>FITwatch welcomes Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary’s criticisms of public order policing but warns much more must be done.
FITwatch is pleased HM Chief Inspector Denis O’Connor has taken on board many of our concerns in his damning report ‘Adapting to Protest: Strengthening the British model of policing’. The moves by HMIC to ensure that policing is lawful, consistent and accountable are to be welcomed. However, the recommendations may be insufficient to change a culture of policing that has become overly reliant on surveillance and intelligence.
FITwatch activist Val Swain said: ‘HMIC’s report is a strong criticism of current policing and rightly so. However HMIC’s recommendations simply to clarify the legal framework for the use of overt photography by FITs and other police units will not be enough to bring about the culture change that is needed. If Mr O’Connor wants a return to ‘traditional’ British policing, there has to be a move away from the current intelligence-led approach.”
FITwatch also welcomes HMIC’s recommendation to review the status of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to ensure transparency and accountability. Presently ACPO is wholly unaccountable, setting the legislative agenda and implementing intelligence-lead policing through three ‘domestic extremism’ units (1) run by Anton Setchell.
The domestic extremism units hold personal data on thousands of people involved in political protest. There are also fears that this ‘intelligence’ is disseminated to private companies through the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU) which works closely to support businesses that are the focus of protesters concerns. These secretive, shadowy units operate outside of the structure of the British police and are a law unto themselves. FITwatch hope during the course of the review ACPO come clean about the extent of these units operations and the data that they hold.
Val Swain said: ‘While we welcome this first step, we need to go much further than HMIC’s recommendations. What we need is an actual change in the culture of public order policing. The way that the police behave in relation to protest, public order situations, and indeed the public generally, must differ from what has gone before. The relentless photographing and filming of protesters, the tracking of their cars, the abuse of police powers to gather their personal details must stop. FITwatch will carry on campaigning until it does.’
(1) The domestic terrorism units under ACPO control are: NETCU (national extremism tactical co-ordination unit); NPOIU (national public order intelligence unit) and NDET (national domestic extremism team)
Over two years we have highlighted excessive surveillance tactics, including overt photography, used by the Forward Intelligence Teams (FITs) to prevent legitimate political protest.
FITwatch has also obtained evidence of an image database of protesters, operated by the Public Order Intelligence Unit (CO11) based at New Scotland Yard. They had initially denied that they ran their own protester database, but taking the stand at a recent trial of FITwatch activists, Superintendent Hartshorn, a senior officer at CO11, admitted that CO11 held a database containing the name and photographic image of people they had noted attending political protests.