Article by the Claimant
This article was written for publication on the first day of the Judicial Review, 1 May 2008.
It goes without saying: the police are not above the law. Today, in the High Court, a judicial review will consider whether the police have been acting unlawfully in their routine surveillance of demonstrations and other events. Specifically, does their policy and practice contravene the Human Rights Act?
I attended the Annual General Meeting of Reed Elsevier (as a shareholder) in April 2005. The company, a publisher known for its academic journals, including the Lancet, had recently acquired Spearhead - a company which organises arms fairs, including the Docklands arms fair or DSEi (Defence Systems & Equipment International Exhibition).
Reed's AGM, held at a hotel in Grosvenor Square, London was unremarkable: two people handed out leaflets at the entrance; the Board of Directors faced some difficult questions during the Q. & A.; a couple of activists were removed by security for chanting slogans; but there were no arrests and the meeting ended normally.
At this point, I should say I worked as the press officer at Campaign Against Arms Trade, who oppose arms exports. As I and a fellow staff member left the meeting, police repeatedly and intrusively photographed us from close-up. Why we were photographed was unclear; what crime had been committed? Why were we becoming 'suspects'? The police further compounded the feelings of anxiety by stopping and questioning us, and using subterfuge to try and obtain my details. The police don't claim to have any knowledge about me prior to the surveillance operation; I was a member of the public going about my lawful business – anyone could have been subject to the intrusive policing.
After an ineffectual complaint to the Police Complaints Commission, I applied for a judicial review. The police exhibits showed their photographs and notes about me. The information held on police computers is retained for an indeterminate period. My photograph is likely to have been assembled into a sheet of photos to identify 'suspects' at demonstrations or other events. One need not be convicted, or even arrested to be included.
The surveillance I experienced was wholly repressive, and indeed unnecessary. Such aggressive policing may have a chilling effect on participation in lawful political activity. It is against this background, and with concern for human rights - including respect for private and family life (Article 8), and rights to assembly and association (Article 11), that a court ruling is sought.
The author is Andrew Wood, who is the claimant.