It started with the 26 individuals who had been charged with planning to shut down Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station for one week. The individuals were part of the 114 arrested at the Iona School in Nottingham on Easter Monday, 2009. The incident was the largest pre-emptive arrest of environmental campaigners in recent history and prompted widespread concerns for civil liberties. Now these concerns have deepened to unimagined depths.
Twenty of the activists pleaded not guilty on the grounds they were acting out of necessity in order to prevent carbon emissions. They had a trial late last November, and were found guilty after being accused by the prosecution of merely seeking publicity. Six of the activists were due to plead not guilty as they simply had not made up their mind. They learned of the plan the day they turned up at the school, and had made no commitment to taking part when arrested.
This second trial never took place. When the defence lawyers requested information regarding the role of undercover police officer Mark Kennedy, the prosecution dropped the case within hours. PC Kennedy, posing as activist ‘Flash’, was not just one of the 114 arrested, but had been involved in planning the power station shut down from the very beginning. For the first fact-finding mission he drove to the site four months before the action was due to take place. He hired the truck to transport all the equipment.
Why would the police and prosecution rather drop a trial they’d been working on for months, at great expense, than release a single piece of information about PC Mark Kennedy? Perhaps because it could have proved the innocence of all 26 defendants.
Perversion of justice
We now know just what the evidence was: a series of covertly recorded tapes that PC Mark Kennedy produced while the activists were being briefed at the school. PC Mark Kennedy himself confirmed that these recordings would have proved the innocence of the six whose case was dropped. But it might also be the case that they demonstrate the innocence of the twenty already found guilty, by proving their intentions were to stop carbon emissions.
The CPS knew that hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money did not need to be spent to prove our intentions. The police chose to press ahead with the charges despite the evidence they received via these recordings. They later chose to withhold the recordings from the Crown Prosecution Service. This is a very serious perversion of justice.
In light of this, a growing coalition of people from human rights and environmental organisations are calling for an independent judicial inquiry into the undercover police surveillance of environmental protesters.
The ongoing discovery of undercover police officers, including Mark Kennedy, operating in the UK has rattled the concept of 'freedom to protest' for ever. Big questions about police operations now demand big answers – an independent judicial inquiry must be launched. The police-led inquiries which have already been announced have, on past experience, shown themselves to be inadequate for addressing the serious issues which have come to light. It is nonsensical for a failing police force to investigate their own misconduct behind closed doors.
Issues raised by the exposure of undercover police officers include, amongst others:
• The withholding of evidence from the courts
• The secret and long-term surveillance of peaceful protesters
• Allegations of abuse and sexual misconduct by serving officers
• Undercover officers acting as agents provocateurs
• The existence of police-run ‘private surveillance companies’ selling information to private corporations.
Understandably, ordinary people across the world are shocked at the levels of state betrayal – but lets remember that our tiredness and dejection could harm us further. The stakes are absolutely huge. The issue of police infiltration tactics doesn’t just raise questions about the Ratcliffe defendants. It touches the nerves of democracy; our freedoms, our liberties, our right to challenge injustice, to exist with some semblance of dignity – of everything we love. This question is about the relationship between the citizen and the state and about the role of the police within that relationship.
The news of the Association of Chief Police Officers downfall may be a glimmer of hope, or be merely tokenistic until real systematic change takes place. Unaccountable and mysterious police departments only moult and then re-group. They arise with another abbreviation paid for with the liberties of ordinary people and as we have learnt, with the freedoms of women at the helm. Nothing can justify an act of abuse, whether committed by one person or by a state.
At the beginning of 2011, this expose of the state's intentions couldn't be better timed. The battle lines are drawn, the stakes are raised and we are toughened up for the year ahead. Whilst the UK's poorest communities brave the onslaught of cuts to public services we can see huge amounts of taxpayers money being spent on ludicrous policing to protect business interests.
All over the world exploitative regimes prop up corrupt police forces. Increasingly the British policing systems' priorities and levels of ruthlessness join these forces and stand naked on the world stage.
A force or a service?
Are the police a force or a service? Are they there to implement the law and / or Government's wishes, or are they there to protect the citizen? Mark Kennedy is by no means the first state minion to fulfil its primary function - solidifying the cosy relationship of Government backed business as usual. But lets hope he will be the last.
British communities have stood up against adversity and exposed infiltration before, in the anti-war movement and campaigns for nuclear disarmament, amongst other examples. But the Government are no longer accountable in a way deemed pertinent in a democracy. We now have rule by the few, with no accountability and no transparency - doing all sorts of things that most people would not condone. It is the 'ends justify the means' argument - which is very ho hum. Living under governments that allow this infiltration to occur shakes the foundation of what it means to live in a democracy.
This will not stop action on climate change however. We refuse to let these tactics break us and make us suspicious of one another because we have work to do. The impacts of runaway climate change, made worse by the fossil fuel industries, are intensifying by the minute.
That protest movements are under constant surveillance is a sign of how powerful we are and how we threaten business as usual. For the fossil fuel industry the success of people's action would mean they lose their social license to exist, undermining their right to do business all together. This is why they employ spies to try and undermine us. The police are working in the interest of business and against the interests of people and democratic society. This sort of political policing is about impeding the political process which makes change happen. That's why it is so wrong.
If we ever needed our own community undercover agents to expose the environmentally and socially destructive acts of the Government - it is now. Two can play at that game.
For all these reasons and more, this is why there must be an urgent judge-led investigation to uncover the truth about political policing in the UK. Only an independent and open inquiry, in which the public has full confidence, will lead to the changes in policing which are now so obviously necessary. So now we know. If we truly want to live in a democracy', let's seize the moment.
Dan Glass is a climate activist and defendant in the Ratcliffe trial, and an organiser with sowestand.com
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