Throughout its six year history, from 2004 until 2011, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU) was the unit protesters loved to hate. Often confused with the National Public Order Intelligence Unit and the Forward Intelligence Teams, NETCU was the public face of the police’s dealings with protests. Here we revisit how it enabled industry and police to collaborate in the suppression of protest, and show how its former officers continue to provide a service to industry.
In the early 2000s animal rights campaigning against vivisection was at an all time high, most notably in the campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences. Despite its financial might, the pharmaceutical industry was under threat, and turned to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, and threatened to withdraw billions of research funds from the UK unless something was done to curb the protests. Thus, in 2004 NETCU was established by the private limited company Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), funded by the Home Office, and staffed by officers seconded from Cambridgeshire Constabulary and the Metropolitan Police Service.
NETCU was soon brought under the aegis of the National Co-ordinator Domestic Extremism (NCDE), an office created by ACPO in 2004, with Anton Setchell its founding occupant. Also brought under the control of the NCDE were the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), which had become operational in 1999, running undercover spies such as Mark Kennedy as well as managing a database of protesters, and the National Domestic Extremism Team (NDET), an investigatory unit established in 2005.i
NETCU’s role was twofold: firstly, to provide resources to local constabularies dealing with protests; secondly, to provide an interface between companies targeted by protests and the police.
As part of the first role, the unit produced a booklet for police on the subject of policing protest, which it did its best to keep out of the hands of activists. Unfortunately for NETCU a copy of its handbook was dropped at the Kingsnorth Climate Camp in 2008, following which it was quickly copied and widely disseminated.ii
As part of the second role, NETCU supported and facilitated companies taking out injunctions against activists under the Protection from Harassment Act in order to stifle protest. NETCU even encouraged this on its website, and provided active help to companies pursuing this route. Though most of its work was focused on animal rights campaigns, it also helped other companies being targeted for protest, such in Brighton arms company EDO MBM, which was faced with the vigorous SmashEDO campaign, or RWE npower, which wished to silence critics from the Save Radley Lakes campaign in Oxfordshire.
In virtually every known injunction NETCU’s head Steven Pearl was on hand to make statements claiming that the injunction was necessary for the ongoing safety of the protest. Dr Max Gastone who appeared as a representative for Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty in many of them, told us:
“Right from the beginning it was clear that NETCU had a political agenda. You would look at their website and see links to various groups, such as Victim of Animal Rights Extremism, which was a front for the pharmaceutical industry funded Research Defence Society. We challenged them in court over this, saying they could not be considered impartial as a result; their response was to simply remove the links. It was very clear to us who encountered them regularly that they were in bed with the industry, and close to main injunction lawyer Timothy Lawson-Cruttenden. We would regularly see Steven Pearl sit behind him when we were in court, and it was equally obvious that they were regularly meeting at Lawson-Cruttenden’s offices, often just before hearings. In Pearl, the pharmaceutical industry and others basically had the voice of the police on their side, and as far as we could see he was willing to do what ever they needed.”
In 2006 it was made public that two NETCU officers, Jim Sheldrake and Nic Clay, were passing on the names and contacts of police officers to the pharmaceutical industry’s preferred injunction lawyer Timothy Lawson-Cruttenden so that he could get obtain statements in support of his attempt to injunct SmashEDO and others.iii
In a much more serious breach, in another injunction case Timothy Lawson-Cruttenden wanted to exhibit the criminal records of 52 named animal rights protesters. Activists fighting the case pointed out that the correct procedure would have been for the lawyer to have sought a court order for the police to disclose this material to him. It quickly emerged that NETCU had already handed over all the material to the lawyer at his request. Lawson-Cruttenden dropped his application when the gravity of this breach became apparent.iv
Such incidents did not deter NETCU. It is known that in 2008 senior officers from NETCU gave a presentation at a meeting with The Consultancy Association, a private company which maintained (and commercially exploited) the infamous blacklist established by the Economic League. This blacklist, whilst initially focused on trades unionists and workers who had voiced concerns over safety issues in the construction industry, also included information on 200 animal rights and environmental protesters.v The outcome of the NETCU-TCA meeting was an agreement for a two-way exchange of information.vi
It is also now known that the connections and meetings with industry continued throughout 2009 and 2010. John Wilson of NETCU regularly made presentations at meetings of London First’s Security and Resilience Network business forum, which is led by David Veness.vii As the Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations, Veness had oversight for the deployment of undercover officers in the 1990s and early 2000s, including the targeting of groups close to the Lawrence family, and was involved in the establishment of the NPOIU.viii
On 22 October 2010, John Wilson of NETCU and Ian Caswell of NPOIU appeared at a Security Industry Masterclass conference, sponsored by RWE npower and entitled “Domestic Extremism (Direct Action) against the Power Industry and the resilience of our supply chain”. John Wilson’s talk was on research methods of protesters, while Caswell concentrated on tactics that ‘we as security managers can reasonably be expected to face’.ix
In November 2010 NETCU was shut down as a discrete unit following the reorganisation of the domestic extremism units into the National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU), which in turn was merged into the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command (SO15). Both NETCU chief Steven Pearl and his National Coordinator Anton Setchell were forcibly retired.x
However, in an interesting note, the 2012 Inspectorate of Constabulary’s, “A Review of National Police Units which Provide Intelligence on Criminality Associated with Protest”, led by Bernard Hogan-Howe, now Metropolitan Police Commissioner, stated:
A close relationship was built up over a number of years between the NDEU and those industries which found themselves the target of protests, to raise awareness of threats and risk so that damage and injury could be prevented. A number of police officers have retired from NDEU‟s precursor units and continued their careers in the security industry, using their skills and experience for commercial purposes. Whilst this is perhaps no different from any other retired officer finding similar employment, HMIC acknowledges NDEU’s concerns about attempts by retired officers to then contact and work with NDEU as this, on occasions, led to potential conflict of interests. Given this, HMIC welcomes NDEU’s policy that it will have no contact with private security companies which operate in the same type of business.xi
Where are they now
Anton Setchell: The former National Coordinator Domestic Extremism had by January 2013 become Head of Global Security for transnational infrastructure and services company Laing O’Rourke,xii one of the firms which had availed itself of The Consultancy Association’s services (as had precursor company Laing Construction of the Economic League’s).xiii
Steven Pearl: in November 2008, prior to his retirement from NETCU in October 2010, Pearl set up his own company, Decx Ltd., which he describes as ‘Independent Security Consultants specialising in domestic extremism providing advice and support’. In 2010 he became a non-executive director of Agenda Resource Management and Agenda Security Services – a company set up by former employees of animal breeders B&K Universal, and which carries out screening of prospective employees of animal testing organisations.xiv
Jim Sheldrake: after a spell as a paramedic in Glasgow 2007-2010, he moved to Switzerland to join the Issues and Risks Communication Team of Novartis in April 2010.xv This was one month after the first meeting between Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty and Novartis, which turned out to be a sting set up by the National Domestic Extremism Unit, which ultimately led to the 2014 conviction of Debbie Vincent, who had acted as a liaison between SHAC and the company.xvi He appears to have received intelligence notifications from Stratfor.xvii
Nic Clay: joined the Welund Report, a commercial service providing daily intelligence reports on protests, and which has apparent MI6 connections.xviii He is known to supply open source intelligence to contacts in the US, including on the Occupy movement,xix and through personal contact with one Florida-based animal breeder and importer for vivisection, WorldWide Primates.xx
For more background material:
A Farewell to NETCU: A brief history of how protest movements have been targeted by political policing, Corporate Watch, 19 January 2011, (by same author) – https://corporatewatch.org/content/january-19-2011-farewell-netcu-brief-history-how-protest-movements-have-been-targeted
Paul Mobbs / electrohippies, Britain’s Secretive Police Force – Politicising the Policing of Public Expression in an Era of Economic Change, Free Range Network, April 2009 – http://www.fraw.org.uk/pubs/q02.html
Tom Anderson, When Co-option Fails, in Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent, Corporate Watch, 2013 – https://corporatewatch.org/resources/2014/chapter-16-when-co-option-fails