HMIC report: "disgusting and farcical"

Tagged as: domestic_extremism hmic mark_kennedy mark_stone police policespies repression undercover
Neighbourhoods: nottingham uk
Published by group: GroupNotts Indymedia

Last week saw the publication of HM Inspectorate of Constabulary’s "review of national police units which provide intelligence on criminality associated with protest." This was one of the array of reports commissioned in the aftermath of the revelations about undercover police officer Mark Kennedy. The report, like the "Rose Report" into the CPS’ failure to disclose key evidence, has not been greeted warmly by activists. FITwatch went as far as to describe it as "disgusting and farcical."

On the newswire: Mark Kennedy: the HMIC report | HMIC review of police “domestic extremism” units | HMIC report disgusting and farcical | HMIC report into policing protest

Previous features Women sue Met over undercover cops | First report into undercover policing: “whitewash” | Undercover police officer back in the spotlight | Mark Kennedy/Stone exposed as undercover

Political policing

The report had originally been intended for publication in October, but was postponed when it emerged that undercover officer Jim Boyling gave false evidence in court, apparently with the assent of his handlers. Despite this delay, this matter merits only a single paragraph in the report (pp. 39-40), which claims "this is outside HMIC‟s remit", but still sees fit to throw in an irrelevant reference to legislation passed after the incident in question to muddy the water.

The issues which the report is concerned with largely arose from the emergence of the "domestic extremism" apparatus, created over the last 10-15 years, based on a deliberately murky conflation of direct action with criminality and even terrorism. While the report does grapple with concept and claims to want to tighten it up, the report remains deeply problematic

The report claims (p11) that the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) definition is:

Domestic extremism and extremists are the terms used for activity, individuals or campaign groups that carry out criminal acts of direct action in furtherance of what is typically a single issue campaign. They usually seek to prevent something from happening or to change legislation or domestic policy, but attempt to do so outside of the normal democratic process.

According to the footnotes, this is drawn from a "Grant Agreement" with the Home Secretary (ACPO is a private company, which nonetheless receives funding from the state). While this may have been the definition they gave to politicians, it is questionable whether this was actually the definition used in practice.

Unfortunately, the NETCU website is currently down (apparently as part of work to launch a new NDEU website following the unit's transfer to the Met) and is unavailable in the Internet Archive. However, when it was around, this organisation, which was run by ACPO, offered a substantially broader definition (quoted at the time):

Domestic extremism is the term used to describe any unlawful or recognisably anti-social act carried out as part of an 'extreme campaign'.

It is often associated with campaigns focused around a single issue, such as animal rights.

Note that contrary to the cited ACPO definition, "criminal acts" are not necessary under this definition. Mere "anti-social acts" are sufficient and anti-social behaviour is notoriously difficult to define, encompassing anything from noisy sex, through littering and hanging around on street corners to mugging. As if to underline, just how ridiculously broad their defintion of domestic extremism was, NETCU chose to illustrate the frontpage of their website with a photo of the Clown Army.

It should give people pause to discover that HMIC have seemingly made little effort to explore what definitions of "domestic extremism" ACPO and its subsidiary bodies actually used in practice, given how central the concept is to the report. Instead they accept and restate on various occasions that "domestic extremism" is and always has been synonymous with illegal activity.

Regardless of these failures, it becomes apparent as the report continues that the insistence on "serious criminality" as a basis for considering activity extremist proposed by HMIC will make little difference. When they turn to examples of groups or individuals who "have chosen to pursue a belief or cause through serious criminality or by serious disruption of the community arising from criminal activities, rather than through the democratic process" (p. 15) the examples they point to include the "hijacking" of a coal train.

As FITwatch note, "The word hijack immediately evokes images of guns, threats and hostages, especially given the nail bombing campaign by right wing extremists is referenced within the same section." In reality, the action was an entirely peaceful one "committed by a group which included teachers and a preacher; a group who were described by the trial judge as "eloquent, sincere, moving and engaging". 21 out of 29 members of the group were given conditional discharges showing the level of seriousness the judge deemed the case."

"Serious criminality" is to be understood, according to the report, as "serious disruption to the life of the community (derived from section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986) arising from criminality." (p. 21) The obvious problem with this is that what constitutes "serious disruption" is largely subjective. Section 12 will be familiar to many activists, as is section 14 with which it shares the concept of "serious disruption". Locally, section 14 conditions were imposed on the Notts Uncut "Christmas Sepcial" last December, resulting in the arrests of two protesters. Is peacefully protesting for corporations to pay their tax now extremist and a legitimate target for infiltration?

The key point here is that "serious disruption" is not to be understood as disruption to the lives of ordinary people, but to the workings of corporations. This is why the examples pointed to include protests against "genetically modified crops; the burning of coal; and the expansion of aviation" as well as animal rights activists(p. 15). It also explains why, despite a single reference to far-right activists, which acknowledges the threat posed by fascist terrorism (p. 15), so much attention has been focussed by NPOIU and its ilk on broadly left-wing campaigns, rather than their right-wing counterparts. (Recall the Met's insistence that the EDL are not an extremist organisation.)

The report has a broader remit than the Rose Report and this may have contributed to the fact that it is much more vague, lacking in detail. While HIMC claim that Mark Kennedy "did help to uncover serious criminality" (p. 26), as FITwatch observe, "there is no evidence he actually prevented any criminality from taking place... Kennedy didn’t prevent the actions happening he provided intelligence on, didn’t contribute to prosecutions, and has, according to the report, no discernible role."

The report is particularly poor when it comes to the impact of Kennedy and others on those whose lives he inveigled his way into. HMIC euphemistically dismiss this issue (presumably with a straight-face) as "collateral intrusion" (p. 36). By contrast, there are, as FITwatch are quick to point out, "several references to the psychological difficulties these poor police officers have to endure."

It is, in closing, difficult to disagree with FITwatch's rather cynical conclusion:

This is a disgusting report showing utter contempt for activists, and a complete disregard for their rights with the only recommendations made being ones which will make no real material difference in the way the units operate. HMIC are not, as the claim to be "inspecting policing in the public interest" but inspecting policing in the interests of the state and corporations.


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