War veteran John Catt (pictured above) had regularly attended public demonstrations
A 94-year-old peaceful protester with no criminal record has won an eight-year battle to wipe his political activities from the police ‘extremism’ database.
John Catt has no criminal record and had attended court to get his personal details and information about his attendance at various protests removed from police records, which included the brands of clothing he was wearing and whether or not he was clean-shaven.
The European Court of Human Rights handed down the ruling in the case of Mr Catt v the United Kingdom earlier today.
The war veteran and political campaigner from Brighton, East Sussex, first took legal action after the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) refused his request to permanently delete all the data about him.
Some of the entries to the database recorded his habit of taking out his sketch pad and drawing the scene at demonstrations.
Other entries included notes on his appearance and his behavior. The pensioner had previously revealed to The Guardian some of the notes which had been taken.
At a protest against Guantánamo Bay organised by Sussex Action for Peace on 25 September 2005, police noted: ‘John CATT was seen wearing a Free Omar T-shirt, he was clean shaven … John CATT was very quiet and was holding a board with orange people on it.’
Other information included notes where he had been logged as as having ‘sat on a folding chair and appeared to be sketching’ at a demonstration
Mr Catt was born in January 1925 and has been a peaceful activist since 1948, regularly attending public demonstrations.
He became involved with campaign group Smash EDO – which aimed to shut down the US-owned company’s weapons factory in Brighton.
He carried out his first protest when he was just 14 and working as a labourer on a Sussex farm at the start of the Second World War. His boss delayed paying him so he led a protest and successfully demanded the money.
Over the years he has also taken part in various protests and demonstrations such as the use of nuclear weapons, the Vietnam war, alleged racism by the Metropolitan Police in the 1980s and the increase in tuition fees.
The European Court of Human Rights (pictured above) handed down the ruling in the case of Mr Catt v the United Kingdom earlier today
Mr Catt was twice arrested at demonstrations for obstructing a public highway but never convicted of any offence, the hearing heard.
The database is maintained by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, originally under the supervision of Acpo, and now under the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.
After the ruling was handed down, his lawyer Shamik Dutta told the Press Association: ‘This ruling sets an important precedent that it is unlawful for governments across Europe to label citizens engaged in peaceful protest domestic extremists and put them on a searchable database for a potentially indefinite period.’
On Twitter he also described the judgment as a ‘timely reminder of the importance of the European Convention on Human Rights in protecting privacy and the right to protest in the UK and across Europe.’
The judgment said: ‘The quality of the relevant legal framework was not adequate in a context such as the present one, and therefore the interference was not ‘in accordance with the law’ within the meaning of Article 8.
In March 2013, he won his case at the Court of Appeal (pictured above) after a defeat at the High Court the previous year
John Catt’s protests
John Catt’s carried out his first protest when he was just 14 and working as a labourer on a Sussex farm at the start of the Second World War.
His boss delayed paying him so he led a protest and successfully demanded the money.
When he was enlisted into the RAF during WW2, he protested against the dirty conditions of sick bay at his base in Tangmere, Chichester.
1982: He joined a picket outside Hackney police station in London
He has held a number of demos outside the Brighton-based military manufacturer, EDO MBM
He has also taken part in demonstrations, over the years, on:
The Vietnam war
Alleged racism by the Metropolitan Police in the 1980s
Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
The increase in tuition fees
‘This finding is sufficient to conclude that there has been a violation of Article 8.’
A spokesperson for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said: ‘Law enforcement and others will now be studying the outcome of this case, and its implications on policing as a whole.’
Mr Catt vowed to take his battle to Europe after Supreme Court justices overturned an earlier ruling in his favour.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which intervened in the case in support of Mr Catt, said:
‘If you express a view in a legal and peaceful way, you shouldn’t end up as a criminal on police records.
If we want a healthy democracy then we need to ensure that everyone has the right to participate fully in political life. We made clear in our evidence to the court that the National Domestic Extremism Database does not sufficiently protect individuals’ personal information and risks having a chilling effect on legitimate political protests. We welcome today’s judgment which upholds the importance of free speech and the right to privacy’.
In March 2010 he made a subject access request to the police under section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 to find what information was being held about him.
He discovered 66 entries which mentioned him between March 2005 and October 2009 held on an ‘extremism database’.
He asked the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to delete the entries but this was refused and no reasons were given.
They recorded his attendance at Smash EDO demonstrations, attending a Trades Union Congress conference in Brighton in 2006, a Labour conference in Bournemouth in 2007, a pro-Gaza demonstration in Brighton in 2009 and at a demonstration against ‘New Labour’ organised by a number of trade unions later that year 2009.
Police recorded his name, date of birth, address and presence at the events. Descriptions of him were noted and a picture of him stored.
In January 2012 the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary published a report on undercover police operations designed to obtain intelligence about protest movements.
The report concluded Catt’s information was being unnecessarily retained in police records.
Mr Catt previously described how his fight was ‘for the sake of other innocent people whose lawful political activities are being monitored by the state’ and he would not give up
In March 2013, he won his case at the Court of Appeal after a defeat at the High Court the previous year.
Court of Appeal judges said the information about Mr Catt was at first retained lawfully, but ruled it was held for a ‘disproportionate’ length of time, violating Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
But then the UK’s highest court found in favour of police lawyers who said continuing to keep the details was still lawful.
Mr Catt previously described how his fight was ‘for the sake of other innocent people whose lawful political activities are being monitored by the state’ and he would not give up.
He said: ‘This is an example of the erosion of freedom and a violation of private life. It is abusive collecting data and it is data control. I will not give up.’
In 2015, in response to a second subject access request, police told Mr Catt the records were held to ‘help UK policing manage a future risk of crime – of which [you] could be the victim. The records themselves should not and will not be disclosed [to you] for what are obvious reasons.
‘An intelligence database loses all efficacy if it is not kept confidential.’
The ECHR judgment said: ‘The Government stated that the police could not provide any explanation of why the reports were not disclosed previously. However, they were investigating the matter.’