Two recent news stories have shone a light on the revolving door between the police and the security industry.
The Guardian has revealed that Crossrail employed the security company Control Risks to keep tabs on union members who were campaigning to reinstate a sacked colleague. Emails released to the electrician Frank Morris show that this monitoring involved weekly briefings on the efforts by the Blacklist Support Group and Unite the union to win Morris his job back. Both Control Risks and Crossrail have denied this was anything more than using publicly available information from social media accounts.
Two former police officers who were employed by Crossrail are named in these emails. They worked in the security department of the publicly funded project. The emails show they oversaw Control Risks as it monitored the anti-blacklist campaigners.
Control Risks was established in 1975 by David Walker, a former SAS officer, and Julian Radcliffe, then managing director of a political risk insurer. It is now a global operation employing thousands and has a history of recruiting former SAS and intelligence officers.
There is no suggestion that the employees or Control Risks were engaged in any illegal activity or blacklisting either in their previous careers or currently.
Yet time and again, when a company faces legitimate concerns about its activities, its reaction is to reach for the spies.
A HM Inspectorate of Constabulary report as far back as 2012 warned of the risk of conflicts of interest if officers from units monitoring extremism transferred to the private sector and then attempted to make use of their old contacts.
Meanwhile the Met’s former head of counter-terrorism, Richard Walton, popped up as the co-author of a report from the Policy Exchange thinktank into Extinction Rebellion, arguing that the protest group should be considered an extremist organisation looking to subvert democracy. “Those encountering Extinction Rebellion should be under no illusions about just how destabilising and extremist their agenda is,” the report declares.
Walton is a senior fellow at the rightwing thinktank and also runs Counter Terrorism Global Ltd. Walton retired from the Met only days after it was found that he would have had a disciplinary case to answer for his role in spying on the Stephen Lawrence campaign.
As well as the warning from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary over the private security sector, the continuing inquiry into undercover policing revealed more than 1,000 organisations have been spied upon since the 1960s.
Despite the supposed checks and balances on the police, we have seen numerous covert policing scandals occur over decades. We should be concerned then about the adequacy of the barely-there safeguards and regulations in the private security industry. We should be under no illusions about the potential risks posed by former spooks passing unchecked into the private sector.
• Phil Chamberlain is co-author of Blacklisted: The secret war between big business and union activists