People tell lies in relationships all the time, don’t they?
Yes they do, but this is something very different. Everything about ‘Andy Davey’ was a lie, right down to his name. He was only ever in Jessica’s life to betray her, her friends, and what she held most dear. He was trained to do it as his job, an agent of the state being monitored and guided by an unseen team of backroom officers. That is all far beyond mere lying.
We can expect a few secrets from people around us, but we don’t expect the people closest to us to be entirely fictional characters whose sole purpose is to undermine us. That’s not something we should anticipate or tolerate from our partners, nor our government. Jessica could not give informed consent.
Wasn’t it all a long time ago?
Sexual abuse and abuse of positions of power should be taken seriously even when it is historical. When the person concerned is unrepentant, offering no explanation or justification, let alone an apology, they must be held to account and regarded as unworthy of trust.
Hasn’t he been cleared of charges?
No. There have not been any charges. The Independent Police Complaints Commission briefly looked at his role as Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner shortly after he left the post– not his work in the Met, and they did so without speaking to any of his accusers or victims – before deciding they would not investigate him.
Isn’t he prohibited from speaking about it?
No. Several other former officers have spoken out on TV and in newspapers, even whilst under investigation by police and their satellite bodies. Andy Coles’ silence is entirely his own choice.
What he did wasn’t illegal, was it?
Nobody can justify what was done to the women deceived into relationships. The Metropolitan Police’s position is that it was:
‘abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong… these relationships were a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma… They were wrong and were a gross violation of personal dignity and integrity.’
Whether it amounts to criminal abuse is something that is, as yet, untested in law. The Met have forced previous victims to settle out of court. Jessica’s civil claim is underway.
Beyond all that, proven criminality is not the deciding factor for a person’s suitability for public office. We expect higher standards of integrity, accountability and transparency. Andy Coles’ serious and sustained abuse of police power, and his compounding of it with a subsequent refusal to address the issues, make him wholly unacceptable for a position of public trust.
As soon as the facts came to light in May 2017, Coles resigned as Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire.
He retains other positions of civic trust including his City Council seat. Council leader John Holdich OBE said of this, ‘Until you’re proved guilty, why should you get out? That’s a sign of your guilt, isn’t it, if you resign?’ Yet the resignation as Deputy PCC speaks for itself. He cannot have it both ways.
His pulling down the shutters does not just affect this issue. By hiding away and locking his social media accounts he is not only being unaccountable but inaccessible. He is betraying the spirit and practice of public service.