The heartbroken family of a five-year-old boy who died in a 1966 plane crash today slammed the Met Police for stealing their child’s identity as they sued the force over the ‘spy cops’ scandal.
Kevin Crossland perished alongside his sister, Lynne, and mother, Daphne, when the plane they were travelling in crashed into trees as it was approaching the airport in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, in September 1966.
His father, David, crawled from the wreckage and overcame long-term injuries and survivor’s guilt to build a new life and meet his second wife, Liisa, with whom he had another son and a daughter.
He died of cancer in 2001, 17 years before police admitted to his family that an officer had used the name Kevin Crossland during undercover work.
Liisa, who is pursuing a legal claim against the Met, told the BBC: ‘How can someone stoop so low? My husband is not here to fight for the truth. But on behalf of him and my family, I want to get to the bottom of the way Kevin’s identity was used.’
Kevin Crossland seen with his grandmother in 1961, the year he was born. He died five years later in a plane crash
The Crosslands are one of three families who are suing the Met Police for using the names of their dead relatives without permission.
The others include relatives of severely disabled Neil Martin, who died a month after his sixth birthday in 1969, Rod Richardson, who died days after being born in 1973, and Michael Hartley, whose body was never found after he fell from a trawler in 1968
The families’ legal action alleges that the Met misused private information and added to their grief, damaging their mental health.
Kevin’s identity was used by officer James Straven to infiltrate animal rights groups, at the same time as his father was battling cancer from which he died in 2001.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 today, Liisa remembered how her husband once told her he had heard from a police acquaintance that some officers would adopt the identities of dead children.
It was an approach used by the assassin in the 1970s Fredrick Forsyth thriller, The Day of the Jackal, later a film.
‘One evening he came home and he was behaving a little bit odd and then suddenly started saying he had a feeling that the police had stolen his son’s name,’ Liisa said.
‘I thought he was going a little bit off the rails. He said he had heard that police were using Kevin’s name.’
Police told Liisa about the theft of Kevin’s identity two years ago, leaving her angry and confused.
‘I felt that earth was opening and I wish it could have swallowed me, because what my husband had gone through in his life,’ she said. ‘It was the worst thing I could hear.’
Liisa said she did not think her husband would have been able to hope had he heard the news when he was alive.
‘He never, never forgot his family, he regularly visited their grave, and this would’ve been too much,’ she said.
‘How did someone allow this practice to carry on? These children’s families experienced the worst loss that any loving parent can go through. Over the years, the pain eases, but never goes away.’
David Crossland, Kevin’s father, pictured with his second wife, Liisa, on holiday in 1999
The legal action has been submitted in a formal claim to Scotland Yard.
The Met carried out operations using dead children’s names for more than 30 years, with at least 42 officers using the identities to go undercover.
They would spend hours trawling through birth and death certificates to find the right people to impersonate.
Officers would receive fake driving licences and passports with the name of the dead children, and even visited their graves and home towns.
To make their identity convincing, the police spies even researched the family members of the dead children.
The undercover cops would typically use the identity of the children for around four years in what MPs labelled a ‘ghoulish and disrespectful’ tactic in 2013.
Frank Bennett and Honor Robson are among those launching action against the Met after their brother Michael died aged 18 while working on a trawler in 1968.
His body was never found and they believe he fell overboard, triggering his mother’s mental health issues which led to her suicide nine years later, they said.
They only recently discovered a policy spy pretended to be Michael while infiltrating two left-wing groups in the 1980s.
Frank said he was ‘totally disgusted’ that his brother’s name was used for the mission which investigated the Socialist Workers party and the Revolutionary Communist Group.
Neil Mason, who died aged six after suffering from a number of physical disabilities, also had his identity used by police.
His mother Faith, now 72, discovered last year that police had used Neil’s name to go undercover in the Revolutionary Communist Party and the anarchist group Class War.
She said it brought back the trauma again of losing her son.
This photo of Kevin was taken not long before he died when the plane he was travelling in crashed into trees as it was approaching the airport in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia
The identity of Rod Richardson, who died at just two days old in 1973, was used by an officer posing as anti-capitalist protester in radical groups in London and Nottingham in the early 2000s.
Rod’s mother Barbara Shaw said the discovery caused her to mourn her loss for a second time.
Families were informed about the tactics in recent years after a judge-led public inquiry – which is still underway – started examining undercover police operations.
Solicitor Jules Carey told Today: ‘One thing all of those families have in common is that the appalling experience that they’ve had to bear, in terms of people losing a sibling, or a child, has been retriggered by learning that their loved one’s identity has been used in this way.
‘And not only are many of them suffering a fresh grief by being brought up in this way, but their memories of their lost child or their sibling has been significantly tarnished and interfered with by learning its been used in this way.’
The Met said in a statement: ‘The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) received a letter of claim dated 4th February 2020 on behalf of six claimants.
‘The claims relate to the historical use of deceased children’s identities by undercover officers.
‘The MPS is investigating the claims and is unable to comment further at this time.’
The spy cops inquiry has heard a series of other damaging claims, including that officers had sexual relationships with their targets as a way of getting closer to them.
The spy cops inquiry has heard a series of other damaging claims, including that officers had sexual relationships with their targets as a way of getting closer to them. Helen Crampton (pictured) is alleged to have been in a relationship with campaigner George Cochrane in 1968
The inquiry heard how the operation began with a female undercover agent having sex with a Vietnam war activist.
Helen Crampton is alleged to have been in a relationship with campaigner George Cochrane in 1968.
The allegation would mean undercover police have been having sex with targets for nearly 50 years, with the most recent in 2015.
The claim against former Special Demonstration Squad member Crampton – who is dead – is the second time a woman has been accused of sleeping with a suspect.
Lynn Watson, her covert name, was the other as she hooked up with a climate change activist in a tent as she covered protests in Leeds from 2002 to 2008.