The Herald (UK)
Reports of an investigation into claims that a police spy set fire to a Debenhams store in the 1980s has raised the spectre of who was truly responsible for Plymouth’s Dingles department store blaze.
For nearly 20 years it has been supposed that animal rights extremists turned the building into a charred ruin by planting a fire-bomb – supposedly in the fur clothing section.
The major inferno saw firefighters battle through the night of December 20, 1988 as the blaze raged.
The fire was one of a series of arson attacks on properties which organisations like the Animal Liberation Front considered justified targets because of their links to the animal trade – including stores selling fur, laboratories carrying out animal testing and animal farms.
While nobody was ever arrested and charged for the Dingles blaze, the Animal Liberation Front highlighted the incident in its Winter 1989 ‘direct action’ newsletter.
It noted how “an incendiary device planted in Dingles last December in Plymouth devastated the store. Dingles directors have decided not to have a fur department when the store reopens.”
The report went on to note how in June 1988 “there was an arson attempt on the science block of Polytechnic South West in Plymouth”.
A report by news agency AP – printed in the Chicago Tribune in the US, noted how incendiary attacks hit a number of British department stores during December 1988 including Selfridges and Harrods. Around the same time as the Dingles fire, fires were started at the two prestigious London stores as well as a department store in Cardiff and another in Birmingham.
The report noted how “bombs found at Rackhams and at the House of Fraser in London department store on Oxford Street were defused safely”.
The report noted how the authorities said the Dingles fire caused “millions of dollars in damage”. At the time The Herald’s reported the fire destroyed the upper half of the building and floors were replaced at an estimated cost of £13.2 million.
According to the 1988 report police in Manchester said a newspaper there “received a telephone call on Tuesday from the Animal Liberation Front claiming responsibility for the bombings. The caller claimed his group had carried out the wave of bombings which wrecked House of Fraser store Dingles in Plymouth and caused minor damage at Harrods and Selfridges in London”
Another report at the time claimed news agency the Press Association received a call from a radical militant group called the Angry Brigade who claimed responsibility for the Dingles fire. The agency said the anonymous caller called the fire “an attack against big business”.
At the time all the stores involved, except Selfridges, belonged to House of Fraser, the retail group owned by the Al-Fayed brother of Egypt.
New questions have been raised about the Dingles case after claims that a police spy set fire to a Debenhams in Harrow, London in July 1987 – causing £340,000 damage
A Scotland Yard investigation centres on allegations that an undercover police officer set fire to a high street department store while infiltrating animal rights campaigners.
The claim centres on undercover officer, Bob Lambert, who has been accused of planting the incendiary device.
According to The Guardian the probe could be completed by July this year.
Lambert, who used the identity of a dead child while he masqueraded as a radical campaigner for five years, has consistently denied the claim that he planted the device.
According to The Guardian article by journalists Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, as part of their ongoing series of reports on undercover police operations, the allegation had been made in parliament in 2012 by Green MP Caroline Lucas
She aired the claim that Lambert had taken part in a plot with two animal rights campaigners to set fire to three branches of Debenhams in a protest against the sale of fur.
The two campaigners, Geoff Sheppard and Andrew Clarke, were jailed for four years and three years respectively for their roles in the Harrow arson attacks.
Lucas told MPs that Sheppard had alleged that Lambert had planted the device perhaps in “a move designed to bolster Lambert’s credibility and reinforce the impression of a genuine and dedicated activist.”
In previous statements, Lambert said his covert deployment was to “identify and prosecute members of the Animal Liberation Front who were then engaged in widespread incendiary and explosive device campaigns against vivisectors, the meat and fur trades.”
He said he succeeded in getting Clarke and Sheppard arrested and imprisoned.
As a result of the MP airing the claim, Clarke and Sheppard appealed against their convictions.
At a preliminary hearing regarding their appeal, the High Court heard that the Met Police team scrutinising the claim estimate that the investigation could end by July.
The issue of undercover police operators ingratiating themselves with activist groups targeted by the authorities came to a head after it was revealed that some had engaged in sexual relations with members of the infiltrated group.
In the case of Lambert, he fathered a child with a female activist while he was undercover in the 1980s and then abandoned them when his covert mission finished.
In 2014, the Metropolitan police were forced to pay more than £400,000 to the female activist who was traumatised after discovering that the father of her son was a police spy.