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Protestor loses challenge over domestic extremism database

Police 'only doing what is to be expected', High Court says

1 June 2012

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An 87-year-old campaigner has lost his legal challenge to the retention of data about his attendance at political protests on the police national domestic extremism database.

John Catt, described at the High Court as “of good character” and “with a long history of political protest”, was involved in a Brighton-based group called ‘Smash EDO’.

He argued that the retention of information about him on the extremism database was a violation of his rights to privacy under article 8 of the ECHR.

Lord Justice Gross said Smash EDO was a “protest group which has carried on a long-running campaign calling for the closure of EDO, a US-owned arms company, carrying on a lawful business and with a factory in Brighton”.

Delivering the leading judgment in Catt v Met Police Commissioner [2012] EWHC 1471, Gross LJ said: “Smash EDO stages regular protests. Although many people at Smash EDO protests do not commit criminal offences, disorder and criminality has been a feature of a number of the protests – over 136 offences have been recorded.

“On one occasion more than £300,000 damage was caused. Harassment of staff has been a feature of this campaign. As a result, EDO has spent in excess of £1m on security measures.”

Gross LJ said that, against this background, the Smash EDO protests had attracted and required a substantial policing presence.

“Numerous arrests have been made. Police officers record what they see at the protests. The records are retained under conditions of confidentiality for intelligence purposes.”

In response to a request from Catt, the Met Police disclosed 66 entries on the database, spanning a period from 2005 to 2009.

However, Gross LJ said that, when the police compiled and retained intelligence reports of Smash EDO demonstrations, they were “only doing what is to be expected and no less than what is to be expected”.

He went on: “Insofar as such reports make reference to Mr Catt while engaged in the public activity of political protest, then, untutored by authority, I would be unable to conclude that article 8 had been engaged, let alone that Mr Catt’s rights under article 8.1 had been prima facie infringed.

“Unless I am bound by authority to hold otherwise, the nature of Mr Catt’s activity belies any reasonable expectation of privacy, at least for the duration of the Smash EDO campaign.”

Gross LJ said even if “the time might come” when continued retention of the reports did amount to interference with Catt’s article 8 rights, “that time would not be reached while the Smash EDO campaign continues”.

“For completeness, I have not overlooked Mr Catt’s complaint that the existence of the database was not made known to him. It was not, however, secret and his subject access request was answered.”

The actions taken by the police were justified under article 8.2, Gross LJ said. They were taken in pursuance of the legitimate aims of preventing disorder or crime and protecting the rights and freedoms of others, and in accordance with the law.

Gross LJ added that they were proportionate and, when the Smash EDO campaign ended, the Met Police had agreed to review the information held on Catt.

He dismissed the claim for judicial review. Mr Justice Irwin agreed.

A statement on the Smash EDO website said: “It is no surprise to us that the courts have backed police attempts to counteract effective resistance to state militarism and to corporate power.”

The statement said the High Court ruling legitimised the monitoring and surveillance of anyone who took part in protests or raised their voice against the manufacture of weapons at EDO.

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