In the Media

Comment our police attempts to undermine the Undercover Policing Inquiry:

The Morning Star- Police Try to Water Down Spying Probe, Conrad Landin 15 February 2017

Network for Police Monitoring spokesman Kevin Blowe told the Star: “This is about slowing the process down and trying to get people to despair about whether this inquiry will even go anywhere.

“A number of officers have been publicly named, and there is no suggestion any of those people are under a raised degree of risk as a result.”

Comment our efforts to discover if anti-fracking campaigners are targeted for ‘counter-radicalisation’:

The Canary – This extraordinary decision means we can no longer question who is labelled as a terrorist, Emily Apple 22 November  2016

If the police claim an ‘extremist threat’ linked to any movement, even where no evidence exists, this is apparently sufficient for the Information Commissioner to side with them and against transparency. We know UK freedom of information law is extremely weak when it comes to openness on law enforcement and national security. It seems, however, that even if we had asked about ‘counter-radicalisation’ referrals relating to something as mainstream as, say, the Ramblers Association, we would still have been stonewalled. It was, after all, founded as the result of a mass illegal trespass.

Netpol asked the same question to five north-west police forces in order to protect the identities of the campaigners who told us they had been referred to Channel. Questioning our motivations and implying multiple requests for information might “facilitate the mapping of Prevent capabilities” contradicts the ICO’s own guidelines, which say public bodies should not take into account the intentions of a requester when considering whether to comply with a request for information.

Comment on the introduction of ‘spit hoods’ by the Metropolitan Police

RT – UK police will soon start bagging people’s heads during arrests, Joana Ramiro, 6 September 2016
The Canary – The Met police are using a horrific new weapon, and they don’t want you to know about it [VIDEO], Emily Apple, 6 September 2016

Every new piece of kit is always justified on the grounds of officer safety. Yet again, there no regard to the long history of violently misusing equipment against people with mental health issues and those who are routinely targeted by the police, particularly young people from minority communities.

Imagine the feeling of fear and extreme distress at having one of these hoods placed over your head, not simply as a protection for officers but as a form of restraint. Imagine struggling in panic, only for officers to use even more intensive restraint techniques against you.

This is how very vulnerable people have died in police custody in the past. It happened with the introduction of CS spray, positional restraint techniques and Tasers. Our concern is that it’s only a matter of time before spit hoods are a contributor to another grieving family’s search for answers about the death of a loved one.

Comment on the launch of our ‘Netpoleaks’ website

Vice Motherboard – New Tor Site ‘Netpoleaks’ Helps Whistleblowers Report on UK Police, Joseph Cox, 13 July 2016

UK-based activist group The Network for Police Monitoring, or Netpol, has set up a Tor hidden service so that anyone with potentially helpful information about police practices—perhaps on unlawful or misappropriate monitoring of activists, for example—can get in touch more securely.

Comment on ‘Security and Policing 2016’ militarised policing exhibition in Farnborough

Red Pepper – The rise of militarised policing, Kevin Blowe, 20 January 2016

“The time has come for us to start joining the dots: between mass surveillance and data capture, the oppressive use of stop and search, the labelling of individuals as ‘domestic extremists’, the criminalisation of young black men and the racist targeting of migrants”.

Comment on policing of anti-fracking protesters

The Canary – Police are treating opponents of fracking as terrorists, this should worry us all, Emily Apple, 8 January 2016

Kevin Blowe from the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), who have been campaigning against the use of Schedule 7 on activists and communities, called Mr Crane’s detention “alarming” and further stated:

Although intended to prevent terrorism, we have documented repeated instances of its use against campaigners, often on the basis of what seems like pre-existing intelligence relating to their political activity. Mr Crane’s experience provides more alarming evidence that opponents of fracking are amongst those who are currently targeted as ‘domestic extremists

Comment on police surveillance of housing protesters

The Guardian – Lawyers criticise decision to prosecute housing protester over sticker, Jessica Elgot and Damien Gayle

Kevin Blowe, coordinator of the policing pressure group Netpol, said he expected to see further police interest in groups protesting the housing crisis, such as Class War.

“We’ve seen evidence that police are very keen to establish links between groups who are active on this issue and whether they are likely to grow,” he said, adding that his group had advised those attending the student demonstration on 4 November to cover their faces in order to draw attention to the privacy rights of activists.

Comment on closed Facebook group where police officers exchanged racist views

The Morning Star – Met Probes Officers After Travellers ‘Find Facebook Race Hate’, Joana Ramiro, 20 July 2015

“The best way of tackling this kind of conduct remains sacking officers who treat people as second-class citizens simply because of their race, ethnicity or immigration status,” said Network for Police Monitoring co-ordinator Kevin Blowe.

“Anyone surprised that comments in a closed Facebook group confirm police racism has never gone away really hasn’t been listening closely enough to monitoring groups or the experiences of thousands of young black people on the streets.”

City of London Police’s anti-terrorism training exposed

The Guardian – City of London police put Occupy London on counter-terrorism presentation with al-Qaida, Ben Quinn, 19 July 2015

Kevin Blowe, a co-ordinator of Netpol, said this was repeated around the country and was the “result of including ill-defined labels, like ‘domestic extremism’, within the language and strategies of counter-terrorism”.

“Programmes like the government’s Prevent strategy overwhelmingly target and stigmatise Muslim communities, but as Project Fawn shows, they also provide plenty of scope to include almost any group of political activists that the police dislike or consider an inconvenience.

“These slides show a real disdain for legitimate rights to exercise freedoms of expression and assembly in a free society, which leads to individuals having their lawful activities recorded and retained on secret police intelligence databases.”

The Supreme Court’s verdict on the John Catt ‘domestic extremism’ case

The Guardian – Secret police file on 90-year-old campaigner is lawful, court rules, Rob Evans, 4 March 2015

Kevin Blowe, coordinator of the civil liberties group Network for Police Monitoring, which took part in the case, said: “This ruling allows the police extraordinary discretion to gather personal information of individuals for purposes that are never fully defined.”

Police abuse of pre-charge bail conditions

The Guardian – Revealed: Police using pre-charge bail to muzzle protesters, Kevin Rawlinson, 25 December 2014

The Network for Police Monitoring, a group of activists and lawyers who are compiling evidence of police strategies, said: “Police bail is used a means of disrupting protest activity without the inconvenience of dealing with a formal legal process.

“As a result of the police’s long track record of misusing pre-charge conditions against protesters in an irresponsible way, we believe the only solution is the complete withdrawal of this power for all protest-related offences.”

The Supreme Court appeal hearing on the John Catt ‘domestic extremism’ case

The Guardian – Police try to overturn ruling they broke law while monitoring octogenarian, Rob Evans, 2 December 2014

Catt’s case is being supported at the hearing by Network for Police Monitoring, a civil liberties group. Its co-ordinator, Kevin Blowe, said: “The outcome of this hearing is extremely important, because a victory for the Metropolitan police will make it significantly easier for intelligence-gathering officers to continue to obtain and retain data about protesters on an almost industrial scale.”

On the relationship between the police and anti-fracking companies

New Internationalist – A fracking scandal: police and energy firms cosy on up, Josh Allen, 21 October 2014

Anti-fracking activists in Greater Manchester and West Sussex have been left concerned, but not surprised, by the results of a long-running Network for Police Monitoring (NetPol) investigation into a series of secretive agreements signed between their local police forces and private companies exploring the viability of fracking in their areas.

Metropolitan Police confirms names of two undercover police spies

The Morning Star – Met exposes sex spies — but tries to justify their actions as ‘normal’, Conrad Landin, 16 August 2014.

Police malpractice watchdog Netpol welcomed the formal unmasking yesterday of two Met spies who slept with women activists — but expressed disgust at new attempts by the force to justify its officers’ actions as “genuine relationships.”

Netpol co-ordinator Kevin Blowe said: “The Met’s insistence that these relationships were ‘genuine’ is both jaw-dropping and genuinely sickening.

“If the claim was true, why would every one of the spies, who were the supposedly ‘real’ partners of eight women currently suing the police, follow protocol and their training and disappear without trace at the end of their tours of duty?”

Birmingham student activist targeted by counter-terrorism officers

Vice UK – Are Students Who protest Against the Cuts ‘Extremists’?, Josh Allen, 23 July 2014

I spoke to Kevin Blowe of the Network for Police Monitoring, which was first to kick up a fuss about Pat’s situation. He told me it is, “less common for Prevent officers to get involved in this way. They are usually concerned with harassing young Muslims. However, as their role is ‘deradicalisation’ and, as… ‘radical’ is whatever officers have a ‘gut feeling about, it may happen far more often and we just haven’t heard about it. Because the… process is so opaque, it’s almost impossible to find out.”

Green Party politicians on ‘domestic extremism’ database

Vice MotherboardLondon’s Police Database of Extremists Also Includes Politicians and Activists, Joseph Cox. 16 June 2014

The working definition of “domestic extremism” used by the Metropolitan Police states that it “relates to the actions of groups or individuals who commit or plan serious criminal activity motivated by a political or ideological viewpoint,” according to a Freedom of Information Request by independent police watchdog Netpol.

As broad as this definition is, two politicians that have no record of criminal behaviour still don’t fit into it. “Even if that is what you’re saying [extremism] is, the people that you’re gathering information on do not fit that criteria,” Netpol coordinator Kevin Blowe told me.

Netpol’s formal complaint to the Information Commissioner on subject access requests

The Morning Star – Probe demanded over Met Police personal data hoard, Joana Ramiro. 20 May 2014

Netpol co-ordinator Kevin Blowe said: “As well as a breach of data protection legislation, the Met’s systemic failure to provide vital personal data when asked to do so raises wider public interest issues, about police accountability and the potential misuse of covert surveillance.”

Netpol on our legal challenge to the ‘domestic extremist’ database

The GuardianPolice face legal challenge over secret files on protesters, Rob Evans and Owen Bowcott. 18 October 2013

Val Swain, of Netpol, said: “There is a database culture within modern policing that has been allowed to run wild. Yet the law does not effectively regulate the ways in which this data is collected, how it is kept and used or who it is shared with. This has to change.”

Police liaison officers accused of harassing activist

The Guardian, Police liaison officers accused of harassing activist – video, Jason Parkinson, 4 September 2012

Val Swain of Netpol contributes to a Guardian video by Jason Parkinson on Sussex police liaison officers accused of going to a woman’s home and grilling her on her membership of UK Uncut and about future protests.

Netpol on the use of plain clothes police on demonstrations

The IndependentThe moment protesters found a plain clothes cop in their midst. Kevin Rawlinson. 2 December 2011

Val Swain, of the Network for Police Monitoring, said: “Unlike uniformed police officers, those in plain clothes wear no identifying numbers, and cannot be held to account. The use of plain clothes police can cause an unpleasant level of distrust among demonstrators, even those who are law-abiding. Nobody wants to go on a demonstration where you are not sure whether the person next to you could be recording what you say for the police file. That is not the sort of society we want to live in.

“In addition, we have no information about the remit of plain-clothes police officers at demonstrations. What is the extent of their role?

“This is an invasive policing tactic that has no regard for civil liberties. Those engaged in protest already feel under siege from aggressive and disproportionate policing.”

Netpol on the use of undercover policing

Ryan Gallagher on Spies and their Masters, 20 February 2012

But according to campaign group The Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), the HMIC review has failed to address fundamental issues.

“On the basis of this report, undercover police officers can continue to target a range of political and protest groups,” says Val Swain, spokesperson for Netpol. “The report is not even able to deliver an agreed definition of the term ‘domestic extremism’, meaning there are still no real limits on how the targets of undercover policing are decided upon.”

Swain points to the case of an 87-year-old artist, John Catt, who launched a legal challenge against police in 2011 after he was branded a domestic extremist and put under surveillance during a number of anti-arms trade demonstrations.

“Mr Catt had no criminal record, and spent his time at protests sketching, but the police have been adamant in asserting their right to hold details of his vehicle, his family, his appearance and his movements… There is no justification for the invasive surveillance of this kind of political activity, either through undercover officers or other means.

“The domestic extremism unit lacks any real accountability or transparency, and ultimately lacks any credibility. It is a shadowy unit that has been allowed to set its own rules for spying on legitimate political activity and dissent, and has no place within British society, or British policing.”

Netpol on police corruption

Red Pepper: Unfair cops – its not about ‘bad apples’, 17 December 2011

Cosy cliques building up among powerful individuals and institutions are a recipe for corrupt practices, as the phone hacking scandal has shown. Yet there is no watchdog that can effectively oversee the mechanics of what is going on in our police forces.

Police forces are usually keen to form good relationships with the press. They happily provide tip-offs and titbits of stories, but in return often expect the media to reflect a police perspective of events. Coverage of political events, such as demonstrations and rallies, frequently reflect a police viewpoint. Depending on circumstances, there is a thin line between an effective working relationship and an unhealthy ability to influence the media’s portrayal of events.

Netpol on the treatment of protesters by the police

Press TV, 4 April 2011

Netpol on the policing of EDL demonstrations (Leicester)

in The Observer UK Uncut accuses police of politically motivated arrests, 2 April 2011

Fresh claims of politically motivated policing also surfaced in a report alleging that officers prevented Muslims from attending counter-demonstrations against an English Defence League rally. Leicestershire Constabulary stopped members of the Muslim community protesting against the EDL during a high-profile march last October, according to the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol). It said that the force attempted to dissuade Muslims, through mosques and schools, from protesting against the EDL demonstration at an authorised protest by Unite Against Fascism on the same day, and issued leaflets advising that young people could be picked up and held in “safe areas”.

Val Swain of Netpol said: “This is a strategy that we have seen up and down the country, and it appears to have been sanctioned at the highest levels. It is not for the police to decide which sectors of society are allowed to protest and which are not.”

Iain Channing, University of Plymouth – Freedom of Expression from the ‘Age of Extremes’ to the ‘Age of Terror’: Reflections on public order law and the legal responses to political and religious extremism in 1930’s Britain and the post 9/11 era.

In its report of the policing of the demonstration, the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) emphasized that the EDL had broken through police cordons before and this was anticipated by the local community.

The benefit of banning processions was also questioned by Netpol as this led to a shuttle bus service being provided to transport EDL members from their prearranged meeting point to the rally site.

Children were also warned that under s46 Children Act 1989 the police would have the power to take any young person into police protection who were at risk of „significant harm? due to lack of parental care. As this is a provision that aims to keep children safe from exploitation and abuse, Netpol reported that this was the first time they were aware of it being used in the context of political protest.