Mark Kennedy spent seven years pretending to be a climate activist. People he deceived are still rebuilding their lives
hen Kate Wilson was 23, she got deceived into having sex with an older guy who wasn’t what he appeared to be. To her, he was Mark Stone, a radical environmental activist who shared her taste in country music and her belief that capitalism is destroying the planet. He wrote poetry for her, went to her grandmother’s 90th birthday party, and helped her organize a massive protest against the G-8 summit in Scotland. They lived together nearly two years as lovers and stayed close friends for years after.
But seven years after they first met, in 2010, their intimate relationship imploded when Wilson learned the shocking truth about Stone’s true identity. Not only was his real last name “Kennedy.” Not only did he have a wife and two kids. But the person with whom Wilson had “shared many of my interests and dreams,” who told her “lots of his most intimate stories and secrets,” was actually working for the British state.
In 2003, Kennedy had been sent undercover by an elite unit in London’s Metropolitan Police Service to gather intelligence on activists like Wilson. He spent seven years living a double life: He was a fearless organizer who had a shadowy backstory as a cocaine runner, but he was also a cop with a family in Ireland.
Until the day he was “outed” by a small group of sleuthing activists, Kennedy was a trusted leader in a movement that was desperately trying to wake up Britain and the world to the impending horrors of the climate emergency. But his friends, comrades, and at least 10 other women he had sex with had no idea Kennedy was selling them out to governments and corporations that had a vested interest in keeping the country hooked on fossil fuels.
This wasn’t just a personal betrayal. “He was controlling people’s ability to organize politically,” Wilson told VICE World News. “That is profoundly anti-democratic.”
Nearly 20 years after Kennedy first met Wilson and manipulated his way into her bedroom, the legal consequences are still unfolding. A judicial authority known as the Investigatory Powers Tribunal made a damning decision about Kennedy last September.
The court ruled that Kennedy “debased, degraded, and humiliated” Wilson. He “invaded the core of her private life” and “caused her mental suffering.” He “interfered” with her “sexual autonomy” and showed “a profound lack of respect” for her “bodily integrity and human dignity.” It was an “abuse of the highest order.”
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal concluded, “This is not just a case about a renegade police officer, who took advantage of his undercover deployment to indulge his sexual proclivities.” It described “disturbing and lamentable failings at the most fundamental levels.”
The ruling stated that the UK’s largest police force had adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward Kennedy having sex while undercover, “or more probably a lack of interest in protecting women.” It said activists such as Wilson never should have been targeted for their political beliefs.
The Metropolitan Police isn’t disputing the judgment. “We accept and recognise the gravity of all of the breaches of Ms. Wilson’s human rights as found by the tribunal,” it says in a statement provided to VICE World News. “[We] unreservedly apologise to Ms. Wilson for the damage caused, and the hurt she has suffered from the deployment of these undercover officers.”
Wilson had previously said that learning about Kennedy’s true identity “was like a computer virus. It’s corrupted all my memories of those times, and it affects all the relationships that I’ve had since.”
SENIOR OFFICERS KNEW ABOUT OR TOLERATED KENNEDY’S RELATIONSHIP WITH WILSON, THE TRIBUNAL FOUND. PHOTO: KATE WILSON
The court decision this fall, which was major news across much of Europe but barely noticed in the U.S. and Canada, was the result of a 10-year legal battle by Wilson. “In terms of emotional closure, it’s all quite complicated,” she said. “In the end, the judgment was a much bigger victory than I expected it to be.”
The ruling was a vindication for dozens of other women who have come forward across the UK saying they also were deceived into sexual relationships with undercover officers. The tribunal will now be deciding what damages Wilson should receive.
But Kennedy caused harm that some of Wilson’s friends and former activist colleagues say is not only personal, but actually planetary. They say that the dirty tricks he played, carried out on behalf of a police force hostile to political dissent, hobbled a climate movement whose goal was to prevent death and destruction from an overheated planet.
Geoff Dembicki Vice