Book Review: Small Town Girl


Love, Lies and the Undercover Police:


By Donna Mclean: Publisher Hodder and Stoughton


By Laurence Humphries, RCIT Britain, June 2022,




Donna McLean, a working-class woman, socialist, trade unionist and mental health worker for a homeless charity tells the story of how spy cops intruded into her life. Carlo Neri, an alias, engaged in a sexual relationship with Donna over a period of years. In fact, the life she spent with him from 2002-2004 was a lie. Neri was already married, had a family and everything he told Donna was for infiltration purposes because Donna was friendly with members of the Socialist Party, various environmental groups and campaigning groups against the war in Iraq at the time. It is not until 2015 that she discovers that Carlo Neri is a spy cop sent in by the London’s Met’s Special Demonstration Squad, an undercover police unit purportedly to uncover terrorism and political acts against the state.


The Special Demonstration Squad, formed in 1968, and the National Public Order Intelligence unit, formed in 1999, are undercover police intelligence units with close connections to Special Branch and the Intelligence units of MI5 and MI6. They have a long history of penetrating first the Communist Party and later Trotskyist groups in the 1970’s and 1980’s.


In total there were 8 women who were used by the spy cops in this way. As Donna delves into Carlo’s history she finds out about other women who have been used and betrayed in this way. Donna also makes contact with various investigative journalists who have exposed several of these spy cops including Peter Francis , Mark Kennedy Bob Lambert and Mark Jenner.


“Alison is one of the original 8 women to take a case against the Metropolitan Police, along with Helen Steel”. [1]


The Police always take steps to cover their tracks and prevent people finding out how they obtained passports, birth certificates and other information to uncover the spy cops.


“Helen discovered that the police actively took steps to prevent her and the other women from discovering the truth. They had an alert system in place if someone looked up a particular birth or death certificate. The Metropolitan police finally agreed that they had abused the women’s human rights, in a comprehensive apology that was part of the settlement of the case”. [2]




Wider political reasons for spy cops activities




Donna explains in her book the wider role of the spy cops activities. She meets Dave Smith, a Blacklisted Unite member, who has written an excellent book on how the state was involved in conspiracy, blacklisting and preventing principled trade unionists like Smith from obtaining employment. The family of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager murdered by white racists, was followed by spy cops pretending to help.


“Our spy cop boyfriends were intrinsically linked to the Blacklisting scandal keeping men like my mates Dave Steve and Liam out of work for decades. The police were feeding information about trade union activists to many of the big building firms. In the Stephen Lawrence case not only were the police complicit in letting the murderers go free, they went onto to spy on the grieving family and tried to discredit them with a campaign of Lies”. [3]


This politicisation of Donna McLean led her into a much wider circle of friends. She became close friends with many of the women who also had spy cops as boyfriends. She also met Steve Hedley who was active in the Socialist Party and Deputy General Secretary of the rail union, the RMT.




Donna meets Celia Stubbs, partner of Blair Peach




Donna while attending a play in Kilburn meets Celia Stubbs, the partner of Blair Peach – the murdered New Zealand school teacher who was killed while demonstrating against fascism in 1979.


“An older woman sits beside me I didn’t recognise her but as soon as she says her name I know why she’s here Celia Stubbs. Her partner Blair Peach was attacked by police on 23rd April 1979 in Southall West London where I had worked for a while. Southall was predominantly Sikh and Blair a popular young primary schoolteacher from New Zealand had been on a march against fascism when the Special Patrol Group of the Metropolitan police murdered him.” [4]


Another trade unionist Donna met was Ricky Tomlinson who, together with Des Warren, was jailed on conspiracy charges during the building workers’ strike. A full history of the dispute can be read in Des Warren’s Book “The Key to My Cell”. Unfortunately Des Warren died from Parkinson’s disease as a result of continual punishment during his incarceration in various jails under a Labour Government.


“They were prosecuted in 1973. Tomlinson and Des Warren were jailed, for two and three years respectively. In prison they were punished with solitary confinement and visits from the family were blocked. Tomlinson believes that there was collusion between the government, the police and the building trade to create the charges to make an example of the strikers. Shrewsbury was a huge miscarriage of justice which Ricky has always maintained resulted in his friend Des Warren premature death”. [5]


Let us also add that the trade union bureaucracy of both the TGWU and UCATT together with the Stalinists of the Communist Party were also responsible for their incarceration and a refusal to mount a campaign to free Tomlinson and Warren.




Spy cops provocateurs with criminal intent




Bob Lambert, one of the first spy cops unmasked in 2011, was involved in firebombing Debenhams in 2011. “Lambert was unmasked in 2011 following investigations by the Guardian and campaigners he had infiltrated. Activists convicted of the firebomb attacks on three branches of Debenhams inn 1987 believe that Lambert planted one of the devices.” [6]


Another spy cop, Mark Kennedy, was involved in countless demonstrations and was present when the police arrested 20 protesters in an operation at Radcliffe on Soar Power Station. Kennedy must have tipped the police off as Donna recounts in the Book.


“Presumably tipped off by Kennedy, who was also inside the police found over a hundred activists in the school. Twenty protesters were convicted of conspiracy to commit trespass after they admitted they had planned to occupy the plant for a week” [7].


As Donna concludes in her Book the role of these spy cops as well as engaging in sexual relations with woman activists was to act as agent provocateurs. Donna finally resolved her case with the Metropolitan Police as many of the women did. In 2017 Teresa May, the then Prime Minister, ordered an Undercover Policing Enquiry with Sir John Mitting as chair. All the hearings were in private all the spy cops had numbers most of the information was redacted. The Metropolitan Police apologised for destroying these women’s lives and a pathetic retort that they never authorised it. It was a concerted attack on democratic rights and Donna McLean should be congratulated together with the other women activists who fought to defeat this state frame up and frame innocent people.


As Donna concludes in her book the role of these spy cops as well as engaging in sexual relations was to act as agent provocateurs. “Like Bob Lambert before him, Carlo is accused by activists of attempting to incite arson, another firebombing incident. Another by the police to try to frame innocent people and cause a miscarriage of justice. My engagement was a hoax, my whole relationship a scam. I was well and truly duped. His tears were never real, they were crocodile tears born out of manipulation”. [7]


We call on all its readers and supporters to buy this book as it is a brilliant expose of the reactionary character of the police in the capitalist state. As Frederick Engels said: “The state is bodies of armed Men.’ Every socialist, trade unionists and activist must be on their guard against police surveillance and the role that they perform.






1) Mclean, Donna: Small Town Girl Love, Lies and the Undercover Police. Hodder and Stoughton pg.39


2) Ibid Pg. 41 and 42


3) Ibid pg. 202


4) Ibid pg.111


5) Ibid pg.129


6) Ibid pg.104


7) 206