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Websites defy UK coppers

by on17 November 2010

Publish legal advice to demonstrators
Despite being told by UK coppers that helping demonstrators is against the law, more than 70 websites published guides to student protesters about avoiding arrest. Coppers closed down the anti-police blog Fitwatch 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". The criminal activity involved giving advice to students about how to avoid arrest after last week's protest at the Millbank headquarters of the Conservative party.

Amongst the advice was for students to "get rid" of clothes they wore at the demonstration and change their appearance. It has since been republished on an additional 78 websites, including Facebook and is pretty much obvious. The websites are run by political activists who said that it was part of a campaign to show the futility of police censorship. Fitwatch promised to get their original website rehosted within 36 hours and that it would republish the offending article.

According to the Guardian, Inspector Knacker of the Yard wrote to the Fitwatch ISP and said that the guidance to student protesters was an attempt to pervert the course of justice. The authority to close the website had been given by an acting detective inspector. The Met has said that it was 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. Strangely the assumption is that protesters should sit and wait to be arrested and not defend themselves against police charges. Clearly Inspector Knacker does not really understand the concept of civil disobediance.

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. Yesterday police released CCTV images of an additional 13 people they wanted to have a word with. Fitwatch wrote the story in response to a Daily Telegraph story of the demo. It launched a campaign to identify student protesters, posting photographs of activists it suggested had been involved in criminal activity. Fitwatch claimed that the Telegraph's initiative, was an "irresponsible and frenzied shop-a-student" campaign.

It warned that coppers 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."

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.
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