Dundee anti-terror unit is based on a dodgy dossier

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
8.30am Wednesday 6 December 2006, for immediate release

Craig Murray, a former student at Dundee University who served for two years as Britain's ambassador to Uzbekistan, will be speaking today at a meeting hosted by Dundee Trades Union Council. It is expected that he will be highlighting the complicity of the British government and British security services in torture and human rights abuses in Uzbekistan and elsewhere in the world.

The visit comes as controversy continues to grow over the activities of Tayside's anti-terror police. There is particular concern over the possibility that intelligence gathered by a Tayside anti-terror unit could be shared with agencies in countries where human rights abuses are commonplace.

Officers of the unit have also been accused of displaying Islamophobic attitudes – a charge that Tayside Police has not yet responded to. Assurances given recently to Dundee students about the unit's activities on campus have done little to allay fears.

A police document released to SACC under Freedom of Information legislation, and now made widely available for the first time, suggests that Dundee has been singled out for this sort of policing on the basis of a widely discredited academic report. Civil liberties campaigners are calling for the unit to be disbanded.

Background

For over a year, Tayside's Special Branch Community Contact Unit (SBCCU) has been seeking intelligence on minority ethnic communities in the area and has put a particular emphasis on intelligence-gathering in schools and universities. Chief Constable John Vine said last year that "what we have to change is the mindset which questions whether it is appropriate to gather intelligence in schools."

According to police, the strategic aim of the SBCCU is "to improve intelligence gathering opportunities and provide reassurance through community contact."

In an initial response to a Freedom of Information request by SACC, police said that a report on the SBCCU included personal data, that "the report relates to sources of information," and that "some information relates to ongoing and complete criminal investigations." So it seems clear that the SBCCU has gathered significant quantities of intelligence on people living in Tayside, even though they have told the press that they have found no evidence of "extremism" at Dundee's universities. It is almost certain that this information will have been entered into the Scottish Intelligence Database.

Complaints about the unit's activities by students at Dundee University have led Tayside police to downplay the unit's intelligence-gathering role. In a document recently sent to the University's Student Advisory Service, the police say that:

"Tayside Police and the SBCCU do not monitor lawful politically active individuals nor lawful political or single issue groups."

But officers of the SBCCU attend meetings of the Dundee University Islamic Society and call on businesses, homes and community centres. If this doesn't amount to monitoring, it's difficult to know what does.

Tayside Police say that they attend events only by invitation. It is perfectly clear that Dundee University Islamic Society were prompted to invite officers to their meetings and felt obliged, as an open society, to issue that invitation. It is disgraceful that they should have been put in such a position. Dundee University has abdicated its responsibility to its students by allowing this to happen.

Tayside Police also say that SBCCU officers attending an event will leave if the organisers of the event ask them to do so. Officers would in any case quite clearly be obliged to leave in these circumstances. We are glad to hear that Tayside Police recognise this.

Tayside Police have recently agreed that SBCCU officers will wear identification when attending meetings or events. This follows an incident when an SBCCU officer apparently made no effort to identify himself at an event, although the unit claims that it does not operate covertly. We are pleased to find that Tayside Police are finally making a serious commitment to openness, but this small step does nothing to address our basic concerns over the SBCCU's operations. Intelligence-gathering of this sort is unacceptable, especially in schools and universities.

The SBCCU focuses overwhelmingly on the Muslim Community. They claim to be "building bridges" with the community. And they say:

"Tayside Police and the SBCCU do not seek to influence in any way the religious beliefs of individuals or the communities that we serve."

But SBCCU officers have displayed disturbingly Islamophobic views. For example, in an interview with the Sunday Herald in June 2006, Detective Constable Mark Charnley of the SBCCU said that one possible sign of "extremism" in a school pupil would be "a kid who has gone back to their parents' country of origin [for example, Pakistan] and returned with anti-Western feeling or stronger religious faith than they had shown before."

SACC has complained about this statement to Chief Constable John Vine but has so far received no response.

Tayside SBCCU is at present the only unit of its kind in Scotland. We fear that Tayside is being used as a testing ground for a new kind of political policing.

A police document obtained by SACC under the Freedom of Information Act refers to a widely discredited report that lists 27 universities where "extremist and/or terror groups have been detected." Dundee is the only Scottish university on the list. The report – entitled "When Students Turn to Terror" was written by Professor Anthony Glees and Chris Pope and was published in September 2005 by the Social Affairs Unit.

But the only link between Dundee and terrorism made in the report is a statement that a man called Shamsul Bahri Hussein, who is wanted in connection with the Bali bombing, studied applied mechanics at Dundee. The police document says that this was in the 90s.

The police list two other people they see as problematic – a man and a woman – as having had connections in the past with Dundee Universitiy. Both cases are even less substantial than Shamsul Bahri Hussein The woman’s alleged activities were quite clearly political rather than criminal. The man was questioned by police in Manchester and released without charge. The police say he is now living in Pakistan.

The Glees/Pope report expresses a number of views that many people will find eccentric. For example, it says that:

"Instead of encouraging students to reflect on the values and virtues of liberal democracy, universities may be teaching them subjects or theoretical tools for understanding the world - Marxism, for example - which could encourage them to believe Britain and other western states are in terminal decline. Moving from campus to mosque, students convinced by their dons might gain further inspiration from radical mullahs."

In an article in the Times Higher Education supplement published in September 2005, Professor Glees argues that:

"If people wish to form associations on the basis of religion, they should not be permitted to do so on campuses. Nor should any form of exclusivity be tolerated."

A briefing about the Glees/Pope report by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) says that:

"The manner in which the report has been compiled is deeply worrying. Using a plethora of media sources, cut and pasted into numerous case studies, the report not only lacks substantive empirical research but is also submerged in blatant racism and Islamophobia."

The IHRC adds:

"This methodology of combining biographical accounts from newspapers with inadequate primary data leads to a catch-all approach resulting in the report mentioning every Muslim mentioned in the media who happened to be a student suspected of extremist activity, even if they have never been charged or were in fact acquitted of all charges."

The Tayside Police document, entitled Problem Profile – The terrorist threat and community tensions within Tayside, makes no reference to the only proven terrorism-related crime to have occurred in Dundee in recent times - the armed raid on a pub in 2002 by men who were convicted of membership of the proscribed Red Hand Commando at the same time as they were convicted of the raid.

It is worrying to find that Tayside's controversial policing initiative seems to be based on nothing more than a dodgy dossier by a couple of academics with rather unusual views.

It is SACC's long-standing view that politics should be no business of the police and that people should refuse police requests for information about ordinary political activities. We are asking Tayside Police to disband the SBCCU. And in the meantime, we advise people to reject trawls for information of a general or political nature by SBCCU officers.

SACC, 6 December 2006

Notes

  • Craig Murray will be speaking in a meeting 7:45 pm, Wednesday 6 December, Committee Room 4, 14 City Square, Dundee. The meeting is being hosted by Dundee Trades Union Council and is supported by SACC
  • The Tayside police document referred to above, entitled "Problem Profile – The terrorist threat and community tensions within Tayside" can be found at www.sacc.org.uk/sacc/docs/problem_profile.pdf
  • The Introduction to the SBCCU provided by Tayside Police can be found at www.sacc.org.uk/sacc/docs/sbccu_intro.pdf
  • See Anti-terror police target schools and youth groups - Investigation by the Sunday Herald 11 June 2006 – includes interview with Tayside police officers
  • For John Vine's comments on intelligence-gathereing in schools, see Intelligence-gathering to take place in Scottish classrooms, The Scotsman, 8 October 2005
  • See "When Students Turn to Terror – Terrorist and Extremist Activity on British Campuses" by Anthony Glees and Chris Pope, published by The Social Affairs Unit, 2005.
  • Professor Glees article Beacons of truth or crucibles of terror? in the Times Higher Education Supplement was published on 23 September 2005
  • See the Islamic Human Rights Commission Briefing on the Concerns regarding Muslims on Campus in Britain at http://tinyurl.com/y279do. More about IHRC at www.ihrc.org.uk
  • For more on the armed pub raid in Dundee, see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/2997386.stm