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Policewatch Films

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Mass arrests, cages and deportations - Copenhagen COP15

Recent protest at the COP15 summit in Copenhagen saw the arrest of hundreds of protesters, up to 900 on Saturday’s march. They were then held in wire cages set up in a warehouse on the edges of the city for up to 12 hours under legislation entitling the police to make ‘preventative arrests’. Most were then released, but those charged with offences, including very minor public order offences, were deported.

The arrest of such large numbers of people signalled a clear strategy of clamping down on potentially disorderly protest, a policy of prevention being better than cure. But while many UK protesters are shocked by the treatment, it is an approach to policing they should be used to. The Danish police have clearly learned a lot from the Met.

The Politi have simply put their own slant on the British tactics of kettling. On Saturday thousands amassed for a mass march to the COP15 centre, but the police had already decided that sections of the march would never reach their destination. Police vehicles hurtled though the crowd, supported by riot police to break up the demonstration into smaller, more controllable sections. Initially they detained everyone who would sit still on the streets for several hours. They then transferred people to specially set up cages, where people were held for up to 12 hours.

The arrest of such large numbers clearly had a marked effect on the demonstration. Set up to target the ‘black blocks’ the arrests encompassed a wide range of people, including journalists, frightened teenagers and, bizarrely, a group of Hare Krishna. The more clued up black blocks, meanwhile, evaded the arrests and set about sporadic rioting in another area of the city.

The real danger of police tactics like these, is that they have the potential to deter people from taking part in large scale protests at European summits – whether that be protests against climate change, or against the domination of the G8 or WTO. In the UK, the numbers involved in political protest dropped markedly as kettling became more commonplace - as people were simply worn down by constantly having to face hours in police cordons every time they took to the streets.

It is yet to be seen whether the kettling tactics employed at COP15 by the Danish police are used more extensively from now on. Mass preventative arrests are a significant move away from the crowd dispersal techniques – tear gas, baton strikes etc - more normally seen in Europe, (although such dispersal methods were also used in Copenhagen, particularly when disorder was sporadic or unexpected and the police were unable to prepare).

There will undoubtedly be legal challenge to the Danish policing, as the arrests were arbitrary and the detention disproportionate. But political activists also need to resist this particular form of police bullying from the ground up. Anyone heading for the next summit may want to bear in mind that mass containment is easy for the police to pull off when people are passively prepared to be contained. Attempting to contain a resistant crowd is whole different ball game.

See also

Emily Apple, Comment is Free


Rights Groups press for Inquiry

Thursday, 26 November 2009

HMIC report - FITwatch press release

FITwatch welcomes Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary's criticisms of public order policing but warns much more must be done.

FITwatch is pleased HM Chief Inspector Denis O’Connor has taken on board many of our concerns in his damning report ‘Adapting to Protest: Strengthening the British model of policing’. The moves by HMIC to ensure that policing is lawful, consistent and accountable are to be welcomed. However, the recommendations may be insufficient to change a culture of policing that has become overly reliant on surveillance and intelligence.

FITwatch activist Val Swain said: ‘HMIC’s report is a strong criticism of current policing and rightly so. However HMIC’s recommendations simply to clarify the legal framework for the use of overt photography by FITs and other police units will not be enough to bring about the culture change that is needed. If Mr O’Connor wants a return to ‘traditional’ British policing, there has to be a move away from the current intelligence-led approach."

FITwatch also welcomes HMIC’s recommendation to review the status of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to ensure transparency and accountability. Presently ACPO is wholly unaccountable, setting the legislative agenda and implementing intelligence-lead policing through three ‘domestic extremism’ units (1) run by Anton Setchell.

The domestic extremism units hold personal data on thousands of people involved in political protest. There are also fears that this 'intelligence' is disseminated to private companies through the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU) which works closely to support businesses that are the focus of protesters concerns. These secretive, shadowy units operate outside of the structure of the British police and are a law unto themselves. FITwatch hope during the course of the review ACPO come clean about the extent of these units operations and the data that they hold.

Val Swain said: ‘While we welcome this first step, we need to go much further than HMIC’s recommendations. What we need is an actual change in the culture of public order policing. The way that the police behave in relation to protest, public order situations, and indeed the public generally, must differ from what has gone before. The relentless photographing and filming of protesters, the tracking of their cars, the abuse of police powers to gather their personal details must stop. FITwatch will carry on campaigning until it does.’

(1) The domestic terrorism units under ACPO control are: NETCU (national extremism tactical co-ordination unit); NPOIU (national public order intelligence unit) and NDET (national domestic extremism team)

Over two years we have highlighted excessive surveillance tactics, including overt photography, used by the Forward Intelligence Teams (FITs) to prevent legitimate political protest.

FITwatch has also obtained evidence of an image database of protesters, operated by the Public Order Intelligence Unit (CO11) based at New Scotland Yard. They had initially denied that they ran their own protester database, but taking the stand at a recent trial of FITwatch activists, Superintendent Hartshorn, a senior officer at CO11, admitted that CO11 held a database containing the name and photographic image of people they had noted attending political protests.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Police arrest innocent people to get their details on the DNA database

The Human Genetics Commission has accused police of arresting people purely to get their details on the police DNA database.

Speaking on radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Prof Jonathon Montgomery from the Human Genetics Commission said that they had received evidence that police were deliberately making arrests in order to obtain DNA samples. He said that the evidence had originated “from a convincing source – a retired senior police officer.”

The former head of ACPO, Chris Fox, also speaking on the programme, admitted he was ‘uncomfortable’ with the retention of DNA, but defended the police’s rights to collect data on the population.

“The police have always held data on innocent people”, said Chris Fox. “It is the first chain of the intelligence route…the point about intelligence is that it’s weeded – thrown away when it is found to be no good. The DNA database isn’t.”

Those of us with less faith in the ‘weeding’ ability of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit may find this distinction a little weak.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Support Fitwatch - Get a Copy of Excessive Force - a comix anthology against police

Police everywhere, justice nowhere

Profits from Excessive Force will go towards FITwatch and the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group both of whom work towards ending police repression.

Featuring 19 exciting new and up-and-coming graphic artists this is an comics anthology against the police.

Whether drawing on personal experiences or imagined stories about modern policing one theme runs through: a shared view of brutal, oppressive policing. Policing that does more harm than good, and a system which hinders, rather than encourages freedom of expression. Or more simply put: acts like an Excessive Force.

Featuring work by: Stephanie McMillan, Ken Dahl, Scott Smith, Edd Baldry, Jimi Gherkin, and many others, they all artfully present their take on the police, with a fine mixture of humour, tragedy, anger and optimism.

Friday, 13 November 2009

FITwatch accuses ACPO boss, Sir Hugh Orde, of 'playing politics' before publication of HMIC report which is certain to further criticise the police’s

As FITwatchers eagerly await the publication of the final part of the HMIC (1) report ‘Adapting to Protest’, we note the thinly disguised attempt by Sir Hugh Orde, ACPO’s president (2), to pre-empt what is expected to be a highly critical report into police behaviour towards legitimate public protest.

In a series of surprisingly frank comments in yesterday’s press, Sir Hugh admits that ACPO-controlled domestic extremism units (3) involved in surveillance of protestors are unnecessary and ‘can go tomorrow’, though he adds that monitoring of protestors should continue under ‘independent regulation’. We’d love to hear Sir Hugh’s definition of ‘independent’.

FITwatch has been monitoring the collection of data for use by the ACPO domestic extremism units (3) for two years and is convinced that the police and ACPO are abusing their powers by collecting and collating data unlawfully. We believe such activities fall foul of European and UK laws on the processing of data and breach of privacy. We therefore welcome the disbanding of the domestic extremism units, saving millions of pounds of public money; one unit, The National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) alone has an annual budget of £5 million and a staff of 60 to 70 officers (4).

FITwatch is convinced that ACPO has become a law unto itself, dictating the law-making agenda to government, while remaining wholly unaccountable. ACPO, the Companies House-registered body, is also involved in a number of questionable commercial activities which generate substantial profits. We welcome Orde’s belated admission, therefore, that ACPO is out of control and must become a statutory body.

FITwatch rejects Sir Hugh’s plea to continue monitoring protestors. Fitwatch activist Val Swain said: ‘There is no need to keep tabs on political protesters at all, and it should stop. There is no reason why criminal activity carried out in the course of protest should be treated in any way differently from criminal activity elsewhere. There is no need for separate units, special functions or special surveillance teams that spend hours on end doing nothing more useful than photographing protesters. It is a huge waste of public money and police resources, and it is a disproportionate interference in civil rights. This is a last ditch attempt by ACPO to retain control of these units under 'independent regulation'. ACPO has operated a deliberate shroud of secrecy, keeping the details of their activities hidden even from regulatory bodies such as the Metropolitan police authority. Before the three domestic extremism units are wound up, however, they should come clean about the extent of data they have access to, and the sort of data they keep, and the ways in which their databases operate’.


(1) Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary
(2) Association of Chief Police Officers
(3) NETCU (national extremism tactical co-ordination unit), NPOIU (national public order intelligence unit) and NDET (national domestic extremism team)
(4) parliamentary question on 10 November 2009 about the NPIOU asked by Dai Davies MP to Secretary of State for the Home Department

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Controversial Domestic Extremist Units Make Desperate Raids to Justify Existence



Following a damning series of articles in The Guardian, the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU), and their sister organisation the National Domestic Extremist Team (NDET) are attempting to justify their existence by raiding and arresting four animal rights activists for conspiracy to commit criminal damage.

NETCU and NDET are run by Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). Denis O'Connor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, will next month release the findings of his national review of policing of protests and has already signalled he anticipates wide scale change. His inspectors are considering a complete overhaul of the ACPO units, which they have been told lack statutory accountability.

Wearing balaclavas, police officers from four different forces carried out the raids yesterday, smashing through doors and spending over ten hours searching two houses. Witnesses to one of the raids described the police as “intimidating” and “threatening”.

Lynn Sawyer - a resident of one of the houses - who was not arrested stated “This was a massive fishing expedition to promote NETCU’s facade of effectiveness whilst attempting to stop protest through pure terrorisation.”

Apart from computers and mobile phones, the police were also interested in financial documents, evidence of travel and association in support of animal rights extremism. Evidence of such extremism included banners, leaflets and a poster from VIVA, a well respected vegetarian/vegan organisation.

Fitwatch activist Emily Apple stated that “This was an entirely disproportionate policing operation undertaken by an increasingly desperate unit. The threatening nature of these raids and using items such as NGO posters and leaflets as evidence of extremism demonstrate NDET’s dubious definition of domestic extremism and their willingness to intimidate protesters and criminalise dissent.”

Notes for Editors:
1. More information on The Guardian’s investigation -
2. A third ACPO unit dealing with domestic extremism, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, is also being investigated.
3. The term “domestic extremism” does not have a legal definition and has been invented by these units.
4. VIVA are supported by a wide range of people including Joanna Lumley, Michael Mansfield QC and Sir Paul McCartney.

Friday, 16 October 2009

FITwatch exposes extent of police protester database.

Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) have been a familiar sight at demonstrations for years, and many activists have had first hand experience of their particular brand of harassment and intimidation. But although it is well known that they keep data on ‘known’ activists, including photos for their ‘spotter cards’, the full details of how extensive their database is, and how that data is used is only just beginning to surface.

FITwatch obtained evidence last December that the Metropolitan police places the personal data of political protesters onto their criminal intelligence database (Crimint), through the production of 'intelligence reports' by Forward Intelligence Teams In a subsequent Guardian investigation senior Met officers admitted the database included the names of regular attendees at political protest, regardless of whether or not they had done anything unlawful.

FITwatch has now obtained evidence of a further, image database of protesters, operated by the Public Order Intelligence Unit (CO11) based at New Scotland Yard. They had initially denied that they ran their own protester database, but taking the stand at a recent trial of FITwatch activists, Superintendent Hartshorn, a senior officer at CO11, admitted that they did just that. CO11 held, he said, a database containing the name and photographic image of people they had noted attending political protest.

Entries on that database are identified with a ‘unique reference number’ or URN. This makes each entry capable of being searched and cross referenced across all police forces and agencies. In effect, this means that CO11 can create a police file capable of drawing together all police information relating to an individual – police checks on their car, ‘intelligence reports’ written at demonstrations, stop and search records – even if that person has never been arrested, let alone convicted.

Superintendent Hartshorn identified how individuals were singled out for inclusion in the database. The police needed, he said, ‘two strands of intelligence’. One strand may be a ‘more than passing contact’ during a protest or demonstration with an individual who is already on that database. The other may be a subjective assessment of a FIT officer on the way someone was ‘behaving’. Previously the police have admitted that membership of an organisation such as ‘Stop the War’ was sufficient to justify an ‘interest’.

The Gaza demonstration at which the FITwatch activists were arrested was a classic example of how easy it is to get an entry on the CO11 database. This particular demonstration was quite calm, but there had been disorder at previous demonstrations, primarily as a result of police attempting to force protesters into a police pen.

FITwatch activists had been arrested after FIT camera teams who were filming and photographing people on the demonstration were obstructed. One of the Forward Intelligence Teams had spent over a quarter of an hour targeting a small group of Asian lads, repeatedly taking their photographs, and tailing them through the demonstration. In court, FIT officers complained that even after a quarter of an hour they had not obtained photographs sufficient for intelligence purposes, but admitted they had no reason to suspect this group had committed any criminal offence, or that they intended to do so. They were targeted only because they were ‘young and male, and moved through the demonstration as a group’. ‘Young and male’ protesters, they said, had been involved in previous disorder.

Seemingly the police feel that fitting such a broad profile justifies intrusive and intimidating surveillance, and the production of a police file.

The police appear to be able to collect and collate personal data on people without any restriction or accountability. There is no body that regulates this or provides oversight. They write their own rules.

FITwatch has for the last two years set out to disrupt and obstruct police data gathering on political protests, and we make no apologies for doing that. Not only has FITwatch brought FIT to public attention in a way that no other campaign has done, the use of direct action by FITwatch has been an effective obstacle to police gathering of data at political meetings, rallies and demonstrations.

FITwatch will continue to resist and challenge FIT operations, but we do need help. If you are interested in getting involved or in supporting us in any way, please get in touch – e-mail us at

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Police vehicle surveillance – the use of Automatic Number Plate Readers at climate camp protests.

This weekend is the Climate Camp Swoop, and environmental activists will be heading to Radcliffe power station in Nottingham for the mass action. Many will be travelling by road, but Climate Camp activists driving to Radcliffe on the 17th October should be prepared to take a few precautions if they want to avoid being picked up by vehicle surveillance.

Police ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Reader) units have been used before at Climate Camp actions to alert police to the arrival of ‘known’ activists. Police at Kingsnorth used ANPR to monitor and intercept activist cars as they arrived. It is possible that a similar strategy will be used in Nottingham.

The police have for some years been collecting the vehicle registration numbers of vehicles used to get to protests, gatherings and even meetings. If your registration number is on this list, it could be picked up by the ANPR system.

How does ANPR work?

Motorways have permanent ANPR cameras, but mobile units can also be used on minor roads. Mobile ANPR units can be covert and hard to spot, but they are usually transit sized vans marked with camera symbols.

The cameras automatically read the number plates of cars passing by. The on-board computer then checks the numbers against a number of different databases. This is usually car registration, insurance, MOT etc, but the ANPR units can also check if your car is on a list of ‘protest’ vehicles.

If the ANPR flags up a ‘hit’ the police can be instructed either to simply note the fact you have arrived (perhaps flagging you up for more targeted surveillance), or to intercept the car. If you are stopped the police have powers to search the car similar to those they would use on a pedestrian (see below).

How do I avoid getting picked up by ANPR?

This is a fairly new police tactic, so advice in avoiding ANPR is based on informed guesswork only. There are no guarantees!

If possible, drive a car that has never been used to get to a protest or gathering before. In theory at least, if you have not used your car in ‘protest related activity’ before, it should not be picked up.

Borrow a vehicle from friends and family rather than hire one. Hire cars were routinely picked up by ANPR readers in Kingsnorth, so are not the ideal choice!
Don’t take a car without insurance and MOT – ANPRs are routinely used to pick up cars that are not street legal.

Take a longer, quieter route in. At Kingsnorth ANPR was put on the major access routes. The police have limited ANPR resources and can’t put all roads under surveillance, although they will try to cover those routes that are hardest to avoid.

Get dirty. ANPR readers need a standard, UK, clean number plate to get a read. Non-standard number plates, foreign plates and plates that are very dirty cause problems for the ANPR. You might want to drive down a very wet muddy road before you get there.

What should I do if notice an ANPR unit by the side of the road?

Note down all the details – location, direction, time etc – and let others know who may be travelling that way. And please tell us – the more info we have, the better we can keep track of what they are up to.

What powers do they have to stop and search a vehicle?

The police have the power to stop any vehicle, and ask the driver for their driving licence. Contrary to what some coppers say, you do not have to carry your driving licence with you, although you can be asked to produce it at a police station of your choice within seven days.

The driver of the vehicle is obliged to give their name, address and date of birth (s164 s165 Road Traffic Act 1988). The police have NO powers to demand the names and addresses of passengers. If they ask anyone other than the driver for their details they should be politely told where to go.

Police can carry out the stop and search of a vehicle under the same provisions applying to people on foot. A section 60 order, if in place, also applies to vehicles. Otherwise the police can search under PACE, but need the normal reasonable suspicion that they may find weapons, articles that could be used to cause criminal damage etc. They do not need the owners consent.


Monday, 21 September 2009

'terrorist' photography

This is slightly old news now - had meant to put this on the blog a while back, but you know how it is. Anyway, this is on the NUJ site, and it's stuff I think FITwatchers will want to know about.

The Met has been pressured into changing its guidelines on restricting photography (see previous FITwatch post), after they turned out to be, er, bullshit.

"The original guidelines issued in July had been attacked by the NUJ as "hugely misleading" for stating that under Section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 police and community support officers had the right to demand to see photographs held in mobile phones and digital cameras.

"To suggest that police have the power to see anyone's photos is not just hugely misleading, it's factually wrong", said NUJ Legal Officer Roy Mincoff.

The revised guidelines clarify that officers can only inspect such photographs under section 43 if the photographer is actually suspected of being a terrorist, and that a court order may be needed to view journalistic materials, such as digital photographs or notebooks. See "

Also:"The Home Office have since issued a written circular detailing police powers under sections 43 and 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, following correspondence with NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear.

The new circular clarifies that neither section permits police officers to prohibit photography by either the press or members of the public:"

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Where's all the coppers then? A first impression of DSEi policing.

Well, it wasn’t like demos of old, that is for sure. As around 200 protesters gathered for a protest in the City against the DSEi arms fair, many clad in hoodies and face masks, the lack of police was quite remarkable. There was no more than, say, 20 police in uniform, all FIT, with no police at all deployed to escort or steward the crowd. I have never seen a demonstration so lightly policed.

And there were no cameras. Chief Inspector Matt Twist stated that cameras would not be deployed ‘unless they were needed’. He was ‘quite relaxed and happy about the whole thing’, he said. In the event they were never deployed. Despite damage to windows and the invasion of offices, Twist retained his relaxed approach, and police made no attempt to intervene whatsoever. “Sorry, after the G20, we’re not allowed to do anything”, was the blatant mistruth he fed to office workers. But the protesters weren’t complaining, and the many journalists that had turned up for a ‘police mistreat demonstrators’ story went away empty handed, which appeared to be the key objective of the Met's strategy.

The absence of FIT cameras was undoubtedly down to the fact that deploying camera teams was likely to make them a focus for hostility, and any confrontation with the crowd was something they desperately wanted to avoid. It is true that the protest was taking place in one of the most heavily CCTV’d places in the world, something that made the lack of FIT cameras more bearable for the police. But even in the City, they had always used FIT cameras in the past. CCTV has limitations that hand held, portable, position-able cameras do not. If this isn’t a victory for street-based direct action, I don’t know what is.

Of course, FIT were still present and active. They relied instead on other forms of data gathering, making constant audio recordings and written notes. Twist bragged that he, personally, knew the identity of everyone on the march. And they will have spent long hours trawling around the companies later for their CCTV.

But the crucial fact in all of this was that – for the first time in many years - the police were forced to allow a protest such as this to take place. They were not able to shut it down beforehand, or to prevent people gathering. They could not harass and hassle individuals, they could not intimidate and frighten. They had to stand off and let it happen.

Long may it continue.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Policing at climate camp

Climate camp was something of a surreal experience after the aggressive policing and constant stop and searches of previous camps. There can be no denying that the public order cops were on the back foot, unable to do anything but smile and facilitate the camp, no matter what sort of provocation came their way. Even a mass outing to Canary Wharf on Friday did nothing to dampen their spirit of ‘facilitation’, and they left the ‘robust policing’ to the hoards of private security in grey suits.

To have forced the police to do back down, and to change their policing so completely from previous climate camps, is no small achievement. Climate camp legal team have put a lot of pressure on the police from all sorts of directions, and they should be given the credit for us all being able to come and go from the camp without the sort of shit we’ve had to put up with before. And they have done this without making concessions and without stirring up the good protester / bad protester rift that many liberals try to impose.

Police (and FIT) harassment was gone (for the time being at least), but police surveillance proved a harder nut to crack. Throughout the camp, remote cameras propped up on a cherry picker were able to pick out new and familiar faces for the FIT teams to focus on. FIT cops stationed at a camp set up a couple of miles away were able to get a direct feed from the camera, and from the helicopter that hovered around from time to time, without needing to be on the ground.

From the cherry picker, FIT could get high quality images of activists training on tripods, with lock on devices, and for mass actions. They were able to maintain, in the words of the Silver command Julia Pendry, an ‘information flow’.

FIT officers were also present at the SWOOP meet up points, although without their usual distinctive FIT jackets. Sgt Graham Wettone, a long standing FIT officer, insisted as he hung around watching the crowd at Bank that he was ‘just on normal duties’. In the end he had to be introduced by FITwatchers to the waiting crowd and hoards of press.

By the end of the camp, the veneer had slipped a bit. FIT teams were back, monitoring and photographing actions at Shell and RBS, although happily they met with some determined opposition.

Overall, we still have some work to do in countering police surveillance from CCTV and remote cameras stationed on cherry pickers. But there is no denying that FIT were on the back foot. They weren’t able to get away with the harassment and intimidation they are used to dishing out, and that in itself is one-up to us. Confidence is growing that we can now defeat the FIT, as is determination that we will not be their willing victims. Bring it on.

Pics: Superintendent Julia Pendry, Silver command at climate camp; a Barclays security guard at Barclays protest; Ian Caswell, one of the few regular FIT cops to make an appearance at camp; cameras and microwave transmitter mounted on cherry picker overlooking climate camp.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Fitwatching at Climate Camp RBS Protest

After a week of hiding in the shadows, FIT finally showed themselves with their traditional blue tabards and cameraman on Tuesday's action against RBS.

However, their job was not made easy, and they were met by fitwatchers who ensured they had a hard time gathering the data they wanted on the protesters.

More information and comment on climate camp policing to follow soon.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Spotter Cards

A hand picked selection of FIT cops and photogs for this years climate camp. Click on the above for downloadable and printable images - get all four for the best guide to who's who in the FIT. Why not play a bit of FITwatch bingo? See how many you can tick off - Special FITwatch prize to whoever sends in the most pics of this 'orrible lot. Don't know what it'll be, but I'm sure we'll think of something...

FIT at the Red White and Blue

Some usual FIT faces were present to keep a close eye on protests against the Red White and Blue BNP fest in Derbyshire:

Ian Skivens, CO 5494 (top left), Paul
Mather 4551 and
Cowlin CO 5466. (below)

Plus a load of local snappers, a drone AND a helicopter.

Pictures thanks to Tash

Friday, 21 August 2009

How 'charming' will the Met be at this year's climate camp?

As the open letter from climate camp to the Met clearly states, the police do not have a happy record when it comes to climate camp. There have been blanket stop and searches, long periods of containment, and endlessly invasive surveillance. FIT have had a prominent role, and a carte blanche to do what they want, accumulating personal data from stop and search, and obtaining photographic images of everyone attending. At Kingsnorth last year even journalists were hassled, followed and filmed, while FITwatchers were violently arrested and held for four days in prison for taking photos of police officers and asking for their numbers.

This year it will all be different, we are told. The Met will be smiley and chatty, happy to communicate and negotiate with protesters. There'll be no heads busted or shields shoved in people's faces, no kettling, no night flights from the helicopter, no verbal abuse from police officers and no unlawful stop and searches.

The Met have promised a a "'community-style' policing operation that will limit the use of surveillance units and stop-and-searches wherever possible." according to the Guardian. Which sounds good. But what exactly does 'wherever possible' mean? And how much will surveillance be 'limited'?

According to the legal team, the police have said that "searches and FIT will not be over used as a tactic but FIT will be present as the Camp forms and people arrive and for the swoop." Presumably, once everyone has arrived, and they have taken the pics and identified this years prime 'targets', the FIT will be content to take a less prominent role anyway. As was documented in the report of policing on Kingsnorth, they have their covert surveillance operatives to take over then anyway.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, perhaps?

Friday, 14 August 2009

Police surveillance reaches new heights?

According to the BBC police have planned to use an 'unmanned small drone aircraft' to video and monitor this weekends BNP meet, or at least the protests taking place against it. A couple of months ago drones were also used to spy on the solstice celebrations at Stonehenge.

The use by police of unmanned drones with cameras is nothing new. Britains first drone was introduced by Liverpool police as long as two years ago.

But it seems the use of these things may be becoming increasingly popular in the war against... um...druids, hippies and anti-fascists apparently.
Picture courtesy of Schnews

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Fitwatch Call - DISARM DSEi Meeting - 16th August

Resist the FIT Teams at the DISARM DSEi public meeting.
1:45pm, Calthorpe Arms, Grays Inn Road (nearest tubes Russell Square and Kings Cross).

Just under two and a half years ago, the first Fitwatch action occurred outside a DISARM DSEi public meeting.

Despite vast amounts of intimidation and repression, Fitwatch has gone from strength to strength, and now people all over the country are taking measures to combat the invasive tactics of harassment style policing.

Traditionally, DSEi protests and meetings have attracted large numbers of FIT - although last week at a demo against the organisers of DSEi (Clarion Events) in Hatton Gardens, only Discombe turned up, and stood looking very sheepish with two City cops on the other side of the road. And, whilst he made copious notes, no photographer was present, and people were allowed to freely demonstrate.

However, since DISARM DSEi was formed in 2003, there has not been a public meeting where FIT have not turned up. We are calling for anyone who has ever thought about engaging in Fitwatch tactics to turn up to this meeting, confront them, and shut them down.

We will not put up with being photographed, monitored and entered into a database for turning up at a public meeting.

This year's DSEi will be the first major test of public order policing post G20 - let's set the tone at the public meeting and show any attempts to use FIT against us will be met with robust opposition and we will no longer be the passive recipients of repressive policing.

Friday, 7 August 2009

IPCC publish report into assault on woman at G20

The report says not very much apart from reiterating the HMIC recommendations that there should be, on demonstations:

o No surprises – Protestors and public should be made aware of
likely police action in order to make informed decisions.
o A release plan to allow vulnerable or distressed persons or those
inadvertently caught up in the police containment to exit.
o A review of current public order training.

It also recommends the use by police of "portable matrix information boards with large-scale displays to assist communication."

And emphasised the Home Affairs Committee ruling that there is 'no excuse' for police to use containment on peaceful protesters.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

FIT teams admit they are out to disrupt, not just to watch.

“FIT deployment was highly effective and gained good intelligence and disruption”.

That was the view of a FIT co-ordinator of the operation at Kingsnorth Climate Camp last year.

A FIT Silver commander also commended the way that Kent police had used their ANPR (automatic number plate reader) to pick up protesters vehicles so that they could be stopped, questioned and searched. “an innovative use of legislation for disruption”, he applauded.

These are the remarkably frank comments contained in the Structured Debrief of Climate Camp policing. This was produced by the NPIA, the National Policing Improvement Agency, the structure which is supposed to spread best practice around the police forces.

In this case the best practice appears to be using legislation other than for the purposes it was intended, and doing their best to ‘disrupt’ protest.

The accompanying report from South Yorkshire police confirms the involvement of FIT in directing stop and search, and reveals that the massive collection of personal details through stop and search forms almost proved too much for police resources. “The capacity of the intelligence cell was clearly challenged when the scale of PACE/1 form submission became a reality.”

Stop and search legislation was written with the express intention of NOT allowing police to collect personal details in this way. So this must be yet another example of police interpreting legislation in an ‘innovative’ way.

Not only do the police feel confident in being able to bend the law as they see fit, they are arrogant enough to brag about it in a public document. Astounding.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

ACPO 'extremist' units operating at Climate Camp

The cop above is Ian Caswell, known to many of us as 1818 of South Yorkshire police - many thanks to those who have sent us his name! He is often seen in the company of PS Mark Sully, pictured here at the top of this post.

These two are regularly seen with their cameras at demonstrations, meetings and gatherings. They have been photographed at protests against Heckler and Koch in Nottingham, at No Borders demonstrations at Crawley, at Climate Camp in Kingsnorth, at Smash EDO in Brighton, and many more. They do not seem limited to one geographical area, but tirelessly travel up and down the country in search of protesters to photograph.

It is this aspect of their role that has led FITwatch to speculate that these two officers work for the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU). This is a sister organisation to NETCU, which many of the readers of this blog will be aware of. These organisations are run as private companies under the management of ACPO, who spend at least £2m a year on them. Their role is to provide intelligence (NPOIU), support the interests of business (NETCU) and manage prosecutions (NDET - National Domestic Extremism Team).

The recent report on the policing of Climate Camp by South Yorkshire police provides evidence that we were correct. A debrief report, containing comments from individual officers, makes frequent mention of the role of NPOIU at the Camp in managing FIT teams and surveillance in general - both overt and covert. It also contains one comment commending PS Sully in particular for his role as the FIT's NPOIU manager.

The NPOIU collects and collates huge amounts of data. Despite being a private company it has access to police databases. This information is presumably made available to NETCU. How much information they deem appropriate to pass on to the private sector businesses they support (EDO, Heckler and Koch etc) is anyone's guess.

Carswell and Sully are, then, in a strange position. They are serving police officers, apparently working for a private company. It is not clear whether they are contracted to the NPOIU, or are working on secondment. FITwatchers who find themselves standing in the way of their cameras may want to speculate as to whether there is a criminal offence of obstructing a police officer who isn't really a police officer....

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Watching Them Watching Us

An article by John Q Publican which first appeared on Police State UK

Surveillance, it seems to me, comes in two categories differentiated by purpose; that is, all surveillance efforts will fulfill one, or both in some mixture, of two purposes. The first is the easiest, and the most etymologically obvious: surveillance is investigative.

A typical example of such surveillance work would be a phone tap. You initiate a phone tap to find out things you didn’t know before; it is an investigative tool. A point-to-point communication which should thus limit information exposure is compromised by external surveillance, permitting the watchers to learn things they would otherwise be unable to learn. But it is worth noting that this investigative function for surveillance is effective precisely in so far as it is covert; a subject aware of observation behaves differently.

This, of course, is the rationale behind armed guards in front of public buildings, and bobbies walking a beat: “showing the uniform”. The pre-supposition is that highly visible surveillance will act as a deterrent. Such surveillance is therefore distinct from investigative surveillance in both function and form. CCTV cameras watch our streets dumbly and permanently; I’ve worked a CCTV monitoring job for Winchester City Council. We had a forensic role; if an incident occurred on camera we could work to gather effective evidence by focusing on faces and recording time-stamp data. But primarily CCTV cameras function as a deterrent; don’t rob here, you’ll get caught on camera. This is their function on the Tube, on the buses, in corner shops and pubs.

I establish these categories explicitly because I want to consider the evolving role of state surveillance over the last fifteen years in the light of these distinctions. We have seen a huge expansion of publicly, rather than privately, owned CCTV cameras. We have seen the return of the street bobby, the copper on a push bike, Community Policing. We have seen the development, evolution and eventual prime-time prominence of the organisation known as FIT. We’ve also seen the growth of organisations which attempt to track, monitor or control traffic flows on the internet. We have seen massively more frequent use of phone monitoring, we’ve seen undercover agent provocateur operations which offer thousands of pounds to recruit citizen surveillance officers, or what we would have called “secret police informants” during the Cold War, if we’d spotted godless Commies at it.

FIT are a specifically interesting case to follow. They grow in the shadows cast by the Territorial Support Groups, and like most things that grow in the dark they’re knee-deep in shit. Both police groups are, in inception, explicitly class warriors: both were created to suppress increasingly organised expressions of working-class disillusion and rage. I remember the gossip mills talking about a shadowy group of guys with cameras documenting Troublesome Elements from behind black-glazed car windows. What they turned out to actually be was an attempt to curtail nationally organised football violence.

And initially they were an investigative force. They operated covertly. They identified and documented the activities of over a thousand violent criminals. Unfortunately, they also documented and spied on several thousand innocent football supporters. But, the men who’ve been banned from foreign travel and from football stadiums are, overwhelmingly, the right men; the men who organised things like this.

FIT used to hide behind net curtains and this places them distinctly into the camp of investigative surveillance. They wanted to know something; they used surveillance to find out. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there. They soon morphed into something new; FIT surveillance became a highly visible, highly politicised and in-your-face feature of public order policing. This does not mean FIT’s activities came out of the shadows; they still do all kinds of things they hope people won’t notice, but it does mean that the nature of their surveillance changed.

I was taken aside at the point when I asked for the warrant by about five FIT officers. Had a camera pointed in my face and photo taken. Held onto and surrounded and shouted at.

So writes James Lloyd, a Climate Camp legal observer on 2nd April 2009. This is not investigative surveillance; for a start, this guy is in an orange tabard marked Legal Observer, his name and two phone numbers are registered with police command and he is, in fact, carrying a Police Liason identification.

What are they doing? If it’s not investigation, it must be deterrence. The aim is to send a very clear message; you are being watched. We are doing it. We don’t care if you know. You will be watched, your privacy will be invaded, and there is nothing you can do. This is the action of a group who are actively attempting to stop something.

And it’s not football violence any more. In fact, I don’t know if FIT still have that purview or not; once everyone heard about them their utility in stopping organised criminals was compromised. It’s the wavering criminal who may be deterred, not the skinhead with the swastika tattoo who “supports” a football team but turns up for the donnybrook. What they most certainly do, now, is spy on and intimidate political dissenters.

In fact, when you look beyond FIT at public surveillance of political dissent it is almost universally not investigative. It’s not about finding out who disagrees with the government: the government knows that, we’re all shouting about it on the internet, or going to protests with placards. The behaviour of FIT, the police threatening people with non-applicable laws to try and force identification data out of them, the CCTV cameras… There are neon-yellow, private (or rather, corporate) surveillance operatives driving around in caged vans labeled “GrapeVine” (whoever the hell they are) and spying on private citizens “in partnership with the police”.

They are not about finding out, or proving, anything. These multi-billion pound initiatives are about passing on a message to anyone who thinks dissent is permissible. The message is: We are watching you. You have been warned.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Victory for Fitwatchers Everywhere as FIT Hide in Car

Last weekend, at both the Anti Militarist Gathering and a demo at Heckler and Koch, FIT cops - CO996 Mark Sully and 1818 from South Yorkshire police (name anyone???) were spotted skulking in an unmarked car.

It is lovely to see these cops, who used to be so brazen about their role, hiding away, scared of being confronted and challenged by protesters.

Fitwatch also wonder whether they had the necessary authorisation under RIPA to conduct such covert surveillance. Anyone present at either of these events might want to complain to the IPCC that this surveillance was being carried out, and it is believed the correct authorisation had not been obtained.

Whilst undoubtedly a victory, this is something we need to be aware of. We cannot allow them to lurk in unmarked cars - we must still challenge them and draw attention to their presence.

And, just because we can't see them, doesn't mean their not watching, making notes, and building databases. It is therefore crucial we continue masking up and taking whatever measures we can to protect our anonymity on protests.

Photos copyright - Tash -

Thursday, 16 July 2009

FIT at Southend Airport

It seems that more and more people are objecting to being placed under FIT style surveillance. About time!

The latest case hitting the press concerns Essex police seen photographing a bunch of people attending a meeting about the future of Southend Airport. They snapped local residents and members of campiagn groups on 'crime and disorder' grounds.

Quoted in the Mail, Kiti Theobald, chairman of the Stop Airport Extension Now group, said: 'I was walking out of the main building and there was a policeman with a camera. I asked him if he was taking pictures of me and he said yes.

'I asked him why, but he just said his boss told him to do it. He wouldn’t tell me anything else about it.

Which seems to be about the standard of reply we expect to get from FIT coppers generally, Essex ones in particular.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Met's advice to photographers

Published Thursday:

Including: "Officers have the power to view digital images contained in mobile telephones or cameras carried by a person searched under S43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to discover whether they have in their possession anything which may constitute evidence that they are involved in terrorism."

And the wonderfully unambiguous: "It should ordinarily be considered inappropriate to use Section 58a to arrest people photographing police officers in the course of normal policing activities, including protests, as without more, there is no link to terrorism. There is however nothing preventing officers asking questions of an individual who appears to be taking photographs of someone who is or has been a member of Her Majesty’s Forces (HMF), Intelligence Services or a constable."

So, it's not technically against the law, but if the police decide it is, then it, er, is.

Plus: 'The Met's attack on photographers'

Monday, 6 July 2009

“Um...specifically...I don’t know” – Assistant Commissioner Chris Allan on FIT data collection.

“Um...speicifically...I don’t know”. This was Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison’s response to being asked what happens to the data collected by the Forward Intelligence Teams on Panorama’s, “Whatever Happened to People Power?” Chris Allison has worked for the MET for twenty five years, and according to the Met Police’s website, has been “heavily involved” in the “policing of public order events ranging from football matches, small marches all the way to resolution of serious disorder”. If he, with his years of expertise and high ranking, doesn’t know, then who does?

Obviously Chris Allison knows what happens to the data, but he’s not going to admit that the details of thousands of protesters are being entered into a searchable database, and listed as possible extremists on Panorama. It’ll be interesting to see whether Superintendent Hartshorn, inventor of the summer of rage, will be more forthcoming under cross examination at upcoming Fitwatch trials, and whether he will be forced to reveal further information about the extent of data retention on UK protesters.

Allison was also somewhat flexible with the truth when asked about the role of the FIT. His description of a unit dedicated to keeping “people safe” and “engag[ing]” with “the public” seems in contradiction to Jacqui Smith’s comments on this being “harassment style policing.” To anyone who has experienced or witnessed FIT policing, it was either deeply offensive or just plain ludicrous.

It was good to see Allison squirming, unable to truthfully answer the questions about policing and protest, and ultimately ending up looking like a lying idiot. The programme was also good at exposing some of the tactics the police use against protesters, and showing the lengths they are prepared to go in dealing with people doing nothing more than getting involved in a local campaign.

However, whilst good, there was one flaw with the programme- there was a whiff of good protester/bad protester from the beginning. Although not overtly stated, the implication was that it was alright to use these tactics against the real “extremists”. This not only didn’t cover the rather obvious question of what defines domestic extremism and whether this is an acceptable definition – NETCU themselves agree there is no legal definition and basically infer it to mean anyone who engages in direct action – but whether this treatment of protesters is right regardless of their beliefs.

Fitwatch was started from a belief all protesters should be protected and that we have a right to defend ourselves from this kind of policing. It is great programmes such as Panorama are finally bringing these issues to a wider audience, but it is important this good/bad distinction is not made and is always challenged. Harassing, intimidating, assaulting and arbitrarily arresting people because of their beliefs rather than their actions is not acceptable, and people across the political and activist spectrum need to stand together to ensure any changes to public order policing applies across the board and not just to a select few.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Pictures of climate camp cops

Shown below is PC's Fisher and Stabler, two of the police officers involved in the climate camp arrests of Fitwatchers. Fisher, who is distinctive in having a heavily tattooed arm, is in the front.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Predatory policing

This is the article that appeared as a Comment is Free peice on the Guardian website

As my arrest and imprisonment demonstrates, the preventative policing model is a licence to harass legitimate protesters
Fit Watch was formed in response to more than 10 years of harassment and intimidation of protesters by the Forward Intelligence Teams (Fit). Employing a range of tactics from blocking police cameras to monitoring their activities, we knew it would make us more unpopular than we already were with the Fit. However, the stifling effect of their presence at protests and meetings meant it was a necessary step.
I first became aware of Fit in 2001. Fit officers were taking photographs outside meetings, and then greeting me by name in crowds of thousands of people. Before long, they were at every meeting, every demonstration, calling me by name, making derogatory comments, and following me long after a protest had finished.
During 2002, they arrested me four times in three months, raided my house, seized my personal diaries and tried very hard, but unsuccessfully, to have me remanded.
None of the charges came to court, and eventually I received compensation. However, I was driven so far over the edge I ended up drinking heavily to the point I broke down and was admitted to hospital, vomiting blood, on a drip and hallucinating cops in the place of paramedics.
It never occurred to me to challenge this policing – even ending up in hospital didn't make me realise we needed a collective response. And my experiences, although extreme, were by no means isolated. Many people had breakdowns, or simply withdrew from political activity because they couldn't deal with the levels of police harassment.
The police have always sought to justify their actions against me, and others like me, on the grounds we are the nasty protesters – the ones they warn about when they spin media stories about hardcore troublemakers arriving at climate camps. This subtext was made crystal clear at our bail hearing after the Kingsnorth incident – the crown prosecutor described us as "violent" and said the "police were anxious" we would go back to the camp, "create disorder" and "put people in fear of mental and physical injury". However, as the video shows, we did nothing other than try to monitor the policing operation.
As the dust settles from the G20, and various bodies compile their reports into public order policing, it is this arbitrary distinction between good and bad protesters that is likely to be drawn. The distinction is subjective, based on dubious assumptions and police "intelligence", details of which are near impossible to access and challenge.
I know I'm not a violent troublemaker. In simplistic terms, I believe a better world is possible, and that real changes – whether it be women winning the vote, the abolition of the poll tax or the fight against environmental destruction – only occur when people stand together, say no and have a direct impact. Refusing to accept the police's parameters for protest is not being a bad protester – it is an essential part of effective dissent.
While the preventative policing model remains – including use of Fit tactics, systematic stop and searches, kettling people for hours without access to food, water or toilets and baton charging anyone who dares leave – there will continue to be civil liberties abuses at protests. Arresting, harassing and imprisoning people because they might commit an offence is not acceptable whatever their political beliefs, and it is essential we stand together to resist this form of policing.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Identity of Police Officers in Guardian Fitwatch Video

Three Fitwatch activists have lodged a complaint with the IPCC about their arrest and imprisonment at Climate camp last year. The story and video of this arrest was reported in The Guardian and picked up by a variety of news outlets.

However, most of the footage has obscured the details of the officers, but clearer pictures can be seen here.

Whilst we realise these are not FIT cops, given it's a story about Fitwatch, we thought it only fair we should name them - and it should be noted that EK127 Alan Palfrey, who is getting a bit of a reputation for turning a blind eye towards police violence, is seen skulking in the background.

Firstly, the Evidence Gatherers who filmed this footage:

10475 - Last - is the female officer
9038 - Sellan

8871 - Wiltshire
9589 - Sabcar

The officers involved in the arrest were:

PC 1259 - Nicholas Fisher - (I think - perhaps another fitwatcher could confirm - this is the heavily tattooed officer who is seen putting his hands around a fitwatcher's neck, and who is not wearing a number).

PC 5988 - Jessica Lawe - female cop

PC 6303 - Christopher Lawless (no, I'm not making this up)

PC 6509 - Davis

PC 5915 - Flint

As regular readers of the blog will realise, this was not an isolated incident in terms of Fitwatch, protest, or the country as a whole. However, it is great that this coverage has been generated, and we will continue to challenge this policing by whatever means we can.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

CO11 review database

The Met are in the process of weeding data and images of protesters from the CRIMINT database that they are unable to justify retaining, according to the Home Office. In a response to parliamentary questions they state that CO11, the Public Order Branch are conducting a ‘manual review’ of photographs they have taken on demonstrations and political assemblies. This follows the Court of Appeal case of Andrew Wood, when it was found that the Met were not justified in retaining pictures of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade activist.

The criteria the police are using to ‘review’ entries on the database is unclear. Senior officers within CO11 have previously stated that intelligence can be held on people who have no criminal record, and who have done nothing unlawful. An awful lot seems to depend on the subjective judgement of FIT officers, and the estimated ‘threat’ from groups such as environmentalists and anti-militarists, or pro-Tamil or Palestinian demonstrators.

In an effort to find out just what data the police hold on them FITwatchers and others have applied under the Data Protection Act to see the information on file. The police have been slow to respond, and so far very little has come to light. The NUJ announced last week that they are making a formal complaint to the data commissioner about the failure of the public order unit to provide details of the data they hold on journalists.

It’ll be interesting to see how much information is eventually revealed – the police will undoubtedly try and hide behind the ‘national security’ and ‘prevention of crime’ exemptions to the Act. Additionally many protesters might justifiably be wary of making data requests, as it inevitably means providing a name and address and details of demonstrations attended. But potentially this is a useful way of getting a better picture of the scale of the information held, and any readers of this blog who would like more info or support for doing this should e-mail us at