Saturday, 11 October 2014

Met. Police Refuse to confirm or deny spying

CAMPAIGNERS against the construction industry blacklist have reacted with anger after the Metropolitan Police (MPS) refused to 'neither confirm no deny' (NCND) whether the Blacklist Support Group is under surveillance by undercover police units including Special Branch. The statement from the MPS came in a response to a Freedom of Information request on 9th October 2014 sent to investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain. The Metropolitan Police Service chose to justify their stance by quoting Section 24(2) claiming that it was in the 'public interest' for them to refuse to 'confirm or deny in order to safeguard national security'.
It was been confirmed in a Select Committee investigation that the undercover police unit known as the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU) attended and gave Powerpoint presentations to meetings of the Consulting Association blacklisting organisation. The MPS letter identifies the guidance on this issue as follows:
'IF ASKED: is it true that NETCU shared information with the Consulting Association?
We do not discuss matters of intelligence'.
Supt Steve Pearl, who ran NECTU, is now a director at Agenda Security Services, which provides employment vetting services. His former boss, ex-Assistant chief Constable Anton Setchell was the senior police officer in charge of the entire UK police’s domestic extremism machinery between 2004 and 2010 is currently head of global security at Laing O’Rourke – one of the construction companies which was a Consulting Association member.
The Police are under no legal obligation to adopt a NCND defence, as the Freedom of Information Act allows for statement confirming or denying for public interest reasons, where it may:
'inform issues that are currently the subject of public debate in relation to government surveillance and improve the quality and accuracy of public debate, which may otherwise be steeped in rumour and speculation'

Given the huge public interest in the undercover police surveillance of women activists deliberately targeted by officers from the Special Demonstration Squad and other secret political police units, it seems a difficult decision to justify. The NCND defence adopted by the MPS in relation to the women activists was defeated in the High Court in September. Some of the women activists currently suing the Metropolitan Police themselves appear on the Consulting Association blacklist.

The Met. Police Service letter admits:
'legitimate public interest in informing public debate in relation to issues surrounding surveillance tactics' and notes that 'the Blacklist Support Group and the wider issues regarding the practice of blacklisting'  but still adopted a NCND stance.
A number of blacklist activists, including Blacklist Support Group secretary Dave Smith have been refused copies of their own personal police files made under Subject Access Requests on the basis that providing the documents may jeopardise ongoing criminal investigations.
Smith responded to the latest Met Police statement:
'It is without doubt that the police and security services are spying on trade unionists fighting for justice on the issue of blacklisting.  They have colluded with big business to deliberately target trade unionism over decades. Shrewsbury, Orgreave, Blacklisting; the list goes on and on.  The refusal to provide any information whatsoever smacks of an establishment cover-up.  Blacklisting is no longer an industrial relations issue: it is a human rights conspiracy.' 
Lawyers working for the Blacklist Support Group have submitted a complaint to the Internal Police Complaints Council about the role of the police in blacklisting. Despite accusations of an establishment cover-up, even the police were forced to admit the flow of information was not purely one way.
Sarah McSherry, solicitor from Imran Khan and Partners said:
'While correspondence from the police in relation to this complaint continually raises concerns about the quality of their investigation, it is interesting to note that they confirm that they have identified a potential “flow of information between Special Branch and the construction industry'.

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