Local FIT Watch Activist Arrested and Beaten

On the 4th March a Cardiff woman was arrested during a protest against an anti-abortion rally held by Anne Widdecombe. The woman, Val, claims that the arrest was a vindictive response to her involvement in a campaign against the data profiling of political activists by the police. The Cardiff protest was peaceful and without incident, and witnesses back up the woman’s claims that she was engaged only in taking photographs of the event, and that she did nothing to have provoked the arrest.

The reason for arrest, even from the police perspective appears remarkably trivial. The arresting officer claimed that Val used an elbow to obstruct him as he was moving through the crowd in order to deal with a group of people who were allegedly smoking cannabis. Val considers this ridiculous. “My only recollection is that a police officer pushed past, turned around and then arrested me for obstruction. His story is that I used my elbow to deliberately obstruct his progress. How on earth could I do that? I was talking to friends and had my back to him, I didn’t even see him until he pushed past. And surely it would take more than someone’s elbow in the way to stop a police officer moving to deal with what he saw as a criminal offence. The whole story is absurd.”

Later on, according to one witness, the arresting officer was overheard speaking to another officer on the scene, allegedly stating that ‘it was something and nothing’ but that he ‘just wanted her out of the way’.

Having been arrested and taken to Fairwater police station, Val claims that she was subjected to a forced strip search. According to Val’s statement, the police forced her onto the floor and used restraints and ‘pain compliance’ techniques to remove her clothes, including her underwear. During this time, and while she remained restrained on the floor completely naked from the waist down, one of the police officers shouted repeatedly that she was a ‘fucking bitch’, that this was ‘making her day’ and that it would ‘teach’ her a lesson.

Normal procedure for prisoners arriving at a police station is that they are taken to the custody suite for booking in. Instead of this, Val was bundled straight into a cell and told that as a result of a history of self harm and mental illness she was going to be stripped of all clothing. At this point she had not even given her name. “I told them that they had made a mistake, that I had no history of self harm or any other mental health problem”, Val said, “But it made no difference – they weren’t interested.” Conveniently for the police, the cell had no CCTV.

Val links her arrest and treatment in detention to her involvement in ‘Fitwatch’. Fitwatch is a website and loose group of people who monitor the activities of Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT). FIT are police officers who compile data profiles, using photographic and other data, of individuals involved in protest and political activity. FIT teams have also often been accused of harassing and intimidating organisers of protest events.

There have been two court cases recently in which the police have failed to gain convictions against Fitwatch activists for physically blocking the view of their cameras. The police have failed to prove the lawfulness of their data gathering activities and it may be that the FIT have been effectively stopped from using force to take photographs without consent, something they very often did in the past. In London Fitwatch is organising activists to take action to protect themselves from the intrusiveness of overt police surveillance. CO11, the public order unit of the Metropolitan Police and home of the FITs, is less than amused.
“I’m well known by some of the officers in CO11 and the London FIT teams, because of my involvement in the campaign against them”, said Val. “Twice we have had victories in court. They know we have the law behind us, and it is limiting the sort of abuses of power that CO11 got away with in the past. I’m not popular.

“I do not want to get overly conspiratorial or paranoid about this, but clearly there are a number of questions here. How did the police on the scene that night know who I was, and why did they feel that they should want me ‘out of the way’? What information or ‘profiling’ was this based on? And how many other people have suffered because of inaccurate or vindictive information passed between police forces?”

Val appears in Cardiff Magistrates Court at 9am on 28th March, where she will enter a plea of not guilty to the charges laid against her. Supporters are welcome. Anyone who thinks they may be a witness can reach Val by e-mailing Fitwatch at defycops@yahoo.co.uk. Further information about Fitwatch can be found at www.fitwatch.blogspot.com

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~ by cardiffabc on March 21, 2008.

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