Tag Archives: Avon and Somerset Police

“They come at us because we’re strong.” Statement on police harassment and abuse of an antifascist

Life can be a funny thing. There are things that have happened to me in my life that I have told myself not to tell a soul about because they just won’t believe me. But this needs to be told.

Since December 8th 2017 I have had to ask myself time and time again “is it me or is it them?” “Is this happening to me?”, which usually means checking myself and reminding myself that going out and being involved with “this sort of thing” (in my case anti fascism) is going to draw a little attention from the state. Part and parcel right? Rough with the smooth?

Personally, I think too many of us take police abuses of power and outright Orwellian surveillance tactics as a given. I can’t help but wonder how many people have had similar experiences to what I’ve gone through and just not said anything.

I’ve been an antifascist for a few years now and have supported actions locally and around the UK with a lot of spirit, heart and out and out determination. I don’t think that’s ever likely to change.

If you’re someone who moves in the same sort of circles as I do  you’ll know that Avon and Somerset in particular have never had any love for anyone they deem to be part of the anarchist movement. They have never had any love for people of colour either. I fall into both of those demographics.

I was arrested in September last year in Bristol on a counter demo against the fascist front group “Gays against Sharia”, along with another 4 counter protestors who were charged with “assault PC” and “obstruction.” It was my second arrest in the city, the first being on an illegal squat eviction where again I was charged with “assault” on the say so of lying bailiffs. That case was later dropped. The cops told me I “looked like a gangster” that day. That’s a new one on me but in hindsight it speaks volumes.

Unfortunately for me (and being honest it’s currently adding more fuel to the fire) the second time around I was found guilty of assault PC. Initially 3 of us were on trial but the other’s charges were dropped. I’ve never been an angel having been in and out of trouble with the law when I was younger but this was the first time I’d been charged and convicted with something I knew that I hadn’t done.

In fact, I’d spent well over 12 years with no arrests or contact with the police at all. This doesn’t mean I can’t be a free thinker and want a better world. And it doesn’t mean I can’t take a stand against injustice. When it comes to neo nazis and assorted racists in particular, you should absolutely be “anti” that.

I’m currently fighting to get my conviction overturned. I think that is one of the reasons that I’ve started to get so much attention, harassment and outright bullying which could easily be deemed as stalking from the police.

Over the past 6 months or so this has taken varying forms including social media monitoring and hacking, attempts to follow me home at night, undercover officers following me into pubs, seemingly constant monitoring by plain clothes officers around my local area with the support of area cars and vans. This has even extended to Bristol city centre with targeted blaring sirens and use of full beam headlights in broad day light.

It seems that certain elements of the local community have also been involved with tails, garbled shouted abuse and aggressive horn beeps (also used by undercover officers) designed to intimidate me. At times I’ve reacted, never with force but out of sheer frustration  by shouting back.

When it comes to local engagement I put this mainly down to good old fashioned British racism. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was far right involvement too. The state and fascists often work hand in hand and it’s no secret about the level of bigotry and general racism within the force.

I live close to the melting pot of culture that is Easton but my current home is primarily white working to middle class. Most people who live here are friendly but the few wronguns do rear their heads from time to time. Luckily, I have a lot of friends and know I am never alone.

Having researched some of this and avoiding paranoia as much as possible, I discovered that “police stalking” tactics have long been used off the record in the UK and beyond. All of the above are intimidation tactics and nothing more. I class it as authoritarian bullying.

It all really started on December the 8th 2017 (my birthday ). I was in the city centre. As well as being on bail I was pursuing a claim against the police for wrongful arrest on the squat eviction I mentioned earlier.

Living some way away from most of my friends, I think, made it easier for me to be targeted by the CID officers I now know as part of a special investigations unit (Operation Rhone) tasked with harassment or “investigation” of activists classed as “anarchists”. This unit was headed by Andy Bevan and led by officers such as Matt Ford  with a reputation for harassment of activists.

In fact, it was Matt Ford and his colleague who approached me that day in December 2017. I had just walked past a Palestinian demo in town where I’d said hello to demonstrators to show some solidarity for a good cause. It was near St Nick’s market that the first plain clothes officer attempted contact; “Alright! Long time no see!” he smiled at me, looking like an average Christmas shopper.

I smiled back  unsure of who he was, replying “Alright? Where do I know you from?” The cop’s face changed quite quickly, “And where do I know YOU from?” You could sense his hostility. The change in manner was quickly followed with “I’m a policeman!”. Within a second, Matt Ford appeared and with dramatic effect added “And so am I!”

At this point a little unnerved but pretty pissed off, I said “I don’t talk to police mate! No comment.” The first officer tried to engage with me again and it was at that point I walked away, answering “No comment! Just fuck off!” I walked off quickly and was pleased if not a little surprised to see that they didn’t follow.

My solicitors advised me to be mindful that the cops were watching me. Fast forward to now, I’ve been told by Netpol and other comrades that sometimes the state and its minions like to apply pressure on people like me. I think they were trying to get me to be an informer. The apparent vendetta against me over the past 6 months or so may not just be fuelled by me taking a stand and fighting back against unjust convictions but also by refusing to play their game. Here’s the thing.

I will never play the game of scum like them.This is why I began to record my experiences of surveillance in a diary that I am currently still updating. I do my best to keep the emotions out and record the facts. There is currently over 6 months of information including dates, people, vehicle registrations and everything I need to prove what has been happening to me. I have many photos too.

When I moved house I thought it all might get better, but sadly things didn’t stop. They only became worse. A few months back I put in a subject access / freedom of information request to Avon and Somerset police. I still currently don’t know the level of monitoring of my mobile phone despite asking for this info. Either way, I am sure it is one way they have been tracking my movements.

There was no information given on surveillance operations or technology used against me but instead we’re currently in hiatus with the usual “Neither confirm nor deny” response. Having checked the police website there doesn’t seem to be anything major happening in my local area to warrant the amount of times I have been tailed by vehicles or undercover officers.

Regardless of how I feel about the cops I accept that under this current system they are there, although the more they harass me the less inclined I feel to recognize their authority. I have never trusted them and I am never going to. They routinely abuse their power, serve the rich, victimise the poor and target people of colour. I can never respect people like that.

Since we began my appeal process against an unjust conviction, surveillance quickly escalated into harassment and out and out stalking by Avon and Somerset police. It also seems that when travelling to London with my job I have found myself tailed from one area to another.

In the build up to my appeal these intimidation tactics escalated and I feel ultimately the goal was to force me to drop the appeal and any further legal action or at the very least unnerve me enough to mess up in court.

Speaking as an antifascist what has happened to me over the past 6 months has been done to give the impression of an all seeing, all knowing Orwellian eye of authority that has its minions where ever I go. At it’s very core it’s authoritarian and fascist.

Just recently a comrade suggested considering the wider implications of what has happened to me and how it affects not just myself but all of us. The saying an injury to one is an injury to all is something that rings true, and I’ve learnt that I haven’t been the first activist in Bristol to be targeted and will no doubt not be the last.

What is clear, is that there is a deep -rooted stench of authoritarianism and fascism within the police force that needs to be challenged as well as the police as an authority themselves.

The fact that some officers feel that they are able to arrange “extra judicial punishment” without accountability and ‘off the record’ speaks volumes about the level of corruption within the police force today. Regardless of how you feel about the police it becomes apparent when assessing a situation such as this that people who seem to think that they can engage in a  vendetta against individuals or movements should never have been given the reins of power or authority in the first place.

When considering the treatment of people of colour by the police the situation becomes even more concerning when considering the actions of the state and it’s targeting of activists. For some in uniform being a “good citizen” means being white.

To these people we are always the enemy and a problem to be addressed rather than a member of society that should be respected. When we’re considered to be a political dissident, activist or anyone the status quo considers a threat our struggles become intensified.

What has been happening to myself in comparison to what happens to others on a daily, monthly and yearly basis is a small drop in the ocean but has been enough to raise alarm bells within my circles of friends and comrades.

My experiences of the police at their very worst will differ greatly from the next person but with solidarity and mutual aid we can support each other spread the word and work together to expose those who should never have been given the tools or the power to target and harass people for their political beliefs and desire to do the right thing.

It is an invasion and abuse of our privacy, of our civil rights and our liberty and our freedom to be ourselves. Not every person who encounters people who bend the law to suit their collective will are going to want to speak out. Not every person will want to take a stand but the more we do the more empowering it is for them and a reminder that they will never be alone.

The state will always look for ways to disrupt us in our fights against various injustices. They apply pressure to break us and to drive us away from the movements and circles we move in. Activists can be approached after pressure has been exerted to see if they will grass on their comrades.

The past 6 plus months has showed me the true cowardice of school yard bullies in uniform. It makes me smile to know how afraid they are of people like me. Attempts to drive me away from my friends and comrades have failed. Attempts to disrupt my life have failed. I already see the cracks in them but there are no cracks in me.

I’m more anti surveillance and anti-state than I ever have been and am currently researching how communities have fought back against police surveillance. For me, I will carry on with life as normal. I would like to say I’ll learn to forgive but we never forgive and we never ever forget.

It’s clear to me now that they come at us because we are strong. Thanks to my friends and comrades and family for all the support over the past 6 months. You’ve been there when I’ve needed you most and you are all amazing. I’ll keep fighting the good fight. Here’s to a better world.

 

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Report from Emma Sheppard’s Sentencing (BDS)

UPDATE: Em has written her own report on the sentencing – read it here

This week saw the sentencing of Emma Sheppard, who plead guilty to causing “criminal damage recklessly endangering life” to several police cars. All in all it went much as expected. Before handing out a prison sentence of two years in order to “send a message”, the judge gave a summing up displaying all the ignorance we have come to expect of the rich and powerful. He admitted to being confused that a compassionate person might dislike the police, and listed some examples of police ‘good deeds’ to try and make his point, such as protecting the people who suffer from domestic abuse [1]. We wonder if he would apply the same reasoning to the people he sentences, and find them not guilty because they once helped an old person cross a busy road?

Police involved in “Operation Rhone” [2] also tried to claim it as a victory for themselves, despite only getting involved after the arrest, and seeming to contribute nothing significant to the trial. They made a public statement claiming that they have “a long and proud history of facilitating peaceful protest”. Needless to say this isn’t true – Bristol Defendant Solidarity regularly sees examples of people injured and fitted up by Avon and Somerset Police.

We encourage people to write to Emma and support her through her time in jail. She may be moved during her sentence, so check the Bristol ABC website before writing. At present her address is:

Emma Sheppard
A7372DJ
HMP Eastwood Park
Church Avenue
Falfield
Wotton-under-Edge
Gloucestershire
GL12 8DB

Emma can receive cards, stamps and stationary. For donations, news & any other solidarity efforts email: bristol_abc [at] riseup.net

[1] this is despite police being far more likely than average to PERPETRATE domestic violence in the first place – womenandpolicing.com/violenceFS.asp
[2] More information: https://bristolabc.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/operation-grhone-and-the-badger-hunt/

 

Operation GRhone and the Badger hunt

Translation: Français

Picture of three people in badger masks

from the demo at Bristol CID HQ

When Bristol anarchist Huw ‘Badger’ Norfolk legged it somewhere in late-August 2011, word spread fast across Bristol’s anarchist & radical communities. His decision to absent himself from all and any police investigations was immediately apparent to the many friends he’d had no time to say good-bye to. No doubt many suspected this escape to somewhere would be short-lived. Instead nothing, just the one shout-out from online anonymity(1) two months later, in which he stated his non-compliance bluntly.

Fast-forwards to December 2014 and Badger’s face is staring at us from every national and many local media outlets. Crimestoppers and Avon & Somerset Police’s Operation Rhone announce a £10k reward for information, whilst forcing his parents in north-west Bristol into the media spotlight too(2). Badger is wanted for two specific actions, although no evidence is cited for either. It’s made clear the Badger hunt, and the two actions, are just a part of their investigation into over 100 actions by ‘persons unknown’(3) over the last four years.

So why the sudden flurry of police & media attention? In reality the police have been active all the time, supported by their slavish media-hounds at the Bristol Post. We, at Bristol Defendant Solidarity(4), have a timeline of their activity since August 2011, when victims of an unproductive police raid on a Bristol squat contacted us for support and advice. Since then police activity has ebbed & flowed, nothing for months, then intense activity, such as the last 6 months of 2014 – triggered it seems by forces from outside the area(5), which resulted in Operation Rhone being formally set up. As well as finding and arresting suspects, the aims of this operation include gathering intelligence on “the threat from domestic extremism” and to “maintain public confidence”. (6)

It is clear the police know nothing. No leads beyond Badger’s identity and statements posted online by ‘persons unknown’. So like a man blind-drunk in a dark alley, they’ve lashed out at anyone they think could be intimidated, or entrapped. There’ve been numerous arrests leading to extended police bail, and even taggings, with at least 6 since June 2014, but no convictions; searches of homes & vehicles; visits to homes & workplaces for a ‘chat’; phonecalls to private mobile numbers; harassment of individuals current & former partners; stops at airports; endless requests that people snitch; and no doubt countless incidences of covert surveillance. All to no avail, and at huge cost. There has now been one arrest and guilty plea relating to an incident on New Years Eve, but this appears to be a stand alone case and was not the result of Op Rhone work – even if they got involved afterwards. Operation Rhone is said to involve at least 10 CID officers – in any other line of work somebody would’ve been sacked by now!

One harassed individual’s statement sums it up: “One morning a few months ago, I woke up and found my house full of police. When I say full I mean literally – it was hard to move around! They had already arrested the person they’d come for. He was released a bit later with no charges and has now had the case against him dropped completely. If they didn’t even have enough evidence to charge him, I don’t see how they can justify raiding my house in the first place – I don’t think they had anything on him at all. Anyway, as well as taking electronic stuff (like a hard drive and laptop), they seemed to be bagging anything that looked political…”

Four mugshots of police

Some of the police alleged to be involved in the investigation…

So why the wall of silence, and why the lack of police success? On the one hand they are harassing people – anarchists & radicals involved in public activity, musicians, and mere acquaintances – who clearly know nothing at all. On the other hand, the reality is that large numbers of people have a complete distrust of, and hatred for, the police. Whatever personal views people have on the validity of actions by ‘persons unknown’, they wont be co-operating with the police – they are the enemy, the heavy-handed arm of the state, and they have a long list of previous. Hence the many who supported a public ‘Statement against police harassment’(7). In addition to the timeline, Bristol Defendant Solidarity has published advice for people facing police harassment, and helped those who contacted us to get together and plan a response. Among other things, this group organised a protest at the headquarters of Bristol CID, which upset the police so much that they responded with armed officers and a dog unit. (8)

It is generally accepted the police exist to maintain the status quo – the rule of the few over the many. Their history of fit-ups, and denial of what limited rights we have, is endless. Their support for the bosses against workers struggles is continual. Their sexism & racism institutional. Their violence well documented as they kill with impunity(9). Their surveillance powers out of control. Their weaponry & equipment ever more militarised. Their undercover officers act as agent provocateurs and coerce individuals into relationships(10). Their corruption breathtaking. Complaints against them and investigations by the IPCC are rising, even the Chief Constable is suspended and the subject of an IPCC investigation(11). Why on earth would anyone, never mind the anarchists & radicals, have anything to do with them?

By Bristol Defendant Solidarity
(BDS is an independent, self funded group run by local volunteers, formed after the Stokes Croft riots in April 2011. We aim to provide effective, lasting unconditional support and solidarity to anyone arrested or imprisoned as a result of demos, riots, direct action and escalating class war. We take a clear stand against state repression and police brutality)

Notes/Resources:
1. 325.nostate.net/?p=3297
2. www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/05/h…
3. personsunknown.noblogs.org/post/2014/11…
4. bristolabc.wordpress.com/defendant-soli…
5. www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-264481…
6. www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/operatio…
7. bristolabc.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/sta…
8. bristolabc.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/act…
9. www.inquest.org.uk/statistics/deaths-in…
10. www.theguardian.com/uk/undercover-with-…
11. www.ipcc.gov.uk/investigations/chief-co…