Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Mark Kennedy story just confirms what we knew all along

Nearly two years on from the furore over the G20 protests, what many long suspected has finally been confirmed: the police are infiltrating the climate movement. Most of what I'd want to say about the unfolding saga of undercover cop Mark Kennedy is summed up by this very good piece in the New Internationalist, written by Danny Chivers, one of the defendants at the Ratcliffe trial. But, as someone who spent a lot of time in my old job trying to highlight the police's unacceptable attitude to the environmental movement, here for what it's worth is my two pence...

Firstly, this really does expose the emptiness of the Met's justifications for its aggressive approach to Climate Camp. Back in 2009, days before the G20, I was involved in organising last-minute talks in parliament between the camp legal team and the Met. Then, as in previous years, the police put heavy emphasis on how problematic the camp's secretive approach was: how it forced them to over-react because they didn't know what protesters were going to do and so had to assume a worst-case scenario. We now know, of course, that this was utter bollocks: they knew exactly what Climate Camp were planning, every step of the way, because they had a deep mole in the movement right from the start.

Secondly, it's very interesting that information about the shadowy National Public Order Intelligence Unit is finally, slowly, coming to light. Together with some brilliantly tenacious and committed journalists from the Guardian, I spent a while trying to dig up information about what this body was actually spending its money on. The government always said they couldn't tell us - although it turns out this was also technically bollocks, since they seem to have been quite happy to tell someone else who asked the same question a few months later. And since they're under the auspices of ACPO, the NPOIU isn't subject to FOI (yet) – along with the National Domestic Extremism Team and National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, which seem to classify climate campaigners right up there with Al-Qaeda in terms of worthiness of their attentions. Now, at last, information is trickling into the public domain – confirming everyone's long-held suspicions about the amount of money the police are throwing at spying on protesters.

On which note, I think the Guardian deserves an awful lot of credit for plugging away at this issue when nobody else gave two shits. If it weren't for Paul Lewis' determination, we'd never have found out what really happened to Ian Tomlinson. Two years later, he, Matthew Taylor and Rob Evans are still on the case. This is real investigative journalism, a hugely important public service, and full credit to the Guardian for giving them free rein to do it.

At the other end of the media scale, the wooden spoon goes to the Evening Standard, which duly devoted Thursday's front page to what seems to be the Met's public relations backlash: video footage of a student protester apparently running with a petrol bomb, along with hysterical copy about how many yobs they've arrested so far in 'Operation Malone'. Apparently, it's going to be a hugely long and expensive process ploughing through all those thousands of hours of CCTV footage. In the spirit of public sector efficiency, maybe while they're at it they can keep an eye out for number-less policemen bashing kids over the head with sticks? Just a thought.

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