Expecting many people with precarious immigration status to attend, the camp organisers had sought from the beginning to do all they could to make the camp and its off-site activities as legal and safe as possible. The authorities, however, seemed predictably intent to thwart their efforts.
After weeks of ignoring them, a meeting was arranged between some of the camp organisers and the Crawley Borough Council on 16 August, 2006, at which police were also present. Organisers were subsequently sent a letter saying the Council could not provide any land for the camp. Crawley Council's Community Safety Officer Don Edwardson said, "Unfortunately there are no municipal camping or caravan sites nor open spaces and parks within the town that could provide the facilities you are seeking. Neither am I in a position to provide you with the details of any private or commercial landowners that you could approach." That's utter rubbish, of course.
Both the Council and the police, however, were still demanding that the camp organisers 'cooperate' and inform them of their plans. The aforementioned letter from Don Edwardson contunued: "However, I am keen, as are the police, to be kept appraised of any developments regarding the camp. Perhaps you would be good enough to let me and/or the police know when you have found a suitable location." But they were not "good enough".
The camp organisers eventually managed to rent a field owned by a local farmer near the village of Salfords, Surrey, which lies approximately 3 miles south of Redhill on the A23 road that runs between London to Brighton. They announced the location about a week later, on September 10th.
Police had been desperately calling on farmers in the Salfords area, including the owner of the camp site, asking if they were letting the No Border Camp use their land. Horley Police were still fruitlessly hunting when they discovered that the camp organisers had already 'revealed' the location to Reigate Police when sending them a Temporary Event Notice.
About two weeks later, the owner of the Surrey site pulled out from renting his land after a lot of pressure and harassment from various police forces. This harassment, of both the landlord and the camp's police liaison, began as soon as the contract was signed. The farmer, who wishes to remain anonymous, was visited, sometimes twice a day, by Gatwick Police (Sussex) and both Horley and Reigate Police (Surrey) during the course of those two weeks. Not only this, but they were also calling on neighbouring farmers and asking them to complain directly to the landlord to pull out of the agreement. As one of the camp organisers put it: "Every time I phoned him, there would have been yet another police visit. They were consistently trying to paint a nasty picture of the potential camp participants but their priority seemed to be putting pressure on him to sign an agreement with the police to let them on his land during the camp, which he refused to do at our request."
"They have apparently been trying hard to stop this camp," a spokeswoman from No Borders UK said. "This is simply a violation of people's right to protest and assembly," she added.
By September 13th, the pressure, both from police and neighbouring farmers, became too much for the poor farmer to bear, especially when a number of reporters started to ring him up. He called the organisers on that day to say he was pulling out of the agreement. In the farmer's own words, "It seems like they have really pulled all the dirty tricks in their book to stop this camp from happening. They have tried to turn my neighbours against me for letting this camp take place on my land."
Foot in mouth
And this wasn't all. On September 13th, a phone call from Inspector Elaine Burtenshaw, the Tandridge District Police's Neighbourhood Officer, asked the camp organisers to "cancel the camp because of a foot-and-mouth outbreak." She claimed that "local farmers were concerned about 300 people turning up on their doorsteps" and said that campaigners better postpone the camp or consider even cancelling it now rather than wait until next week, when they "may be forced to cancel it anyway due to the restrictions."
The camp organisers immediately contacted the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Environmental Health office at Tandridge District Council and both said there was "absolutely no reason" why they should not go ahead with the camp as far as the foot-and-mouth crisis is concerned. They were told they do not even need to have straw and disinfectant at the entrances and exits, which they had offered to do.
According to official sources, the latest outbreak had been in Egham, west of London, between Woking and Windsor. That was about 50km away from the camp and the whole of central London was closer to the outbreak than the camp site.
In any case, the camp organisers managed to quickly find a new site in West Sussex and another lease was signed. The new land, owner by another local farmer, was located near the village of Balcombe but the organisers had to withhold the location for a while "for fear of further police harassment and pressure on the new landlord."
In a press release, Lisa Morgan, a camp's spokeswoman, said: "This dirty war they're playing against us raises very serious questions about our civil and political rights. Obviously, it's only because we're critical of the government's policy of incarcerating innocent and vulnerable people in special prisons that the authorities are behaving like this."
Despite three weeks of 'joint workshops' between concerned police forces, it took Sussex Police a day to find the new site. It took the various police forces even longer to tell each other about it. One activist waiting at the previous site for participants who hadn't heard about the changed location was quizzed by the Surrey Police about the new location and threatened to be taken in for questioning. "Where is the camp.. tell us.. we know you know," they said to her. Their attitude quickly changed when they learnt that Sussex Police were already at the camp but hadn't told them. In fact, the change of location off-footed the police. While Surrey police had long prepared their policing of the camp, the Sussex police hadn't had this luxury. It was almost as if the activists had planned it.
Meet the Met
On Wednesday, a day before the official opening of the camp, London's Metropolitan Police finally arrived, with their Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT), cameras and notebooks. It immediately felt as if they took over the operation, although organisers were assured that Sussex Police were in charge and only a few 'specialist officers' were brought in from London. To be fair, Sussex Police were quite relaxed compared to the Met, or even Surrey Police. They were trying to be friendly and cooperative as much as they could but could not forgo the intelligence-gathering camera and police cars constantly stationed near the gate.
The Met, with cameras and uniforms of their own, were as intimidating and arrogant as ever. They were there to make sure that known activists don't miss adding the No Border Camp to their CV's and perhaps open some new files. A number of officers were occasionally overheard saying things like "X has just arrived," "Y is doing this or that," etc.
The FIT first surfaced in the early 1990's as part of the Public Order Intelligence Unit (POII), a section of the Public Order Branch of the Metropolitan Police. They were initially targeted at football fans but were soon extended to cover a wide variety of political events. Their tactics have more recently been used in town centres as part of the 'community policing' strategy and most UK police forces now have officers trained in their methods. Also the FIT are increasingly being deployed outside of the Metropolitan area, as at the 2005 G8 in Scotland, for example.
At the No Border Camp, a FIT unit was stationed outside the gate all day and night. Officers CO2558, XB91, CW678, 2235, 1818 and CS49 were doing up to 14-hour shifts filming and taking notes of everyone who came in and out. They occasionally also walked round the camp site, sneaking through the hedge, trying to get good shots of what was happening inside.
One of the camp's workshops was organised by FIT Watch, a group of activists who have suffered a lot of harassment from the Forward Intelligence Teams (or other cops, for that matter) and have taken it upon themselves to challenge their intrusive and intimidating activities. As well as "spying on police spies", they try to prevent them from filming protesters by means of standing in the way. A couple of them, joined by inspired new comers, were doing that at the No Border Camp, too, using 'counter-cameras' or placards bearing the word "FIT" with a red stripe across it (as in traffic signs).
It should come as no surprise, then, that these watchers were most hated by the FIT. Although they were trying hard to not lose their temper, they repeatedly pushed one FIT Watcher violently. In Crawley, at the public meet-and-greet on Thursday, she almost lost her camera when PC XB91 tried to take it by force. Another watcher, who had reportedly been 'a pain' from day one, almost got arrested by XB91 and CO2558 (Steve Discombe) after he was singled out on the Saturday march and accused of 'anti-social behaviour'. It was only his press card, and the arrival of a video activist with her camera, that saved him.
Too busy to do their job
A very revealing incident took place at the meet-and-greet event in Crawley on Thursday. Tens of policemen and women were deployed to police a few dozen campaigners who descended onto the town centre with a small sound system, banners and leaflets to publicise their camp. At least 10 intelligence gathering teams were present, both from Sussex Police, with their old, odd-looking cameras, and the Met, with their more advanced technology.
At around 5:15pm, three policemen, two intelligence gatherers and a senior officer were watching a group of campaigners walking down a street off Queen's Square, in the middle of the shopping mall. They were clearly obsessed with taking photos of the dangerous strangers. According to witnesses, there was some commotion outside a shop and an alarm started bleeping. A man was seen running away from the shop, with a mobile phone in his hand. It was clearly a crime; the sort that the police, you'd have thought, would prioritise. Yet the man managed to run past three policemen, only five feet away, without being seen, let alone chased. As one witness put it, "There were more than fifteen police in the vicinity altogether but they were all much too busy staring us out and snapping us, major security threats that we are, to do their job!"
The camp's off-site events included a demonstration in Croydon and a march from Crawley to Gatwick, where a new immigration prison is being built and one already exists. Both were heavily policed and saw a few arrests.
In Croydon, in a clear example of what the demonstration was about, a distressed asylum seeker was arrested as protesters gathered outside Lunar House, which houses the headquarters of the Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) and its main screening unit. Around 11am, a man was leaving Lunar House, crying and shouting, clearly distraught. Three Metropolitan Police officers immediately grappled the man to the ground and restrained him whilst he lay face down on the concrete forecourt. He received cuts to his face as he shouted "Help me, help me! They are against poor people. This is what happens to poor people. These people are not human." He was then arrested and taken away in a waiting police van.
Observed by all present and filmed by many, the demonstrators complained to the remaining policemen about the level of force used. They were invited by the officer in charge to go to the police station to make a formal complaint. The group then proceeded en masse to Croydon Police Station but, despite their pleas to exercise their legal right to fill in a complaint form, they were deemed to be protesters and the police invoked Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 (Imposing conditions on public assemblies) and penned the them in.
Two protesters separately refused to be penned in and were subsequently arrested, handcuffed and put in cells adjacent to where the asylum seeker was held. One of the two, who was arrested under Section 5 of the Public Order Act (causing harassment, alarm and distress), commented: "I went to complain about police heavy-handedness and immediately got assaulted by a policeman myself."
On Saturday, 22nd September, about 500 people from across the UK marched from Crawley to Gatwick in a Transnational Day of Action Against Immigration Prisons. 120 police, from Sussex, Surrey and the Met, were deployed to accompany them. As the protest organisers said, the policing of the march was "unnecessarily heavy."
It was a typical tactic that often goes unnoticed: by deploying a big number of police, you create an impression that a protest is abnormal and troubles are expected, and hence the need for heavy policing is justified. Public safety, many would argue, is just a pretext for intimidation.
Two people were arrested that day under Section 50 of the Police Reform Act 2002 (refusing to give name and address) after being accused by cops of acting in an anti-social manner. One of them, who was arrested in Crawley town centre before the march had even started, allegedly threw a rude word at a police officer. The other, who is an independent film-maker, was filming the police and allegedly 'caused distress' to a policeman who himself was filming protesters.
At Gatwick, protesters were penned in a tiny, designated area along the airport's fence opposite Tinsley House. They were surrounded by scores of cops in different uniforms and even journalists brandishing their press cards were initially not allowed out of the cordon to take pictures of the crowd. The rally lasted only for half an hour because organisers did not want to interrupt the detainees' visiting hours.
It was obvious that the Met were full-on and up for nicking as many people as they could, but it was only because Sussex Police were in charge of the overall operation that there weren't more arrests. They seemed to be trying to single out people who had been active throughout the camp to arrest them, using the anti-social behaviour and name and address trick. Intimidation was still a common occurrence, of course.
Needless to say, most of the details above were ignored by mainstream media, despite all the press releases and information put out by the camp's press group. But that's not really surprising, is it? After all, it is only with the the mainstream media's complicity that the authorities can only get away with this kind of repression.
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We are getting to them - let's keep up the pressure.
Fearing that they were feeding the unwitting public disinformation about the No Borders camp, I rushed up to the side of the vehicle to ask if they wanted to know anything about the camp. One of the FIT team asked me what I was doing, and I ignored him asking the driver if she wanted to know what the camp was about. The woman replied that she was a 'colleague' of the FIT officer. Her uniformed colleague looked a bit put out to say the least.
So I raced off to get my camera to get a picture of the car and it's occupants. I got there just in time to get a picture of the car pulling away whilst officer CS49 did his very best to obscure my view.
squeal like a pig