Tag Archives: FIT team

Ask a policeman for his badge number? Arrested!

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Last week I attended a screening of ‘Which Side Are You On?’, a 1984 documentary by director Ken Loach. And in it he showed the extent of the police brutality during the Miners’ Strike. Extreme, preemptive violence, and the removal of police ID badge numbers defined their behaviour as agents of the state. In 28 years this video proves nothing has changed:

Two female protesters who challenged police officers for not displaying their badge numbers were bundled to the ground, arrested and held in prison for four days, according to an official complaint lodged today.

The incident was caught on camera, and footage shows officers standing on the women’s feet and applying pressure to their necks immediately after the women attempted to photograph a fellow officer who had refused to give his badge number.

The images are likely to fuel concern over the policing of protests, which is already subject to a review by the national police inspectorate and two parliamentary inquiries after the G20 demonstrations and the death of Ian Tomlinson.

Val Swain, 43, and Emily Apple, 33, both mothers with young children, believe they were deliberately targeted for arrest at last year’s climate camp demonstration in Kent because they campaign for Fit Watch, a protest group that opposes police surveillance at demonstrations.

The pair were remanded to a women’s prison for four days and released only after the demonstration against the Kingsnorth power station had finished. They believe their treatment is symptomatic of the increasingly aggressive approach taken by police at political demonstrations.

It’s not a new tactic, but no less indefensible. Loach argued that this behaviour should not be a surprise because it’s the function of the police, and all the recent evidence suggests he’s right. Mess with the interests of the state, even merely through protest, and they’ll do whatever it takes to stop you. Kingsnorth, Bishopsgate, Ratcliffe-on-Soar – these are only the opening shots in a new round of conflict.

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Met Surveillance – Unlawful!

It’s a blow for the Met, a triumph for peaceful protest and campaigning organisations:

Police surveillance of a peaceful campaigner was deemed to be unlawful today in a ruling that liberty campaigners say could change the way officers are allowed to monitor protesters.

The court of appeal ordered the Metropolitan police to destroy photographs its surveillance teams had taken of arms-trade campaigner Andrew Wood, ruling that they breached his rights under the European convention on human rights.

Superb news. It’s a hammer blow against their forward intelligence team (FIT) units, with their policy of precriminalisation of entirely innocent protesters and campaigning organisations. This is something they allegedly do to Greenpeace all the time and it’ll be interesting to see the immediate repurcussions of this ruling.

Wood, a member of the Campaign Against Arms Trade, had been photographed by a Met surveillance unit in 2005 as he left a meeting in London.

His initial claim that the police action had breached his rights was dismissed by the high court in May last year. But today at the court of appeal in London two out of three judges agreed there had been a “disproportionate interference in the human right to privacy”.

Lord Justice Dyson said: “The retention by the police of photographs taken of persons who have not committed an offence, and who are not even suspected of having committed an offence, is always a serious matter.”

Lord Collins said: “There was a very substantial police presence … when I first read the papers on this appeal, I was struck by the chilling effect on the exercise of lawful rights such a deployment would have.”

The case follows an investigation by the Guardian that revealed police had been targeting thousands of political campaigners in surveillance operations and storing their details on a database for at least seven years.

And now we revisit the DNA database ruling. The European Court of Human Rights tells the government it’s in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights – Jacqui Smith sidesteps the ruling entirely. Who’s to say, political crisis aside, that she’ll behave any differently in this instance?