It is hard to reconcile the pictures of young Bob Lambert, complete with long dark hair and roguish twinkle, with the rather grave, grey-haired man he morphed into almost 40 years later.
Time changes most things – but not everything. An undercover police officer, Lambert fathered a child with an unsuspecting woman when he infiltrated activist groups in the 1980s.
The Metropolitan Police paid £425,000 compensation to the woman in 2014. Last week, they also settled with his son, now 35. Lambert’s face changed in that period. The face of “unacceptable” didn’t.
There is a tendency to blame “the times” when it comes to ethics, a tactic frequently used in abuse cases. Couldn’t, wouldn’t happen now…It was the 60s…the 70s…times were different. Were they really?
No decent person ever thought harming a child was acceptable. Nor that it was fine to dupe someone you have a child with, telling them you are an activist when you are a cop, pretending you are free when you secretly have a wife and two children. “I didn’t consent to sleeping with Bob Lambert,” says Jacqui, who knew him as Bob Robinson. “It’s like state rape.”
It is, indeed, the state’s role in this that disturbs most. Perhaps we can empathise with Lambert the man, who says he regrets his actions. Most people carry regrets about their lives: pain inflicted that wasn’t meant. But Lambert’s actions were – either openly or obliquely – state sanctioned. They were done in your name and in mine.
They were done under the pretext of public protection. Protection from whom? “Anarchists” like Greenpeace London. Now that really is an anachronism: climate protesters considered more of a societal threat than ministers in their gas guzzling limousines.
Lambert did nothing to protect you or me. In fact, he corrupted something precious. The state should be a servant of the people, not a we-can-do-what-we-want-because-we-have-power elite that classifies legitimate social challenge as threat.
Lambert went on to be promoted head of the Special Demonstration Squad. Next job? Leading surveillance of the family of the murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence. Was the Lawrence family a threat? Or the white thugs who murdered him? The most objectionable part of all this is that Lambert was honoured for his work. He is an MBE.
Lambert had sex with four women in his covert police role but he wasn’t the only one. At one stage, 12 women had similar cases against the Met. It was a “see no evil” operational tactic.
Most ethical systems are based on the same fundamental principles, one of which is non-maleficence, the resolution that actions should not cause any person harm. In this case, there’s a list of those harmed.
Firstly, Lambert took on the identity of a dead child, Bob Robinson, born in the same year but who died, aged seven, of congenital heart disease.
Stealing identities, he says, was commonplace in undercover operations. But how must Bob Robinson’s family have felt when they discovered his identity had been so misused?
Then there’s Jacqui. For two years, Lambert lived with her, apparently doting on their baby son, before claiming he had to flee temporarily to Spain to avoid arrest. She never saw him again.
“He told me he loved me all the time,” she once said in an interview in an American magazine. “I always felt that he was scared of losing me, and, in some ways, that felt quite powerful.”
Over the years, she tried to trace him. When she casually came across his picture in a newspaper in 2012, it was traumatic. How destabilising that experience must have been. Everything she thought was real, wasn’t. She later contemplated suicide.
When a thief breaks into a house, it is not usually the loss of valuables that causes most pain. It is the loss of worthless mementos of happy times; the small gifts from loved ones no longer alive; the photographs destroyed in the ransacking.
When a partner leaves, it may leave a person feeling like their future has been stolen. But you can create a new future. Lambert stole the irreplaceable: the past. It never existed.
Then there’s Lambert’s son, known in the legal case as TBS. TBS spent his early life yearning for a father. I wonder how it feels to subsequently discover your longed-for father bedded your mother for information. That you exist only because of professional deception.
This story didn’t end well for anyone involved. Lambert – unsurprisingly – divorced from his first wife and remarried. Sadly, both children from his marriage died; TBS is, ironically, his only surviving child. Jacqui married but was widowed at 31.
These are personal tragedies. But there’s a societal tragedy here too and in that respect, we’re all hurt by this. One wonders what Cressida Dick, the current – and first female – head of the Met thinks. Things have changed? Such corruption couldn’t happen now? I wish I could believe it.