Following the student riots in central London last week (see SchNEWS 747), on Monday evening the Met Police told the hosts of the FIT WATCH website to close it down on the grounds that it was “being used to undertake criminal activities”. In a letter from the police, the company Justhost.com were warned that the website was being used in an attempt “to pervert the course of justice”, demanding that it be taken down for twelve months. Before this could happen several other sites published the offending text from Fitwatch, which was advice to the students facing arrest after smashing up the Tory HQ. Fitwatch is now back online.
Newswire: Fitwatch website suspended for "attempting to pervert the course of justice" | Police Fitwatch Blog Censorship Attempt Laughed Off By Internet | "We're Back" - http://www.fitwatch.org.uk back online | The email that closed the fitwatch site | Last Fitwatch post before the site was suspended | FW Press Release:Police shut down activist website | http://fitwatch.org.uk has been suspended | Fitwatch website suspended for "attempting to pervert the course of justice" | FITWATCH SUSPENDED: Show Solidarity & Make Sure The Students Are Well Advised
Still smarting from the failure to contain the student rioters in central London (see SchNEWS 747), the Met are peevishly taking out their anger against an old enemy. On Monday evening the hosts of the FIT WATCH website were asked to close it down on the grounds of it “being used to undertake criminal activities”. In a letter from the MET, the company Justhost.com were warned that the website was being used in an attempt “to pervert the course of justice”. The DI demanded that the site be taken down for ‘twelve months’. Deciding caution was the better part of valour, Justhost decided to take it down.
In fact all that the FITWATCH site had done was hand out sensible and timely advice to those who caught up in the right wing witch hunt for the brave folks who trashed Tory HQ. The Telegraph has run a shop-a-rioter feature and the SUN has named individuals they claim were involved in violence. David Cameron has demanded that the ‘full weight of the law’ be brought against those involved. Given the hammering that the defendants in the Gaza protests (see SchNEWS 710) took, anyone who has the slightest fear that they might get picked up would do well to heed FITWATCH’s advice.
FIT TO BURST
For two days then, cyber-cops stopped a few people from looking at the FITWATCH site. SchNEWS tracked one of the not particularly shadowy figures behind FITWATCH. “It’s been been real success. We’ve reached an audience we’ve never been able to before - They forced us to take the website down - but now we’re in the Guardian, BBC” (even SchNEWS!)
“The advice on the site was almost immediately reprinted on dozens of sites. And in any case the site is now back up under its own steam, with a different host and a secure server. “This pathetic attempt has failed miserably. Within minutes of networking what had happened, people were re-publishing the post anywhere and everywhere. There are now over 100 sites carrying the original post – we haven’t managed to count them all. We have been overwhelmed by the support and solidarity and send massive thanks to everyone who’s offered to help and reposted the information.
“By making vague threats of illegality to a net hosting company the cops were able to bypass such boring democratic details as a court of law. Although the communication was sent by the Met’s e-crime unit, according to FITWATCH the letter originated from one Acting Detective Inspector Will Hodgeson, who works for CO11, the METs public order intelligence unit, who run the notorious FIT teams (see SchNEWS 639). "They’ve acted extra-legally - it’s one thing to take us to court but this was a way of getting around that. It was an obvious attempt to give us a hard time - the usual harassment, bullying and disruption. It was a way of getting to us outside the court system."
FITWATCH as a practice arose out of the need to confront the chilling effect constant police surveillance was having on activism. Within a year of starting, people adopting the tactics had forced police cameramen away to the fringes of our gatherings.
This was all instrumental in focussing public and media attention on police interaction with demonstrators. But by publishing the names, numbers and photographs of the country’s political police, its no surprise that FITWATCH have made enemies amongst the boys in blue.
Our interviewee said, “This isn’t the first time that the FITWATCH blog has come up. The cops think they have a pretty good idea who’s behind it. The blog has twice been introduced as evidence in Obstruct Police court cases to do with actions against police surveillance, but it has been ruled inadmissible. Certainly people have been asked about it in interviews. They’ve been thinking about what to do about it for a while”.
And for entertainment purposes only... here’s that controversial advice in full:
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...
DON’T 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.
DON’T 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.
DON’T 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.
* See www.fitwatch.org.uk
Also in SchNEWS 748: City Subs Picket Shame - Journalists in local rags across the country go on strike against redundancies and squeezes | Degrees Of Resistance - Protests kick off again with student occupations at several campuses around the country. | France: Screws Loose - French prison wardens blockade prisons and clash with police after spate of prisoner suicides. | Love To Haiti - Riots in Haiti as locals suffer cholera epidemic which they claim was brought to country by UN soldiers. | There Will Be Mud - Drilling for oil to start in the South Downs National Park near Chichester, West Sussex | New Feature: Dyer Warnings - SchNEWS interviews Gwynne Dyer about the dire warnings about a post-climate change world in his book 'The Climate Wars'. | And Finally - ITT worker in US steals military hardware from work and tries to sell it on Ebay.