Brighton Revisited

Photojournalist Marc Vallée is filmed by an officer of the Police Foward Intelligence Team
Photojournalist Marc Vallée is filmed by an officer of the Police Foward Intelligence Team

Yesterday the Brighton based group SmashEDO held a protest against the arms manufacturer EDO MBM whose factory is based in Moulescoomb just outside of Brighton. Past protests outside the factory have been violent, with protesters getting inside the compound, smashing windows and entering the factory.

This time was no different, with arrests taking place before the march had started and riot police being deployed using batons, shields and CS spray.

But half an hour before the protest was due to start as my colleague and I sat in the car a member of the Police Forward Intelligence Team (FIT) began filming us from across the road before coming over and asking who we were. After identifying ourselves as members of the press and showing our UK Press cards the officer continued to question and film us. 

Whilst this was not as bad as the treatment we received at Climate Camp earlier in the year where our car was continually stopped and searched by police, in one case officers knew who I was and that I was journalist before I even spoke to them but I was searched regardless.

Later on when we left the car and stood under the covering of a railway station to shelter from the rain whilst we waited for the protest to begin Police told us that we would have to move and weren’t allowed to photograph near the station where protesters would be arriving.

There is no law against photographing railway stations or their surrounds, this officer was clearly being officious and confrontational, but I felt that if I had taken a picture I would of been very quickly bundled into the back of a police van.

During the protest journalists were also assaulted by police, photojournalist Marc Vallée was pushed back violently as he was photographing protesters and photographer Guy Smallman was bitten by a police attack dog which required medical attention.

The Police’s job would certainly be easier if we weren’t around to photograph what they do, but there is a clearly a very good reason to do so. This job isn’t getting any easier. 

You can view my full set of images of the protest here

Collateral Damage

This isn’t over-zealous policing this is a co-ordinated and systematic abuse of media freedom.

Jeremy Dear, General Secretary – NUJ

Those the words of Jeremy Dear, addressing the TUC in Brighton this week. His speech was in support of a motion expressing concerns over civil liberties, specifically the use of counter-terrorism laws and SOCPA against protesters and campaigners.  

Also the targeting of journalists by Police, he mentions the cases of Shiv Malik and Sally Murrer, but also the work of Police Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT)

Originally set up to overtly surveil Football fans and political protesters they have grown from a small unit attached to Metropolitan Police’s Central Operations to a nation-wide police tactic to gather intelligence on potential criminal activity and to deter known ‘trouble makers’ from doing just that.

Sounds like a good idea – if you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to hide, right?

But what has ended up happening is harassment of individuals who may have committed offences in the past or associated with those who have by being constantly filmed, photographed and stopped & searched by police at protests or other events. Even when they have done nothing but turn up at a political protest.

An article in the Guardian earlier this year looks at how this tactic of overt surveillance is being adapted from protests and football matches and turned on youths in Essex to harass them essentially into staying at home.

But what the FIT have also been doing which is even more worrying is photographing and filming journalists at these events. Something which they deny happens and if it does any images they do take of journalists those images are deleted. We are simply collateral damage.

As one of the journalists who has been affected by this I feel a lot differently. The recent example of Climate Camp last month comes to mind.

I and six other journalists were in a McDonalds down the road from where the camp was being held (not very glamorous but they have free WiFi) filing our images. When around 8 officers appeared outside with video cameras and started filming us.

There were no protesters from the camp inside or anywhere nearby. They were literally standing outside filming us working, this was not collateral damage, this was specific targeting and harassment of journalists.

One of the journalists who was also there was Jason Parkinson and over the past few months he has been putting together a film that catalogues these incidents so that it can be put beyond doubt that the police are doing what they say does not happen. It’s a short ten minute film that will be part of a longer, more in depth film later this year. You can watch it here:

In the last 24hrs since it was posted it has attracted over 500 viewers, please watch it, send it to colleagues and vote for it on the current tv website. There’s much more to come on this story.