In February 2013, Tom and Therezia returned from a research trip in Palestine separately, with a 10-day gap separating their arrival back in the UK. They were both stopped at Luton airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. As the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) has previously reported, this law is frequently used by the police to gather intelligence about activists. Schedule 7 is unique in that it is a law that provides the police with the power to stop, search and detain people without suspicion. It is also an arrestable offence not to answer questions, punishable on conviction with a three-month custodial sentence or a fine. Moreover, you have no right to advice from your solicitor, although you are often granted a phone call to your solicitor on request. The guidance to the law clearly states that Schedule 7 “should only be used to counter terrorism and may not be used for any other purpose.” (For the full wording of the Association of Chief Police Officers’ (ACPO) Practice Advice on Schedule 7, see here).
The two Corporate Watch researchers had spent the past month and a half in Palestine, where they carried out research for Corporate Watch on companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. This is a continuation of an already existing project and the information gained will be used to aid the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli apartheid, occupation and militarism. Everything they find out is in the public domain, with information published on Corporate Watch’s main website and our Corporate Occupation blog, as well as through Twitter and other social networking media. The two researchers regularly talk about this work at public meetings and presentations. All this openness, however, has not prevented the British police from using terrorism legislation to force them to sit and answer questions about their work under the threat of arrest and prosecution.
As long-term anti-capitalist, anti-arms trade and BDS activists, Tom and Therezia are well aware that the police take an interest in anyone trying to challenge state interests or the behaviour of corporations. It is apparent that the Terrorism Act 2000 is used to expand the profiles of activists held on police databases, despite the fact that it was brought onto the statute book solely for the purpose of investigating terrorism.
Below are personal accounts by the two researchers of their Schedule 7 stops, followed by some related statements by other organisations.
I have been stopped under Schedule 7 three times, twice when returning from Palestine via Tel Aviv and once when travelling to Egypt.
In 2010, myself and Therezia travelled to Israel, the West Bank and the Syrian Golan to do research for Corporate Watch. On my return I was stopped at Gatwick airport by a male and a female officer, who told me they were from Special Branch, and detained for questioning under the Terrorism Act. They told me they wanted to question me because of my “links to Smash EDO and Corporate Watch”. They searched my bags and asked me if I was carrying any phones or laptops (I wasn’t). They allowed me to call a solicitor but did not allow me to wait until she arrived before interviewing me. They told me that I did not have the right to remain silent and that I could be prosecuted if I did not answer questions.
The male officer took the lead in questioning me. They asked me a lot of questions about the research I had been doing, why I did it and how Corporate Watch supported itself as an organisation. They asked me for the names of everyone I had spoken to and interviewed on my trip, which I refused to give. They asked why these people trusted me enough to speak to me and whether they would trust me again if I returned. I tried to be as vague as possible, just talking rubbish and hoping they would get bored. They asked about my politics, my opinion of British policy in the Middle East and my religious beliefs. They varied their approach from being pally and avuncular (“we just want to get to know you”) to threatening to carry on questioning me for hours or prosecute me if I was “evasive”. They did not tape-record the conversation; just took notes. The majority of the questions related to my work for Corporate Watch, documenting companies complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. The interview lasted for over an hour.
In 2011, I was stopped at Gatwick airport again for about half an hour on my way to Egypt and quizzed about my address and where I worked.
Last week I was returning from another research trip in Palestine. My flight had been late and I was worried about being able to get transport home if I was stopped for a long time. Two male officers from Bedfordshire Police stopped me and handed me a leaflet about Schedule 7. This time the questions related to my work for Corporate Watch, the BDS movement, the Smash EDO campaign and student protests.
They asked me about Corporate Watch, whether I got paid and what the information in our articles is used for. They wanted to know what the last article I’d written was and which companies I had written about.
They asked about BDS campaigns against Agrexco, Ahava, G4S and SodaStream. They said, disapprovingly, that I had been arrested many times but had not often been convicted. They even told me I was involved in organising a demonstration against SodaStream on 3rd March, which I had never heard of.
They also wanted to know about the International Solidarity Movement, a movement supporting Palestinian non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation. Did it have offices in the UK? What were the names of the people involved? I said I didn’t know.
They then said that this was a “rare opportunity” to speak to me and wanted to know what my impression of police tactics against the student movement was. They wanted to know why the groups I am involved in “do not notify the police” before demonstrating. “The English Defence League (EDL) are happy to talk to us, so why aren’t you?” they added.
Again, they asked me where I stood in the “hierarchy of the Smash EDO campaign”; I said there wasn’t any hierarchy. They were incredulous and asked me who people had to come to if they wanted to organise a demonstration.
At the end of the ‘interview’, which lasted about an hour, one of the officer said: “You understand, we’re just trying to find out if you are involved in violence or terrorism.” I replied that none of their questions had related to terrorism at all so I didn’t believe that was really what they were interested in.
Schedule 7 is clearly being used as a tool to find out more about activists involved in a wide variety of types of political dissent and to provide profiles of activists for the police to use in trying to undermine political movements. None of the questions about movements in the UK were designed to root out terrorism or uncover the preparation for terrorism. In fact, the movements concerned have never even been accused of terrorism (with the exception of completely false accusations made against the ISM, see here). They do, however, pose a threat to state interests and the profits of private companies.
The police are also using Schedule 7 to gather information about the research being carried out by Corporate Watch. Our research is used by a variety of individuals and social movements to inform action against corporations and for social change. Corporate Watch is not involved in any direct campaigning but provides information for action and to inform analyses. The questions being asked of us about our work have serious ramifications for freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The implication is that our work exposing corporate power can in some way be linked to terrorism.
I have been stopped under Schedule 7 on two occasions. I was stopped in 2011 on the way to Egypt and in February 2013 at Luton Airport on the way back from Tel Aviv.
In 2013, I was stopped at about 11.30pm, just after passport control, by two officers from Bedfordshire police who said they wanted to have a “little chat”. I was taken into a side room and the female officer said that she’d like to talk to me “because of where I had flown in from.”
Once we were sitting down and she began to ask me questions it became obvious that it wasn’t just a random thing but that they had stopped me with a purpose. They asked me about a lot of campaigns that I had been involved in and about the work I had been doing in Israel, and how many times I’ve been there. About half an hour into the interview I asked why I had been stopped and they gave me a piece of paper saying that I had been stopped under Schedule 7. I had not asked earlier as I had guessed, but the information was not openly offered to me at the beginning.
They started out by asking how I had travelled to Israel. I said we had travelled through Egypt. They asked what we were doing there, who we had met and why we had taken that route. I told them that we were doing research for Corporate Watch in Israel and the Occupied Territories. One of them asked why I was saying the “Occupied Territories” and what I meant. I said I would refer to it as Palestine. They asked how we communicated the information that we gathered out to people, which people we had met, where we had been staying for the duration of our trip, what organisations we had spoken to. They asked about our website and twitter account. They said they would take my computer so they would be able to get the information anyway, so I’d better just tell them.
They asked me if I got paid for the work I was doing, how Corporate Watch was funded, if I had other jobs and who booked my flight. They seemed very interested in how our research trips were funded.
They knew that our research was related to the boycott movement but asked for examples of companies we wrote about. They asked about what we had found, and what new information we were looking for. They asked what the aim of publishing the information was. I answered that there are hundreds of companies profiting from the occupation and that we are interested in all of them. They listed a lot of BDS campaigns and asked about my activist experience and the aims of the global boycott movement, why I got involved in Palestine solidarity and when. They asked me to tell them about Palestine, to educate them. They said “We’re just trying to find out what makes you tick… As we don’t get a chance to talk to you very often.”
They were also very interested in the “hierarchy” of activist groups in general, and in particular in relation to the BDS movement. They were interested in who the “leaders” of certain groups were and tried to suggest I was one of them. When I said all groups I work with are non-hierarchical, they said: “It is all very wishy-washy, isn’t it?” They asked about specific campaigns such as those against Ahava, EDO and SodaStream, and asked me about my research into Israeli agricultural produce (there was a day of action against Israeli agricultural companies the following day). They also seemed interested in how the wider international BDS movement operates and how people come together to take action.
The information they were asking for was not information that relates to terrorism. It was about protest groups and campaigns. Really mundane questions like: Where do you print the leaflets? What was the last flier and article you wrote? Where do you get your money from? What sort of bands do benefit gigs for you? and so on. When I said “mainly punk”, they asked: “So are you an anarchist then?” When I answered that I prefer not to define myself as anything, they responded: “Come on, with this background you must have a bit of anarchy in you!” They also asked about my religion, my family background and my relationship with my parents.
I questioned them a couple of times about whether some of these questions were relevant to what they were trying to investigate but they kept on saying that I’d better answer or they could officially detain me. They asked me some questions about my partner and named some other people but I said I wouldn’t talk about other people. They kept on saying “we know a lot about you”. They mentioned my other job, just to let me know that they knew what I did for a living. They asked me a couple times about my nationality and how long I’ve been in the UK and said they had a right to monitor who comes in and out of the country. I didn’t feel particularly intimidated by it as I’ve always assumed they gather this kind of information, and a lot of the information is in the open anyway, but I think these interviews are partly designed to intimidate.
I was kept for one hour and fifty minutes. They took my phone, camera and laptop for 7 days, the maximum in their power, and sent a Sussex Police Detective to my address to return it. My things were taken by Bedfordshire Police and the return address was in London, but it seems like they had still been handed over to Sussex police. Most of the campaigns I have been involved with are based in Brighton, so I guess Sussex Police had asked to see any information obtained.
The police are using these anti-terrorist procedures to get information that they cannot usually get from people; they are using them as a snooping device. This is almost admitted through questions such as “we don’t get a chance to talk to you very often”. When people are arrested and held at a police station they are able to give a ‘no comment’ interviews. By stopping activists under Schedule 7, police are clearly trying to gather information for their databases through other means.
It’s just a fishing expedition, but a deeply worrying one. On the one hand, police are stopping investigative journalists researching corporations, and in this way threatening freedom of speech. On the other, they are intimidating activists involved in protest movements and movements of international solidarity. In both instances, they are doing this by misusing legislation which clearly states it is only to be used to investigate terrorism.
It was clear to me that there was no particular intelligence that they were acting on and no potential court case resulting from their questions. It’s a misuse of the legislation as they are fully aware that their questions don’t relate to terrorist activity. If police were concerned about terrorism they would at least ask some questions about it.
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists said:
“The national security powers, introduced under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, allow the police and immigration officers to detain any airline, ferry or train traveller for up to nine hours to determine if they are involved in terrorism.
The union is concerned to hear that a journalist has been stopped and questioned about their work using schedule 7 of the Act. The NUJ are consulting members on this issue and we condemn the use of UK terrorism laws to detain journalists.”
The ISM has issued the following statement:
“We are concerned that the British Police are using anti-terrorist legislation to target non-violent pro-Palestinian activists. These laws are draconian measures which give the British police powers to detain suspects for up to 28 days without charge.
We are a transparent group, trying to uphold the principles of international law. Even inside Israel the International Solidarity Movement is not considered illegal. We would encourage the British Police to ask any questions they wish to ask directly, and not by detaining affiliated activists at the airport.”
In a statement to Corporate Watch, the Network for Police Monitoring said:
“Schedule 7 provisions give police the sort of powers that are usually associated with totalitarian regimes. Without need for any justifiable suspicion, the police can inspect and confiscate computers, mobile phones and cameras, and can force people to answer questions under threat of arrest.
While intended to be used only to question people about terrorism offences, it is now quite clear that the police are using Schedule 7 stops to gather intelligence about political activity that is unconnected in any way to terrorism.
Evidence people have presented to Netpol shows that people have been questioned on their involvement with anti-militarist and anti-arms trade campaigns, environmental protest groups, and even independent journalism. One individual was questioned on whether he had participated in the London riots, and others on their involvement with anarchist politics. None of these things are related to terrorism.
In the wider scheme of things, Schedule 7 is being used as yet another way to create a ‘climate of fear’ around any form of political activism, but particularly activism which spans national borders and involves international solidarity and co-operation.”
Another issue about the use of Schedule 7 is that those stopped for questioning are often singled out through racial profiling. According to the Institute for Race Relations, 84% of people held under Schedule 7 for more than one hour during 2010-11 were from black/minority/ethnic (BME) backgrounds.
The Network for Police Monitoring has made a submission to the Home Office consultation on Schedule 7.
The Home Office is proposing to make the following changes to the power:
-Reduce the maximum legal period of examination down from 9 hours.
-Repeal the power to take intimate DNA samples (blood, semen and pubic hair) from people detained during a Schedule 7 examination.
-Require a supervising officer to review at regular intervals whether the examination or detention needs to be continued.
-Require examining officers to be trained and accredited to use Schedule 7 powers.
-Before conducting a strip search, require suspicion that a person is concealing an item and a supervising officer’s authority.
-Give individuals examined at ports the same rights to publicly funded legal advice as those transferred to police stations.
However, none of these suggested amendments will alter the fact that the Act is misused to question people about issues other than terrorism; that it is used as a tool to intimidate those involved in dissent and as an information gathering tool to build profiles of political activists. The proposed amendments will also not address the fact that Schedule 7 removes interviewees right to remain silent and makes it an offence not to provide information to the police.
Corporate Watch would encourage any activist stopped under this regulation to expose its misuse.
* Tom Anderson and Therezia Cooper are pen names. The Schedule 7 stops were carried out under the authors’ real names.