>The Met today lost a key legal case in the Court of Appeal over the retention of photographs taken of protesters by Forward Intelligence Teams.
Andrew Wood, a campaigner for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, took a civil case against the Met in 2005 after he had been followed and photographed by FIT officers. The FIT team harassed him after he attended a shareholders meeting of Reed Elsevier, the company which then hosted the DSEi arms fair in London’s Excel centre.
In the initial hearing at the High Court, lawyers for the Met maintained that they did not retain the photographs for further use. “This is not about some secret national database” they insisted. Wood lost the case.
After that, FITwatch mounted a number of legal defences to obstruction charges, based on the fact that FIT teams collected and collated data onto a central system which breached privacy rights. Initially FIT officers giving evidence denied this. Then back in December, PC Dan Collins blew the lid off the database racket. During the trial of three people using banners to block the cameras of FIT teams, he was unusually and remarkably honest. Yes, he said, they did enter details of individual protesters into a database. Thousands of them.
Liberty, who had taken Wood’s case, then accused the Met of misleading the court. They appealed the decision on Wood to the Court of Appeal.
Todays judgement calls for the police to destroy the photographs taken of Mr Wood, and casts doubt on their ability to continue to collect data on people when there is no evidence of wrongdoing.
Presumably, this means their practice of sitting outside meetings taking photographs of those attending will now be recognised as unlawful. It also has implications for the collection of data in any situation where no criminal offences are taking place.
It is certainly good news for the nine FITwatch activists who are awaiting trial for obstructing police cameras, some of whom have been on bail for a over a year. It will make it much more difficult for the police to maintain that they were acting lawfully when taking photographs of a public meeting and a perfectly peaceful protest!
So it this the end of the FIT? I suspect that they will attempt to weasel their way out of this ruling in some way or another. Perhaps they will just go back to pretending that they don’t keep any of the images. Or maybe they will insist they only photograph anarchists and ‘extremists’, who (of course) go around committing offences all the time anyway. Who knows?
But coming on top of everything else – FITwatchers making their life bloody difficult; two of their ‘top boys’ under investigation in connection with the death of Ian Tomlinson; criticism from the NUJ for attacking and harassing working journalists – this must surely hurt.
It’s about time you hung up the FIT jackets, boys, and got yourself a proper job.