How many elected politicians have been monitored by Scotland Yard's 'domestic extremism' unit? At least two, but beyond that, we have yet to be told. The two are Jenny Jones, the Green Party's sole peer and candidate for London mayor at the last election, and Ian Driver, a Green Party councillor in Thanet, Kent. The 'domestic extremism' unit kept a log of Jones's political movements over an 11-year period while she sat on the official committee scrutinising the Metropolitan Police.
The file on her recorded a tweet she sent about possible police tactics at a pro-cycling protest, and details of public meetings she addressed about issues including police violence and Conservative cuts in public spending. On Sunday evening, we published this story on how the pair had criticised police chiefs for recording their political activities on the secret database run by the 'domestic extremism' unit.
According to Scotland Yard, this unit monitors campaigners who have broken, or are about to break, the law to promote their political objectives. Police chiefs have argued that activists they define as 'extremists' may try and hide among legitimate campaigners. They say they work hard to “ensure that the majority of protesters can campaign peacefully while stopping the few individuals who break the law.”
Like others, neither Jones nor Driver has a criminal record but found themselves on the database. Both say they have never been arrested. The Yard is not commenting on why either politicians was on the database. Before we published, we asked the Yard how many politicians were recorded in the files of the national 'domestic extremism' unit. The Yard chose to treat that question as a freedom of information request and will answer at a later date. On Monday, the BBC asked if other politicians were logged on the database and if so, who were they.
Jones, who has been the most prominent politician holding the police to account for their infiltration of political groups by undercover officers, has set out her objections to the monitoring here She argues that the surveillance by the Metropolitan Police “was a complete waste of police time and resources”. The file on Driver logs 22 occasions on which he helped organise public meetings and demonstrations about animal exports and gay marriage over a two-year period.
He has been angered by the surveillance, and has said: “The police have spent public money chasing a bald, overweight, middle-aged man around Thanet. I could understand if we were having secret meetings and planning to hurt people, but we've never been secretive and anything we have done has been completely legal. “
For some time, Jones has been pushing the authorities to bring in a tighter definition of who might be defined as a 'domestic extremist'. (See her here raising this with Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police commissioner). She argues :”The exceptionally broad definition of domestic extremist has provided cover for the police to intrude into the lives of innocent people.”
Police chiefs have said that the definition has now been tightened up, so that it concentrates only on campaigners who “commit or plan serious criminal activity motivated by a political or ideological viewpoint”.
Read this here from the campaign group, Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), which criticises this change as essentially meaningless and will allow the police to carry on spying on activists as before. Jones and Driver have signed witness statements in support of a lawsuit, to be heard later this year in the supreme court, which seeks to challenge the legal basis of the clandestine database.
That lawsuit has been brought by John Catt, the 89-year-old pensioner whose political activities have also been recorded on the 'domestic extremism' database. Police had kept descriptions of his habit of sketching demos, and his appearance at demonstrations, such as being clean-shaven and the slogans on his clothes. He too has no criminal record. He is being represented by Shamik Dutta, of the law firm Bhatt Murphy.
The lawsuit could be crucial for curbing the surveillance of law-abiding campaigners. Netpol, assisted by Rosa Curling from the Leigh Day law firm, is supporting the challenge. Like others, Jones and Driver used data protection laws to obtain from the police details of what was being stored on them on the 'domestic extremism' database. For other coverage of this week's story, see here, here and here.