Surveillance is too intimidating for protesters, claims lawyer

The National Public Order Intelligence Unit kept watch on Mr Catt at more than 55 demos
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The Independent Online

Police surveillance of demonstrations has a "chilling effect" on people exercising their right to protest, the High Court heard yesterday.

Lawyers acting for protester John Catt, 87, who is taking legal action against police and demanding his removal from a database of "domestic extremists", claimed he is "logged and recorded wherever he goes". He appears on the database despite never having committed a crime in support of a protest, they added.

Tim Owen QC, appearing for Mr Catt, said his client aroused police attention because he has attended anti-arms trade demonstrations at which other people have committed crimes.

"There are so many demonstrations where it is reasonably certain that some people who turn up, do so with the intention using it to commit violence, so the suggestion that police can record anyone present on that basis is worrying," said Mr Owen. "The overall impact of this monitoring and the recording of Mr Catt's political activities inevitably tends to intimidate lawful protesters and to exert a chilling effect on their legitimate activities."

Mr Catt has spent most of his life supporting of various political protests and was involved with the anti-arms trade group Smash EDO, some of whose members committed crimes as part of their demonstrations. Because of this association, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit kept watch on him at more than 55 demonstrations, noting his appearance, who he and his sister were talking to, and his clothing. The court heard that there were 66 references to Mr Catt on the database between March 2005 and October 2009, and others relating to his daughter, Linda.

In 2005, he was stopped and questioned by police outside the Labour Party conference while wearing a t-shirt bearing the slogan "Bush, Blair, Sharon to be tried for war crimes, torture and human rights abuse, the leaders of rogue states".

Mr Catt, from Brighton, East Sussex, is suing the Association of Chief Police Officers. He asked the High Court to order the removal of details held about him on the National Domestic Extremism Database, which is used to gather intelligence on protest movements.

His lawyer argued that Acpo's refusal to delete the data breached Mr Catt's right to have his privacy respected under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. But Jeremy Johnson QC, representing both Acpo and the Metropolitan Police, told the court: "Where you engage in public activity [demonstrations] you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy."

Lord Justice Gross, sitting with Mr Justice Irwin, reserved judgment.