|Image is a screenshot from BBC News|
I’ve been hugging myself with glee as I read the news this week, most inappropriately. It’s not because I find the news — any of it — particularly cheering, because who does right now? But one story has just got me gripped.
I’ve blogged before about the problems of researching my current work in progress, a story about a woman who discovers that her anarchist ex-boyfriend is really an undercover policeman — but not until she’s fallen in love with one of his colleagues. This week the news story that’s taken my attention reflects the situation from which I began. It’s the story of the Met Police apologising and paying compensation for having allowed, routinely and over a period of decades, some of their undercover officers to seduce female activists in order to infiltrate ‘undesirable’ organisations.
I wanted to jump up and down and shout ‘yes!’ because although the story hasn’t helped very much in terms of my research, it did serve to validate a lot of my thinking. The actual workings of undercover policing are as elusive as before, as evidenced by a remarkably po-faced reply from the College of Policing to a not-particularly-sensitive information request that ‘in the interests of security we can neither respond to nor comment on your questions’. But the news has exposed the feelings of those who were targeted.
That was what I was trying to get to. Once my heroine, Bronte, learned the truth about her ex-lover Eden, she was unable to let him go, no matter how much she knew she should, how much it might cost her in terms of both her new relationship and possibly even her life. She had to challenge him, find out how he could possibly treat her like that. For her own peace of mind she had to make him understand that what he’d done wasn’t just about two-timing her with another woman (because like so many of the real-life officers he also had a wife and family back home) but had left her feeling betrayed and violated. And as I wrote I wondered just how believable that was.
The stories of some of the women to whom the police have now issued an unreserved apology are heartrending. "He was my closest friend, my partner and my confidant for most of my thirties," said one (quoted on the BBC website). "It has had a profound traumatic effect on me. I have had difficulty forming relationships ever since. It was a deception perpetrated, overseen and supervised by the state."
"I … discovered he was married with children throughout this time. I loved him very deeply and have suffered significant psychological damage from the experience of suspecting and then proving he was an undercover police officer," said another.
It turns out that the reaction I invented for Bronte is not, after all, so different from that of the real-life victims of undercover policing. The nuts and bolts of the undercover operations detailed in the plot may be, as I envisage them, inaccurate. The human response is not.