28 March 2012
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The Special Branch was set up in 1883 and until the mid-1960s was solely based in London's Metropolitan Police force (when it had around 300 officers). Out of London police forces only started to create Special Branches of their own after the mass protests of 1967 and 1968.
Over the years the number of Special Branch officers has been hard to establish. New research by Statewatch shows the numbers in Britain grew from 1,638 in 1978 to 4,247 last year.
Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:
Since the height of the Cold War and the ongoing conflict in Northern Ireland in the 1970s the Special Branch has more than doubled in size. In addition, it now has far more civilian staff and the means for the mass surveillance of telecommunications and the payment of informers which it never had in those days.
The combination of the “war on terrorism” which is targeting migrant communities and demands to combat EU-wide protests on a whole range of issues - peace and the environment, racism and globalisation - means that domestically the political police - Special Branch and MI5 - are more intrusive in every day political activity than at any other point in British history.
Special Statewatch report, September 2003: pdf file (link repaired)
Coverage of this report in The Guardian, 2.9.03: link
Related Statewatch coverage
Dutch government attacks Italian Presidency plan to combat protests: report and background
Statewatch briefing, September 2003: The story of Tampere 15-16 October 1999 - an undemocratic process excluding civil society
European Commission tells USA that demands for access to data on airline passengers breaches EU Data Protection Directive - but hints at a deal that would "fudge" the issue
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