Civil liberties? What civil liberties?
This week marks the two-year anniversary of what has widely become known as simply ‘The One One Four’. On 13 April 2009, 114 people (of which I was one) were pre-emptively arrested at a school in Nottingham. At the time, the pre-emptive arrest caused outrage from many sections of society, especially given that it took place less than a week after the brutal policing of the G20 demonstrations that led to the death of passer-by Ian Tomlinson.
Twenty-six of the 114 arrested were plucked out seemingly at random, charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass at Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, and endured a lengthy legal process that didn’t come to court till late 2010.
The 26 defendants broke down into two groups. Twenty were indeed planning to safely shut down the power station for a week. Inspired by a long and proud history of direct action as a means to create social change, ranging from the suffragette movement in Britain to the civil rights movement in the US, they sought to stop 150,000 tonnes of carbon emissions in the face of national and international political inaction.
The 20 defendants were found guilty by a jury, but in his summing up the judge praised all 20 as people with the ‘highest possible motives’. He reflected this view in lenient sentencing, letting most off without any punishment at all.
The other six defendants were among others of the 114 who were either not planning to take part in the planned action, or had simply not made up their minds. Their case demonstrated quite how ridiculous the whole mass arrest was: a blanket arrest of everyone in a building without any discretion as to who was involved in the alleged ‘conspiracy’.
Yet, the trial of the six never took place. Despite costing an estimated £1 million in preparation, it was dropped just a couple of days before it was due to start in early January this year. All it took was to ask for evidence relating to one of the 114 people who wasn’t charged: namely, one Mark Stone (aka undercover cop Mark Kennedy).
It was this moment that led to the international media frenzy, when it soon became clear that PC Mark Kennedy was far from the only undercover officer to infiltrate protest groups. Then came the revelations about undercover officers' sexual misconduct; their proactive role in the planning and execution of multiple direct actions, their operations in more than 22 foreign countries, their gross mismanagement with regard to the spending of public funds, and a complete and utter lack of accountability in every sense.
It wasn’t long before PC Mark Kennedy’s involvement in the Ratcliffe-on-Soar plan began to cast doubts on the safety of the convictions of the 20 defendants who had already undergone trial. It emerged that covert recordings of the planning meetings were made by Kennedy but not disclosed to the courts or defence counsel. Given that these recordings would contain information about the defendants’ motivations, on which their defence of necessity was based, it seems highly dodgy that they weren’t disclosed. So dodgy that one juror has expressed his belief that the covert tapes could have changed their verdict. The CPS has launched a review into the safety of the convictions.
Two years on, and we have a new government in power that pledged to put civil liberties at the heart of their agenda. But what’s actually changed?
We’re still seeing violent police containment tactics, just like those we saw at the G20, employed with more regularity and intensity. We’ve seen another highly controversial mass arrest at the recent the TUC anti-cuts protest. We’ve still got a government who, like New Labour, are committed to ever strengthening the police’s power to silence those who wish to raise a political voice (with Theresa May proposing new police powers to deal with protesters this month).
With all the above it mind, we can only assume the tactic of undercover policing in protest groups is also very much alive and well.
Activist groups such as the Climate Camp Legal Team, the Green and Black Cross and FitWatch have helped develop highly effective techniques for monitoring police behaviour during protest situations. Armed with cameras and notepads they’ve held them to account on everything from wrongful arrest to violent assault. However, it goes without saying that these same techniques are not applicable to the invisible world of undercover policing. This is why we need a genuine and independent investigation, ensuring our right to protest unhindered by the state will be preserved now and for future generations. We ask you to join us.
Bradley Day is the co-founder of No Police Spies, a group campaigning for an end to the police infiltration of protest groups. He has previously been an active Climate Change campaigner, devoting much of his time to the Camp for Climate Action.