Campaign group I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist (PHNAT) welcomes the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling on the case of a peace campaigner to have his details removed from a police Domestic Extremist database.
94-year-old John Catt, who took part in a number of protests but had no criminal convictions, argued the retention of his details on the police database was unlawful. After a case spanning eight years the EHCR has ruled in favour of Catt, stating he, “had never been convicted of any offence and his risk of violent criminality was remote”.
“I now expect police forces nationally to respect this ruling, destroy any data they hold on me, on other peaceful protestors and also journalists who are on the database and ensure they focus their resources more wisely in future.”
The ruling has a direct impact on the 2014 legal action launched by six journalists against Scotland Yard after discovering they too were on the Domestic Extremist database and details of their professional activities dating back more than a decade were being retained.
As far back as 2007 some photographers and videographers raised concerns that the police Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT Squads) were paying particular interest in them. Initial concerns were dismissed as nothing more than intimidation, should be ignored and the idea of surveillance being retained was ridiculous. That response was reiterated by Met commander Bob Broadhurst at a 2009 NUJ Photographer’s Summit.
A year later, after a 21 stop and searches and stop and accounts in one year of video journalist Jason N. Parkinson and an expose´ on police surveillance of the press at the 2008 Kingsnorth Climate Camp by the Guardian newspaper, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) launched and investigation into police surveillance and over the next two years funded two short documentaries, Collateral Damage and Hostile Reconnaissance. It also led to the formation of PHNAT photographers rights campaign group in August 2009.
It was not until undercover police officer Mark Kennedy was exposed in 2011 and the the domestic extremist database was discovered that Subject Access Requests were sought on information held.
By the summer of 2014 six journalists, Adrian Arbib, David Hoffman, Jason N. Parkinson, Jess Hurd, Jules Mattsson and journalist and comedian Mark Thomas held hard evidence that surveillance data on them was being held on the on the domestic extremist database, files that were as long as 12 pages, dated back more than a decade and documented such things as events attended, assumed political beliefs, sexual orientation, criminal record checks on a partner and even a family member’s medical records. The NUJ instructed Bhatt Murphy solicitors and a legal action was launched in November 2014.
Shamik Dutta, Catt’s lawyer and also the lawyer for the NUJ case said: “This ruling sets an important precedent that it is unlawful for governments across Europe to label citizens engaged in peaceful protest domestic extremists and put them on a searchable database for a potentially indefinite period.”
In light of today’s ECHR ruling Dutta said they would be writing to the police to clarify exactly what was held on the six journalists, why it was being held and when would it be deleted.
The third in the Press Freedom trilogy, the feature length film Domestic Extremist, is currently in production and due for release in 2019/2020.