Outrage as protesters monitored
The Courier 29 May 2006
By Stefan Morkis and Graeme Cleland
CONTROVERSY OVER a new police unit designed to prevent extremists recruiting in Dundee has intensified after officers monitored a pro-Palestinian demonstration in the city centre on Saturday.
Police have now been accused of "bizarre heavy-handedness" by grassroots organisation Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) after its decision to make their Special Branch Community Contact Unit permanent.
The unit was set up last year to gather intelligence from community leaders and education chiefs on any extremist groups looking to recruit students from Dundee's two universities. After a successful trial, Tayside Police announced last week that the unit would be made permanent and other police forces across Scotland were considering launching their own versions.
However, Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) members were alarmed to discover they were under surveillance while protesting outside the Disney Store on Saturday. The group was handing out leaflets protesting against hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in Israel by a Disney Corporation subsidiary company. SPSC said the money would be used to help Israel keep settlements in the occupied West Bank that are illegal under international law.
Branch chairman Alan Hinnrichs was one of half a dozen SPSC members handing out the flyers and talking to the public and he said the response from shoppers was "very positive". But, he expressed concern about the fact the group were monitored by Tayside Police special branch community contact unit officers throughout their time on Murraygate.
Mr Hinnrichs described the surveillance as a "complete over-reaction" to a peaceful demonstration-and said it confirmed the fears of political activists who believe the unit might be used to unfairly monitor activists engaged in lawful activities.
His complaints were backed by the SACC, who have called for a return to "responsible policing." A spokesman said, "There is a grave danger that policies like this will lead to people being placed under surveillance or even being arrested as a result of political profiling. This would be an outrage were it to happen to a person of any age; for young people to be targeted in this way is indescribably shocking.
"Tayside Police is earning a reputation for a bizarre kind of heavy handedness."Last autumn a pedestrian was threatened with charges under anti-terror legislation for walking through Dundee docks.
"Police took a very heavy-handed approach towards Dundee protesters who were making their way to the Gleneagles G8 demo last July.
"There have been persistent reports of police monitoring political protest in Tayside. It looks very much as if local police are using the people of Tayside as pawns in a game directed at strengthening the position of the force in UK policing."
Read the full statement from SACC -
Have YOU had an encounter with the Special Branch Community Contact Unit? Even a harmless one? Please contact SACC