Tuesday, 16 November 2010
POLICE CLOSING DOWN ANTI-POLICE WEBSITE BACKFIRES
Websites publish advice to student protesters on how to avoid arrest
Police act to close down anti-authority blog Fitwatch on grounds of 'criminal' activities
More than 70 websites today published guidance to student
protesters about avoiding arrest, in defiance of a police
ruling that doing so was unlawful.
The anti-police blog Fitwatch was suspended yesterday after
detectives from C011, the Metropolitan police's public
order branch, told the company hosting its website that it
was "being used to undertake criminal activities".
In a blogpost published hours earlier, Fitwatch gave advice
about avoiding arrest to students involved in last week's
protest at the Millbank headquarters of the Conservative
party. Fitwatch was removed soon afterwards, but tonight
the offending blogpost, which recommended that students
"get rid" of clothes they wore at the demonstration and
change their appearance, had been republished on an
additional 78 websites, including Facebook.
Many of the websites republishing the material were run by
political activists, who disseminated the material via
Twitter in what they described as a campaign to show the
futility of police censorship.
Fitwatch campaigners said they planned to get their
original website rehosted within 36 hours, adding that it
was also likely that they would republish the offending
In its original letter to Fitwatch's website hosting
service – JustHost.com – the Met's e-crime unit asked the
domain provider to suspend the website "for a minimum of 12
months". The letter, seen by the Guardian, said the
guidance to student protesters was "attempting to pervert
the course of justice" and "authority to close the website"
had been given by an acting detective inspector. The Met
said in a statement: "We were concerned this website was
giving information about destroying evidence. We drew this
to the attention of the internet infrastructure providers
and they suspended the site."
The force declined to say whether it would take the same
course of action against dozens of other websites that
published a verbatim copy of the guidance.
A largely peaceful demonstration against the proposed
increase in tuition fees turned violent last Wednesday when
a minority of the 50,000 protesters targeted Millbank.
Around 200 entered the building and some reached the roof.
During a period of rioting, windows and furniture were
smashed and, in the most serious act of violence, a fire
extinguisher was thrown towards police from the roof.
More than 50 people have been arrested, including an
18-year-old questioned on suspicion of attempted murder for
throwing the fire extinguisher. Yesterday police released
CCTV images of an additional 13 people they wanted to
question over the disturbances. The Daily Telegraph had
previously launched its own campaign to identify student
protesters, posting photographs of activists it suggested
had been involved in criminal activity.
The Fitwatch blogpost was presented as a response to the
Telegraph's initiative, which it described as an
"irresponsible and frenzied shop-a-student" campaign.
Issuing guidance to students who might be worried they
would be identified, the blog suggested they consider
getting rid of clothes, spray cans and "dodgy texts/photos
on your phone". It also recommended changing appearance.
"Perhaps now is a good time for a makeover," said the post.
"Get a haircut and colour, grow a beard, wear glasses. It
isn't a guarantee, but may help throw them off the scent."
It added: "The police often use the psychological pressure
of knowing they have your picture to persuade you to 'come
forward'. Unless you have a very pressing reason to do
otherwise, let them come and find you, if they know who you
Fitwatch was set up in 2007 by protesters seeking to oppose
what they saw as objectionable surveillance tactics used by
Forward Intelligence Teams (Fits), who use cameras to
monitor political activists. The site has proved
controversial among public order police officers, who found
their own names, badge numbers and photographs uploaded on