The Free Range electrohippies Project The 'Research Papers' (Q) Series
Q2. Britain's Secretive Police Force
Version 1, April 2009. Produced by the Free Range electrohippies Project
web: http://www.fraw.org.uk/projects/electrohippies/ email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Section 1. 'The Background'|
Section 2. 'The Process'
Section 3. 'NETCU, WECTU and NPOIU'
Section 4. "The Era of Economic Change"
Section 5. Conclusions
Section 3. NETCU, WECTU and NPOIU
Repressive laws, and the intimidation of the public through their application, cannot operate in public; they need covert agencies to enforce them. Try as they might, repressive states cannot operate where they have some form of independent public oversight through independent bodies (such as the Independent Police Complaints Commission); Parliamentary Committees (e.g., the Joint Human Rights Committee); access to public information (through the Freedom of Information Act); and through the investigative reporting of the media. In order to have a truly repressive state it must operate outside of the public eye; behind a veil of secrecy that can protect its files, notes, minutes, and of course its excesses. However, a "secretive police force", under the control of the publicly unaccountable Association of Chief Police Officers, is precisely the type of role that NETCU, WECTU and NPOIU are beginning to adopt in Britain today; they are a "secretive", but as yet not a "secret", policing organisation carrying out a quasi-governmental role.
The sensitive nature of their everyday work (both in terms of security, but also in terms of its domestic political sensitivity) precludes any disclosure of what NETCU, WECTU and NPOIU are actually doing. But the unaccountable role of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in this process, which connects these agencies with the Home Office and local police services, means that the strategic policy agenda that NETCU, WECTU and NPOIU operate under is not open to public debate either. This is why, in an open and accountable society, the public, and more importantly those engaged in protest, should be aware of what NETCU, WECTU and NPOIU are and what they do.
At the moment NETCU, WECTU and NPOIU sit within a poorly defined relationship between
- an independent private company ACPO;
- the policing policy division of the Government the Home Office; and
- the operational control and local oversight of local policing the police forces and local police authorities,
Whilst the staff of NETCU, WECTU and NPOIU may be serving or former police officers, their day-to-day management is run from the body that oversees their operations ACPO. Again, ACPO is a body made up of serving senior police officers but legally their organisational responsibility as a company (defined as a requirement of their position as directors within company law) is to be
...an independent, professionally led strategic body. (our
emphasis) In the public interest and, in equal (our emphasis) and
active partnership with Government and the Association of Police
Authorities, ACPO leads and coordinates the direction and
development of the police service in England, Wales and Northern
Ireland. In times of national need ACPO, on behalf of all chief
officers, coordinates the strategic policing response.
The "equal" nature of the relationship is significant ACPO is not an organisation that is ancillary to the policy agenda of the democratically controlled Home Office. It has its own policy agenda, and that process is separate from the one operated by the Home Office or local police authorities.
The historic evolution of the police service in Britain, and the wish to resist any form of centralised political control, means that nominally all the police forces in Britain are independent, and are managed through local police authorities operated by elected councillors. ACPO, which existed in various forms before the current national policing arrangements came into being in the 1960s (a topic to be discussed at the end of this section), acts as a networking organisation between the various police services in England and Wales and often portrays itself as a "bulwark against direct central, political control" (Scotland has eight police forces, and they are coordinated by the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland). ACPO states that it also works to co-ordinate the roles of local police forces on large inquiries, and has a role in national co-ordination during national and civil emergencies although if you review government plans on national emergencies ACPO's role is fairly vague, and the focus is instead upon individual police forces.
In order to distinguish their roles, and their origins, we'll look at NETCU, WECTU and NPOIU separately:
The National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU)
NETCU is not a public body or a formal police service it's a private organisation that (like WECTU and NPOIU) is a functional subsidiary of ACPO. As a private company ACPO is not subject to a defined system of legislative oversight like that usually applied to organisations discharging public functions on behalf of the Government. For example, it is not covered by the Freedom of Information Act, but instead voluntarily releases information to the public as it sees fit. For NETCU there is no such formal accommodation on issues such as access to information, and in fact if you view NETCU's Policing Protest Pocket Legislation Guide it states
NETCU is not a public authority as defined by Schedule 1 and therefore there are no obligations on NETCU to disclose information under the Act. Police forces are advised not to release this guide following freedom of information requests.
Despite this, if you view the NETCU web site what you see are the ACPO and government logos side-by-side (as shown here on the right) as if they were all part of the same national public administration system.
NETCU is based at Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire a historical accident due to the fact that it was originally developed by ACPO to counter the activities of animal rights groups around the Huntingdon Life Sciences site. The rights or wrongs of that protest are, for the purposes of our interest, irrelevant; the potential that these organisations have to constrict the ability to protest peacefully in a democratic society are far larger than the issues of one single protest. What matters is the framework within which NETCU works, and the way it uses its influence to achieve the aims set for it by ACPO.
The "secretive" role of NETCU was demonstrated by the event, in 2008, that brought it to the attention of the wider public the fiasco that followed the off-the-record briefing by a NETCU "senior source" to the journalist Mark Townsend of The Observer. The article has since been withdrawn by The Observer, which makes it rather difficult to discuss, and for this reason we've reproduced a copy in the box at the foot of the page. The "NETCU source" stated to The Observer
Officers from a specialist unit dedicated to tackling domestic
terrorism are monitoring an eco-movement called Earth First!
which has advocates who state that cutting the Earth's population
by 80 per cent will ease pressure on other species. Officers are
concerned a 'lone maverick' eco-extremist may attempt a terrorist
attack aimed at killing large numbers of Britons.
The problem with this off-the-record briefing, for The Observer at least, was that there was absolutely no evidence to back up the claims made in the article. In the days following its publication senior police officers refused to comment on the story, and stated that any comments that were made were taken out of context. Two weeks later the "reader's editor" of The Observer, Stephen Pritchard, tried to explain the sequence of events when he covered the withdrawal of the story in his column
Police were said to be investigating the eco-movement Earth
First! which, they claimed, had supporters who believed that
reducing the Earth's population by four-fifths would help protect
the planet. The National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit
was concerned that a lone maverick might attempt a terrorist
attack. It had also warned several companies they were being
targeted as major polluters by the group and had offered them
advice on how to withstand attack.
It's perfectly legitimate to report police security concerns, but none of the statements were substantiated. No website links were offered, no names were mentioned, no companies identified and no police source would go on the record...
While the paper had no intention of suggesting that every activist was a potential terrorist, several climate campers wrote to protest. 'If a journalist is told by a single anonymous source that a movement of people has among it individuals who would take the lives of men, women and children in a terror attack, what standard of evidence does that journalist require? In this case: no evidence whatsoever. The claim itself was the story.'
As noted in the extract above, the content of the article led to a number of outraged responses, especially from green campaigners, a number of whom wrote articles in the press in the days that followed (for example, Bibi van der Zee and George Monbiot).
In his article George Monbiot used a recent case to highlight the anti-protest bias that existed within the information produced by NETCU. He told the story in the context of some typically "middle England" residents, living in a small village south of Oxford. They were campaigning to stop a wildlife site being in-filled with pulverised fuel ash from npower's Didcot power station and had received various legal assaults from npower's legal team as a result
The National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU) is
the police team coordinating the fight against extremists. To
illustrate the threats it confronts, the NETCU site carries
images of the people marching with banners, of peace campaigners
standing outside a military base and of the Rebel Clown Army
(whose members dress up as clowns to show that they have peaceful
intentions). It publishes press releases about Greenpeace and the
climate camp at Kingsnorth. All this, the site suggests, is
NETCU publishes a manual for officers policing protests. To help them identify dangerous elements, it directs them to a list of "High Court Injunctions that relate to domestic extremism campaigns", published on NETCU’s website. On the first page is the injunction obtained by npower against the Radley villagers, which names Peter Harbour and others. Dr Harbour wrote to the head of NETCU, Steve Pearl, to ask for his name to be removed from the site. Mr Pearl refused. So Dr Harbour remains a domestic extremist.
It was this Paranoia Squad which briefed the Observer last month about "eco-terrorists". The article maintained that "a lone maverick eco-extremist may attempt a terrorist attack aimed at killing large numbers of Britons." The only evidence it put forward was that someone in Earth First! had stated that the world is overpopulated. This, it claimed, meant that the movement might attempt a campaign of mass annihilation. The same could be said about the United Nations, the Optimum Population Trust and anyone else who has expressed concern about population levels.
Curiously, ever since the incident, NETCU's web site including the injunctions served under the Protection from Harassment Act that George Monbiot highlights has been "temporarily unavailable" whilst it is "being redeveloped" (this is still the situation as of the writing of this report, 25th April 2009). The site has been "temporarily unavailable" for so long that it has led to questions being raised in Parliament; and technically the minister responding, Lord West of Spithead (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office), mislead Parliament because the "new sections" that he promised failed to appear at the stated time, "in March".
For those wishing to get more up-to-date information on the activities of NETCU from the perspective of the activists who experience contact with NETCU you should consult the NETCUWatch blog (the site is run by activists opposed to NETCU).
The policing of demonstrations and NETCU's 'Policing Protest Pocket Guide'
NETCU had also come to a slightly less prominent level of attention earlier in 2008 as a result of the Kent police's raid on the Camp for Climate Action at Kingsnorth Power Station. The ferocity of the raid was condemned by both protesters, some members of the media and local politicians. The complaints made during the policing actions at the Climate Camp are still being assessed, but the events surrounding the G20 protests have re-opened many of the points made at that time especially issues such as the use of repressive tactics that provoke confrontation, the restriction of the public's right to expression, and the unaccountable nature of the police action itself (for example, the covering-up of the police officer's identification numbers in fact this tactic has been happening for many years, such as during the Selar opencast mine site evictions that were documented on video by Undercurrents over a decade ago).
During the policing of the Climate Camp one of the officers dropped a copy of the guide that NETCU issues to police officers Policing Protest Pocket Legislation Guide. A person at the camp managed to make a photographic copy of the guide. In order to aid a more detailed examination of the Guide, in the context of the points being made in this report, we've created a facsimile copy to accompany this report.
The most significant aspect of the NETCU Guide is not what it contains but rather that which it does not contain. At no point in the Guide is any information provided on the legal requirement of the police to balance the right to free expression and assembly with the qualified powers provided by the law to restrict these rights. If the powers outlined in the Guide are exercised without such a consideration then that act in itself represents a breach of the law by the police; specifically Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998
(1) It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way
which is incompatible with a Convention right.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to an act if
(a) as the result of one or more provisions of primary
legislation, the authority could not have acted differently; or
(b) in the case of one or more provisions of, or made under, primary legislation which cannot be read or given effect in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights, the authority was acting so as to give effect to or enforce those provisions.
(3) In this section "public authority" includes
(a) a court or tribunal, and
(b) any person certain of whose functions are functions of a public nature,
As stated in the guidance issued by the Department for Constitutional Affairs
It makes it unlawful for public authorities (these include
central and local government, the police [our emphasis] and the
courts) to act in a way that is incompatible with a Convention
All public authorities in the UK have an obligation to respect the Convention rights. That means that you must understand those rights and take them into account in your day-to-day work. That is the case whether you are delivering a service directly to the public or devising new policies or procedures.
It is here that we reach the nub of the accountability problems related to the operation of NETCU. As a private body, NETCU is not subject to the same restrictions on its actions as a "public body" under the Human Rights Act. However, when individual police officers as members of the police service, a public body, use the guidance provided by NETCU as part of their work then they are legally bound to consider the effect their actions have on the rights of the public. For this reason, if individual officers follow the information in the Guide without applying the test of proportionality and balance, then arguably they are infringing the rights of the public to expression and assembly.
In the light of the House of Lords/Commons Joint Human Rights Committee report we can also review the Guide and see how the advice of NETCU not only goes against the principles that the Committee sought to define, but also how the information in the Guide can be seen to promote some of the problems that the Committee highlight in their report. For example, relating various sections of the Guide to the Committee's report:
- Use of abusive language/behaviour (pages 11 to 19) the
guide advocates the use of the police's wide powers under public
order legislation to control any use of "insulting"
language, but in contrast the Committee state that (paragraph 85)
Section 5 of the Public Order Act gives the police a wide
discretion to decide what language or behaviour is
"threatening, abusive or insulting". Whilst arresting a
protestor for using "threatening or abusive" speech
may, depending on the circumstances, be a proportionate response,
we do not think that language or behaviour which is merely
"insulting" should ever be criminalised in this way.
We recommend that the Government amend section 5 of the Public
Order Act 1986 so that it cannot be used inappropriately to
suppress the right to free speech, by deleting the reference to
language or behaviour that is merely "insulting." This
amendment would provide proportionate protection to individuals’
right to free speech, whilst continuing to protect people from
threatening or abusive speech.
- Anti-Social Behaviour (pages 34 to 36) the Guide urges the use of anti-social behaviour powers enacted under the Police Reform Act 2002, not just to address the "behaviour" of the protesters, but also as a means of obtaining the names and addresses of those questioned, and failure to do so is an arrestable offence the Committee's report notes (paragraph 74) the use of these powers as a means of limiting protest;
- Trespass (e.g., trespass/aggravated trespass, pages 42 to 49)
in the Guide trespass is viewed as incontestably wrong,
and therefore a legitimate means of controlling or removing
protesters however the Committee make it clear in their
report (paragraph 103) that
"A number of witnesses were unconvinced that
criminalising trespass... was proportionate, nor that it added
anything to existing criminal law."
- "Breach of High Court Injunctions" (pages 51 to 53) this relates to how the police can enforce injunctions under Section 3 of the Protection of Harassment Act, despite the fact that use in this context is specifically cited (paragraph 49) by the Committee as representing "function creep" of the powers in the Act beyond that which Parliament intended.
In the same way that George Monbiot notes that NETCU do not respect the right of the individual to protest, we can see by the wording of the Guide that at no point does NETCU provide the balance that individual officers must apply in discharging their duty under the law. It then follows that, if officers act in the way indicated by the Guide, that they are bound to act unjustly in the policing of protest actions. In terms of the general issue of human rights and the action by the police to limit or restrict protest actions, the Committee concluded that
67. There is a clear need for the rights of those protested
against however unpopular their own cause may be to
be safeguarded such that they are able to go about their lawful
business and that their own rights to free expression are not
disregarded by those responsible for policing protests. There is
some evidence that the police do not always get this balance
right, perhaps by failing to identify the fundamental liberties
at stake. (our emphasis)
A a policy guide issued for the assistance of police officers in their duties, if the Guide had been written by a public body then the content could be challenged, or reviewed, to remedy the problem under Section 8 of the Human Rights Act. As NETCU is a private body it is not possible to challenge the content of the guide that they produced, only the unjust acts that result from the police's use of it.
The Welsh Extremism and Counter-Terrorism Unit (WECTU)
(Uned Atal Terfysgaeth ac Eithafiaeth Cymru)
Formally established on 1st April 2009, WECTU is the Welsh equivalent to NETCU and it liaises between police forces and the Welsh Assembly Government. Before this date WECTU was run informally from within South Wales Police.
WECTU's role in Wales is subtly different to that of NECTU; it was set up to counter terrorism and extremism. In England the terrorism role belongs to the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) who also report to ACPO in their role of implementing the Home Office's CONTEST counter terrorism strategy (referenced earlier). Looking at the Government's terrorism agenda we might assume that the terrorism role is more important, and that WECTU is less involved with the policing of protest but this isn't the case.
The anti-protester bias in WECTU was illustrated in April 2009 when the Dyfed-Powys police authority's "local policing summary", sent to all council tax payers in Carmarthenshire, painted a very similar picture to NETCU's statements to The Observer newspaper
Terrorism and Domestic Extremism During 2007/8, much
attention has been focussed on enhancing protection of the key
economic sites in the Force area. Work undertaken is not solely
focussed on the threat from international terrorists. Attention
has also been paid to the potential threat that domestic
extremists and campaigners (our emphasis) can pose."
Seemingly we have another "Observer NETCU story" scenario, but since it mentions not just "extremists" but also "campaigners" it actually goes much further in bending the meaning of "extremism". Of course this information was produced and at the expense of, and delivered to, local council tax payers some of whom may be the these very same campaigners mentioned. Due to the use of the "campaigners" phrase we dug a little further and discovered the full report on the Dyfed-Powys Police web site
National Priority 5: Protect the country from both terrorism and domestic
During the course of the year, much attention has been focused on enhancing protection for the key economic sites around the Milford Haven Waterway in Pembrokeshire, particularly the LNG plants at that location. This area is likely to be the focus for significant additional economic development over the next few years and force staff will be working with partners to ensure that it is protected. Work is also ongoing to understand the changing make up of our communities and effectively profile the changes so that we can adapt our policing services appropriately. Neighbourhood policing teams have a key role in this respect in obtaining and recording community intelligence that can be actioned where necessary. This work is not, however, simply about the threat from international terrorists. Attention has also been paid to the potential threat that domestic extremists and campaigners can pose. In this context, the Force was praised for its management of the slaughter of what was felt to be a sacred animal from the Skanda Vale religious community in Carmarthenshire (our emphasis) and has had to put in place specific contingencies in relation to a property in the county purchased by The Prince of Wales.
From this emphasis it would appear either "religious extremism" must form part of the remit of WECTU, or that the Skanda Vale community, in relation to the culling of Shambo the bull, is encompassed within the term "campaigners" (in which case the more than 4,000 people who signed a petition to save Shambo must also be included within the term "domestic extremism").
Clearly this is far worse than The Observer story; instead of off-the-record claims we have actual people, and documented evidence, that can attest (in George Monbiot's terms) "to the paranoia" of this situation. During the police's "management" of the removal of Shambo, which can be seen in a number of clips on YouTube [for example, video one and video two], the police had to contend with "the domestic extremist threat" of up to one hundred religious devotees singing and praying!
In fact, the events that took place on the day were in no way surprising given that the Skanda Vale community represents a specifically non-violent spiritual community who stated
We have a duty and responsibility not to allow Shambo’s life,
our religion and our Temple to be desecrated by the forces of
Adharma. It’s simple as that, you also have that duty, that
obligation to uphold Dharma, to support in any way you can every
effort to uphold Dharma, the sanctity of life and your religious
way of life.... Look what happened when we had the foot and mouth
disease. How many millions of cows did they slaughter and most of
them were not sick. The same mass slaughter occurred in the B.S.E
crisis. Why did they not try and vaccinate? Why did they not
spend money trying to develop a treatment? Because it would
economically hurt meat export….That is the reason. Once killing
takes place it becomes the viable easy solution.
We do not want in any way to be involved in violence or aggression. This is a peaceful protest but protest we must, because if we do not make every effort to save his life where is religion, where is spirituality?
It would appear that WECTU, or the police services with whom they work, take the viewpoint that all protests, from any quarter, are threatening. The obvious outcome of this viewpoint of this is that any public demonstration must be policed in a manner that reduces the threat to society from the "message" that such extremism promotes. This approach would seem to arise not from any kind of case-by-case risk assessment, but rather from a more deep seated prejudice against campaigners.
Then again, if we look at the internal communications of the police services in Wales, we might see some indications of how such prejudice might arise. Even routine internal communications focus specifically on "eco-terrorism"
All Wales Environmental Scanning
Monthly Bulletin November 2008
- It is a Source of relevant quality information which is up to date
- It means that new Challenges and changes can be known about in advance
- Then an Activity and action can be for the right reasons and in the right place
- The result being that No-one is left in the dark
- Political (including issues of accountability, governance)
- Environmental (eco-terrorism, [our emphasis] congestion charging)
- Social (demographics, family structures)
- Technological (communication, internet)
- Economic (resourcing, budgetary control, increasing affluence and inequality)
- Legal (legislative changes, growth in litigation)
- Ethical (Freedom of Information, Human Rights)
The Environmental Scanning bulletin contains data relating to issues that may affect the policing of Forces in the Welsh Region (North Wales; Gwent; South Wales and Dyfed-Powys) in the future. It is designed to assist with project planning and it is for Divisional Commanders and Departmental Heads to decide to what extent they pursue the information within this document....
Why read the Environmental Scan?
The above extract was taken from an internal news clippings service operated by the police services in Wales. It would appear that in relation to "the environment" the focus of the police services is not wildlife crime, or assisting the Environment Agency in stopping serious pollution, but rather "eco-terrorism". Given the scale of crime which might be called "eco-terrorism" against the background of all other crimes the police service in Wales deal with, this approach perhaps characterises a rather obsessional attitude on this issue.
It follows from the paradox of rules [quote] that if the police service sets out with the general principle that "campaigners are bad" (which itself is a fallacious argument) then that is what they will ultimately find. More problematically in following such a rule they may inadvertently, through their own pre-emptive activity to curb the problem they believe to exist, create this outcome by their own actions. As we have seen in the way that the police services seek to control large demonstration, using practices such as "Kettling", to some extent the police themselves are creating a confrontational atmosphere through their methods. The Joint Human Rights Committee raise this same issue in their report (paragraph 203)
We are concerned by the numerous reports that policing of
protest has become more heavy-handed in recent years. We
appreciate that the police should not be placed in potentially
dangerous situations without appropriate support and note that
the police sometimes question protestors with the intention of
opening dialogue. However, people who wish to protest peacefully
should not have the impression that police are attempting to stop
protest going ahead.
It is obvious that by combining together "terrorists", "extremists" and "campaigners" in a local authority publication, distributed to all households in the Dyfed-Powys Police area, the police service hopes to convince local residents that these groups represent an "equivalent threat" that they pose the same risk to society. This is the practice of "guilt by association"; for campaigners in the Dyfed-Powys area it is a libel, and has been engineered in the same vein as the libels perpetrated by NETCU against campaigners in England (see George Monbiot's article, referenced earlier). Also, there is no qualification of the term "campaigner". It could be someone taking violent action against people, but it could just as easily be the slow hand-clapping of politicians by the local Women's Institute.
WECTU, via its relationship with individual police forces, is obviously following the principles of "The Big Lie" If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it in order to progressively paint the picture that all campaigners are "extremists" or "terrorists".
The National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU)
The NPOIU is the most difficult of the three groups in this report to find clear evidence about. This is because of their historical origins. Whilst NETCU and WECTU have evolved from the support of civilian policing responsibilities, the functions of the NPOIU emerged from the rationalisation of the political and counter-espionage functions of the police force the former "industrial" and "subversion" duties of the Special Branch that caused so much concern about the politicisation of policing during the 1970s and the 1980s. For example, despite the fact that Special Branch considered many "activists" to be a threat in the 1970s a number of them have since moved on to become well known actors and even present/former cabinet minsters in the Labour government.
In October 2006, the Metropolitan Police's Special Branch, who worked closely throughout the Cold War with the Security Service (or MI5), were merged with the Anti-Terrorist Branch and restructured to form the new Counter Terrorism Command. However, right up until before their formal closure, they were still involved with a number of controversial surveillance cases such as the bugging of privileged discussions between a Member of Parliament and one of his constituents in a prison. It would appear that the role of the NPOIU is subtly different, but it has inherited many of the aspects of Special Branch's former role.
The National Public Order Intelligence Unit was set up by ACPO in 1999, and again it is outside of the ordinary legislative oversight that such a body would be subject to if operating within the mainstream police force. It is possible that a large part of its role evolved out of the Metropolitan Police's Public Order Intelligence Unit which, although initially being set up to counter football hooliganism in the 1980s, was often seen at the policing of environmental protests through the 1990s especially in relation to Reclaim the Street demonstrations and some of the major anti-roads protests. There have, since the inception of the NPOIU in 1999, been a number of news stories that continue to document the overtly political nature of the NPOIU's work:
- In the announcement of its formation by ACPO it specifically
targeted the threat from campaigners
report stated that,
Among the people to be targeted are campaigners against road
building and live animal exports, protesters at industrial
disputes, hunt saboteurs and far-right groups. The unit will also
draw up action plans that chief constables can introduce to head
off potential disorder. The move follows growing concern among
police chiefs that so called eco-warriors are becoming
increasingly organised and creating an ever growing threat to
- In 2006 it was announced that the NPOIU would engage in "tackling extremism" on university campuses;
- Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter who lost his job after breaking the story of the Government's exaggeration in the "dodgy dossier" that took Britain into the Iraq War, wrote in a story in the Evening Standard in 2005 which stated that NPOIU was, "a secretive, Scotland Yard-based police taskforce" whose "role in controlling dissent is central";
- Seumas Milne, writing on the
of the term "extremist" within ACPO and government statements,
commented on a number of operations that the NPOIU was involved
with over the first few weeks of 2009, especially in relation to
the protests around the Israeli invasion of Gaza he stated
Since ACPO operates as a private company outside the Freedom
of Information Act and the budget and staffing of its
confidential intelligence unit are, well, confidential
who's going to hold them to genuine account? It is this kind of
blurring of the distinction between political violence and
non-violent protest that has seen catch-all anti-terrorist
legislation routinely abused in recent years. That's exactly what
seems to have happened over the weekend, when police arrested
nine people on the M65 motorway near Preston allegedly on their
way to join George Galloway's Viva Palestine aid convoy to
In February 2009, reports also emerged that ACPO was changing the role of the NPOIU, and extending its mandate on "domestic extremism". A new Confidential Intelligence Unit was being set up within the NPOIU (or this seems to be the case, given the data provided as part of the job advertisement) and according to a report in the Daily Mail
The Confidential Intelligence Unit (CIU) has the power to
operate across the UK and will mount surveillance and run
informers on ‘domestic extremists’. Its job is to build up a
detailed picture of radical campaigners. Targets will include
environmental groups involved in direct action such as Plane
Stupid, whose supporters invaded the runway at Stansted Airport
in December. The unit also aims to identify the ring-leaders
behind violent demonstrations such as the recent anti-Israel
protests in London, and to infiltrate neo-Nazi groups, animal
liberation groups and organisations behind unlawful industrial
action such as secondary picketing. The CIU’s role will be
similar to the ‘counter subversion’ functions formerly carried
out by MI5. The so-called reds under the bed operations focused
on trade unionists and peace campaigners but were abandoned by
MI5 to concentrate on Islamic terrorism.
Given the information available the NPOIU is clearly far more of a problem than NETCU or WECTU who, it would seem, act as the liaisons between NPOIU and the police services. Put simply, NETCU and WECTU are the "public end" of the "domestic extremism" agenda that the NPOIU and its new Confidential Intelligence Unit are now pursuing, organised and controlled by ACPO.
NETCU, WECTU, NPOIU and their relationship to ACPO
Whilst news stories, such as those relating to the extension of the NPOIU's "domestic extremism" role in February this year, raise some comments about the nature of ACPO and its unaccountability to the public that it serves, no one in the mainstream of politics or the Government has yet raised the creeping "secretive policing" role of the NPOIU, NETCU and WECTU. Recently the commercial activities of ACPO have been highlighted too. A Mail on Sunday investigation into ACPO's finances revealed the scale of the private trading that the organisation is involved in, and which creates a profit of around £18 million per year. Although in response ACPO's press release it queried the cost of the criminal record check service, it did not engage with the central argument of the investigation of ACPO's conflicting roles, nor did it address the points raised that such activities, being carried out by police officers, could potentially be unlawful.
Returning again to the issue of the democratic deficit of our politicians, raised in Section 1 of this report, should we ever wish to express our democratic will and hold accountable the politicians who are creating this system we will have a difficult time exercising our votes:
- there is no one, directly responsible for these actions, who we can "remove" from office the members of ACPO are not elected;
- the Government, whilst tacitly accepting these policies and systems is not directly responsible for their instigation and operation; and
- at the moment all the mainstream political parties accept the role of ACPO within policing in the UK, and so as voters we will never be given this choice in the first place.
To understand the subtle effects of ACPO's changes to the "policing of disorder" we need only look at the policing of protest actions since the early 1990s in particular, the increasing use of surveillance against protesters, journalists, and the general public at these events. Anyone who has regularly attended protests over last two decades, certainly since the CND protests of the late 1980s, cannot help but notice the level of surveillance now practised by the police (the web site in referenced, in relation to the Met's Public Order Intelligence Unit, illustrates with a number of photographs the extent to which police surveillance has become far more organised since the early 1990s).
Legal challenges from the group Liberty over the policing of protest, and the use of surveillance at protests, have also highlighted the extent to which information is being collated by "the police" (the extent to which this is individual police forces, or NPOIU, is not clear). Liberty's recent report on Britain's "surveillance society" also highlights the potential for misuse of surveillance data, not just against "protesters" but against unrelated individuals, due to the lack of support for the work Office of the Information Commissioner. In any case, the Information Commissioner has no such role in relation to ACPO and its subsidiary groups, as outlined in ACPO's guidance on its freedom of information undertakings
ACPO is a private company and the Office of the Information
Commissioner has confirmed that the Freedom of Information Act
does not apply to the Association, since Schedule 1 of the Act
does not include a definition which covers ACPO.
Nonetheless, ACPO is very willing to place much of its information in the public domain. Some of this information is already published on this web site, mainly in the section headed 'Policies'.
What ACPO is unable to do is to respond to requests for information under the Act. The organisation is just too small and there are too few members of staff to be able to conduct the necessary research and to compile the responses. Accordingly, ACPO is adopting a policy of responding to requests for information only if it is readily available and can be swiftly transmitted to the inquirer; that implies requests by e-mail to email@example.com for single, clearly identified documents which do not contain sensitive material. Other requests for information will be politely refused.
More recently there have been a number of admissions that the use of surveillance tactics by the police at protests, especially against journalists, have been excessive. Answers to questions posed by Jenny Jones, the Green Party member of the London Police Authority, also confirm that
the Metropolitan Police regularly monitor people who are not
suspected of committing any offence. Images and supporting
information are kept in anticipation that certain individuals
might be involved in protests in the future. This can include
filming civil rights monitors who are themselves monitoring the
actions of the police.
A recent investigation by The Guardian found that
Police are targeting thousands of political campaigners in
surveillance operations and storing their details on a database
for at least seven years...
Photographs, names and video footage of people attending protests are routinely obtained by surveillance units and stored on an "intelligence system". The Metropolitan police, which has pioneered surveillance at demonstrations and advises other forces on the tactic, stores details of protesters on Crimint, the general database used daily by all police staff to catalogue criminal intelligence. It lists campaigners by name, allowing police to search which demonstrations or political meetings individuals have attended.
Disclosures through the Freedom of Information Act, court testimony, an interview with a senior Met officer and police surveillance footage obtained by the Guardian have established that private information about activists gathered through surveillance is being stored without the knowledge of the people monitored.
We also have to look at the history of the "excesses" of policing protest. Many of the recent problems of protestors having their rights disregarded relate to the activities of the Territorial Support Group (TSG). This was set up to support local policing with officers who had been specially trained for public order duties. The TSG developed from the Special Patrol Group (SPG), which it replaced in 1986, and which had a very bad reputation from policing protest in London during the 1970s and 1980s such as their involvement in the deaths of Kevin Gately and Blair Peach.
In some ways the excesses of that era are now being replicated through the guidelines that have been developed for the policing of protests, and the prevention of "disorder", by police units such as the TSG. The incidents of police brutality that took place at the G20 protests, and the death of Ian Tomlinson, are a clear echo of the excesses of the SPG. As David Gilbertson, a former Metropolitan Police Commander and Assistant Inspector at HMIC wrote in The Guardian following the revelations of police brutality at the G20 protests
An audit trail can be drawn between misconduct at the G20
protests, such as concealing identity and unprovoked assault, and
each standard in the regulations. The responsibility to
"challenge and report improper conduct" was clearly
honoured in the breach. In circumstances reminiscent of the death
of Blair Peach in a 1979 anti-racism demonstration, it must be
assumed that misplaced loyalty within groups such as the Met's
Territorial Support Group has a bearing on the situation the
Returning to the report of House of Lords/House of Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights, they make reference to evidence on the use of surveillance by the police
...the National Union of Journalists told us that the police
were conducting surveillance of journalists, denying them
reasonable access to protests, ordering photographers or camera
crews away from marches, moving photographers into marches,
preventing journalists from leaving demonstrations (claimed to be
justified sometimes by the police by reference to the Terrorism
Act), not recognising press cards, and even assaulting
The House of Lords Constitution Committee also looked at the issue of The Surveillance Society but they too limited their view to the powers of the current regulatory system. By not stepping outside the confines of the present role of local authorities and police services they failed to consider the role of quasi-official groups such as ACPO. Most importantly, their considerations were largely confined to the functional uses of surveillance technology rather than the specific operational uses that it is being put to at the present; for example, the application of policing powers to protest and political expression, and ACPO's role in policing "domestic extremism", did not feature at all.
The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee also carried out an investigation, entitled A Surveillance Society?, in 2008. With the exception of the case of the bugging of an MP, referenced earlier, once again the Committee limited its consideration to the technical and procedural uses of surveillance technology rather than looking at the extent of its operational use by the police and security services. As was the case with the Constitution Committee, the sensitive issue of the collection of data on "domestic extremists" or "campaigners", and the extent and justification for this process and ACPO's private and independent role in it, was not considered.
The language of security versus the everyday reality
ACPO did not set up NETCU, WECTU and NPOIU in a vacuum they did so in response to a growing dependence upon the "public order agenda" to justify politicians' enactment of restrictive laws. However, when we look at the actual reality of what these policies mean then no such justification applies. We are merely left with the fact that increasingly politicians feel compelled to support their actions by playing upon the public's fears, and use public order policy as a means to support that view. This is an issue that we could examine within its own right, but ultimately it is about how politicians express the concepts of economic progressivism, and frame modern politics in terms of people's "freedoms" or "liberty" (and how this relates to the concepts of positive and negative liberty). Despite this complexity let's pull out one recent example the debate on CCTV. In June 2008, the Prime Minister gave a speech on the "security agenda", in which he stated that
So let us not pretend that CCTV is intrinsically the enemy of
liberty. Used correctly, with the right and proper safeguards,
CCTV cuts crime, and makes people feel safer in some
cases, it actually helps give them back their liberty, the
liberty to go about their everyday lives with reassurance.
This statement bears no relationship to the actual evidence that has been collated by criminologists and statisticians. To a large extent CCTV displaces rather than eliminates crime, but in the context of much of the town centre "disorder" that affects society it has little deterrent effect. Even evidence from the police themselves, available before the Prime Minister made this speech, throws doubt upon the validity of these statements. The issue was also considered in the the House of Lords Constitution Committee report on The Surveillance Society (referenced earlier) which stated that (paragraph 80)
In an effort to improve the effectiveness of CCTV, the Home
Office and ACPO have developed a national strategy to overcome
technical, organisational and human problems. Whilst noting the
usefulness of research into the prevention and deterrent effects
of CCTV, the Home Office and ACPO said that "little formal
research has been undertaken to establish the impact that CCTV
has on the investigation of crime."
We can take the other topics of the Prime Minister's speech DNA technology and the extension of pre-charge detention to 42 days and provide other examples which show that the justifications provided by politicians to support "the security agenda" are not based upon fact. In effect, policy is being made to fit the political needs of the State rather than addressing the best available evidence of each case. As the Second President of the United States, John Adams, so clearly observed over two hundred years ago
Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our
inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter
the state of the facts and evidence.
If we abandon the facts, then we abandon any concept of consistent justice. This is where we can return to the issue of the policing of protest. ACPO may exist as a means of "providing an insurance" against central domination of the police service by government, but that does not mean that the police are immune from political bias. One of the reasons that the present policing system was set up in the 1960s were a number of cases of corruption, including political corruption, that occurred in the 1950s.
The most high profile of these political corruption cases involved the Chief Constable of Nottingham, Athelstan Popkess. Popkess was a former member of the Black and Tans, and his appointment was controversial at the time as he had been photographed giving the Nazi salute in a Stuttgart boxing ring in 1936. In 1959, he launched an investigation of twenty Labour councillors on the local council, and after having that investigation halted as "unreasonable" he launched another inquiry on allegations that two Labour councillors had been bribed on a visit to East Germany. This caused a clash between the locally elected 'watch committee' (the forerunner of local police authorities) and the Home Secretary. As a result, when the Labour Party was re-elected in 1964, reform of local policing was high on their agenda.
Today, whilst the standards guidelines that cover the police services ensure that such excesses cannot easily happen (for example, the ban on members of the British National Party working in the police service), this does not mean that ACPO which, as an organisation which sits outside of these controls could not take on a "political" role as an independent body outside of the police service. If we look at the security agenda, and in particular the attitude of certain senior police officers such as Ian Blair, then we can see that there exists the possibility for a "coalescence of views" between the political establishment and ACPO to initiate policies which could restrict our freedoms (as the Ian Blair case demonstrated). The recent arrest of an opposition shadow minster, and the disclosure that police sought to spuriously link that investigation to a more general campaign by the police against one of Britain's leading civil rights lawyers, illustrate the extent to which this authoritarian attitude has developed within the British State.
At present this coalescence of views is centred on the agenda of "disorder". As witnessed during recent high profile protests, if you treat peaceful protesters as criminals then you will create criminals; the tragic events at the G20 protest show what can happen when, stoked by the changing policy towards all forms of direct (rather than representative) protest, the police's contempt of peaceful protest spills over into casual violence. This negative attitude was clearly expressed within the reasons stated by ACPO when establishing both NETCU/WECTU and the NPOIU. Certainly ACPO, in responding to the policing of the G20 and other protests, did not see any problems but instead, "welcomes a debate on this difficult area of policing". The most worrying question, yet to be answered in the present debate, is to what extent the Government (or, at least, the Home Office) and politicians tacitly support or initiate, by proxy, the efforts of ACPO in fostering a wholly negative attitude towards groups who protest in public.
As noted earlier in Section 1, when we look at the various laws and guidelines applied by the State, within the the debate about the policing of extremism, "extreme" is not a matter of the mode of action of the protesters but rather the point they are trying to highlight. For example, the 2008 Climate Camp raised unpleasant questions in the debate over the permitting of a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent, and the wider ramifications of this debate in relation to the growth economy and carbon emissions. Hence it's the point that the protests are seeking to make that represents the challenge to the political consensus, not so much the act itself. In fact if you look at some protest or action theory, such as the Situationists, the symbolic nature of the action is intended to highlight the issue of concern rather than of itself creating change. However, from the State's point of view, this door can swing both ways; in the way that the media portrays the protest action to the public, tackling the protestors as "extremist" creates an association in the public's mind that the issue itself is also "extreme". Through the repeated association with negative imagery the protester's progressive symbolism becomes inverted.
As noted throughout this section of the report, it would appear that environmental activists are such a threat that the police must routinely characterise them as "extremists", carry out routine surveillance of individual environmentalists in order to mount well-planned pre-emptive actions against their campaigns, and government departments can pass sensitive information about protesters to private companies in order to counteract their work. There is a fine line between the current "secretive" role of ACPO, NETCU, WECTU and NPOIU, and the truly "secret" role of a Stasi-style police force that we see in repressive states; but ACPO, with it's independent funding sources, and ability to work outside of the regular policy and accountability systems, could easily form the nucleus of such an organisation if it wished. The events of the last few days, where Plane Stupid activists recorded "police officers" trying to recruit them as informants, demonstrate the way in which ACPO (through the stated objectives of NETCU, WECTU and NPOIU) could easily be subverted by groups within the State to perform such a function. These actions cannot of course be taking place without a more substantive motive than "preventing disorder". So we must ask, just what it it about environmentalism that has the government and the political consensus so fearful?
In practice the recent official attitude taken towards environmentalists and environmental protest is an issue of perception management by the State, and to some extent, the wider coalition of States, international agencies and multinational companies who support the consensus on economic globalisation and this has been the case since the anti-capitalist protests dominated the news agenda since the late 1990s (culminating in the Seattle protests in 1999). But what is it within the the environmental debate that so seriously threatens the British state? If we look at the various options, given the recent evidence over future projections of the state of the nation from climate change to resource use there is one aspect we cannot ignore; the debate on economic growth.
Police warn of growing threat from eco-terrorists
Fear of deadly attack by lone maverick as officers alert major firms to danger of green extremism
Mark Townsend, The Observer, Sunday November 9th 2008.
The aftermath of a claimed attack by the Earth Liberation Front
on a 4x4 car dealership in California.
Police have warned of the growing threat of eco-terrorism after revealing they are investigating a group which has supporters who believe that reducing the Earth's population by four-fifths will help to protect the planet.
Officers from a specialist unit dedicated to tackling domestic terrorism are monitoring an eco-movement called Earth First! which has advocates who state that cutting the Earth's population by 80 per cent will ease pressure on other species. Officers are concerned a 'lone maverick' eco-extremist may attempt a terrorist attack aimed at killing large numbers of Britons.
The National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, which collates intelligence and advice to police forces, has revealed that eco-activists are researching a list of target companies which they believe are major polluters or are exacerbating the threat of climate change.
The unit is currently monitoring blogs and internet traffic connected to a network of UK climate camps and radical environmental movements under the umbrella of Earth First!, which has claimed responsibility for a series of criminal acts in recent months.
A senior source at the unit said it had growing evidence of a threat from eco-activists. 'We have found statements that four-fifths of the human population has to die for other species in the world to survive.
'There are a number of very dedicated individuals out there and they could be dangerous to other people.'
Earth First! says its mission is 'about direct action to halt the destruction of the Earth' and advocates 'civil disobedience and monkey-wrenching', tactics that include sabotage and disruptive behaviour. The movement has links to US environmental extremists which have waged a campaign of violence in America, including the fire-bombing of a string of 4x4 car dealerships in California in 2003 and alleged arson attacks on other property.
The anti-extremist unit has already alerted a number of major companies which have been accused of being carbon polluters with advice on how they can withstand being targeted by eco-terrorists. Companies are thought to include airport operator BAA, an international mining conglomerate BHP Billiton and firms connected to UK coal-fired power stations.
'They are doing research of possible targets, looking at shareholders and financiers. For example, they could research an airline and see how many of its aircraft are not environmentally friendly,' said the NETCU source.
Although green extremists have yet to embark on an orchestrated campaign of violence in the UK, officers warn that they may be about to launch a campaign of intimidation and fear aimed at disrupting businesses. 'For some people, if they can justify it in their minds, then it's a noble cause even if it's a criminal action. They haven't started yet, but we believe they will come up with a strategy and tactics,' said the source at the unit, who described the movement as well-funded and organised.
A spate of recent attacks, for which Earth First! supporters have claimed responsibility, has included vandalism of branches of seven German banks such as Deutsche Bank and Allianz AG. The actions were apparently because the banks hold shares in UK Coal, which plans to build new coal-fired power stations.
A statement on the Earth First! website explains the attacks by saying: 'Exploitation of the environment and people by the state and industry go hand in hand. They cannot be separated and both must be attacked. Social war, not climate chaos.'
Another attack hit a quarry in Staffordshire which belongs to Bardon Aggregates, a company hat also owns a controversial quarry at Glensanda on the north-west coast of Scotland. The Scottish quarry is accused of spoiling the Highlands environment. The Earth First! website states: 'We slashed tyres, stripped paint jobs, glued locks and trashed conveyor belts. All the earth movers were hit and many of the cement and aggregate trucks. This action cost us very little but should cost Bardon thousands.'
Among the network of groups under the Earth First! umbrella are various climate camps. Last August police found a stash of knives and weapons beside one such camp in Kent. Protesters, however, said they had nothing to do with the weapons and accused police of launching a 'smear campaign'.
A spokesman for Derby Earth First! said the movement was strictly non-violent, if not always law-abiding. He said: 'If someone does ecological damage we would perhaps break the law and protect the ecology, but the ecology also includes humans.
'We're all about communities. Capitalism is the problem and we want to return to a more sustainable time. But we are not about reducing the population, that is just scaremongering by the police.'
The rise of eco-extremism coincides with the fall of the animal rights activist movement. Police said the animal rights movement was in 'disarray' and that its ringleaders had either been prosecuted or were awaiting prosecution, adding that its 'critical mass' of hardcore extremists was sufficiently depleted to have halted its effectiveness. Last Thursday a prominent animal rights activist accused of planting petrol bombs at Oxford University was cleared of possessing an explosive substance with intent.
Reports on the Earth First! Journal website, which tells users how to send encrypted emails, reveals connections to the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) which has been linked to a series of violent attacks in the US. ELF was classified as the top domestic terrorism threat in the US by the FBI in March 2001.
The ELF was founded in 1992 in Brighton by members of the Earth First! movement who wanted to form a breakaway group that would use more extreme tactics.
Section 1. 'The Background'|
Section 2. 'The Process'
Section 3. 'NETCU, WECTU and NPOIU'
Section 4. "The Era of Economic Change"
Section 5. Conclusions
Produced by the Free Range 'electrohippies' Project
© 2009 Paul Mobbs/The Free Range Network. This document has been released under The Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike License ('by-nc-sa', version 3).