Thursday, March 29, 2007

Lewisham police harass campaigners

by New Worker correspondent

THE NORTHERN end of Lewisham High Street in south London is a regular Saturday morning haunt for a variety of left-wing paper sellers and campaigners: Stop the War, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Socialist Workers’ Party, the New Communist Party and others. It is a scene of regular debate and discussion with the passing public and among the different paper sellers but usually uneventful.
Last Saturday the biggest problem seemed to be the icy wind until a police car arrived with flashing lights, from the police station immediately across the road.
Two policewomen jumped out and began video filming all the political activists but focussing first on the PSC campaigners. They were challenged immediately and replied that they had no problem with what the activists were doing but they had been ordered to film “for intelligence purposes”.
The police described the presence of the activists as “a demonstration” and did not recognise that several different organisations were there – they asked to speak to “the organiser” – and that the activity was limited to selling papers, giving out leaflets and collecting petition signatures – even though much the same thing has happened every Saturday for more than 20 years.
The police learned nothing they could not have learned simply by looking out of their windows or by walking across the road and talking to the campaigners. Clearly the police agenda was intimidation. But their dramatic action had an opposite effect and provoked a storm of protest and instant mobile phone complaints to local councillors and MPs. But it did give the campaigners an opportunity to point out to the shoppers of Lewisham how this country is descending rapidly into a police state.
Meanwhile the Home Office is planning a major upgrade of the CCTV network that will advance the “surveillance society”. New laws will require camera operators to ensure that their equipment produces images good enough for police investigations.
Britain has by far the largest number of surveillance cameras – around five million – in public and private hands or one for every 12 people. The Government claims it is necessary to increase them in order to fight terrorism.
Police are also to gain new powers to seize trespassers at 16 sites around Britain. They range from royal palaces to the official residences of politicians.
Currently police are not allowed to arrest trespassers as long as they agree to be escorted from the site.
But police are to be given more powers at “protected sites”. Up to now such places have been military bases and nuclear power stations. If someone trespasses on them, they run the risk of six months in prison or a £5,000 fine, under the provisions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, amended by the Terrorism Act 2006.