HMIC report into domestic extremism – disgusting and farcical

2 Feb

Courtesy of Netpol partner, Fitwatch.

Well, we always knew HMIC’s ludicrously named ‘review of national police units which provide intelligence on criminality associated with protest’ was going to be a farce, and we haven’t been disappointed.

The 48 page report published today fails to address any of the concerns addressed by activists, and whilst claiming to recommend tightening of the term ‘domestic extremism’, conflates anti gm crop actions with right wing nail bombers, and invents another non existent subjective term ‘serious criminality’.

‘Serious criminality’ is, in the context of the report, defined as things which “include[s] serious disruption to the life of the community arising from criminal activity”. Protesters are used to seeing the very broad circumstances in which the police impose Section 12 and 14 conditions on protests on the basis of “disruption to the community”. These have ranged from sit down blockades at Aldermaston, recent conditions on student marches, to chanting slogans at arms dealers outside a hotel. ‘Serious criminality’ is a ridiculous phrase which includes as much inbuilt ambiguity as ‘domestic extremist’ especially given the report admits to finding that “Precise definitions can also be counter-productive, as the nature of extremist activity morphs in the way it operates”. Furthermore, HMIC are reluctant to even state what is a crime in relation to activism stating ‘generally no commodity is traded; therefore the crimes can be more difficult to define’.

NPOIU wants to create a sinister underground world of plotting activists, dangerous beings committed to “serious crimes, involving threats to life and harm to individuals, serious damage to property, and the accquistion of weapons such as firearms and homemade bombs”. However,the main notable incident cited for environmentalist action was the “hijacking of a coal train”. Although the word hijack was used repeatedly in the media reporting of the case, it is an emotive word to use in the context of this report to describe people occupying the roof of a train. The word hijack immediately evokes images of guns, threats and hostages, especially given the nail bombing campaign by right wing extremists is referenced within the same section.

The train action was committed by a group which included teachers and a preacher; a group who were described by the trial judge as “eloquent, sincere, moving and engaging”. 21 out of 29 members of the group were given conditional discharges showing the level of seriousness the judge deemed the case. However, this is the pinnacle of “serious criminality” according to HMIC, showing disruption to communities is, as usual, simply shorthand for disruption to large corporations.

Perhaps more importantly, or at least most insultingly for those affected, the report doesn’t address the civil and human rights issues of those affected by the undercover operatives. The overriding view that if the officers had behaved properly then none of this would have happened is simply not good enough. In contrast to the emotive language of train “hijacking”, the lives NPIOU have stamped over; the lives to which they have caused irreparable damage are simply and disgustingly labelled “collateral intrusion”. Meanwhile there are several references to the psychological difficulties these poor police officers have to endure.

And throughout the report, there’s the figure of Mark Kennedy – HMIC refused to address any of the evidence in relation to other identified undercover cops – and despite claims he “did help to uncover serious criminality”, there is no evidence he actually prevented any criminality from taking place with the report admitting that “the lack of specific outcomes makes an objective assessment of success very difficult”. Kennedy didn’t prevent the actions happening he provided intelligence on, didn’t contribute to prosecutions, and has, according to the report, no discernable role.

Finally, the one area HMIC and Fitwatch are equally critical of is the quality of intelligence gathered finding “the rationale for recording and retaining the intelligence was not strong enough (in terms of ‘necessity and proportionality’ tests)”. However, instead of dealing with this issue, HMIC “will revisit this issue separately”. However, there is no indication of when this will be ‘revisited’ or whether the results of this visit will be public.

This is a disgusting report showing utter contempt for activists, and a complete disregard for their rights with the only recommendations made being ones which will make no real material difference in the way the units operate. HMIC are not, as the claim to be “inspecting policing in the public interest” but inspecting policing in the interests of the state and corporations.

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