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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.’

Notes
(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)

Fitwatch:
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’.

Notes

(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

MEDIA RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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 - http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/25/police-surveillance-protest-domestic-extremism
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.