‘I found out my best mate’s a spycop’

Morning Star (UK)

Animal rights activist Daryl Dixon speaks to the Star after discovering his friend in the 1980s was an undercover copper

AN ANIMAL rights activist has spoken out about his shock at recently discovering his best mate in the 1980s was actually a police spy.

The officer, known only by his cover name John Lipscomb, infiltrated several south London-based animal rights groups during the 1980s and ’90s, including Bromley Animal Rights, where he met Daryl Dixon, then aged 23, in 1987.

Mr Dixon, a lifelong animal rights activist from Kent, quickly formed a close friendship with Lipscomb, bonding over a shared passion for the cause.

They met up every weekend to organise actions, went to festivals and socialised down the pub.

It wasn’t until last month that Mr Dixon discovered through a notice posted by the public inquiry into undercover policing, that his friend John did not exist but was in fact an officer in the Metropolitan Police’s top secret Special Demonstration Squad (SDS).

“I’m still shocked really,” he told the Morning Star this week. “I still find it hard to believe, but I know it’s true. It does dent your trust in people a bit.”

Mr Dixon remembers Mr Lipscomb, who then sported long hair and beard, as being “a bit of an old hippie,” and a “chilled out guy” who loved and was very knowledgeable about folk music.

“You just wouldn’t think this was a policeman.”

As part of his cover, Mr Lipscomb told activists he was a salesman for a posh tile firm and had a company van, which he used to drive activists to protests and meetings all around the country. Mr Dixon recalls the van even had tiles in the back.

By the time Mr Lipscomb entered the scene, Mr Dixon was a trusted activist in the movement, having been involved for years with hunt saboteur groups as well as the hard-line Animal Liberation Front group.

“Now I kind of feel he was using me to get his foot in the door because people knew I was OK.”

Mr Dixon said he felt betrayed by the man who he had thought was a good friend, and who he had confided in his problems with.

“Now it’s all just a fake lie, isn’t it, because he wasn’t that person at all. And I don’t know if he liked me or if he was just going back to his superior and telling them everything I’d done.

“I’d love to be able to confront him and say you know what were you doing?

“How can you trick someone into thinking you actually care about them when you don’t care at all, or maybe you do, it’s hard to know?

“Did he even care about animals? Was he eating vegan food with us and then going back to the police canteen and stuffing his face with bacon sandwiches?”

During his three-year deployment in the SDS, Mr Lipscomb also infiltrated Brixton Hunt Saboteurs, Croydon Animal Aid, Hither Green Hunt Saboteurs, Sidcup Hunt Saboteurs and South London Animal Aid.

He eventually disappeared from the scene in the early 1990s, telling activists he was moving to Germany to live with his sister. Mr Dixon said he never heard from him again, and attempts to find him on Facebook since “drew a blank.”

The police officer is the latest spy whose cover name has now been publicly revealed by the Undercover Policing Inquiry chaired by retired judge Sir John Mitting.

An anonymity order restricting the publication of the cover name was revoked by the probe in November 2021 due to a “change in circumstances,” and published last month — coming to Mr Dixon’s attention shortly after.

Mr Lipscomb’s real identity is still hidden, and restricted by an anonymity order granted by the inquiry.

The probe, which is due to restart in May, is investigating abuses by officers serving in two secret police units that infiltrated more than 1,000 protest groups over four decades.

Mr Lipscomb was not the only police officer to infiltrate the animal rights movement.

Campaigners have counted at least 14 police spies among their ranks between the 1980s and early 2000s.

Animal rights activist Paul Gravett told the Morning Star he was spied on by six police officers during his 30 years in the movement, including notorious spycop Bob Lambert, who fathered a child with an activist while undercover.

Mr Gravett, who has been documenting the police infiltration of the animal rights movement through his AR Spycatcher blog since 2013 (network23.org/arspycatcher), said officers used the same “tradecraft” to infiltrate groups.

“They followed the same template the SDS had long established,” he said.

“They lived on their own in fairly dingy flats or bedsits, they had a van or vehicle of some kind, they all wanted to help and become involved in the group and have some kind of position in it.”

Mr Gravett founded the London Animal Action group, originally London Boots Animal Action, which from its very inception already had police spies among its members, including Andy Coles, now a serving Tory councillor in Peterborough.

He was especially close to Lambert and another officer who went by the cover name “Matt Rayner,” who he threw a big party for when he left the group. “We bought him a present and loads of people turned up. We were just fooled weren’t we.”

“If you believe in animal rights, if you want to change the world for the better in all sorts of ways, then you think it’s wrong that the state is doing that to stop you.”