17 – 18 June Update

POLICING

Police enforcing the coronavirus lockdown in England and Wales were almost up to seven times more likely to issue fines to black, Asian and minority ethnic people than white people. These figures published by Liberty Investigates confirm what we have been reporting since we started this blog three months ago.

Bias and lack of trust from certain communities may have played a role, as well as demographics, Dave Thompson, the chief constable of the West Midlands, told the Guardian.

‘When prosecutors start to boast that they are applying legislation correctly in 85 per cent of charging decisions, it is a fairly good indicator that something is wrong with the law,’ The Times wrote on Thursday.  A quote from Kirst Brimlow, QC made it to the headline: Coronavirus laws expose ‘downward spiral’ of justice system. She also said there is no excuse for continued wrongful charges (discussed in yesterday’s diary entry) and urged for a similar review of the issuing of fixed-penalty notices.

Reporting neighbours to the police for alleged coronavirus breaches can have terrifying consequences. In Cornwall, armed police raided a holiday let in Cornwall on an anonymous tip-off that it was open. They threatened to return even though they found no evidence of it being open.

Scottish Police Federation issued a strongly-worded statement on protesting in the midst of a global health pandemic, after another night of ‘protest and disorder’ in Glasgow on Wednesday. “Those who gather are breaking the law pure and simple”, saying there is NO exemption for gatherings for the purpose of protest (political or otherwise):

Scottish Police Federation statement

Using the virus as a reason to oppress the right to speak out against the Government’s continued flawed policing policies is an insult and an injustice, the campaign group Liberty stated earlier this week, adding that their research had confirmed these powers would harm people of colour (as we have argued here before):

Throughout the pandemic the Government has avoided scrutiny and accountability at every turn. The lockdown regulations which the police have been using to restrict protest are not only unclear – they were bought in unnecessarily using emergency powers, and have not been given any scrutiny in Parliament. This is particularly alarming because these powers could be in place indefinitely.

SURVEILLANCE

Now that UK abandons contact-tracing app for Apple and Google model, the NHS is to switch to alternative design by tech giants, Matt Hancock said in the latest government U-turn. Silkie Carlo, the director of the privacy charity Big Brother Watch, said: “This just shows what a mess the centralised data-hungry approach was. Government was wrong to waste precious time and millions of pounds of public money on a design that everyone warned was going to fail, and now we’re back at square one.”

A couple of hours after a House of Lords minister told the Green Party peer Jenny Jones, that there was ‘no need for people on the Isle of Wight to stand down’ from using the app, Isle of Wight Radio are saying we can uninstall the app.

The failed tracking app was being developed by a firm called Faculty, which was a VoteLeave AI firm and is run by a mate of Dominic Cummings. It won seven contracts in 18 months, one of which a £600,000 contract from the Home Office to track terrorist videos online.

15 – 16 June Update

POLICING

Youth worker Kusai Rahal is launching a legal challenge against a fine issued by the Metropolitan Police for breaking lockdown rules by attending the arrest of a teenager in his capacity as head of community support at the charity 4Front. His arrest was shared on a video that was widely circulated on social media. His lawyer Sarah Flanagan argues that he had a “reasonable excuse” because he was travelling for work. What gives this incident a particular resonance is that it took place on 12 April, the day that the Prime Minister’s chief advisor Dominic Cummings claimed driving to Barnard’s Castle to test his eyesight was a “reasonable excuse” for travelling.

Complaints that police officers are showing little concern for the safety of detainees (see also yesterday’s diary entry) have been reinforced by the footage that rapper Wretch 32, Jermaine Scott, shared of his father who was shot with a Taser inside his home by police. This happened at the height of the pandemic, but the footage has only just been shared on social media. The family were shielding because Scott cares for his 23-year-old son Shaquille, who is severely disabled with cerebral palsy. In the footage, Scott’s partner, 52, can be heard saying: “Social distancing, please don’t touch me.” She has since been charged with obstruction, which she denies.

West Yorkshire Police say stop and search operations nearly doubled in April 2020 compared to the same month last year because of the coronavirus. The proportion for Black, Asian and minority communities rose from 37.26% in April 2019 to 41.67% in April 2020. The same trend is also noticeable for May. This is quite alarming, given the fact, there are fewer people on the streets.

Meanwhile, the Police Federation’s call for a ban on all protests because on the ongoing health emergency has led to a spate of headlines attributing this to recent changes in the regulations. However, these already prevent public gatherings: as Netpol explained to Vice, the police have implemented them for smaller protests, but have been more reluctant to do so for the last fortnight’s Black Lives Matter protests.

The release of information on prosecutions under both the Coronavirus Act and the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations have been hailed by the Crown Prosecution Service as evidence of successful decision-making. However, they also show that 100% of prosecutions under the draconian Schedule 21of the Coronavirus Act in May were unlawful. Nine new cases had to be stopped because there was no evidence they applied to potentially infectious people. This follows 44 cases which were thrown out in April – which were all unlawful.

At least four homeless people have been unlawfully prosecuted for breaking coronavirus lockdown laws, that made it illegal to be outside “without reasonable excuse” – which however does not apply to people who are homeless.

LEGAL

On Monday night, the government was, according to campaigners from Big Brother Watch, “demolished across all benches for dictating the lockdown and evading democratic scrutiny” in a debate on lockdown regulations. The group has collected some highlights from the House of Lords debate.

There is still little public information about Sunday’s ministerial order that face coverings are now mandatory on public transport, as we reported in our last diary entry.  Big Brother Watch says: Please remember you can still travel without a mask if you have a reasonable excuse. This includes any disability or if it would cause severe distress.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister continues to offer contradictory messages on what the government sees as important health protection measures. On Tuesday, Downing Street tweeting “you should wear a face-covering when out shopping”, but on Monday Boris Johnson was not wearing one when posing for a photo opportunity at the reopening of the Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford in east London.

The Law Society Gazette has picked apart the illegality of Derbyshire Police’s use of drone footage to “send a message” about coronavirus regulations.

RESOURCES

Know Your Rights During The ‘Lockdown’ Bristol Defendants Solidarity has updated its guides in response to the latest government changes.

12 – 14 June Update

POLICING

The weekend has been dominated by what was essentially a white supremacist riot in central London, largely involving what one charity has described as football firms fighting with the police after a Black Lives Matter protest was postponed. There were similar confrontations involving far-right groups in Glasgow after a protest organised there was also called off by its organisers, Glasgow Youth Art Collective, because of “the police targeting activists before we were able to gather”.

After the previous weekend’s protests by Black Lives Matter campaigners, the Police Federation is now urging the Home Secretary to implement an outright ban all protests while the country is under threat of the coronavirus.

Ultimately the current health regulations already enable the police to prevent public gatherings. Netpol commented that it would appear the Federation is seeking political support for a more stringent use of these powers and that “Priti Patel is the kind of Home Secretary to grant this”.

Evidence from the protests that have taken place so far indicates the police has no policy on safety issues for protecting arrestees from coronavirus. This account of someone who was arrested on a Black Lives Matter protest said that “throughout my time in custody: any requests or concerns stated regarding the pandemic would be treated as a trouble-making technique”.

The Prime Minister continues to offer little but confusion and uncertainty on the issue of protesting during the pandemic. A week ago he said it was a “right” for people to protest, but on Friday he tweeted: “The only responsible course of action is to stay away from these protests.” The barrister Adam Wagner has suggested that it is, in reality, “impossible for an individual, or a police officer, to know whether – using social distancing and peacefully – going out to a protest, is a “reasonable excuse“ under the regulations”.

The latest lockdown law amendments were published on Friday. Adam Wagner, explaining the changes, said that “as is this government’s style, no drafts to debate, no prior votes, all by emergency, seat of the pants legislating”.

In light of the changes, Kirsty Brimelow QC and Pippa Woodrow at Doughty Street Chambers have amended their Guide to Corona offences in England (pdf).

The new regulation banning travelling on public transport without a “face covering” unless you have a “reasonable excuse” was published on Sunday afternoon, less than a day before coming into force. There is a potential £100 fine for passengers refusing to cover their mouth and nose. It was considered so urgent that Grant Shapps, Secretary for Transport, has used emergency powers to avoid parliamentary debate or a vote for another 28 days – even though these powers have been anticipated for weeks. Here is a summary of what you can and cannot do from today.

LEGAL

Nazir Afzal, a former senior prosecutor who lost his brother to coronavirus, has joined a campaign for a new investigation into Dominic Cummings’ alleged breaches of lockdown rules. He warned that if Boris Johnson’s chief advisor failed to face consequences, the public would lose confidence in the criminal justice system.

SURVEILLANCE

AI after the pandemic A reflection on necropolitical neural networks and the need to develop ‘knowing-caring’. By Dan McQuillan: “We are clearly not all in this pandemic together.”

10 – 11 June Update

POLICING

Data released by the National Police Chiefs Council shows that a total of 15,715 Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) have been recorded by forces in England up to 8 June for breaches of government public health regulations. In Wales, 2,282 FPNs have been issued in the same timeframe. Dyfed-Powys Police has issued more coronavirus fines – 1509 so far – than any other force in Wales and England.

The NPCC’s “Fixed penalty notices data pack – 11 June” is available here (PDF).

Police fines for lockdown breaches are, however, starting to fall. There were 523 fines in the two weeks from 26 May to 8 June – compared with 1,171 in the previous two weeks and 4,796 in the fortnight before that.

England fines to June 8

At a time when there are open challenges to the prevailing political orthodoxies of the day – not least and most recently on the policing of black communities – a Deputy Assistant Commissioner from the Metropolitan Police is claiming the coronavirus lockdown may have led more individuals to “become radicalised as they spend more time online” and because referrals to the much-criticised Prevent “counter-radicalisation” programme have dropped substantially.

Suffolk Police has responded to the report we highlighted yesterday that the coronavirus crisis could “spark widespread public disorder this summer” although, in fairness, the academic who gave this warning was probably not thinking in particular of a predominately rural policing area (or even the mean streets of Ipswich).

West Mercia Police has asked anti-racism protesters to explore “alternative’ ways of making their voices heard” because of coronavirus concerns, ahead of a ‘Black Lives Matter protest in Worcester city centre this Saturday

Train and bus operators are concerned that the new compulsory requirement for face coverings on public transport is unenforceable. British Transport Police has said it had “no powers regarding the national rail conditions of travel, which is a contract between the train operators and the passenger”. Officers could merely “engage with passengers and encourage them to comply”, it said in a statement.

RESOURCES

‘Protest, Pandemic and Proportionality’, webinar, 3pm Tuesday 16th June. Part 1 in a new series on #protestrights brought to you by our #protest law barristers from our crime & civil liberties teams at Garden Court Chambers.

“In too many countries, public health responses to the pandemic have been securitized and militarized,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, noting the role played by counter-terrorism practices in responding to the pandemic.

Policed in Covid. Friday, 12 June, 3pm Vicky Conway hosts a webinar to provide a space for different groups to reflect what the Garda Síochána Covid response has meant for their communities. Speakers from Alone, Safe Ireland, Binchy Solicitors, Policing Authority [others tbc].

8 – 9 June Update

POLICING

Offences under current emergency legislation were only one of the reasons the Metropolitan Police relied upon to arrest 86 people across the Black Lives Matter demonstrations over the weekend, although it remains unclear why a small number were detained for participating in gatherings of more than six people when there were thousands who were present. The Met’s approach contrasts with police forces elsewhere, where most took a hands-off approach, and no arrests were made.

On both Saturday and Sunday evenings, a number of protesters were kettled, which Netpol in a statement said was disproportionate and unlawful. A thread on Twitter by one of the participants on Sunday described how protesters were “trying to make an effort to social distance when possible” but that “this was simply not possible within the kettle and efforts had to be abandoned”.

Barristers Rebecca Penfold and Aparna Rao have argued that limiting the right to freedom of assembly and associations is an unavoidable side-effect of the pandemic and that it is unlikely that the “right to protest” would triumph over temporary health restrictions.

In the north of Ireland, Amnesty International has accused the Legislative Assembly of making an “unacceptable, last-minute” amendment to coronavirus regulations to allow the police to fine protestors at Black Lives Matters rallies. Nevertheless, a unionist Member of the assembly has claimed the credibility of lockdown regulations has been undermined by police inaction at the protests, despite complaints that the police had fined people attending demonstrations in Belfast and Derry and the assistant chief constable seeking to have the organisers of the Belfast rally prosecuted.

One academic has warned that Britain must be braced for widespread riots this summer, as poorer people and areas are hit harder by the coronavirus fallout.

Adam Elliott-Cooper discussing the huge Black Lives Matter protests all over the UK on Sky News: “If Met police chiefs are so concerned about social distancing, then why were stop and searches at a nine-year high last month – spreading the virus for the sake of small quantities of cannabis.”

Police in Hampshire have admitted sex workers are at an increased risk of violence during the lockdown because of a fear of prosecution for breaching social distancing rules.

In Scotland, South Ayrshire Council has started using police to track down shielding people who have not responded to checks.

Academics in Leeds have obtained a huge grant to work with the Metropolitan Police Durham and Lancashire Police to collate information and data about the levels and types of crimes following the outbreak of coronavirus, when officers were otherwise busy issuing large numbers of fines for failing to comply with lockdown measures. These “crimes” do not appear to form part of the study.

In Hackney, the local Mayor has echoed a warning also made by Netpol in March and said that “police anticipate that as the lockdown eases, racial attacks will increase”.

LEGAL

Latest on the Lockdown Challenge in the UK courts. On 26 May, a judicial review was launched in the High Court to challenge the lawfulness of the Lockdown Regulations. This UK Human Rights blog post discusses the “somewhat half-baked new quarantine scheme.”

SURVEILLANCE

How not to use tech in a pandemic – Frederike Kaltheuner is putting together a timeline of the UK’s (pretty disastrous) tech response.

It took Foxglove and openDemocracy two months to force the UK government to release the contracts for the NHS ‘data deal’ with Faculty, Palantir, Amazon, Microsoft & Google. First findings in openDemocracy. “Significantly, the contracts reveal that the Dominic Cummings-linked firm Faculty is being paid more than £1m to provide AI services for the NHS. The documents also show that terms of that deal were changed after initial demands for transparency were made by Foxglove under the Freedom of Information Act.”

Taking on the Tech Titans: Reclaiming our Data Commons TNI Webinar Wednesday 10 June 3pm UK time. #COVID19 has delivered record profits for Big Tech, while states are rolling out new apps with almost no consideration of privacy or human rights. What opportunities are available in this time of a pandemic to advance digital justice?

RESOURCES

The Lockdown Amendments: Everything you Need to Know, Guide by Big Brother Watch. Plus the Policing Brief on the new travel regulations.

 

5 – 7 June Update

POLICING

Large Black Live Matters demonstrations around the country, challenging the lockdown rules’ ban on large gatherings. There was a significant difference in approach by the police in different areas, with on Avon and Somerset Police deciding not to intervene when the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was toppled and thrown into the harbour, explained by officer A Bennett here, and on the other the Metropolitan police charging protesters on Whitehall with horses on Saturday night.

The Metropolitan Police has been criticised for tactics which cause or escalate tensions and put people’s lives in danger. On both Saturday and Sunday night, the police kettled the remaining protesters for hours in the cold and invoked antisocial behaviour to demand personal details as a condition for leaving the containment. Kettling protesters (and legal observers) in a smaller and smaller space during a pandemic where government advice is for people to maintain socially distancing, is very concerning and Netpol has suggested it was motivated as much by the desire to gather intelligence.

Under lockdown regulations, it remains unlawful to gather in groups of more than six except in a limited number of scenarios that do not include protest. But on Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “People have a right to protest peacefully while observing social distancing but they have no right to attack the police.” The barrister Adam Wagner has suggested Johnson’s comments make it virtually impossible for the police to fine or prosecute protesters for gathering without a “reasonable excuse” under regulation 9.

In the north of Ireland, PSNI officers were warning Black Lives Matter protest stewards and organisers they are “aiding and abetting a breach” of coronavirus regulations and taking people’s names before the protest had even started. Some anti-racism rallies planned for Saturday were called off after police “held talks with” (applied pressure on) organisers.

The CPS intends to review evidence into the death of Belly Mujinga after all, a week after British Transport Police said it was taking no action. The decision comes in “recognition of wider public interest” after calls for justice at Black Lives Matters events in response to the killing of George Floyd. Mujinga was a railway worker who died in April after she had been spat at London’s Victoria Station by a man who was infected with the Coronavirus.

Solicitor Mike Schwarz at Hodge Jones and Allen has announced the launch of a citizens’ bid for the prosecution of Dominic Cummings for putting lives at risk.

More detail on the new regulations on travelling, active from Monday 8 June in England. Wales, Scotland and Nothern Ireland have yet to say if police will enforce the rules and how.

SURVEILLANCE

Serco wins Covid-19 test-and-trace contract despite £1m fine. Serco has been fined millions by the Serious Fraud Office, profits from prisons & immigration detention and housing for asylum seekers despite failings, and on top of that the Health Minister is a former Serco lobbyist.

COMMENT

Sophie Hemery: Racist Policing Accelerated During the Pandemic. Mounting Protests Could See It Get Even Worse.

RESOURCES

MI5 whistleblower and rights campaigner Annie Machon will discuss the emergency power grab by governments and big tech in a virtual event, 17th June, 8pm.

3 – 4 June Update

POLICING

Solicitors from Hodge Jones and Allen have written to the Metropolitan Police, on behalf of Netpol, London Black Live Matters, UK Student Climate Network and Extinction Rebellion, to express their concerns about the policing of protests under the coronavirus regulations. The letter argues that in particular, the use of Regulation 7 fails to provide adequate protection to the right to free speech and the right to protest (article 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

David Mead, Professor of UK Human Rights Law at the University of East Anglia, discussed the effects of new regulations on protest in great detail in a series of blogposts, and also submitted evidence on it to the Joint Committe on Human Rights. In short, he wonders why a BBQ of six friends on the riverside would be allowed, while a similar group of political activists cannot hold a twenty-minute vigil 2m apart on the steps of a Town Hall to mark the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. “That seems an indefensible distinction, one that does not properly recognise the value of free speech and peaceful assembly, nor protect it.”

On Wednesday it was reported that police turned up at the home of a Black campaigner who has shared details of a BlackLivesMatter protest on social media. Officers barged their way in and questioned the individual, was shielding and therefore unable to attend the protest, for 20 mins on details of organisers and attendees.

The latest coronavirus rules, from Monday 1 June, are wide-ranging and complicated. The Guardian published a guide on what is allowed in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Bristol CopWatch has also updated their ‘Know Your Rights during Lockdown’ leaflets to reflect the recent changes.

In Wales, the control on the border between England and Wales remains as tight as ever. Dyfed-Powys Police has turned away 1000 cars in two days.

The new regulations on travelling require the transportation services bringing people into Britain to tell travellers to go into a 14-day quarantine or risk a fine and prosecution, and inform the government of their address – and there is nother complicated list of exceptions to digest. Adam Wagner also points at the serious powers for the police to enforce this, though the Met Police have already said they won’t be getting involved (£).

LEGAL

The Good Law Project (Rook Irwin & Sweeny) wrote to Secretary of State for Health raising concerns over “unconstitutional” use of emergency powers to introduce new criminal lockdown laws without Parliamentary scrutiny or debate.

A minister just declared what the law will be, including policing activity inside our homes and forcing us to wear face masks. As Adam Wagner points out this is law-making by ministerial fiat.

SURVEILLANCE

NHS test-and-trace system ‘not fully operational until September‘. The Guardian reveals that the chief operating officer told staff programme would be imperfect at launch.

Police forces are drawing up plans to do their own contact tracing, because they don’t trust the national system to keep sensitive information safe. They are afraid sharing details could smoke out undercover officers for instance. Kent police have already told officers not to give details of work contacts to NHS Test and Trace.

What is contact tracing and what does it mean to me? Bindmans Lawyers explains. 

How Digital Contact Tracing for COVID-19 Could Worsen Inequality, Amos Toh, Human Rights Watch

COMMENT

We can’t breathe What connects the most brazen forms of state violence against black people and the struggles of BAME coronavirus patients is systemic racism. Gary Younge for The New Statesman.

Didier Bigo: Covid-19 tracking apps, or: how to deal with a pandemic most unsuccessfully. Contact tracing apps add “another political problem, that of an enlarged surveillance apparatus, without solving the underlying one: the lack of an effective public health strategy”

RESOURCES

Big Brother Watch has done another excellent report Emergency Powers and Civil Liberties, May 2020, using the Policing The Corona State blog as a resource. The Report discusses the lockdown, the emergency laws, the Coronavirus Act, contract tracing, and more.

Webinar Mon, June 8: “Good” or “Bad” the Covid 19 Tracker & Surveillance Capitalism. Should we worry about the “State” and others knowing more & more about us? Orgnised by Shout Back Discussion club, 8:00 PM.

1 – 2 June Update

POLICING

Disproportionate numbers of ethnic minority groups in London were fined for alleged breaches of lockdown, figures of the Metropolitan Police show: 48.6% were issued to Black & Asian individuals. Between March 27 and May 14, 26% of fines (253) were issued to black people, who make up 12% of the capital’s population. Asian people were given 22.6% of fines (220) though they represent 18% of Londoners. Black people were also more likely to be arrested for Covid-19 offences & crimes where C-19 breaches were suspected, BBC’s Danny Shaw wrote.

This is extremely hugh even compared to the national figures which suggest a high proportion of black and Asian being fined under the lockdown laws – see Adam Wagner’s thread for details we published earlier.

Is this disproportionality inherited from stop and search? Channel4 News Simon Israel asks. This is not a rethorical question. With the amount of cases pulled together for this diairy, we knew this level of disroportionality was extremely likely. Racial profiling by police in Britain is not a myth.

Many people at the demonstrations on Sunday expressed anger and frustration at the increased use of stop and search. The Met has increased stop and searches by 50% in a year. In April 2019 Met officers carried out 20,981 stops. This April, with lockdown fully in place, the Met carried out 30,608 stops, against 20,981 in the same month last year. The Met says one in five searches led to further action.

Coronavirus police powers must be narrowed to stop racial disproportionality; Netpol was one of the 20 signatories to the letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock coordinated by @libertyhq, @OSFJustice & @StopWatchUK.

Abena Oppong-Asare MP has also written to the Home Office to address abuse of police powers urgently.

Jovan Nepaul, the chair of Lewisham Deptford constituency Labour party, wrote to the Mayor of Lewisham and the three MP’s for the borough of Lewisham, expressing his concern about “the disproportionate policing of black people in our area” after an ambulance driver waiting for his friend in south London was stopped and searched recently.

Lawyers call for police investigation into Dominic Cummings affair to be reopened and extended – in this piece ‘The trials of Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson’ by Mike Schwarz and his new colleagues at Hodge, Jones & Allen sollicitors.

The publication of Public Health England’s findings on a disproportionate death toll among ethnic minorities has been delayed so not continue to flare up racial tensions. The fact that information that could save BAME lives was held back, because people are too angry about the futility of black lives caused a wave of outrage on social media. The belated publishing Report led to calls for a proper government response.

The government has rushed through new regulations on Sunday, before Parliament had had a chance to look at it. Alex Nice at the Institute for Goverment explains why the government should should stop avoiding parliamentary scrutiny of the laws that give effect to them.

SURVEILLANCE

Minnesota’s public safety commissioner, John Harrington, said in a press conference Sunday that police were starting to contact-trace the demonstrators they’ve arrested, to see what platforms and organisations they were linked to. He used white supremacsists as an example, but ‘antifa’ might very well be added soon, now that Trump has tweeted he wants them designated as a terrorist organisation. Contact tracing is a public health effort to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, using phone apps and interviewing people. The biggest hurdle is gaining public trust.

“Any blurring of police work with contact tracing can undermine public health”, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said on Monday. Interrogating arrested protesters about their beliefs and associations is a longstanding police practice. So is social media surveillance by police of dissident movements. We must not allow police to “COVID wash” controversial police practices.

RESOURCES

Alex Vitale asks why we think policing is the answer to so many social problems and proposes a way to change the situation. The answer to police violence is not ‘reform’. It’s defunding. Here’s why. His book The End of Policing is now free to download at Verso Books.

Great video made by the Rainbow Collective of the #BlackLivesMatter protests in London, Trafalgar Sq, Sun 31 May, in solidarity with US protesters. Highlighting racism in society, justice system & the number of BAME people who have died at the hands of British police. And here is an impression by Real Media.  (Next protests: 6 Jun, 1pm, Parliament Sq; 7 Jun 2pm, US Embassy.)

30 – 31 May Update

POLICING

In defiance of restrictions on protests, this weekend saw people gather in London and Cardiff in solidarity over the death of George Floyd in police custody in the US. In London, it was reported that most of the people arrested were for breaches of regulation 7 of the coronavirus regulations. It is unclear how these individuals were detained while hundreds of others were not.

There were also arrests in London after Extinction Rebellion protesters gathered at Parliament Square on Saturday. The group insisted its members were maintaining social distancing but the Metropolitan Police confirmed the arrests were for alleged “breach of Covid-19 regulations”. Sky News reported that it was the police who were failing to keep their distance. One activist said in an interview, “if we have been sunbathing, it would have been perfectly allowed, but because I had a placard… I was arrested”.

A number of local XR groups (see this example from XR Cambridge) highlighted the different responses to people gathering in parks and on beaches with those exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

The brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was also arrested again during a small anti-lockdown / anti-5G protest with a very large police presence in London’s Hyde Park.

From Monday 1 June, lockdown regulations change in England and Wales. In England, people are able to spend more time outdoors and meet in groups of up to six from different households, following social distancing guidelines. In Wales, this must be in the local area with travel up to five miles allowed. Announcing this in advance has meant that, inevitably, people began to gather outdoors immediately.

A huge rave involving “hundreds” of revellers was stormed by riot police in Clapton in east London. Officers from Hampshire Police broke up several crowds of more than 100 young people in recreation grounds in Fareham.

In the north of Ireland, police officers were reportedly attacked when they tried to disperse a crowd of more than 200 assembled on Ballyholme beach in Bangor. In Wales, it was claimed Police Community Support Officers were subject to abuse from tourists from the West Midlands who were issued fines and sent home.

Meanwhile, health officials made a last-minute plea to stop the easing of the lockdown in England, saying it’s too early to do so.

LEGAL

The amended health regulations were announced on Sunday (!) and were due to be presented formally to Parliament on 1 June. The barrister Adam Wagner explains why it’s very bad that the lockdown guidance has changed before the law has been amended.

SURVEILLANCE

Proposed legislation for later this year includes a number of new pieces of legislation that will increase official secrecy and threaten whistleblowers. In the context of the current pandemic, where leaks have allowed the public to know the membership of the important SAGE group of scientific advisers and the report of a simulated influenza pandemic exercise in the National Health Service in 2016, this represents an “epidemic of secrecy”, argues Richard Norton Taylor.

In the US, officials in Minnesota have begun using contact tracing to track protestors at Black Lives Matter protests after the killing of George Floyd, in an apparent attempt to prove that those arrested were from outside of the state (a claim that one mayor was forced to withdraw). This represents a significant misuse of data gathered for public health protection in order to pursue overtly criminal justice aims.

28 – 29 May Update

Dominic Cummings may have broken lockdown rules when he made a 50-mile journey to Barnard Castle, an investigation by Durham Police has concluded, adding that it would not be taking any further action. It’s worth remembering that Durham Police has issued a number of fines to others for travelling during the lockdown.

On the question of whether the regulations are “one rule for some and not for others”, the Metropolitan Police has been forced to give six of its own officers a dressing down over the coronavirus rules, after photos appeared to show them gathering in a house for a drink.

Questioned by Huffington Post UK reporter Nadine Writes over the disproportionate number of lockdown fines issued to Britain’s black and minority communities, who asked: “If Dominic Cummings were black, it is statistically more likely he would have been stopped by police while out with his family,” Health Secretary Matt Hannock said that “it’s vital that the rules, where there is mandation (sic), are policed without fear or favour and fairly and equally according to the evidence.”

As this blog has repeatedly demonstrated, the implementation of lockdown powers has seldom been applied fairly or equally and there is growing evidence of racial profiling and targeting.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) have told ministers that most lockdown issues are now a “personal and moral responsibility” rather than a policing issue, The Times (£) wrote. The government has accepted that police had “retreated” to engaging, explaining and encouraging, now the lockdown has become “unenforceable”, senior officers said.

West Yorkshire Police has told a charity to stop feeding homeless people during the lockdown in Leeds city centre. A police officer came to the home of one organiser and told her that rough sleepers are “all in accommodation and they’re being fed in hostels”, which she has argued is simply not true. Police claimed they were responding to “numerous complaints [that] were made about ‘unofficial feeds’ where social distancing was not being carried out”, although two weeks ago, police were told they have no powers to enforce social distancing in England. The campaigning homelessness charity Streets Kitchen commented that “with the right PPE and understanding of the issues, we have dropped NO outreaches, indeed vastly increased them as there are so little ‘homeless’ services left”.

The NPCC produced new statistics on lockdown fines. Up to 25 May, North Yorkshire Police (pop. 800,000) had issued almost the same number of lockdown fines as the Metropolitan Police (pop. 8 million). However, the data from between 12 and 25 May shows a significant reduction in fines since measures were eased in England, although 17,000 have been issued.

Fines by force in England to 25 May

Katrina Ffrench, Chief Executive of StopWatch, has explained in an interview why she is calling for a review of every fine that has been issued.

SURVEILLANCE

Baroness Dido Harding, part of Board of The Jockey Club, which “courageously” decided to go ahead with Cheltenham Festival in March, is now running the UK Government’s Covid19UK Track & Trace programme. She was also CEO of TalkTalk when hackers stole the personal details of 157,000 customers and was fined by the Information Commissioner for insufficient security.

The Department of Health has said that all information shared with the NHS Test and Trace service is confidential and will not be passed on to the police. However, emergency powers do provide the option to enforce self-isolation requirements with fines.

RESOURCES

In “Policing the Pandemic” (MedAct), Aiyan Maharasingam looks into the statistics showing that BAME communities are disproportionately affected by state violence, and how the pandemic is worsening pre-existing inequalities. “Enforcing social distancing through policing and criminalisation, without understanding the inequalities that shape people’s ability to self-isolate or distance, will lead to further discrimination.”