UK Peace Activist To Sue Police Over Secret Surveillance
John Catt, aged 86, has had his presence at peaceful protests systematically logged by secretive police unit over four years
An 86-year-old man has been granted permission to launch a lawsuit against police chiefs who have classified him as a “domestic extremist” and kept a detailed record of his political activities on a clandestine database.
John Catt, who has no criminal record, is bringing the high court action against a secretive police unit which systematically logged his presence at more than 55 peace and human rights protests over a four-year period.
Some of the entries record his habit of taking out his sketch pad and drawing the scene at demonstrations. Other entries contain notes on his appearance – such as “clean shaven” – and the slogans on his clothes.
His lawsuit will challenge the power of police to compile secret files on law-abiding protesters.
A victory for Catt, a pensioner who lives in Brighton, would be a further blow to the police unit, which has been criticised for using undercover officers to infiltrate protest groups.
The exposure of spies such as Mark Kennedy, who spent seven years working undercover in the environmental movement, has highlighted the way in which the National Public Order Intelligence Unit has been carrying out surveillance of protesters.
The unit has been compiling a huge, nationwide database of thousands of protesters for more than a decade, drawing on intelligence from undercover officers, uniformed surveillance teams, informants in protest groups and covert intercepts.
Police claim the unit only monitors so-called “domestic extremists”, whom they define as hardcore activists who commit crime to further their political aims.
Catt, a campaigner for many years, is one of the few activists confirmed to be on the database.
He says he is “committed to protesting through entirely peaceful means” and told the Guardian he was “shocked and terrified” after he saw the extent of the files held on him. He obtained them using the Data Protection Act.
In legal papers, he describes how the files record the political aims of the demonstrations he attended between 2005 and 2009, “highly personalised” information about his appearance and “hearsay evidence and police officers’ opinions”.