Yesterday I wrote about section 14 of the public order act, and how it allowed the police to effectively order protesters to move or to leave. Today section 14 was used in Lewes and it was all caught on camera by @taboacid
The protesters that were arrested were drinking tea outside of Boots in Lewes. They were not preventing anyone from entering as far as I know, simply refusing to move away when ordered to. (Since writing this I have been told that people collecting prescriptions were all let through, others were discouraged but not stopped.) How the police issued their section 14 notice is not clear. The police officer in the video clearly used the line “You will be arrested in breach of conditions imposed under section 14 of the public order act. These officers will now arrest you.” Police action so far is legal, but as far as I am concerned it should not be in their power to order anyone to move in this situation.
Later in the video is a more incriminating moment. A protester is “de-arrested” by the police but only after having her details taken. Quoting the video:
“She’s been de-arrested. She’s provided her details and she’s been de-arrested. She’ll be out of the van in a couple of moments once my colleagues have got everything they need.”
De-arrest means that no central record is ever made of the arrest, only that in the notebook of the officer concerned. Requests for statistics on de-arrests have been rejected because of this. De-arrest is necessary in some situations but the context in which it is usually used now is to force people to give their name and address to the arresting officer, clearly in breach of the intent of the law. There is no legal obligation to give identifying information to the police unless arrested, so the police have established a routine of threatening to arrest people unless they give information, and if that does not work then they arrest the person, take their details, then de-arrest them. This means that the police now know the identity of the person, but have no record of the arrest. Not only that, but the information that they have unethically seized is not stored as an official police record and so is not subject to the same controls. For an example of the sort of thing that the police do with the information, see this Guardian story about spotter cards used by the police at protests, and this comment by Mark Thomas on the same.
In a previous situation similar to this, the police denied that there was even any database involved. I think it is clear that they are abusing the definition of database in order to avoid regulation of their data tracking. Extract from their reply to a complaint:
“The information obtained under section 50 is subsequently recorded electronically and weeded after seven years. The fact that your details have been recorded in such a way does not constitute any form of formal police record, and would not be disclosed externally.
This video footage and your personal details are not cross-referenced, and the database which you allude to does not exist.”
The police may be working within the law, but it is clear to me that that in the case of coercing protesters to give identity information and “de-arresting” they are abusing the intent of the law to keep records on people guilty of nothing except exercising their essential democratic right to protest, and in creating section 14 of the public order act MPs have given dangerous powers to the police that threaten our democracy.