Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
18 September 2006 for immediate release
Anti-war campaigners at a Dundee University freshers fair on Saturday found themselves secretly targeted by terror police. A man who approached campaigners at a Stop The War stall and asked about future activities turned out to be a Special Branch officer who has been working with Tayside's controversial Special Branch Community Contact Unit (SBCCU). According to Alan Hinnrichs, chair of the Dundee branch of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the man did not identify himself as a police officer. His identity only came to light because he was recognised by a member of the University Islamic Society who had invited the officer to a meeting of the society earlier in the year.
The SBCCU normally operates in an open way and claims to be interested in building links between the Police and the Muslim community as well as in gathering intelligence. On this basis, its officers have regularly and openly attended meetings of Dundee University Islamic Society.
But its blurring of the distinction between bridge-building and intelligence-gathering has drawn strong criticism. It has attracted particular controversy because of its policy of sending Special Branch officers into schools and universities. A frontline Special Branch officer has been accused by SACC of displaying Islamophobic attitudes in a newspaper interview in June. The officer 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". He also said if a racist incident occurred, a Special Branch officer would go along to the victim and establish a relationship. SACC describes this policy as "offensively manipulative" and "likely to have a disastrous effect on people's willingness to report race hate crimes."
Tayside SBCCU was made permanent last May after an initial trial phase of operation. According to an article in the Tayside police Copperplate magazine, two officers work for the unit. Tayside police say that intelligence they obtain is distributed to forces around the UK. There are real fears that information may also be passed to agencies overseas, including agencies in countries with poor human rights records. This is a particular concern at a university like Dundee that attracts a large number of foreign students.
The Special Branch attempt at covert intelligence-gathering last Saturday is an alarming new development and supports our fears about the way that this unit has been operating. It is particularly regrettable that this incident should have occurred at the start of the academic year. Students arriving at university should be encouraged to set aside the traditional alienation of young people from politics and join political groups and campaigns. It is extremely unhelpful for police to manufacture an atmosphere of suspicion around such groups.
Under most circumstances, there is no obligation on members of the public to assist police officers with inquiries. Ordinary political activities should be no concern of the police or intelligence services and SACC strongly recommends that people should not discuss such activities with the police or intelligence services.