BNP infiltrator seeks police admission of covert operation
Gary Shopland says he has been unfairly branded racist after he was secretly sent by police to spy on British National party
A man who says he was recruited and sent by a covert police unit to infiltrate the British National party has spent more than a decade trying to persuade police to publicly clear his name of racism.
Gary Shopland, 51, says he has been unfairly branded a racist because he was persuaded to spend seven years as a BNP member, during which time he helped to protect the party’s leader, Nick Griffin, and became one of its regional treasurers.
He says he had no involvement with the BNP before he was recruited by police to act as their mole within the party.
An evaluation by a psychiatrist concluded that the refusal by the police to make an unequivocal public declaration that Shopland worked for them had caused him “considerable and unremitting” damage. It has left him suffering from chronic stress, suicidal bouts, mood swings, a sense of hopelessness, weight gain and sleeping problems.
The psychiatrist said the refusal had also hindered Shopland’s attempts to find a job. He says he has been unemployed and living on disability benefits since 2007.
West Yorkshire police say that a national policy prevents them from confirming or denying whether they recruited Shopland to work as an informant. However, his campaign has forced police to make what appears to be a partial admission.
The force’s most senior lawyer told him in a letter that allegations that he was a “racist and/or Nazi” were “totally inaccurate and without foundation”, but provided no further explanation.
A senior source within the force has said unofficially that he was an informant tasked by the police. Another source, asked how the police could say Shopland was not a racist if they had never had any contact with him, said: “You have got to read between the lines in that letter.”
A former officer said to be involved in supervising Shopland referred questions to West Yorkshire police.
Shopland’s reward for working as an informer within the BNP averaged around £30 or £40 a week, Shopland says. He alleges that the police in effect “drafted him off the street to do their dirty work and then befriended and betrayed” him.
The police’s reputation has been damaged by a series of revelations about the undercover infiltration of political groups. The disclosures have led the home secretary, Theresa May, to order a public inquiry into undercover policing.
On Tuesday, police chiefs are due to make public details of how they have responded to the damning verdict of an independent inquiry by Mark Ellison QC, who concluded in March that Scotland Yard had spied on the family of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.
Mick Creedon, the Derbyshire chief constable called in by the Met to conduct an internal inquiry into the conduct of the undercover police unit that infiltrated political groups for four decades, is also due to publish a report.
The latest allegations relating to the police’s handling of spies centre on Shopland, who was working as a part-time as a nightclub bouncer when he says he was approached in 1996 to become an informer. An endurance runner, he had been training in the mountains of Snowdonia with a friend who was a West Yorkshire police officer. A group of officers met Shopland in a car park and asked if he would like to work for the police. Shopland claims he was asked to write to the BNP and become a member so that he could feed back to the police inside information about their activities.
Shopland says he had never heard of the BNP before then, although he was aware that another racist party, the National Front, “went around kicking people’s heads in”.
One of his handlers told him that he “looked the part”. The handler, who said he worked for a unit monitoring rightwing political groups, told him: “Someone like you only comes around every 20 years, someone willing to stick their neck on the line,” and that “if I was half as good as it says on my CV then I would do really well”.
Shopland says he was thrilled to be asked to help the police and dedicated himself not only to being the best informant but also to training himself to behave like a racist. He rose to be appointed the treasurer of the BNP’s Yorkshire region and one of Griffin’s bodyguards. Throughout his seven years in the party, he says, he was regularly passing on information about the BNP’s activities to his handlers. This included details of meetings such as the names of those in attendance, personal information about individuals such as their jobs and vehicle number plates, and warnings about who might be planning violent acts such as fire-bombings.
Payment, always in cash, depended on how useful his handlers believed his information to be, he says. Some weeks he was paid nothing, other times they would wind up him up by waving the cash in front of him and then snatching it away from him, according to Shopland.
He says he grew disillusioned as his handlers failed to support or value him properly. He decided to quit after he was named as a BNP member in the media, including the Observer. He was angered by his handlers’ failure to do anything about his public exposure.
He says his BNP membership caused problems with family and friends. He says that his handlers tried to persuade him not to leave, then suggested he go and infiltrate loyalist groups in Northern Ireland or “start growing a beard and convert to Islam”.
“It was a long process. They said the BNP won’t just let you go, what about going to join the loyalists over the water, can you do the Muslim thing? They didn’t want to let me go.”
Since quitting in 2003, Shopland has been seeking from West Yorkshire police a public and unambiguous declaration that he worked for them as an informer, as he has no written evidence of his clandestine work. He says he has spent £25,000 on lawyers in his quest, including funding the evaluation by the psychiatrist.
The most compelling concession he has won came in 2008 when Mike Percival, the force solicitor for West Yorkshire police, wrote to Shopland’s then lawyers: “The West Yorkshire police are aware of historic media reports suggesting that your client (Gary Shopland) is a racist and/or Nazi. These reports were totally inaccurate and without proper foundation.”
In a statement, Assistant Chief Constable Ingrid Lee said: “The question of whether someone is or is not a police informant is one that the police service is often asked. Many methods are used to obtain intelligence and that intelligence is vital to keeping our communities safe.
“There exists strict governance and guidelines in relation to all intelligence-gathering techniques, many of which are subject to frequent and independent inspection. It is, however, the position of West Yorkshire police, and the police and other law enforcement agencies nationally, neither to confirm nor deny whether people are, are not or ever have been informants.”
Shopland’s psychiatric evaluation paints a picture of a man who will continue to suffer “prolonged” problems until police clear his name. The psychiatrist said he was “a man of pride” who felt he had been “abused and violated”.
Shopland, who has worked in the security industry, fears that he would be humiliated if he tries seek a job because his employers would discover his past membership of the BNP.
A spokesman for the BNP said the claim that the police had infiltrated the organisation was more serious than historic allegations of wrongdoing by BNP supporters.
“The more serious thing is the fact that we have the police involving themselves in disrupting legitimate political parties.”