Please take time to look through my Police Surveillance Gallery!! I have included pictures of the many styles of equipment being used to watch, gain intelligence and, they hope, ultimately subvert the intentions of people involved in dissent. I think that they also may give you an idea of what it is like being me!! This is the kind of scrutiny that many of us have to live our lives under.
Many of us had felt under surveillance for some time but since the Beanfield, their was a marked increase in their activities. Records were being made of names, nicknames, vehicle registration and undercover operations carried out. Photographs taken.
The year after Castlemorton Common, the police set up Operation Snapshot, an intelligence-gathering exercise on raves and Travellers, designed to establish a database of personal details, names, nicknames, vehicle registration numbers, Traveller sites and movements. Undercover operations carried out. Photographs taken.
This information was used as a backbone for an ongoing intelligence operation begun by the Southern Central Intelligence Unit (SCIU), operated from Devizes in Wiltshire and initially co-ordinated by PC Malcolm Keene. The SCIU held regular meetings with representatives of all the constabularies of Britain. Leaked documents revealed that Operation Snapshot had estimated there to be around 2,000 Travellers vehicles and 8,000 Traveller’s in the UK.
In the minutes of a meeting held at Devizes on March 30th 1993, the objectives of the operation included the development of “a system whereby intelligence could be taken into the control room, and the most up-to-date intelligence was to hand”….. “capable of high-speed input and retrieval and dissemination of information.” The meeting was attended by constabulary representatives from Bedfordshire, Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Dyfed-Powys, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, South Wales, Gwent, Staffordshire, Thames Valley, Warwickshire, Surrey, Suffolk, West Mercia, West Midlands, Ministry of Defence and the National Criminal Intelligence Service (Hampshire and Essex sent apologies).
They were all asked and all agreed to provide the Southern Central Intelligence Unit with “any information, no matter how small on New Age Travellers or the Rave scene”. The leaked minutes revealed the database was designed to hold one million items of information. Clearly this is a number far in excess of those that have committed any offences.
After a short period the Northern New Age Traveller Co-ordination Unit, designed to cover the north of Britain, was established and operated from Penrith in Cumbria.
Liberty has challenged this police monitoring at the European Court of Human Rights. They said:
“Targeting the whole of the travelling community is beyond the European Conventions’ limitations. Just because someone is a `new age traveller’ doesn’t mean that they are involved in crime.”
At the conservative Party Conference, the Prime Minister, John Major reminded the party faithful:
“Society needs to condemn a little more and
understand a little less.
New age travellers?
Not in this age!
Not in any age!!”
Criminal Justice Act 1994
The scene was set for a further tightening of the screw. In 1994, the government passed the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. This piece of legislation is very lengthy and far-reaching. It has a number of provisions that directly affect the lifestyles of many people with which I have been involved.
Travellers in particular and others taking direct action to deal with their housing situation are primarily affected. The provisions of part five of the Act have been given particular attention by civil liberties groups such as liberty. They believe that many sections are effectively designed to outlaw a whole way of life and generally erode human rights.
On these sections, Liberty explain that:
“No gathering of more than twenty people may take place anywhere if the police choose to object, unless some landowner has consented to his or her land being used for this purpose (in which case, the landowner may incur legal liability for the actions of those who gather).”
Further, they point out that:
“These clauses are probably in breach of Article 11 of the European Convention (Freedom of Assembly). Concern is expressed at the sections which apply to gatherings with music and are targeted at festivals and `raves’.”
For travellers and those involved in peaceful protest on private property (environmental activists), section 61 on the CJA is even more draconian than the previous Public Order Act.
Section 61 now provides a power for the senior police officer present at a scene to direct trespassers on land to move if:
(a) six or more vehicles are present (previously 12)
(b) damage is caused to the land or property on the land. (previously damage to gates fences etc. now the land itself i.e. tyre marks on the grass!!)
Penalties for this offence, or to return within three months, can mean a £2,500 fine or three months imprisonment, or both.
Further, section 62 allows the police to seize and remove vehicles when they have issued a direction and it has been ignored. Further sections of the Act enable the seized vehicles to be held until all removal and storage charges are paid. Fees to reclaim motors from one of the five `holding pounds’ that have been established are likely to be high. An uncollected vehicle will eventually be destroyed and a further charge made for this!
The Act at large criminalizes diversity and dissent and thus has implications for the wider population e.g. Trade Union activity and local protests about services (the hospital, the by-pass, the local factory etc.). Fundamentally, many of its provisions are about land rights. What one can (and cannot) do on land. Which is, of course, nearly always someone else’s.
In addition to the police surveillance described earlier, further monitoring information was gathered via social security offices. The working party report on Itinerant Claimants prepared for the DHSS in 1986 advised that “in the interests of advance warning and the safety of staff, we recommend better liaison with the police.”
A 1993 internal Benefits Agency bulletin (issue 24/93) headed `New Age Travellers’ and marked “not to be released into the public domain”, stated:
“Offices will be aware of the adverse reaction from the media following the treatment of claims from this client group last summer [Castlemorton]. Ministers are concerned that the Benefits Agency and Employment Services take all necessary steps to ensure that claims from this group are scrutinised carefully.”
The bulletin reports that a National Task Force has been set up to “monitor the movements of such groups of Travellers” and to “inform relevant District managers of their approach and numbers”.
In the back of the bulletin is a list of telephone numbers for all the regional police contacts in both the Northern New Age Traveller Co-ordination Unit and the Southern Central Intelligence Unit.
Every constabulary in the country, including the Ministry of Defence police, had at least one but usually several, such co-ordinators. Also included in the bulletin was a possible itinerary of festivals for summer 1993.
In 1995, the Benefit Agency conducted a census of New Age Traveller benefit claimants including their personal details. A leaked copy of the results suggested there to be 2,000 such claimants. In July 1996, more leaked documents revealed that the Agency was once again asking regional offices to carry out a census, the results of which are as yet unavailable. After October 7th 1996, when the Job Seekers Allowance scheme began, benefit may be halted if “appearance” or “attitude” “actively militates against getting a job”. The implications for the further selective targeting of the Traveller community are obvious.
The extraordinary lengths taken by the authorities to annihilate the new Traveller population in the UK are a testament to the treatment meted out to cultural minorities outside `acceptable’ norms.
The use of legislation, intelligence, targeted harassment, benefit clampdowns and news-manufacture have been employed as a multi-tactic approach stretched across a ten year period.
Such strategies are often achieved without public knowledge; with the length of time over which they are employed, diffusing recognition of their mechanism and ultimate intention. What is clear, however, is that rather than seek to democratically accommodate an expanding community culture, Margaret Thatcher’s government and those who replaced her, sought instead to annihilate it. The social consequences are immense.
The festival circuit, once an evolving people-led celebration and community co-operation, now lies largely in the hands of profit-motivated commercial promoters. Meanwhile, the travelling community, fractionalised by an annihilation strategy, now displays symptoms reminiscent of the inner cities from which many had fled.
However, despite the worst excesses of the cultural clampdown, some travellers remain secreted all over the country. Many are now in smaller groups, inconspicuous and unregistered if not drawing benefit.
So, there you have it ….. Since its enactment, many thousands of travellers have left the country in anticipation of the crackdown on their lifestyle to come.
Who knows what next!!
Some have gone to Europe and beyond being concerned for their families future in Britain.
Perhaps I may join them!
I believe that the communities described represent genuine endeavours in discovering enduring and sustainable ways of life and conducting experiments in how we and the planet may survive. I wish them well in these uncertain times.
Don’t let the bastards grind you down!
Alan Lodge (Tash)
“My mind was not at rest, because nothing was acted; and thoughts ran in me that words and writings were nothing and must die; for action is life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing.
Garrard Winstanley 1649