On 14 February 2019, Disability News Service journalist John Pring reported that;
“Tory conference police force admits sharing information on protesters with DWP”
Disabled activists have demanded an inquiry after a police force that has patrolled four Conservative party conferences since 2010 admitted sharing information about protesters with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has now become the second police force to admit sharing information about people taking part in protests with DWP, following a similar admission by Lancashire police.
But GMP has also admitted having a “sharing agreement” with DWP, even though the department explicitly stated two months ago that it had no such arrangements with any police force.
The admissions have followed claims reported by Disability News Service (DNS) that police forces have been targeting disabled protesters taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests across England.
This disturbing report lead Disability Labour to commission its its second research project. We wanted to determine which police forces were acting in the same way was Greater Manchester.
We see the possibility of the police reporting those who chose to legitimately protest, on a variety of issues, to be a gross breach of civil liberties.
It is no business of the DWP how we spend our time and energy. The concept that just because a disabled person is able to join a protest, they should not be in receipt of benefits, is extremely coercive and has no place in a civilised society.
We only collected data from the 43 county or metropolitan forces.
The report highlights a number of concerns, firstly the failure of 12% (5) of police forces not to respond despite a follow up email.
That 79% (34) of police forces did not hold any data on whether their officers had reported disabled protesters to the DWP is concerning. Just 7% (3) forces said that they had no policies about what action should be taken in relation to disabled protesters and the DWP.
That decisions appear to be left to individual officers to determine as they see fit is worrying. Police officers, like anyone else will have prejudices. Whilst they are supposed to be impartial and the majority of officers probably are, there will always be ‘rouge’ officers who could well hold grudges.
The issue of exactly what information was passed by Greater Manchester Police to the DWP, remains unclear. The full research report gives all the detail on this. Questions to the DWP did not result in any useful information or clarification. That is no surprise.
A disturbing trend is the introduction of Police Liaison Officers at demonstrations.
Civil liberties group, Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) recently produced a reportadvising protests not to talk to the police officers in baby blue bibs at protests.
Police Liaison Officers(PLOs) are a common sight on many protests. They like to pretend they’re the protesters friend and claim they are there to facilitate your protest. But their real purpose is to gather intelligence on protesters.
Would they be the sort of police officer who reports people to the DWP?
Our advice is simple; “Be careful who your ‘friends’ are and what you tell them.”
The full report and data tables are available in pdf format below.
Disability Labour wishes to record our sincere thanks to Milena & David Zenati-Parsons for all the time and work they have done pro-bono on this research.