An undercover police officer led a triple life infiltrating a socialist group and a fascist group at the same time, according to documents disclosed to a public inquiry.
The spy, who adopted the fake name Peter Collins, was sent by his Scotland Yard bosses to infiltrate a leftwing group, the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP), for three years, the inquiry heard.
During the deployment, members of the WRP persuaded him to infiltrate a violent far-right group, the National Front. Collins filed reports of his infiltration of both organisations to his police managers.
These reports, published by the public inquiry into undercover policing on Tuesday, are the first significant evidence that officers spied on the far right, although not in this case at the instigation of the police.
The inquiry, led by the retired judge Sir John Mitting, is examining how undercover officers spied on more than 1,000 political groups in an operation that was initiated in 1968 and ran for more than four decades.
During the long-running operation, the officers overwhelmingly spied on leftwing and progressive political groups, according to an analysis of organisations that are so far known to have been monitored. Only a handful of far-right groups were put under surveillance.
The inquiry has heard that it was not until the 1980s that the Scotland Yard managers in charge of the operation made their own decision to send an undercover officer to infiltrate the far right.
Collins was sent by his police supervisors to infiltrate the WRP in 1974. The following year “he was tasked by the WRP to infiltrate the National Front and report back to senior figures within the WRP”, said David Barr, the inquiry’s QC.
Collins was a member of a covert Scotland Yard unit, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), which infiltrated political groups in long-term deployments between 1968 and 2008.
SDS managers referred to Collins in the unit’s annual report for 1975. “For the first time an officer has penetrated the National Front, at the instigation of a leading member of the Workers Revolutionary Party with whom he is particularly friendly, and is obliged to lead a ‘treble’ life,” the report said.
It is unclear why members of the WRP chose Collins for the task of infiltrating fascists or if he was ever suspected of being a police spy. He is too ill to give evidence, according to the inquiry.
At the time, the National Front was becoming a political force, holding provocative marches through areas that had sizeable minority ethnic communities. Anti-racist campaigners organised protests to oppose them.
At one point, Collins reported to his bosses that a small number of hardline fascists had become disillusioned with the National Front leadership and formed their own group, the Legion of St George.
SDS managers decided it was not necessary to send another undercover officer to penetrate the National Front when Collins’ infiltration of the fascists ended in 1976, because the information Collins had gathered “added nothing of real value” to the intelligence already being obtained by what they called “excellent special branch sources”.
Barr has said the inquiry will not hear very much in public about the infiltration of the far right as the SDS officers have been given anonymity to protect them from fascist reprisals.
The inquiry, whose current phase is focusing on undercover operations in the 1970s and 1980s, continues.