In 2005, the activist and comedian Mark Thomas managed to gain entry into the secretive Defence Security Equipment International (DSEi) arms fair in east London as part of an investigation into the sale of torture equipment by UK companies, for his Channel 4 show, The Mark Thomas Comedy Product. Posing as a buyer, he was offered electro-shock weapons by three companies at the event.
Mark had previously been arrested during DSEi in 2003 and prosecuted after he chained himself to the underside of the minibus carrying delegates from BAE Systems to the arms fair.
Since 1999, there had repeatedly been major protests at DSEi and 2005 was no exception. The NCDE had specifically circulated the “spotter card” containing the photographs of 24 anti-arms trade protesters that was used by
He had received a copy of the laminated card, marked for “police eyes only” and labelled “CO11 Public Order Intelligence Unit”, through the post. The card was eventually published by the Guardian in 2009 and in an article for the paper, Mark asked:
What exactly was I doing that was so awfully wrong as to merit this attention? Today’s Guardian revelations of three secret police units [NPIOU, NECTU, NDET] goes some way to explain the targeting of protesters and raises worrying questions. The job of these units is to spy on protesters, and collate and circulate information about them. Protesters – or, as the police call them, “domestic extremists” – are the new “reds under the bed”.
After submitting a data protection subject access request seeking details of the personal information held about him on the national domestic extremism database, Mark was given a file of seven pages containing more than 60 individual items of intelligence. He described the entries as,
“a bizarre list of events monitored by the police, lectures given, panels attended, even petitions I have supported. One entry notes my presence at an anti-war demo, describing what I am wearing and what sort of bike I am riding, the police continue, ‘he said hello to us as he passed and seemed very happy.’”
In 2014 Mark was one of six NUJ members who began legal action against the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Home Secretary to challenge this ongoing police surveillance.
“The very phrase ‘domestic extremist’ defines protesters in the eyes of the police as the problem, the enemy. Spying on entire groups and organisations, and targeting the innocent, undermines not only our rights but the law.