A Stasi comedy

OUR SPEAKER began with the words, "My name is Mark Thomas and I'm an NUJ member." Mark was at LFB's April meeting on the judicial review he's bringing, with NUJ support, on the Metropolitan Police practice of gathering data on journalists for "Domestic Extremist" databases. Mark was "very happy to have my co-litigants with me" - Jason Parkinson, David Hoffman, Adrian Arbib and Jules Mattsson, four of the other five NUJ members bringing the judicial review.

Mark Thomas; © Hazel Dunlop

Mark Thomas

Mark's "accidental journalism" started with The Mark Thomas Comedy Product, whose mission was to "just take the piss out of people... mock them," starting by interviewing Tory MPs while he was dressed as a bear. One bewildered MP blurted out "eighteen" when questions about honey suddenly turned to capital punishment and "at what age we should kill people?" Mark turned to something a bit more "factual based... we were actually investigating". His fake media training school for arms dealers at an Athens arms fair got Indonesia's military to admit on camera to torture.

Mark has come across "instances of spying" before. When Martin Hogbin, his close friend at Campaign Against The Arms Trade, was outed as a spy for BAe Systems (British Aerospace), "the immediate effect was to deter people associated with Hogbin from activism."

And Mark was "very proud to say that according to the Met I am a domestic extremist," noting the absurdity of the term: "it's housebound, so it's possibly in the kitchen: am I a radical when it comes to cooking?"

A Data Protection Act request to the Met revealed "they had noted when I did book readings... fundraisers and various anti-nuclear stuff." The data compiled on Mark was "like being spied on by the Stasi crossed with an Ealing Comedy." One report on a demo noted, "Mark appeared at the South side of the Square, with a mountain bike with yellow forks; he said 'hello' to us and seemed happy". At the Mayday 2000 Guerrilla Gardening event in Parliament Square police noted that "Mark Thomas... has a large quantity of cress on rear of bicycle."

There's "stuff which is factually inaccurate." Although "to my eternal shame" Mark has never been on a Class War demo, one police log listed a Class War event at which "the only identifiable protester was general rabble-rouser and alleged comedian Mark Thomas," a phrase he plans to use on posters for a forthcoming tour.

Jules Mattson, Jason Parkinson, Adrian Arbib, David Hoffman and Mark Thomas; © Hazel Dunlop

L to R: Jules Mattson, Jason Parkinson, Adrian Arbib, David Hoffman and Mark Thomas

Among "over 60 items" of "intelligence" Mark discovered, "police are making notes about when stuff I do about nuclear reactors appears on TV; when articles I've written appear in Time Out and the Guardian." It seems that the Met is not just spying on activism but spying on journalism. "We believe there are other NUJ members who are being monitored by the police. If you have covered the police, it is important that you put in a Subject Access Request and find out whether you are a Domestic Extremist - and if you are, join the court case."

Jules did a FOIA request to the Met and was "told by way of refusing that request" there were over 2000 records on the Domestic Extremism database with keywords such as "journalist". It would "cost too much" to find out exactly how many records on journalists they have. Jules also found a Powerpoint slide showing his name and photo, with the words "no trace PNC [Police National Computer, so no criminal record]... pain in the arse."

We also heard from photographer David Hoffman, who despite having no criminal record found a policeman's notebook had recorded that "Hoffman has a conviction in the late 80s for assaulting the police." Where does this inaccuracy come from? "There is no trace of this information in any police system," the police said.

Environmental photographer Adrian Arbib found himself a labelled a "domestic extremist" following a police stop near Heathrow. "I was doing an article on the death of the English apple orchard," he said, still puzzled. For Jason Parkinson's and Jess Hurd's testimony on their domestic extremist files, see here. Mark said the judicial review under Human Rights Act Articles 8 and 11 (privacy, association, freedom of expression) comes to court "soon", and "it is my legal opinion the Met are fucked".

  • There's a longer version here, with links
Last modified: 28 June 2015 - © 2015 contributors
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