Following the Guardian report on the police treatment of FIT Watch activists Val Swain and Emily Apple at the 2008 Kent Climate Camp colleague and friend Marc Vallée blogged about the NUJ formal complaint that has now been delivered to Christopher Graham, the new information commissioner.
Vallée pointed out that despite repeated attempts spanning eight months to access the material held by the Metropolitan Police on five journalists involved in Data Protection Requests, only a minimal amount has come to light.
Vallée received one page from a police officer’s note book, which for some reason listed him with “(FIT)” written next to his name. And that was all he got, despite knowing from his case against the Met they had film of his assault by FIT and TSG officers while covering the 2006 Sack Parliament protest.
The London-based photojournalist, who specialises in covering protest and public order situations, has recounted a list as long as a MP’s expenses claim form on the times he has been stopped, questioned, photographed and filmed.
And it is no different for me. The only information I received back under the Data Protection Act was the above form, documenting my S44 “Stop and Account” outside the US Embassy on 28 March, 2008, while covering a protest calling for the release from death row of journalist and Black Panther activist Mumia Abu Jamal.
As the form states, the reason for suspicion – “seen filming the US Embassy”. I might add with over £2,000 worth of equipment, in broad daylight, and carrying a national and international press card. Not the behaviour of a terrorist recon, one might say.
One thing that sticks out on the data on this form is being repeatedly listed as “Treat as Restricted” and any other relevant information is blacked out. This my lawyer has repeatedly questioned. To date there has been no explanation.
The Met have consistently denied that UK journalists are under surveillance, or that any details are held on a database. Yet this trickle of data has already contradicted the official police line.
On the 28 March US Embassy incident, after denying the police access to my footage, one officer gave me a copy of the pink slip and said, “There’s another one for your collection.” Which is true. I do indeed collect Stop and Search forms. But the question is, if they do not hold data on the press, how did they [the officers and HQ] know I had been detained on many previous occasions?
So, the question then is, if one Stop and Search is recorded and the data held, what about all these others, and all those where I was detained and the officers did not have the relevant form to issue?
The answer probably lies in that the 28 March incident was reported in the NUJ Freelance monthly, along with a catalogue of FIT surveillance, photographs, video, note-taking – the whole cahoots.
2007 was a particularly bad year for me. I was detained by police some 23 times, either for Stop and Search, Stop and Account, or just a good old fashioned talking to – be it under S44, S60 or S14.
2008 was a little less frustrating with eight times, although four of those were while trying to cover Climate Camp.
This year things seem to have eased off on this issue, but the unfortunate turn is, in less than a year I have been at the brunt of four injuries while working, one of those leaving me with internal injuries and off work for a month.
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Police make arrests after FIT Watch activists blocking surveillance cameras on the protest opposing the BBC refusal to broadcast a charity appeal to help people of Gaza rebuild their homes, London, UK. 24/01/2009.
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