Flash, Agent Provocateur

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The Lower Trent Valley was once referred to as ‘Megawatt Valley’, attributed to the vast number of electricity-generating power plants that were housed there. There was a golden age for the region, when in the mid-1980s a total of 13 power stations generated 25% of the electricity supply in England and Wales.

They rapidly became redundant when the shift from coal power to natural gas took place.

Rather than manufacture electricity through the increasingly expensive development of coal, the ‘Dash for Gas’ took place. The driving factor behind this was political; regulatory changes had instituted gas as a means for power generation; the privatisation of the electricity industry would also be a significant milestone for the Megawatt Valley of the East Midlands. Gas production would grow exponentially from 1990 - 2002, with over £11bn being invested into the building of new power plants. Most of the coal power stations in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire would close during this time. The shift had been predicted by the chairman of East Midlands Electricity, who relayed his concern for Britain’s dependence upon large-scale coal fired power stations.

Today, only three of the original coal-fired power stations stand across the region. Ratcliffe-on-Soar remains a prominent landmark on the border of South Nottinghamshire, utilising the seemingly outdated means of burning coal to produce electricity.

With much of the Megawatt Valley divulging into using natural gas, Ratcliffe has been the site of environmental activism; groups of environmentally conscious campaigners targeted the site for occupation in 2007. At the end of the decade, a new protest was organised. The group was to infiltrate the site and severely disrupt operations. All seemingly happy to risk the proposed prison sentence for criminal trespass. Their operation had been planned for months, with over a hundred individuals committed to overrunning the premises.

On the morning of their operation, on the 14th April 2009, 114 people were arrested at a nearby school. All were questioned under the pretense that they were involved in a large scale demonstration. Of their group, 26 were charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass. 20 admitted their intent and found themselves subjected to a 6 month prison sentence.

Unbeknownst to the activists, their ranks had been infiltrated by the police.

The activists who maintained a plea of not guilty were saved from prosecution when media outlets established that the police had been covertly monitoring their movements for years. This form of espionage had not been previously exposed. It seemed heavy-handed and excessive, for these activists were not endangering the lives of others. Sentences for those imprisoned were rescinded when it became evident that the police had not disclosed evidence. An undercover officer known as Mark Kennedy, endearingly called 'Flash' by friends and acquaintances, became embroiled in a modern policing scandal.
Flash was accused of acting as an agent provocateur. His participation in the environmental activist movement was enduring and his management by senior police figures cusped on severe ineptitude.

He went unnoticed for 7 years, posing as a passionate activist and professional climber. He paid for transport, campaign literature and even ‘fines imposed by magistrates courts’ on other activists. His commitment saw him become an inciting agent. His role went beyond that of a passive spy. In his coercion, he embedded himself within activist networks by helping to raise funds, as well as actively participating in action across the country. The National Public Order Intelligence Unit used Mark Kennedy to gather information on groups that posed an ‘extremism’ threat.

His deception of women was the most abhorrent detail of the façade. In an attempt to establish himself to a wider group, he pursued sexual relationships with prominent female voices in the environmental activist network. Entering into long-term sexual relationships, he established bonds with the family of partners and was present at personal occasions. Kate Wilson was in a relationship with Kennedy for two years. He implanted himself in the centre of Wilson’s life. They shared the same interests and dreams, living together for close to a year.

The behaviour of Mark Kennedy was encouraged by senior officers. It was unclear how far up the police hierarchy the knowledge of this surveillance stretched. Many women, Wilson included, were subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment. Senior Police Officers had sanctioned continual sexual abuse. Being dedicated to environmental and social change was enough for Kate Wilson to be a person of interest to the police. In 2010, when Mark Kennedy was revealed to be an undercover police officer, her life was altered immeasurably. It transpired that a number of friends, colleagues and housemates had also been spying on her.

An abandoned car overlooks the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station

Kate was not alone. Other women had been grossly misled by the police force. In 2015, a group of women received an overdue public apology from the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. The relationships were labeled ‘abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong’. This behaviour has been labeled as ‘institutional sexism’. In having a relationship with a man that didn’t exist, Kate Wilson lost years of important memories. Her private life, exposed to an audience of police superiors listening from the other room.

It could be expected that the discovery of such injustice would assist in reforming the behaviour of the police force. Whilst undercover, Mark Kennedy had failed to ‘act with integrity, legitimacy and proportionality’. In doing so he failed to reach the expectations of the Association of Chief Police Officers. Their failure to control the actions of a long-term undercover officer posed greater questions. Mark Kennedy was followed for the duration of his infiltration, yet it was evident his superiors were driven to pursue the activists at any cost. They were aware of Mark Kennedy’s pursuit of Kate Wilson, but accepted his behaviour as a technique to maintain a high level of surveillance.

In the years that have passed, Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station has continued to work at full capacity. It is the 18th highest CO2-emitting power station in Europe, but active in attempting to reduce its harmfulness. The activists attempted trespass was the last notable activism on the site.