Anti-Repression Congress in Hamburg asked Corporate Watch to write a piece about repression in the UK since 9/11. This is no mean task as the last decade has seen an absolute assault on both dissent and on marginalised communities in the UK. This article is written from an activists' perspective, focussing on the attacks on anti-corporate campaigns, the crackdown on street mobilisations and resistance against repression. We will focus here on the attacks on those who the state defines as 'domestic extremists'. We have not attempted to look at the onslaught against the Muslim community, new terror laws, detention and control orders. Unfortunately, there is also no space here to discuss the repression of migrants or travellers in the UK. 'Domestic extremists' The term 'Domestic extremist' has been used by the British state to describe people involved in a variety of social movements, particularly those using direct action. The state has never defined what 'domestic extremist' really means, although it does differentiate between 'domestic extremism' and 'terrorism', lumping Islamist movements into the second category. The Criminal Justice Act The focus of the Hamburg Anti-repression Conference is state repression post 9/11. The use of the events of 9/11 to justify surveillance and repression worldwide has been examined thoroughly elsewhere. Prior to 9/11/2001, however, the UK had already experienced one of the worst decades of state repression since the second World War. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, conceived under Thatcher, created the new crime of aggravated trespass, gave police the power to restrict public gatherings and marches, authorised senior police officers to order the removal of masks and allowed police to arrest for a variety of offences to do with speech - for example, 'language likely to cause harassment, intimidation, alarm or distress'. Resistance to the Criminal Justice Act (CJA), as it came to be known, united free-party goers, environmentalists, hunt-saboteurs, squatters and travellers, all of whom were targeted by the act. The result was a vibrant and diverse resistance movement with direct action at its centre. A demonstration was held in Michael Howard's garden (Howard was Home Secretary at the time, responsible for the CJA) and many of the campaigns then - for example, the mass opposition to the government's road building programme - became stronger due to this new movement born out of adversity. Privatized political police forces A plethora of new political units of the police force have been created since the 1990s. Many of these are under the aegis of the Association of Chief Police Officers, which was registered in the late 1990s as a private limited company at Companies House. This pseudo-corporate entity receives funding from the Home Office and bankrolls several extraordinary police departments, effectively unincorporated organisations, such as the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU) and the National Domestic Extremism Team (NDET). The establishment of these police forces as arms of a private company makes them even freer from parliamentary and public scrutiny. The effect has been to make resisting their activities like punching smoke. NETCU and NDET oversee police investigations and Crown Prosecution Service prosecutions against 'domestic extremists', from the SHAC 7 to anti-arms trade or climate change activists. They forge relationships with corporations who are the target of resistance. In 2009, for instance, they persuaded the owner of the Highgate Rabbit Farm to keep his business open in the face of public opposition (see www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3385). They have also developed relationships with corporate lawyers, such as Timothy Lawson Cruttenden (see www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3219 and below). One of NETCU's main roles is as a media manipulator. NETCU runs a website with a newswire detailing 'the battle against domestic extremism' and seeds scare stories in the media. For example, in 2008 The Observer published a story claiming that eco-activists would attack the human population in order to save the planet. The paper was subsequently forced to remove the story after it was found that NETCU was the only source for the claim. NETCU's attempts to influence the mainstream media is a process of political manipulation aimed at minimising public support for effective dissent. Presenting those who resist against the state and corporations as 'domestic extremists' is a key part of this strategy. For more info see NETCU Watch: http://netcu.wordpress.com. Fight the FIT The public face of the UK's new political policing strategy has been the Metropolitan Police's Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT). The FIT, police units armed with long-lens cameras, were first seen in London around 2004 and have now developed into a team with nationwide reach persuing a strategy of harassment of protesters and activists. FIT teams have now become a fixture of most major street mobilisations, from Climate Camps, the biannual mobilisations against the DSEi arms fair in the Docklands in London, to anti-fascist protests. FIT teams often harass and photograph known activists and engineer arrests when they can. Since 2004, FIT also began to photograph attendees at political meetings, a strategy that is now less overt after several successive legal challenges made it controversial. The FIT strategy has, in part, been to pursue prosecutions against activists but its primary aim has been to create a climate of fear where activists and protesters increasingly feel that resistance is more difficult because the state is always watching. The information gathered by FIT and NETCU is stored by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPIOU). Police forces around the UK have set up their own PIOUs with access to the national database. The FIT strategy has been, to an extent, effectively countered in the UK by activists who see FIT as one of the biggest obstacles to effective resistance. A group calling itself FIT Watch began monitoring FIT teams and sabotaging their surveillance work by standing in front of their cameras with banners and placards at protests. At one anti-arms trade demonstration, the FIT teams were effectively pushed off the streets by FIT Watchers. An assortment of legal cases, and the public scrutiny accompanying the media storm spurred by the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests in 2009, have led to the FIT keeping their heads down for the moment. At recent street demonstrations, FIT have been present but without their cameras. For more information on the FIT, see http://fitwatch.org.uk. First they came for the animal rights activists... There has been, for decades, relentless resistance by animal rights activists in the UK against companies involved in animal abuse, from hunt sabbing and animal liberation groups to campaigns aimed at changing the behaviour of companies or closing them down completely. During the 1990s, campaigners successfully closed Oxford University Park Farm, Regal Rabbits, Sky Commercial Rabbit Farm, Shamrock Farm, Consort Beagles, Hylyne Rabbits and Hillgrove Cat Farm. The Darley Oaks guinea pig farm was also closed in 2006. After the closure of Hillgrove, a new campaign was launched against Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), the biggest animal laboratory in Europe. The campaign has crippled HLS by targeting the company and its investors, customers and service providers for years. Scores of companies have ceased working with HLS. The state stepped in to prop up the ailing company and, to this end, HLS has been exempted from filing its accounts, allowed to operate without insurance and granted banking facilities with the Bank of England. Legislation such as Companies' House regulations was changed to accommodate the needs of the pharmaceutical industry and new, repressive laws were penned to silence dissenters. The state crackdown on the animal rights movement became a staging point for new repressive tactics that could be applied to a range of different dissent groups and campaigns. SOCPA “All effective campaigns that have tried to change the world have suffered severe repression at the hands of the state. If the state isn’t interested, then you’re not being effective.” - Sean Kirtley An amendment to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) in 2005 made it illegal to "interfere with the contractual relations of an animal research organisation" or to "intimidate employees of an animal research organisation." One of the people consulted during the drafting of the act was the CEO of Sequani labs in Ledbury, Herefordshire. The labs had been the subject of protests due to their involvement in animal testing. On 9th May 2006, coordinated dawn raids of various animal rights activists' homes around the Midlands took place, in a massive police operation dubbed ‘Tornado’. Twelve people were charged under SOCPA. In the trial of the first seven defendants, in January and February 2008, the prosecution alleged that events at 16 demonstrations against Sequani and related companies amounted to an 'interference with the contractual relations' of Sequani. The incidents related to words spoken (allegedly offensive), acts of trespass and the sending of a repeating fax message to block up the company's fax machines. All of these charges are minor and would be extremely unlikely in normal circumstances to carry a prison sentence. When they form an element of a SOCPA offence, however, they can carry up to five years in prison. The 18-week-long trial, subject to a media-gagging order imposed by the judge, examined reams of computer and mobile phone evidence. The prosecution produced an 'expert analyst' who examined the network of phone calls between the defendants and presented them as evidence that they were organising demonstrations. The very act of planning to demonstrate against Sequani was portrayed as illegal. The prosecution identified what they presented as a 'hierarchy' of the Stop Sequani Animal Torture campaign and portrayed certain defendants, including Sean Kirtley, as the 'leaders'. Much was made of the fact that Sean Kirtley's computer showed that he had updated the SSAT website. SMS messages and emails downloaded to computers, through email clients like Thunderbird or Outlook, were read out in court. What the defendants were accused of essentially amounted to nothing more than a public, legal protest campaign. Nothing the average person would perceive as illegal occurred. No acts of direct action were relied upon by the prosecution and no physical damage had been done to Sequani or any other company - except for one window broken by accident. The trial at Coventry Crown Court took its toll on the defendants. According to Sean Kirtley, defendants suffered "mental and physical exhaustion, nightmares and disturbed sleep" as a result of the stress. Wendy Campbell told Corporate Watch, "It nearly killed me but I was innocent, so I stood my ground." All defendants apart from Kirtley were acquitted. The judge, a game-shooter, remanded Kirtley and later sentenced him to four and a half years imprisonment and a five-year CRASBO on release, which is an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) imposed by a criminal court. Kirtley was not directly accused of using offensive language; the prosecution admitted he was mostly silent at demonstrations. Nor was he accused of sending disruptive faxes. The only charges against him were of allegedly 'organising' demonstrations through phone calls and emails and updating the SSAT website. The SSAT website was not offensive and did not even advertise the demonstrations at Sequani. It merely discussed animal abuse by Sequani and listed companies doing business with it. It also encouraged readers to engage, politely, with these companies and not break the law. Sean was released following a successful appeal in 2009 (see www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3434). 'Conspiracy to blackmail' The use of 'blackmail' charges against campaigners is a relatively new development. There had been a few cases where animal rights campaigners have been convicted of 'blackmail' for writing threatening letters to scientists and employees of companies involved in animal research, but the widening of the application of the law around blackmail is relatively new. In January 2009, seven people from the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, dubbed the 'SHAC 7', were convicted of 'conspiracy to blackmail' and given heavy sentences(see www.corporatewatch.org.uk/?lid=3194) for a 'conspiracy' relating to six years of campaigning against HLS. SHAC is an above-ground organisation which calls upon companies to cease working with HLS and encourages campaigners to protest against, and write to, companies with this aim. During this period, HLS had also been the subject of anonymous direct action. There were circumstantial links between some of the SHAC 7, or people they knew, and direct action against HLS. However, much of the case hinged on guilt by association with anonymous activists. In the case of one campaigner, the only evidence of 'conspiracy to blackmail' was association with other people in the case and words spoken, allegedly threatening, during a demonstration. This was a serious stretch of the definition of blackmail and only succeeded because of the patently political nature of the prosecution and the prejudicial effect of guilt by association. The SHAC 7 were sentenced to up to eleven years imprisonment and, for some, life time anti-social behaviour orders stopping them from engaging in protest against vivisection on their release (see www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3194). In the case of a more recent trial of a campaigner accused of a break-in to Highgate Rabbit Farm, it was deemed that a simple slogan, “Close down or we'll close you down”, written on a wall during a raid, was evidence of 'blackmail'. It is not much of a stretch of the imagination to conceive of a future prosecution for blackmail for simply saying these words on a demonstration (see www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3485). The use of blackmail charges against campaigners is part of a concerted attempt to categorise a political campaign as a criminal enterprise and to criminalise everyone involved in it. The Protection from Harassment Act The Protection from Harassment Act (PHA) was drafted and made its way through parliament as a provision designed to protect vulnerable people from harassment. The media had been evoking emotional accounts of the effect of stalking and the need to protect vulnerable individuals. The Act was never portrayed as a law designed to protect corporations and restrict protest. Solicitor-advocate Timothy Lawson Cruttenden was involved in the drafting of the Act. The infamous solicitor has subsequently contributed to a book on its use in courts. After the passing of the PHA Act in 2001, Lawson-Cruttenden got busy touting his services to corporations that were the subject of public protest. Needless to say, he never acted for any individual victim of stalking. Instead, he has twisted the PHA Act and engineered it to protect corporations from dissent. In the first case of its kind, HLS applied for an injunction against anti-vivisection protesters. Lawson-Cruttenden successfully argued that the director of HLS, Brian Cass, 'represents' the interests of all HLS employees. HLS was thus regarded by the court as an individual, embodied by Brian Cass, who was being 'harassed' by protesters. The idea that a corporation can be 'harassed' was yet another step in the centuries-long transformation of corporations into entities that enjoy the same legal rights as human beings but cannot be punished by imprisonment and so on as they are not human (for more on this, see Corporate Watch's report 'Corporate Law and Structure: Exposing the Roots of the Problem'). In the HLS case, Lawson-Cruttenden argued in the High Court that HLS was not only a corporation being harassed, but that it could be harassed by everyone. HLS claimed it was not one person, or even several named persons, who were 'potential harassers'; it was everyone. The interim injunction was thus granted against all protesters. A 'protester' was defined as anyone who sought to demonstrate against HLS. The injunction restricted the time and duration of protests, the taking of photographs and the noise levels at protests, down to the settings protesters were allowed to set their loudhailers to. Breach of the injunction was punishable by up to five years in prison. Following the HLS success, Lawson-Cruttenden went on to apply for injunctions on behalf of Bayer, DHL, Harrods, Oxford University, TNT and others that had been targeted by the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign (SHAC). An unprecedented relationship developed between Lawson-Cruttenden and the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU), the police department charged with the repression of the animal rights activists, which happily supplied Lawson-Cruttenden with intelligence about the campaigns against which he was seeking injunctions. The anti-war movement The outpouring of rage against the Iraq war experienced repression as soon as it attempted to be effective. Activists on the way to the Fairford military base in 2003 were trapped in their coaches by the police and forced to drive back to London, a tactic later ruled illegal, in part, by the House of Lords. In 2005, the government targeted Brian Haw's permanent peace vigil outside parliament, ordering new provisions under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA). Brian Haw has successfully resisted the attempts to evict him, against a wave of police attacks on his camp. SOCPA was used more effectively to outlaw demonstrations outside parliament but, after concerted unauthorised protests, the law has been officially declared unenforceable. Smash EDO, the campaign against Brighton arms dealers EDO MBM/ITT, was the first non-animal rights campaign to be targeted by Timothy Lawson-Cruttenden under the PHA Act. However, after a 'Defy the Injunction' campaign and a year-long high court battle, the injunction was beaten and Lawson-Cruttenden was discredited, signifying the beginning of the end for PHA Act injunctions. Smash EDO has been targeted by several unsuccessful conspiracy cases and covert surveillance, including corporate spies and police attempts to pay informants. Police in the UK often demand notification for public demonstrations. Anti-arms trade campaigners, such as Disarm DSEi and Smash EDO, have refused to cooperate with this and have held effective street demonstrations in spite of police attempts at repression. Climate change activism NETCU has been edging climate change activists into the same position as the animal rights movement, labelling them 'domestic extremists'. However, climate campaigners enjoy far more mainstream public support and have often played a media game to counter repression. This, as with the anti-war movement, has often lead to a narrative of 'how can they repress us, we're so harmless?', which, although effective in the short term, begins to lose credibility when resistance increases. The Camp for Climate Action at Heathrow airport and Kingsnorth coal fired power station, in 2007 and 2008 respectively, was surrounded by FIT, stopping and searching activists held under the watchful eye of surveillance from temporary platforms and from the air. Several scare stories issued by the police at Climate Camps have been disproved; for example, a phantom 'cache of weapons' allegedly found in 2008, the police injuries that were made out to be caused by protesters but turned out to be bee stings and insect bites in 2008, and the fictionalised tale of activists coating the roads in oil in Edinburgh in 2010. Climate campaigners, like anti-arms trade and animal rights activists, have also been subject to covert surveillance, with corporate infiltrators being unmasked in direct action group Plane Stupid, and a recording of police attempting to bribe Scottish activists for information in 2009 gaining media attention. The most ridiculous political conspiracy case of recent years was perhaps the arrest of the 'Ratcliffe 114'. On 13th April 2009, whilst G20 stories of police violence and cover-ups remained the centre of attention, 114 people were arrested in a raid at a school in Sneinton Dale, Nottingham. It was the largest pre-emptive arrest in years; and the police are pushing ahead with a charge of 'conspiracy to cause aggravated trespass' against 26 people, despite the dim view the courts often take when asked to judge cases of conspiracy to commit a minor offence (aggravated trespass carries a maximum of six months in prison).(see www.corporatewatch.org.uk/?lid=3481). Environmental activists have also been targeted under the PHA Act, with injunctions being brought against activists at the Camp for Climate Action in Heathrow in 2007 and the campaign to save Radley Lakes in Oxfordshire. Palestine solidarity campaigns As in Palestine, France and Israel, the British state is increasing its attempts to criminalise campaigners involved in the global campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Criticism of the state of Israel is increasingly labelled as anti-Semitic. For instance, activists who poured fake blood over Israeli products during Israel's massacre in Gaza in 2009 were arrested for 'racially aggravated criminal damage' (the prosecution was later dropped). Similarly, a group of boycott supporters who shouted 'boycott Israel' during a performance by the Jerusalem Quartet in Edinburgh were arrested for 'racially aggravated abuse'. The Sheriff in the case threw out the charge and raised concerns that, "If persons on a public march designed to protest against and publicise alleged crimes committed by a state and its army are afraid to name that state for fear of being charged with racially aggravated behaviour, it would render worthless their Article 10(1) rights. Presumably their placards would have to read 'Genocide in an unspecified state in the Middle East', 'Boycott an unspecified state in the Middle East'." The mass demonstrations outside the Israeli embassy at the time of the Israeli massacre in Gaza ended in the prosecution of 73 people. The vast majority of these were young Muslims and it was clear that the police wanted to throw the book at them to avert a repeat of the demonstrations. What seemed to have rattled the state about the resistance to the Gaza massacre was the new unity between young, disenchanted Muslims and the more established Palestine solidarity movement, as well as their move towards direct action. All the defendants were charged with 'violent disorder' and sentences of up to two and a half years were doled out. The cases were clearly racially motivated and the prosecution even filed to deport several defendants, who were resident in the UK but did not have citizenship, after their sentences were up. A Gaza Defendants Support Campaign was set up and, as a result, the media began reporting the harsh sentences and the police harassment of some of the defendants. Some of the sentences were challenged and there have been several successful appeals. What now? The past decade has shown that, where grassroots social movements resist repression, they are able to win and grow stronger through the struggle. The state will always attempt to minimise public support for social movements through media manipulation and the marginalisation of radical groups. It is important to not allow ourselves to be backed into a corner and internalise these repressive tactics, but to keep on imagining what could be possible when we finally break open the prison doors.