The most famous case of an Undercover Officer acting as an agent provocateur was the case of Colin Stagg and “Lizzie James”. On 15th July 1992, 23 year old Rachel Nickell was walking on Wimbledon Common with her then two year old son. Rachel was attacked in front of her son. She had her throat cut, was repeatedly stabbed and sexually assaulted. The attack caused a public outcry which placed a great deal of pressure on the Metropolitan Police to find the culprit as quickly as possible.
The investigation quickly centred on Colin Stagg, an unemployed man from Roehampton who was known to walk his dog on Wimbledon Common. There was no forensic evidence at the scene linking Stagg to the killing so the Police had a Criminal Psychologist draw up a profile of the suspect. On receiving the profile, the senior Officers involved in the case decided that the profile fitted Colin Stagg and with the assistance of the Criminal Psychologist they set up Operation Ezdell in an attempt to have Stagg either eliminate himself or admit the crime.
A female Undercover Officer Using the name “Lizzie James” made contact with Stagg. Over a 5 month period, “Lizzie James” feigned a romantic interest in Stagg and communicated with him in person, in writing and over the phone. Much of this contact carried from “Lizzie” contained violent sexual fantasies in an attempt to encourage Stagg to confess to the crime. Stagg professed some violent sexual fantasies of his own which he later claimed to have made up in an attempt to keep “Lizzie” interested.
The Police would later release a taped conversation between “Lizzie” and Stagg in which “Lizzie” claimed to enjoy hurting people, to which Stagg mumbled: “Please explain, as I live a quiet life. If I have disappointed you, please don’t dump me. Nothing like this has happened to me before.” When “Lizzie” went on to say “If only you had done the Wimbledon Common murder, if only you had killed her, it would be all right,” Stagg replied: “I’m terribly sorry, but I haven’t.” Despite this, Stagg was charged with the murder of Rachel Nickell.
When the case reached the point of trial at the Old Bailey, the trial Judge Justice Ognall ruled that the police had shown “excessive zeal” and had tried to incriminate a suspect by “deceptive conduct of the grossest kind”. He excluded the entrapment evidence and the prosecution withdrew its case. Stagg was formally acquitted in September 1994. This type of operation which was widely condemned in the press was described as being a “honey trap”. On 18th December 2008, Robert Napper pleaded guilty to Nickell’s manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility after a cold case review revealed new DNA evidence.
Although a “honey trap” operation was never declared illegal in an English Court, following on from this and other similar cases, it was decided by the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that “honey trap” operations would no longer be used. It was believed that the Colin Stagg case showed that in such an operation, the suspect could and would say whatever he or she felt was right under the circumstances to continue the relationship rather than tell the truth.
Can an undercover officer commit a crime?
Undercover Officers, are legally allowed to carry out criminal activities such as purchasing drugs however they are not supposed to take part in criminal enterprises whenever possible. This was not always straight forward. On one occasion an undercover Officer was waiting with a group of others all waiting to be dealt heroin from a dealer. The dealer did not want to spend his time dealing to a number of people and decided that he would deal to one person who could then deal to the rest of the group. The dealer unwittingly picked the undercover Officer who was forced to deal to the rest of the group. This was permissible as the Officer was acting in character and was not setting himself up as a dealer.
Finally, Undercover Officers have to be careful about how they speak to criminals they come across. Normally when the Police speak to or interview a suspect they are bound by the codes of practice laid out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 (PACE). PACE states that when a suspect is interviewed he or she should be cautioned and read his rights. Obviously Undercover Officers cannot do this so they have to work around that. They are not to lead conversations that would result in someone revealing information, however if the criminal reveals the information of their own free will that is fine.
For the select few who manage to pass the initial training course and become qualified as undercover Officers there are regular continuation courses covering developments in role the and changes in legislation. Finally, there are specialist courses for certain roles to allow Officers to work on operations which would otherwise be out of the question. Undercover Officers have been known to train as art experts, vehicle mechanics, computer programmers amongst numerous other skills.
In between working undercover, Officers work in their usual Police role be that being a neighbourhood Officer, a Traffic Officer or any of the countless other roles that Officers carry out until they receive the phone call.
The planning of an undercover operation can take many months or even years depending on the operation. Once the need for an undercover operation arises, a Command Team is formed in co-operation with “Covert Ops” who oversee everything to do with undercover operations. The role of the Command Team is to oversee their operation and they are responsible for the planning of, the budget of and the non-undercover staffing of the operation.
The Command Team will be made up of a senior Officer who is in charge of the whole operation. There will also be Officers trained in and working in intelligence units to ensure that the all information is up to date. The final members of the Command Team are the Exhibits Officer who deals with every single piece of evidence and one or two “runners” who carry out all of the leg work such as transporting Officer and exhibits.
Once the Command Team have everything in place for the operation, they will go back to Covert Ops and after proving that they have everything in place, they will ask for undercover Officers and a Welfare Officer to be assigned. Occasionally, members of the Command Team will request specific undercover and Welfare Officers as they have previously worked with them however this is only ever a request and the final decision is out of their hands.
Within Covert Ops there is one dedicated Officer who has the sole responsibility of overseeing all undercover Officers. This Officer will know the details of each and every undercover Officer in their Force. They will know each Officer’s strengths and weaknesses including any individual Officer’s specialisms. This Officer also knows each Welfare Officer personally.
The role of the Welfare Officer is a vastly underrated one. The sole purpose of the Welfare Officer is to look after the undercover Officers no matter what happens. During any operation, the say of the Welfare Officer is final. No one in the world can overrule the decision of the Welfare Officer. If he or she believes that what is being asked of the undercover Officer is unsafe, not suitable or even just has a bad feeling, that is it. Nothing can happen on an operation without the go ahead from the Welfare Officer.
The Officer overseeing undercover Officers will meet with the chosen Welfare Officer to discuss the operation and prospective Officers. It is very common for operations to include Officers from other forces throughout the country to lessen the chance of the undercover Officer being recognised or his or her identity being discovered. As there is only one Officer in each Force responsible for undercover Officers, it is a small group who know each other well and a quick phone call will arrange the “loan” of an undercover Officer or two.
By Officer Z
See the final part soon.