UK: Police use anti-terror powers to detain anarchists on return from conference in Switzerland

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British counter-terrorist police at Heathrow airport last week (13 August) detained two anarchists returning from a conference in Switzerland, asked them a number of "inflammatory, irrelevant and offensive questions," and copied information from passports, literature, cameras and mobile phones, according to a statement released by the UK Anarchist Federation. [1]

In what has been described by the Anarchist Federation as an "attempt to cause emotional upset and elicit angry or violent responses," the police reportedly asked one of the detainees: "What would you do if someone raped your mother?"

One detainee said he told the police that:

"I went to the congress as I am an amateur journalist and write articles about activism. They saw my note book, camera and Dictaphone but they said I was lying."

The officer allegedly said in response: "You said you are an anarchist, I've seen anarchists on the news, they are violent, throw Molotov cocktails and disrupt people's lives not write articles."

The Metropolitan Police have not denied the claims made by the two with regard to aggressive questioning, merely stating that: "No complaint has been received. Any complaint would be thoroughly investigated."

The two were detained under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 whilst returning from St Imier in Switzerland, where thousands of people had gathered from five continents to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the founding of the Anarchist International. The gathering took the form of a festival and educational event, with entertainment alongside workshops and discussions.

Counter-terrorist officers from the Metropolitan Police's Specialist Operations unit (SO15) recorded their names, residential addresses, email addresses, DNA and fingerprints, photocopied literature and passports, and copied information from phones and cameras.

In response to questions from Statewatch regarding the databases in which this information would be stored, and whether it would be shared with Europol or the police forces of other EU member states, a police spokesperson stated that they were "not prepared to discuss specific details" about such matters.

He went on to say that: "In general terms, information recovered by the police, which supports the investigation or prosecution of a crime will be retained, and in some cases shared with other law enforcement agencies."

However, the police's statutory code of practice for information management gives far wider possibilities for collecting, retaining and sharing information.

Police information is that obtained and recorded for "police purposes," which are defined as:

"Protecting life and property; preserving order; preventing the commission of offences; bringing offenders to justice; and any duty or responsibility of the police arising from common or statute law." [2]

Under Schedule 14 of the Terrorism Act 2000, officers may supply any information they acquire through powers exercised under Schedule 7 to:

- the Secretary of State for use in relation to immigration;
- the Commissioners of Customs and Excise or a customs officer;
- to a constable;
- to the Serious Organised Crime Agency;
- or to a person specified by the order of the Secretary of State for use of a kind specified in the order.

This provides the opportunity for information gathered during stops in ports and border areas to be spread far and wide, and there are a number of agencies keen on compiling information on those involved in anarchist and left-wing politics: for example, the National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU), a Metropolitan Police unit formed from a merger of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), the National Domestic Extremism Team, and the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit.

Responsibility for the NDEU was handed to the Met following the controversy over the activities of Mark Kennedy, who for seven years infiltrated protest movements across Europe on behalf of a number of police forces, although primarily at the behest of the NPOIU. [3]

The European Police Office, Europol, also maintains a file (under the name Dolphin) on individuals and groups it considers to be anarchist, extremist, or terrorist in nature. [4] Europol is currently seeking new ways of making it easier for Member States to feed information into its databases in order to improve its intelligence operations. [5]

During their detention, the two also allege that they were "told that their normal rights did not apply" and were forced to sign forms "waiving their rights to silence and a solicitor."

The police's spokesperson responded to this allegation by saying that:

"Anyone examined or detained under Schedule 7 Port and Border Controls of the Terrorism Act 2000 is provided with written details of their responsibilities and rights, and the powers available to officers."

While there are some grounds under Schedule 7 for persons to have their basic procedural rights respected, they are limited. In order for an individual to have a person informed of their situation and to consult a solicitor, the place in which they are detained must be designated as a police station by the Secretary of State.

If the Secretary of State has not made such a designation, then the right to silence, a phone call, and a solicitor do not apply. Refusing to answer questions; supply identity or any other requested documents; or comply with searches of person and property is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment of up to three months, a fine of £2,500, or both. [6]

This is not the first time that anarchists have been the focus of counter-terrorist police. Just over a year ago, a local bulletin issued by police in Westminster advised its readers that:

"Anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, and instead promotes a stateless society, or anarchy. Any information relating to anarchists should be reported to your local people." [7]

The Anarchist Federation informed Statewatch that the police "said they were planning to stop other people," although so far no other reports have come to light.

[1] 'Anarchist detained by counter-terrorist police on return from Swiss conference', Anarchist Federation, 16 August 2012
[2] National Centre for Policing Excellence, 'Code of practice on the management of police information', July 2005, p.7
[3] Eveline Lubbers, 'HMIC's 'empty' review leaves little hope for robust scrutiny of undercover cops', SpinWatch, 28 March 2012
[4] Andrej Hunko, 'Abolish international databases on anarchy!', 5 June 2012
[5] Europol, 'Work Programme 2013', 11 July 2012
[6] Schedule 7, 'Port and border controls', Terrorism Act 2000, para. 18
[7] Robert Booth, 'Anarchists should be reported, advises Westminster anti-terror police', The Guardian, 31 July 2011

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