There was one FIT photographer at Mayday 2010 in London - Neil Williams, plus minders, who took my photo shortly after the march left Clerkenwell Green. The FIT teams seemed to be deliberately keeping their distance from the marchers (a couple of thousand of them at least), but keeping a close eye on the 'autonomous bloc' as it marched to Trafalgar Square.
The people going to the Election Meltdown party at Parliament Square peeled off from the main march at Trafalgar Square and continued to Parliament Square without incident.
Once the party in the Square had started, the FIT again kept their distance, watching partygoers from over the road - hard to tell from that distance if they WERE FIT, they had those yellow and blue 'public order' jackets, earpieces and were generally frantically scribbling notes. Some were talking into voice recorders. They directed Neil to take pictures, mostly of people conferring. It looked to me as if one group of three FIT officers at one point were pointing out people in the Square to a flatcap yellow jacket officer, as if it were some kind of FIT training exercise.
As the party wore on, I noticed that a very senior copper - he had one of those caps with a metal lining on the brim - was watching us from a balcony of the Houses of Parliament together with a yellow and blue 'public order' jacket cop, and one - possibly two - photographers, hard to tell from such a distance.
The remarkably chilled watch at a distance policy may have been down to the Mayday party becoming a tourist attraction - the Executioner who'd come to do mock executions of politicians in effigy was having his picture taken with tourists.
FIT and evidence gatherers at the Brighton demo were given an exceptionally hard time. Evidence gatherers were pushed out of the crowd as it assembled near Brighton pier, and their cameras were the focus of constant attention from that point onwards. Photographers crowded them, demonstrators squirted water at them, FITwatchers blocked them. So presumably, these two took it upon themselves to escape from all that and hide on the top deck of a bus where no-one would notice them.
There is just one problem with that decision – it quite possibly meant that their filming of the march from this point was unlawful.
Their problem is RIPA, The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. This defines covert surveillance as follows:
(a) surveillance is covert if, and only if, it is carried out in a manner that is calculated to ensure that persons who are subject to the surveillance are unaware that it is or may be taking place;
This type of surveillance is perfectly lawful if the police have justified it and obtained the appropriate authorisation. It is, apparently, quite an onerous process. According to an ACPO review it takes on average five hours to fill in the forms for an authorisation. Somehow I suspect that these two just didn’t bother to do that.
Normal FIT surveillance escapes all this because it is OVERT rather than COVERT. This means, according to the Met, “officers should clearly identify themselves as police officers and not hide the fact that they are filming”*.
COVERT filming, as defined by RIPA, carried out without authorisation, is of questionable legality. I am sure Sussex police, concerned as they are to prevent breaches of the law, will now conduct a thorough enquiry, discipline those involved and destroy the footage taken. Of course.