Why are the police making political choices about who is and is not an extremist? The Hunt Saboteurs Association was founded in 1963 and advocating non-violent tactics, which has been put in a police document alongside such groups as Boko Haram, Taliban, National Action and Combat 18. This follows some regional police services including anti-fracking protestors in their Prevent material for schools and colleges. I can understand the argument that it is better for professional police officers to make specific decisions about organisations, rather than politicians via the Home Office, but that logic only holds true if the criteria are clear and the reasoning explained.
I have written to the National Police Chiefs Council to ask that they remove the HSA from their list of ‘domestic extremism’ symbols or provide me with evidence that justifies their inclusion. It does appear that the police have made an odd decision given that the HSA provide a key service to the police in helping them to enforce the anti-hunting laws by providing information and recordings that can be used as evidence.
The police document does refer to protests that “cross over into unlawful intimidation, violence and public disorder”. This sounds reasonable until you consider that many non-violent protests can result in ‘public disorder’ as the police see it, despite it being little more than people sitting down in the road, or locking themselves onto machinery, to stop it being used. ‘Unlawful intimidation’ has also become a lot broader with the use of injunctions that ban protestors waving banners outside the offices of contractors, or sub-contractors of companies that are damaging the environment.
Personal violence is a clear dividing line from legitimate protest and should be the starting point for the police when looking at whether groups are ‘extremist’. The HSA not only advocates non violence, it recommends that members avoid contact with the other side as much as possible because of the death threats and violent intimidation that saboteurs have previously faced. Whilst individual saboteurs and also, people involved in the hunt, have occasionally been prosecuted for misdemeanours, the HSA itself has never been found guilty of anything, nor have their tactics been declared illegal.
I shall be asking the Home Office Minister who has given the police the power to label groups this way and what is the appeal process for getting organisations removed from the list?