Domestic Extremism

A Judicial Review was brought by John Catt on February 9th to challenge the lawfulness his entry onto a ‘domestic extremism database’. , The veteran peace activist, who has no criminal convictions, and is often seen sketching on protests has 66 entries on a secretive database run by the National Domestic Extremism Unit(NDEU). The NDEU now operates as part of the Metropolitan Police’s counter terrorism command.
The majority of the entries concern his association with protests against the EDO factory in Brighton, which manufactures arms components, although an estimated 15% of the entries relate to other protests both in Brighton and around the UK.

The police also admitted to having retained, but recently deleted, John Catt’s photograph. Yet they continued to maintain justification for the retention of personal information about Mr Catt, including his appearance, his movements and details of his car.

HMIC recently criticised the units handling and retention of data in their report on undercover policing, finding, “the rationale for recording and retaining the intelligence was not strong enough”. This was dismissed by the Met in court as ‘not applicable’ to the current case.

Judgement is still awaited.

Facebook riot cases

Another man has been cleared of encouraging rioting or looting via Facebook during the August’s riots. A jury took just 90 minutes to agree that Christopher Milligan’s post did not amount to ‘intentionally encouraging or assisting rioting’.

Milligan is the fourth man to have been acquitted by a jury for writing on Facebook. His fate differs markedly from that of Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, who were jailed last year for making very similar comments. Both men had pleaded guilty to encouraging crime in their home towns, although there were no outbreaks of disorder in either location.

Dale Farm – Production Order

Essex police obtained a production order, after a fiercely contested case at Chelmsford Crown Court, forcing journalists present at the Dale Farm eviction to hand over to un-broadcast footage. Judge Gratwick ignored serious concerns put forward by journalists, and found a ‘clear and compelling case for disclosure’.

The police are demanding all footage taken by the BBC, Sky, ITV, Channel 4 as well as freelance filmmaker, Jason Parkinson. The NUJ has stated its intention to appeal the decision to the High Court.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “This is an attack on press freedom and turns photographers, videographers and journalists into potential targets. Journalists are not there to carry out investigatory work for the police.”

John Domokos, video producer for Guardian.co.uk said: “We are very concerned about this production order as we believe it will not only seriously jeopardise his safety and ability to cover future events of this nature, but also affect the safety and impartiality of all video journalists.”

ITN Chief Executive Officer John Hardie said, “the wide-ranging Dale Farm production order is in danger of becoming the norm and we are alarmed at the frequency and nature of these requests.”

Aggravated Trespass

The High Court found a demonstrator taking part in a student demonstration at the Conservative Headquarters at Millbank was guilty of aggravated trespass simply by being on the premises when ‘significant damage was being or had been caused’.

The ruling is a further step in the widening of the law of aggravated trespass. It has implications for the policing of occupations, sit-ins and all protests that take place on private land.

To obtain a conviction for aggravated trespass, the prosecution need to show the defendant did something other than merely being on the premises. In this case the act of ‘encouraging others’ by entering carrying a banner and wearing a hoody appears to have been enough.

Netpol also has concerns that there may potential implications for legal observers or journalists covering or monitoring occupations. Counsel for the Prosecution conceded that press photographers would, in theory, be liable to conviction for the offence because trespassing and taking photos of a protest where damage is occurring could be deemed as an act of ‘encourage others’.

Aggravated Trespass was put on the statute books in 1994 to criminalise open-air raves. The act was amended as recently as 2003 with the effect of criminalising ‘disruptive’ protest on private property.

HMIC report on undercover policing

After repeated delays, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary finally published its report on the use of undercover police in the protest movement. It carried the rather long title of ‘review of national police units which provide intelligence on criminality associated with protest’.

The report made some, guarded criticism of the functioning of the domestic extremism unit, suggesting that “the rationale for recording and retaining the intelligence was not strong enough” and that the unit should exercise tighter controls on the authorisation and supervision of undercover officers. It noted that, “[domestic extremism] operations were not as well controlled as those of other units which deploy undercover officers on serious criminality.”

The report also criticised the wide range of protest groups that are presently potentially subject to intrusive surveillance and undercover policing. It called for a tighter definition of ‘domestic extremism, but then admitted that the police and HMIC have so far failed to agree on what that should be. HMIC favoured a definition that included ‘serious criminality’, although did not define what it meant by that. The police appear to prefer their current definition; those who seek to make political change ‘outside of the normal democratic process’.

At no point did the report properly address the civil and human rights issues of those affected by the undercover operatives. Innocent parties caught up in relationships with undercover police officers were dismissed as ‘collateral intrusion’.

Instead the report attempted to justify the use of undercover police officers to spy on direct action and protest groups. It also stated that the surveillance of political groups was well situated within the Metropolitan police’s Counter Terrorism Command, further blurring the distinction between the policing of protest, and the policing of terrorism.