By Netpol

Wave of impunity carries Cressida Dick into Commissioner’s job

Jean Charles de Menezes’ relatives march alongside other custody death families in Whitehall, October 2006. PHOTO: Kevin Blowe

The word “impunity” – exemption from any possibility of punishment or harm – comes up again and again when bereaved families talk about the death of a loved one at the hands of the police. The family of Jean Charles de Menezes used it again in a statement yesterday.

It is little wonder, when charges against officers are so rare, when investigations take so long and when efforts to discover the truth are so vigorously contested, that many start to believe the police – uniquely in society – are immune from prosecution following a death in their care.

Often it seems all families are allowed to hope for is a vague promise to “learn the lessons from the tragedy” and the possibility that senior officers feel at least some sense of shame for the loss of life on their watch. But justice? That is apparently asking for too much.

The announcement of the appointment of Cressida Dick as the next Metropolitan Police Commissioner must feel particularly painful for the Menezes family. Ms. Dick was the senior officer in charge of the botched operation that led to the execution of the Brazilian commuter by firearms officers at Stockwell underground station in London in the summer of 2005.

The Metropolitan Police then lied about the circumstances of Jean’s death and during subsequent investigations vital evidence went missing, including Cressida Dick’s instructions to allow Jean into the station because he did not appear a threat. In 2007, the Met was eventually found guilty of breaking health and safety laws and endangering the lives of Londoners and a year later, an inquest jury decided that a series of police failures contributed to Jean’s death. No individual officers were ever charged or disciplined. Read more

Large or Small, Why Protests Still Matter

A police officer at the Women’s March on London, January 2017. PHOTO: Bruno Mameli / Shutterstock.

Feedback from supporters who took part in last week’s Domestic Extremism Awareness Day was very clear – people believe strongly that the freedom to protest remains valuable and important and deserves protection from efforts by the state to undermine and disrupt its effectiveness.

Campaigners resent the smearing of their activism as ‘extremism’, not only because this label is evidently so easy to apply without the slightest evidence, but because it seems deliberately intended to drive away wider public support. Read more

This is Not Domestic Extremism

palestine-protestLaunched in 2013, Netpol’s annual “Domestic Extremist Awareness Day” takes place on Monday 6 February. This year, we are calling for a complete end to the meaningless but sinister use of the ‘domestic extremist’ label against all legitimate political dissent.

As we have argued repeatedly over the last couple of years, the term “domestic extremist” means pretty much whatever the police want it to mean.

It is a critical justification for state surveillance on protest movements in the UK, but both the government and the police have struggled to devise a credible definition robust enough to withstand legal scrutiny. As a result, Prime Minister Theresa May’s flagship counter-terrorism and safeguarding bill, announced back in May 2016, is currently floundering precisely because government lawyers have still been unable to codify ‘extremism’ or ‘British values’ in ways that are compatible with fundamental rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Read more

Extraordinary judgment rubber-stamps unfounded link between anti-fracking and extremism

PHOTO: Peter Titmuss / Shutterstock

PHOTO: Peter Titmuss / Shutterstock

The Information Commissioner, in rejecting an appeal by Netpol over the refusal of the police to release details of a programme to ‘deradicalise extremists’, has endorsed unfounded and unsubstantiated links between anti-fracking protests and the threat of terrorism.

In October 2015, we asked Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside police for details of referrals made in the prior ten months through Channel, a ‘counter radicalisation’ process that is part of the government’s anti-terrorism Prevent strategy. Channel supposedly offers voluntary support to people identified as “vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism” and although there are a number of agencies involved in it, the police play a central role in its delivery. Rather than overall statistics, we asked specifically for the number of individuals seen as allegedly at risk through their involvement in anti-fracking campaigns.

Our requests were the result of concerns raised with us by campaigners from the region who were angered that their opposition to fracking had been used as an excuse to refer them to Channel, in most cases by universities or further education colleges. All related to an alleged ‘risk’ to adults rather than children.

In a startling determination, the Information Commissioner has said:

Channel may be appropriate for anyone who is vulnerable to being drawn into any form of terrorism… It follows from this that, for a referral to be made to Channel, it must be suspected that an individual is at risk of becoming involved in terrorist related activity.

In effect, the Commissioner is insisting nobody is referred unless there is a good reason for doing so – even if this is for nothing more than expressing legitimate political opinions about fracking. Read more

Report highlights ‘chilling effect’ on freedom to protest against fracking

pages-from-policing-anti-fracking-protests-report-2014-2016

Netpol has published a new report, ‘Protecting the Protectors: Monitoring the Policing of Anti-Fracking Protests since 2014’, which summarises our activities, findings and analysis of the policing of protests against fracking since 2014.

Drawing extensively on discussions with anti-fracking campaigners, as well as our own observations at prospective fracking sites, the report covers our

  • •Engagement with – and development of resources for – anti-fracking campaigners
  • Concerns with the policing of anti-fracking demonstrations and camps
  • The intrusive surveillance of anti-fracking campaigners; and
  • The opaque relationship between the police and the fracking industry .

We have argued that the way policing operations are planned for anti-fracking protests, the scale of intrusive surveillance against campaigners and ‘zero tolerance’ attitudes towards civil disobedience has a cumulative ‘chilling effect’ on freedoms of assembly and expression:

When coupled with an unfounded association with serious criminality and ‘extremism’ and an unwillingness by police to accommodate protests without routinely making arrests, this can start to quickly chip away at campaign groups’ support and participation and have a disruptive impact on their effectiveness and activities.

With the imminence of new test drilling and exploration sites around the country, the report also outlines the next phase of our campaigning work between now and September 2018.

Your can download a copy of the report here [pdf_icon, 1.2 Mb]

How transparent is the policing of anti-fracking protests?

Anti-fracking protest march in Malton, North Yorkshire

Anti-fracking protest march in Malton, North Yorkshire. PHOTO: Paul Rookes / Shutterstock.com

The interests of energy companies are widely perceived as taking priority over the rights of protesters.

Nearly a year after we first raised concerns about new guidelines on the policing of anti-fracking protests, we have finally had some answers to questions we raised with the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC).

In the last of four posts, we examine what the NPCC’s response tells us about the level of transparency of policing operations involving anti-fracking protests.  Read more

Is dialogue with Police Liaison Officers really ‘voluntary’?

Police Liaison Officers at the March against Austerity in June 2014. PHOTO: Netpol

A cluster of Police Liaison Officers at the March against Austerity in June 2014. PHOTO: Netpol

Nearly a year after we first raised concerns about new guidelines on the policing of anti-fracking protests, we have finally had some answers to questions we raised with the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC).

In the third of four posts, we look at police attitudes to the use of ‘dialogue’ and ‘liaison’ and whether senior officers have a different understanding from protesters about what these words really mean. Earlier posts cover intelligence-gathering operations and body-worn cameras at anti-fracking protests. Read more

Trade unionists hassled by private security on London’s South Bank

Unite Hotel Workers Branch protest

Unite Hotel Workers Branch members outside the Premier Inn at County Hall. PHOTO: Mark Kerrison / Alamy

Protesters increasingly face confrontations with private security and uncertainty about “quasi-public” spaces

The experience of Unite Hotel Workers branch members, protesting against bullying, harassment and victimisation of workers in London’s top hotels, has once again highlighted how the increasing privatisation of “quasi-public” spaces extends beyond shopping centres and malls to large parts of central London. Read more