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The controversy comes as police arrested a 57th person in connection with last week's student march through London, which ended in violent scenes. As police face continued criticism for failing to control the march, the Observer has learned that defence firms are working closely with UK armed forces and contemplating a "militarisation" strategy to counter the threat of civil disorder.
The trade group representing the military and security industry says firms are in negotiation with senior officers over possible orders for armoured vehicles, body scanners and better surveillance equipment.
The move coincides with government-backed attempts to introduce the use of unmanned spy drones throughout UK airspace, facilitating an expansion of covert surveillance that could provide intelligence on future demonstrations.
Derek Marshall, of the trade body Aerospace, Defence and Security (ADS), said that such drones could eventually replace police helicopters.
He added that military manufacturers had discussed police procurement policies with the government, as forces look to counter an identified threat of civil disobedience from political extremists.
Meanwhile police sources say they have detected an increase in the criminal intentions of political extremists and are monitoring "extreme leftwing activity" in light of last week's student protest.
The office of the National Co-ordinator for Domestic Extremism (NCDE) said it was feeding information to Scotland Yard's National Public Order Intelligence Unit, which holds a database of protest groups. NCDE, which in turn works closely with the Confidential Intelligence Unit that monitors political groups throughout the UK, said it had already recorded a rise in politically motivated disorder.
An NCDE insider said: "Over the past year there has been an increase in the criminal activity committed by such individuals but this is committed by a very small minority".
An internal Metropolitan police report is expected to be completed this week into why senior officers failed to anticipate the violence during last Wednesday's student demonstration.
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