Undercover Spy Totally Sorry For Relationship With Woman He Was Investigating

Today in break-ups that will make your last one look real tame by comparison, The Guardian reports on a meeting, 24 years coming, between an environmental activist and the spy who pretended to love her while secretly investigating her.

Back in 1987, social and environmental justice worker Helen Steel met a man named John Barker at a meeting of a London “green group.” For the next three years, they were friends and acquaintances, and though he asked her out several times, it wasn’t until his mother died and he asked her to borrow money to go to her funeral in New Zealand and came back that they began a relationship. Barker said had already lost his father, and Steel empathized with his pain and wanted to care for him, and eventually that caring turned to love. Six months later they moved in together.

They lived together for two years, they talked about having children, Steel thought they were happy and in love–until one day, John disappeared, leaving a “Dear Helen” letter, saying that he couldn’t cope with the loss of his parents and that he thought Steel would leave him just like the woman he loved before did. Steel begged him to come back, and he did, though sporadic disappearances continued. Then, one day, he left her for good, saying he was having a breakdown and would find her again if he were ever able to sort his head out.

Naturally, Steel was sick with worry that the man she loved might harm himself or do something rash. For the next several years she desperately tried to track him down–though while her detective work didn’t lead her to him, it did lead her to find out he’d been lying to her about who he was. She found out he lied to her about his real name, taking the identity of a boy who had died of leukemia at age 8, that he was married to someone else…and oh yeah, that he was actually John Dines, an undercover police officer who was spying on her.

Dines was part of Britain’s Special Demonstration Squad–a league of undercover officers whose job it was to spy on “trade unionists, anti-racist activists and environmental activists”–several of whom ended up having relationships--and even children–with the women they investigated.

This Sunday, Steel finally met Dines again, after 24 years, when she confronted him at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport.

Upon meeting her, Dines said he “apologized unreservedly” for the way he had hurt her.

Steel, however, told reporters that the apology was not enough. Particularly because she’s very concerned about the fact that Dines is now a course director at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst, Australia. “I was extremely concerned that he might now be promoting the kind of tactics that have been used on us in the UK,” she said, “I felt it was important to come here to expose what happened in the UK in case these discredited tactics are being promoted in other countries.”

I don’t see how a mere apology could be enough for anyone in Steel’s situation. How could it be? What words could make up for traumatizing someone in that way? And how could it be worth it to destroy these women’s lives for a patently ridiculous investigation that clearly ended up turning up nothing important?

[The Guardian]