> As FITwatchers eagerly await the publication of the final part of the HMIC (1) report ‘Adapting to Protest’, we note the thinly disguised attempt by Sir Hugh Orde, ACPO’s president (2), to pre-empt what is expected to be a highly critical report into police behaviour towards legitimate public protest.
In a series of surprisingly frank comments in yesterday’s press, Sir Hugh admits that ACPO-controlled domestic extremism units (3) involved in surveillance of protestors are unnecessary and ‘can go tomorrow’, though he adds that monitoring of protestors should continue under ‘independent regulation’. We’d love to hear Sir Hugh’s definition of ‘independent’.
FITwatch has been monitoring the collection of data for use by the ACPO domestic extremism units (3) for two years and is convinced that the police and ACPO are abusing their powers by collecting and collating data unlawfully. We believe such activities fall foul of European and UK laws on the processing of data and breach of privacy. We therefore welcome the disbanding of the domestic extremism units, saving millions of pounds of public money; one unit, The National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) alone has an annual budget of £5 million and a staff of 60 to 70 officers (4).
FITwatch is convinced that ACPO has become a law unto itself, dictating the law-making agenda to government, while remaining wholly unaccountable. ACPO, the Companies House-registered body, is also involved in a number of questionable commercial activities which generate substantial profits. We welcome Orde’s belated admission, therefore, that ACPO is out of control and must become a statutory body.
FITwatch rejects Sir Hugh’s plea to continue monitoring protestors. Fitwatch activist Val Swain said: ‘There is no need to keep tabs on political protesters at all, and it should stop. There is no reason why criminal activity carried out in the course of protest should be treated in any way differently from criminal activity elsewhere. There is no need for separate units, special functions or special surveillance teams that spend hours on end doing nothing more useful than photographing protesters. It is a huge waste of public money and police resources, and it is a disproportionate interference in civil rights. This is a last ditch attempt by ACPO to retain control of these units under ‘independent regulation’. ACPO has operated a deliberate shroud of secrecy, keeping the details of their activities hidden even from regulatory bodies such as the Metropolitan police authority. Before the three domestic extremism units are wound up, however, they should come clean about the extent of data they have access to, and the sort of data they keep, and the ways in which their databases operate’.
(1) Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary
(2) Association of Chief Police Officers
(3) NETCU (national extremism tactical co-ordination unit), NPOIU (national public order intelligence unit) and NDET (national domestic extremism team)
(4) parliamentary question on 10 November 2009 about the NPIOU asked by Dai Davies MP to Secretary of State for the Home Department