The first FoX Grant Project is online!

by Jane Whyatt &  Jennifer Rauch

13th January 2016 marks the launch of the Special Branch Files Project – the first of the projects funded by ECPMF’s Freedom of Expression (Fox) grant offered by the Journalismfund. The website publishes declassified files compiled by the Special Branch, the British police division that was set up to spy on political activists and campaigners in the UK.

Screenshot Special Branch Files

Eveline Lubbers PhD, an independant investigator, author, and one of the founders of the Undercover Research Group and Spinwatch, co-founded the project with Nikola Cutcher – a freelance journalist working in broadcast and print media with a passion for investigating stories in the public interest.

Eveline Lubbers Kreis Picture by Special Branch Files Project: Eveline Lubbers
Nicola Cutcher Kreis Picture by Special Branch Files Project: Nicola Cutcher

The website includes documents with intricate details recorded by Britain's secret police about a range of protest movements in this country since 1968.

The files are about the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Wapping industrial dispute.  

Wapping is an especially important chapter in the history of press and media freedom. It is the district of London where media tycoon Rupert Murdoch set up a high-tech newspaper publishing house in the 1980s in order to break the strength of the journalists’ union NUJ and the printers’ unions.  The then Prime Minister, Conservative Margaret Thatcher, supported the move, and passed new laws restricting the ability of the unions to hold mass demonstrations or to show solidarity with the workers who had been sacked by Mr Murdoch. Non-union workers were smuggled in to the Wapping plant in special buses, guarded by hundreds of police.


Other files relate to the psychological welfare of undercover police officers who spied upon such groups. Last year a female activitist won £400,000 compensation from the Metropolitan Police because she was traumatised when she discovered that the father of her son, Robert Lambert, had been a secret policeman. He had a double life, with a wife and family living elsewhere and simply abandoned the woman and their son when he had acquired enough information about her campaign. Read the whole story here. The Channel four news exclusive interview with former Special Branch officer Robert Lambert is availabe here.

Robert Lambert Picture by Exeter University: Robert Lambert

Collectively the documents are a testament to the findings that have been made by journalists using the Freedom of Information Act since 2005. Their publication is a strong response tot he recent official attempts to retreat from this open data policy.

In the early years of the FOI Act, the Metropolitan Police ("The Met") and the Home Office were relatively open to releasing Special Branch documents. Unfortunately this openness was short-lived. The authorities now routinely refuse to disclose Special Branch files, including information which they previously released. This is despite the fact that their own disclosure log proclaims that 'when information is released under the FOI Act, it is disclosed to the world.'

The authorities may want to prevent further access to this information but they can't turn back the clock. Journalists and researchers who received those files in the past, generously shared them with the Special Branch Files Project for publication. That’s why the documents are now accessible to the public.

The initiative aims to expand its collection and invites anyone who wishes to share further files, analysis or to support the project in any other way to get in touch.

The Special Branch Files Project is run by journalists, academics, researchers and volunteers and has received funding from the European Center for Press and Media Freedom and

Jane Whyatt, Project Manager of ECPMF

Jennifer Rauch, ECPMF Website intern (temporary part time)


Read more

How the Met changed their policy on releasing Special Branch files

Example of the Met refusing to release files which they had previously  disclosed

Book: Undercover by award winning journalists Rob Evans and Paul Lewis gives details of how the secret police infiltrated campaign groups, influenced the investigation of a racist murder and acted as agents provocateurs to incite violence at peaceful demonstrations.