Freshers fair surveillance criticised

The Courier, 19 September 2006

A CONTROVERSIAL anti-terror unit set up by Tayside Police to combat extremist groups recruiting students has been criticised by a civil liberties group for 'secretly' targeting the Dundee University freshers' fair.

Campaigners manning a Stop The War stall at the fair on Saturday complained that a man who asked about their future activities turned out to be an officer attached to the force's Special Branch Community Contact Unit (SBCCU).

However, Tayside Police said officers attended throughout freshers' week at the invitation of the university and student groups.

Alan Hinnrichs, chairman of the Dundee branch of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said the man did not identify himself as a police officer.His identity was later discovered when 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.

Richard Haley of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) said, "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."

A spokesman for the force said, "Tayside Police can confirm that officers were in attendance during freshers' week from last Monday to Saturday at the invitation of a number of student groups and university departments.

"As we have stated previously neither of these groups are being targeted, secretly or otherwise, by Tayside Police."

SACC was set up in March 2003 in response to fears minority communities in Scotland were being victimised to create a climate of fear and to provide a justification for the invasion of Iraq and for a policy of threat and aggression elsewhere in the world

SACC campaigns for the repeal of recent anti-terrorism laws.

The Tayside SBCCU was set up last October on a trial basis and after six months the force was so convinced of its benefits that it was made permanent.

 

The unit, the only one in Scotland, aims to gather intelligence from community sources, including education chiefs and community leaders, build up trust and provide reassurance in a bid to assess and reduce community tensions.

Dundee University was identified by a London expert as one of around 30 institutions in the UK being used as a recruiting ground for Islamic terrorists.

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