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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 defycops@yahoo.co.uk

Friday, 5 June 2009

On the buses


This photo was sent to us by a demonstrator on the Mayday protests in Brighton. It shows two Sussex police evidence gatherers escaping the attention of the Mayday marchers by filming from the top deck of a bus.
FIT and evidence gatherers at the Brighton demo were given an exceptionally hard time. Evidence gatherers were pushed out of the crowd as it assembled near Brighton pier, and their cameras were the focus of constant attention from that point onwards. Photographers crowded them, demonstrators squirted water at them, FITwatchers blocked them. So presumably, these two took it upon themselves to escape from all that and hide on the top deck of a bus where no-one would notice them.
There is just one problem with that decision – it quite possibly meant that their filming of the march from this point was unlawful.
Their problem is RIPA, The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. This defines covert surveillance as follows:

9) For the purposes of this section—
(a) surveillance is covert if, and only if, it is carried out in a manner that is calculated to ensure that persons who are subject to the surveillance are unaware that it is or may be taking place;

Just like hiding out of sight in a bus with a video camera, then?
This type of surveillance is perfectly lawful if the police have justified it and obtained the appropriate authorisation. It is, apparently, quite an onerous process. According to an ACPO review it takes on average five hours to fill in the forms for an authorisation. Somehow I suspect that these two just didn’t bother to do that.
Normal FIT surveillance escapes all this because it is OVERT rather than COVERT. This means, according to the Met, “officers should clearly identify themselves as police officers and not hide the fact that they are filming”*.
COVERT filming, as defined by RIPA, carried out without authorisation, is of questionable legality. I am sure Sussex police, concerned as they are to prevent breaches of the law, will now conduct a thorough enquiry, discipline those involved and destroy the footage taken. Of course.

*Met police Use of Overt Filming / Photography Policy Statement, taken from Wood v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2009]EWCA Civ 414 §13