Court victory for peaceful protester over police surveillance

By staff writers
May 22, 2009

A peaceful protester won an important court victory for civil liberties yesterday when police surveillance of him of was ruled unlawful. Lawyers say the decision will change the way demonstrations and protests are policed.

Judges ruled that specialist surveillance units from the Metropolitan police had breached the human rights of Andrew Wood, an anti-arms trade campaigner, when they photographed him and stored the pictures on a police database, reports the Guardian newspaper - which played a key role in the case.

Lord Justice Dyson said there were "very serious human rights issues which arise when the state obtains and retains the images of persons who have committed no offence and are not suspected of having committed any offence".

Human rights lawyers say the ruling could force police to delete thousands of images of protesters stored on their database unless they have grounds for suspecting them of criminal activity.

Anna Mazzola, of the solicitors Hickman & Rose, commented: "The judgment of the court of appeal should act as a stark warning to the Metropolitan police that the circumstances in which they can justify taking and retaining photographs of members of the public who have committed no crime is highly circumscribed."

An investigation by the Guardian revealed that police have been targeting thousands of campaigners in surveillance operations and storing their details on a criminal intelligence database for up to seven years.

Parts of the Guardian's investigation, which included information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, were submitted in evidence to the court of appeal.

Andrew Wood, who was represented by the human rights group Liberty and who was supporting the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) when he was photographed leaving a meeting in 2005, said he was very pleased with the ruling.

He declared: "The Human Rights Act is part of the essential checks and balances which help to ensure that we can properly participate in a democratic society without repressive state intervention. The police don't just uphold the law - they must abide by it."

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