Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Police keep secret files on 1,900 protesters

By Jason Lewis
Last updated at 10:40 PM on 22nd May 2010

The police are keeping secret intelligence files and photographs of nearly 1,900 so-called domestic extremists, it can be revealed.
Details of the intelligence and pictures gathered at marches and other demonstrations comes as the new Government questions whether civil liberties and the right to peaceful protest have been eroded by New Labour’s extension of police and anti-terrorist legislation.
The information has been built up by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), Britain’s most powerful national policing body, whose future is in doubt after it was revealed that it was being run as a private company.
Protesters
The police are keeping secret intelligence files and photographs gathered at marches and other demonstrations, it has emerged (file photo)
After taking over MI5’s covert role watching groups such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, trade union activists and Left-wing journalists six years ago, ACPO’s National Coordinator for Domestic Extremism (NCDE) has now given a detailed description of its work for the first time.
It says it is targeting domestic extremism ‘most commonly associated with “single-issue” protests, such as animal rights, environmentalism, anti-globalisation or anti-GM crops’.
It is also combating ‘crime and public disorder linked to extreme Left or Right-wing political campaigns’.
The details of the NCDE’s role have been posted on ACPO’s website. It states: ‘Clearly, the majority of people involved in animal rights, environmentalism and other campaigns are peaceful protesters and never considered “extremist’’.
The term only applies to individuals or groups whose activities go outside the normal democratic process and engage in crime and disorder in order to further their campaign.’
It says those targeted are behind public disorder offences, malicious letters and emails, blackmail, product contamination, damage to property and the use of improvised explosive devices.
The £9million-a-year unit, which has a staff of 100 including around 70 police, holds photos and other background details on 1,822 individuals.
It says: ‘Considering this is a national database...this is a very small number of people.’
Most files and photographs are ‘only retained for a short period’, although some are held for ‘several years’.
The information comes from police forces and is collated from other sources, including the media, to build up a picture of ‘extremist’ activity.
The unit, headed by Assistant Chief Constable Anton Setchell, denies allegations that it is stifling lawful protest.
It says: ‘Thousands of people take part in protests across the country each year and NCDE fully supports people’s rights to democratically express their views on issues they feel strongly about.’