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UK: New Special Branch guidelines published

The government has published new Guidelines for the Special Branch. Each review shows a shift in emphasis of the work of the Special Branch and the latest is that their main role is to assist MI5 (the internal Security Service) in combating terrorism.

Special Branch officers are drawn from the ranks of the regular police force, they operate in plainclothes and have powers of arrest (which MI5 do not).

The Special Branch still maintain its public order role, that is, to keep under surveillance all known political and trade union groups and "leading" individuals. The Guidelines say that: "A wide range of threats to public order emanate from various sources" - which is under the heading "Security context".

The heading of "Subversion" in the 1984 and 1995 Guidelines has disappeared. In the Cold War era this referred to "fellow travellers", "agent-of-influence" (eg: journalists and academics), trade unionists and demonstrators. Subversion was defined as: "Subversive activities are those which threaten the safety or well being of the State, and which are intended to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means." These new Guidelines simply state: "There is currently little potential for any group to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy".

Since the 1995 Guidelines protestors, trade unionists and political groups have been defined out of the category of "subversion" and their activities viewed as criminal where they demonstrate or carry out direct actions. Now under the heading of "Counter Extremism" the Special Branch gathers "intelligence on those threats to public order" motivated by "political conviction" (and "racial hatred").

Under the same "Counter Extremism" heading the Guidelines says that the Special Branch:

"gather intelligence on political and animal rights extremist activity, anti-globalisation and environmental extremism and seek to prevent criminal acts on persons and property targeted by such extremists"

Under EU plans to counter cross-border protests the Special Branch (and MI5) will supply the names of groups and so-called "leaders" with details to other EU police forces, they will travel undercover with the protestors and work with local agencies to single out "ring-leaders": see Observatory below.

This public order work is coordinated by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) and the National Football Intelligence Unit.


1. 2004: New Special Branch Guidelines: Full-text (pdf)
2. 1995: Special Branch Guidelines: 1995
3. 1984: Special Branch Guidelines: 1984


4. MI5 staff to rise from 2,000 to 3,000 and extra money for Special Branch: Report
5. Special Report by Statewatch (Tony Bunyan): Report
6. see also Statewatch's: Observatory on EU plans to counter protests

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