On Sunday, June 15 2008, the londonfete assembled at Pullens Centre, near Elephant and Castle, to prepare the Days of Action in solidarity with the protests against the G8 in Japan. A protest outside the Japanese embassy and a day of multiple and creative actions in Croydon are planned. It was a public meeting, invitations were send out by email, distributed on leaflets and published on websites.
When the first person arrived to unlock the door, he was immediately surrounded by three police officers, two of them taking his picture and filming. Over the course of the next hour or so, every person walking in the door, standing outside or speaking to someone standing outside the door was being photographed and filmed by the infamous FIT, the Forward Intelligence Team of the police.
Locals got curious about the police presence in their street, and were for the most part amazed that the 9 officers and 1 photographer were there for the sole purpose of taking photos and notes of all individuals participating in a public meeting. It is clear that this is unacceptable for a so-called democracy that signed the Human Rights Charter. The Human Rights Charter, amongst other things, includes the Freedom of Assembly.
A couple of people were holding up a banner in front of the fotographer, reading: “FIT – No More of This Sort Of Thing!” When the meeting started later, they stayed outside with their banner. A little while after the meeting had started, shouts could be hear through the closed windows, the banner holders were being arrested. The police stopped everyone at the opposite end of the place, stating: “Anybody is potentially a danger, you’re an unknown risk until such time as we know otherwise” effectively turning the basic principles of the justice system upside down. Whatever happened to Innocent Until Proven Guilty?
2010 and The Inner London Crown Court ruled that police surveillance of a public political meeting had not been proved to be lawful and that the police had failed to provide any evidence that they were pursuing a “legitimate aim”. The three activists were arrested at a meeting called by London No Borders in June 2008 when they protested against the surveillance of the meeting by “Forward Intelligence Team”
The aim of the public meeting, which took place in a community centre in Southwark, London, was to discuss a demonstration which later took place at the UK Border Agency in Croydon in July 2008. The Metropolitan Police turned up at both public meetings in June 2008, taking photos and filming everybody who attended the meeting.
In a press release, London NoBorders stated, that “The fact that the police could not show that their surveillance was authorised in any way is worrying and shows that the Forward Intelligence Team appears to work outside the law. The purpose of the police presence was clearly to intimidate and keep people from organising around political issues. It also shows that it is important for the future to continue to challenge the Forward Intelligence Team wherever they turn up.”
During the trial one witness involved in London NoBorders, who had been followed by police armed with cameras around the area before the meeting, was asked by the prosecution: “You’re exactly the sort of person the state ought to know about, aren’t you?”. The prosecution also asked the witness, who stated that he felt intimidated by the police presence: “Why don’t you stay at home when you are concerned about being filmed?”
The meeting, called by the freedom of movement group, No Borders, took place at the Pullen community centre, South London. It had been publicly advertised and was open to anyone to attend. There was no suggestion that anything ‘underhand’ was taking place.
Officers from Metropolitan police FIT (Forward Intelligence Teams), wearing full uniform, stood across the road and took film and still photographs of those attending, until three supporters of Fitwatch unfurled a banner in front of them, obstructing the filming.
One of those attending the meeting described the experience of being under police surveillance as ‘not nice’. He said that being filmed and photographed as he walked down the street had almost changed his mind as to whether they should be holding a meeting.
During the trial, the prosecution asserted anyone regularly attending or organising protests should expect to be of the interest of the state.
Jeff Parks said “I’m delighted with the result, and not surprised that no police surveillance officer was willing to give evidence and have to explain the real purpose of their operations under oath.”
Fitwatch supporter Val Swain said, “I hope this now spells the end for police surveillance of political meetings. It is not something that should ever happen in any society that claims to have political freedoms and human rights.”