Security firm spied on road protestersPublished by MAC on 2003-10-05
Security firm spied on road protesters
The Sunday Times - Britain
05 October 2003
Group 4, the security firm hired by the government to protect its controversial road-building projects, has become the latest public company to admit paying a private intelligence agency to spy on protest groups.
Last week The Sunday Times revealed that BAE Systems, Britain's leading arms manufacturer, used the same agency; R&CA Publications, to monitor the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and other anti-arms groups. The agency, run by Evelyn Le Chene, a 67-year-old grandmother from Gravesend with close links to the security services, employed undercover agents to infiltrate the pressure groups on behalf of BAE, then called British Aerospace.
They downloaded computer files, rifled through personal property and copied confidential correspondence and financial information before passing it via Le Chene to BAE. In return Le Chene was paid £120,000 a year, though BAE insists it did not ask her to do anything illegal.
Now Group 4, whose clients range from the prison service to the royal family and the government, and boasts of its ability to guard its customers against espionage, sabotage and subversion, has also admitted paying for information obtained by the spy network.
The revelation is certain to infuriate anti-road campaign groups such as Reclaim the Streets. The fact that government money paid to Group 4 was being used to finance Le Chene's covertly obtained information will fuel the controversy further. The relationship between Group 4 and Le Chene appears to have been most active in the late 1990s when the Newbury bypass became the focus of anti-roads groups when thousands occupied woodland earmarked for destruction.
The 8½-mile bypass finally opened in 1998 after years of protests delayed completion. The total cost of the project was £74m, of which nearly a third, £24m, was spent on security.
Tape-recorded conversations involving Le Chene reveal that she regularly passed information from her network of agents to Group 4. She said she had agents posted permanently at Newbury and passed on highly confidential personal information about protesters to the company.
These included accommodation addresses, vehicle registration details, National Insurance numbers, unemployment benefit details and income support information.
Group 4, which carried out work on behalf of the Highways Agency as well as construction companies such as Costain and Tarmac, helped police many of Britain's most controversial road-building projects.
Last week a Group 4 spokesman admitted buying information on protesters: We've certainly been obtaining information about protests at our customers' sites. It is the sort of information that would be obtained in the pub about activities that may effect our customers; people or property", he said. "We were getting information about where protesters would be and what times in advance. We would have paid for that information."
There is no suggestion that Group 4 asked or encouraged Le Chene in any illegal activities. Barry Gane, a former director of Group 4, is now a co-director with Le Chene in a risk consultancy company that provides threat assessments for corporations. Gane is also a former deputy director of MI6.
The documents show that Le Chene employed her son Adrian to spy on protest groups. Using the name Adrian Mayer or Adrian Franks, he claimed to lead a small protest group called EcoAction committed to fighting the oil and arms industries. He was exposed as he attempted to infiltrate a protest group based on the Continent.
Wil van der Schaus, who helped to expose him, said "He has sought to convince corporate clients of the necessity of his services." The Highways Agency said the government had funded security operations around road-building sites but it was the responsibility of the contractors involved. "Clearly we worked closely with the police and the contractors to ensure that this was carried out in a lawful way," a spokesman said.
Many environmental campaigners have long suspected they were the subject of spying operations. The transport department working on orders from Treasury solicitors, spent more than £700,000 in the early 1990s employing a Southampton-based detective agency to help them identify protesters. Private detectives were seen filming people and noting down public conversations.
Despite this, campaigners believed this type of surveillance alone could not account for some of the information contained in the dossiers issued by the department to support legal injunctions against them.
Le Chene, a member of the exclusive Special Forces Club in London, claims to corporate clients that she has a database containing the names of more than 148,000 people who belong to left-leaning pressure groups such as CAAT, Reclaim the Streets and CND.
She sells the names for £2.25 each to large corporations. She also makes no secret of her close contacts with police Special Branch officers. After Le Chene's son was exposed for infiltrating European protest groups, several of them wrote to the corporations that he was allegedly working for. These include British Aerospace and Rio Tinto Zinc, the mining giant. Their letter said: "The person we knew as Adrian Frank from the French environmental citizens group EcoAction has for at least 1½ years under the names Adrian Lechene and Adrian Mayer been actively contacting companies, particularly in the oil and arms industry.
"He has offered these companies information about the activities of environment and peace organisations in different European countries, asking significant amounts of money in return for his services.
"We consider these espionage practices and the fact that companies were willing to use the services offered by Mr Frank/Lechene/Mayer to be highly disturbing"
Evelyn Le Chene did not respond to requests for an interview last week.