Tuesday, 16 November 2010


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
the internet.



he remarkable and brilliant student action at Millbank has produced some predictable frothing at the mouth from the establishment and right wing press. Cameron has called for the ‘full weight of the law’ to fall on those who had caused tens of thousands of pounds of damage to the expensive decor at Tory party HQ. Responsibility is being placed on ‘a violent faction’, after the march was‘infiltrated’ by anarchists.

There are an encouraging number of intiatives to show solidarity with the arrested students – something that is vital if they are to avoid the sort of punitive ‘deterrent’ sentences handed out to the Gaza demonstrators. A legal support group has been established and the National Campaign against Cuts and Fees has started a support campaign. Goldsmiths lecturers union has publicly commended the students for a ‘magnificent demonstration’ .

This is all much needed, as the establishment is clearly on the march with this one. The Torygraph has published an irresponsible and frenzied ‘shop-a-student’ piece and the Met are clearly under pressure to produce ‘results’ after what they have admitted was a policing ‘embarrassment’.

51 people have been arrested so far, and the police have claimed they took the details of a further 250 people in the kettle using powers under the Police Reform Act. There may be more arrests to come.

Students who are worried should consider taking the following actions:

If you have been arrested, or had your details taken – contact the legal support campaign. As a group you can support each other, and mount a coherent campaign.

If you fear you may be arrested as a result of identification by CCTV, FIT or press photography;

DONT panic. Press photos are not necessarily conclusive evidence, and just because the police have a photo of you doesn’t mean they know who you are.

DONT hand yourself in. 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 are.

DO get rid of your clothes. There is no chance of suggesting the bloke in the video is not you if the clothes he is wearing have been found in your wardrobe. Get rid of ALL clothes you were wearing at the demo, including YOUR SHOES, your bag, and any distinctive jewellery you were wearing at the time. Yes, this is difficult, especially if it is your only warm coat or decent pair of boots. But it will be harder still if finding these clothes in your flat gets you convicted of violent disorder.

DONT assume that because you can identify yourself in a video, a judge will be able to as well. ‘That isn’t me’ has got many a person off before now.

DO keep away from other demos for a while. The police will be on the look-out at other demos, especially student ones, for people they have put on their ‘wanted’ list. Keep a low profile.

DO think about changing your appearance. Perhaps now is a good time for a make-over. Get a haircut and colour, grow a beard, wear glasses. It isn’t a guarantee, but may help throw them off the scent.

DO keep your house clean. Get rid of spray cans, demo related stuff, and dodgy texts / photos on your phone. Don’t make life easy for them by having drugs, weapons or anything illegal in the house.

DO get the name and number of a good lawyer you can call if things go badly. The support group has the names of recommended lawyers on their site. Take a bit of time to read up on your rights in custody, especially the benefits of not commenting in interview.

DO be careful who you speak about this to. Admit your involvement in criminal damage / disorder ONLY to people you really trust.

DO try and control the nerves and panic. Waiting for a knock on the door is stressful in the extreme, but you need to find a way to get on with business as normal. Otherwise you’ll be serving the sentence before you are even arrested.

This post is also available on google at:http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:qv4goBQOpDYJ:www.fitwatch.org.uk/+fitwatch&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-a

No comments: