Bob Lambert, right, posed as an activist with the environmental group Greenpeace London while working undercover as a police officer.
Lambert, an expert on Islamophobia, posed as environmental activist then ran police spy unit that infiltrated anti-racist groups

An academic and prominent supporter of progressive causes has been unmasked as a former spy who controlled a network of undercover police officers in political groups.

During his current career as an academic expert on Islamophobia, Bob Lambert has regularly spoken at political rallies to promote campaigns against racism and fascism.

However, in his previous career as a special branch officer, which lasted 26 years, he ran operations at a covert unit that placed police spies into political campaigns, including those run by anti-racism groups. The unit also disrupted the activities of these groups.

Lambert became head of the unit after going undercover himself.

Since becoming an academic three years ago, he has made no secret of the fact he was a special branch detective between 1980 and 2006, working on what he describes as "countering threats of terrorism and political violence in Britain".

However, he has kept quiet about his undercover work.

Lambert, who was involved in the secret unit for around 10 years, becomes the seventh police officer to be exposed as a police spy in the protest movement.

The disclosure comes before a major review of the use of such methods is published on Thursday. The report by Bernard Hogan-Howe, the new commissioner of the Metropolitan police, was commissioned by police chiefs after a series of revelations about Mark Kennedy, the officer who spent seven years embedded in the environmental movement.

Lambert was confronted about his past by a group he once infiltrated, while at a conference on Saturday. In one of many appearances on political platforms, he was a speaker at the conference, organised by Unite Against Fascism to promote anti-racism and multiculturalism. Last week he urged people to attend the conference to "show a united front against hatred and bigotry and celebrate the diversity of our multicultural communities".

Using the alias "Bob Robinson", Lambert posed as an activist in the group London Greenpeace between 1984 and 1988, say other members. The group, which had a libertarian philosophy, campaigned against nuclear power and weapons, as well as on other environmental issues, and says "Robinson" attended protests and meetings. It is understood that he also infiltrated animal rights protests.

On Saturday, members of the group pressed him to apologise for long-standing infiltration of political campaigns. He refused to comment, according to them.

At the time, he was acting as a member of a secretive police unit, the Special Demonstration Squad, which embedded undercover officers into groups it believed posed a threat to public order.

During the late 1990s, Lambert took charge of operations for the SDS, which penetrated both left and rightwing campaigns.

He was responsible for undercover police officers such as Pete Black, who spent four years pretending to be an anti-racism activist, and Jim Boyling, who was embedded in an environmental campaign against cars, Reclaim the Streets.

Between 2002 and 2007, Lambert ran the Muslim Contact Unit, a Scotland Yard department which sought to foster partnerships between police and Muslim community groups to prevent Islamist terrorist attacks.

In recent years Lambert has had a high public profile. A lecturer at Exeter and St Andrews universities, he has produced academic papers and articles for the media, including the Guardian and the New Statesman as he continued to argue that the government and police should work with Muslim groups to prevent terrorism.

Comment: That, right there, should tell you all you need to know about these phony 'left' publications reinforcing the horse hockey that is the 'war on terror'.

However he has attracted virulent criticism from rightwing commentators who argue for a tougher approach. They believe it is counter-productive for the police to work in partnership with Muslim groups they claim are extremists.

London Greenpeace said it confronted Lambert to show "that recent police spies outed (such as Mark Kennedy) were not 'rogue officers' but part of an unacceptable pattern of immoral infiltration of environmental groups, condoned at a high level". Lambert could not be reached for comment yesterday.