In 2003, Kate Wilson fell in love with Mark Stone. They were in a relationship for two years, and even after they split up, they stayed close friends. But in 2010, Kate received a phone call that changed everything. She found out that Mark Stone was actually Mark Kennedy: an undercover policeman who was spying on her.
“It felt like one of my best friends had died,” she says. “It was very weird. People assume that I must have been really angry, but when I found out, he was still a very close friend of mine. I’d seen him a few months beforehand for dinner. It felt like my friend had died. But over the years, I’ve gone through every emotion you can possibly imagine.”
After eight years of fighting the police in a court case, which is still ongoing, Kate’s view of the situation has changed. “What felt like grieving the loss of a friend and a personal betrayal has now become much more sinister. I now know that I was a named target. So, who picked me, and why? Who was spying on me before Mark? It gets bigger and scarier.”
At the time, Kate was an activist involved in environmental and social-justice protest groups. It has since transpired that Mark’s relationship with her was an attempt to infiltrate those groups. When the allegations came out, the police originally denied that they knew about the operation and claimed that their undercover officers were not allowed to have sexual relationships with campaigners they were spying on.
But after Kate brought a civil claim against the police in the High Court in 2011, the police eventually settled and apologised. Martin Hewitt, an assistant commissioner at the Met, issued a statement saying: “It has become apparent that some officers entered into long-term intimate sexual relationships which were abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong,” he said. “These should never have happened. They were a gross violation of personal dignity and integrity. They were deceived – pure and simple.”
It was a victory for Kate and seven other women involved in similar situations, but the settlement also meant the police didn’t have to disclose any more evidence. “What we got was what we now know to be a very misleading apology and a compensation payout,” says Kate, who originally believed the police had no idea about Mark’s actions. But resulting evidence has shown that Kennedy’s managers knew he was having an intimate relationship with Kate and allowed it to continue.
It’s like being in a dystopian novel. If they made the movie of my life, it would probably be a sci-fi
It’s why Kate has continued to bring a human-rights-violation case against the police in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. In a hearing last week (3 October), it came out that Kennedy was given money by the police to help Kate socialise with other activists he wanted to spy on, as well as buy her a mountain bike, and that the police secretly recorded her personal activities, such as going to the cinema and museums.
“This week, it all feels a little less awful because we’ve cracked something open a little bit,” says Kate, the day after the latest hearing. “It was very refreshing seeing the judges getting it and telling the police off [for their delaying tactics]. There hasn’t been much progress, yet, but we did get some disclosure and admissions in relation to Mark Kennedy’s sexual conduct.”
The court case has been a long, gruelling fight and it’s by no means over. But Kate is prepared to keep battling on for answers. “I am nothing if not stubborn. What I want is the truth and for the police to be held accountable. The more they try to cover stuff up and the little bits of information come out, the worse it gets. They've admitted that the sexual conduct amounts to humiliating, degrading treatment and that it went up the command chain; it wasn’t just a rogue officer. So, now I want answers.”
The case has taken over Kate’s life for the past eight years. She jokes drily that she’s only had a few years’ respite from Kennedy over the past 15 years, when she moved abroad following the break-up. “It takes over your life,” she says. “You don’t get a choice. There’s the emotional labour you have to deal with yet again. It’s exhausting. And the police’s efforts to delay the court case and not disclose evidence is exhausting. It is bullying and an attempt to wear you down emotionally.”
She hasn’t had therapy for what happened to her, because she was forced to give evidence to a psychiatrist during her high-court claim and found the experience so traumatic that it has put her off “ever sitting in a room with someone like that again”. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t like to talk about “the emotional impact of it all” now and sees her life as split into before and after Mark Kennedy.
“I still can’t believe it happened,” she says. “It’s like being in a dystopian novel. If they made the movie of my life, it would probably be a sci-fi. I now try to look back and think what my innocent younger self thought about the world, and if anything like this could ever happen, and I have no idea. Because now, when I look back, well, hindsight is 20-20, so you see all sorts of things.”
Her only goal now is for the court case to end with answers, so that she can go off and continue living her life, whether that’s continuing to work as a nurse or going off to Indonesia to volunteer with relief efforts there. “I feel like people need to know something like this can happen,” she says. “It’s difficult to make sure it never happens again, but we want to make sure it would be very difficult for it to happen again. I have so little trust in the system now. I just want it to be over as soon as possible and I want it all to go away.”