Tue, Apr 21, 2009 - Page 6 News List

British officials gave E.ON information about protesters

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

British government officials handed confidential police intelligence about environmental activists to energy giant E.ON before a planned peaceful demonstration, private e-mails indicated.

Correspondence between civil servants and security officials at the company reveals how intelligence was shared about the peaceful direct action group Climate Camp in the run-up to the demonstration at Kingsnorth, the proposed site of a new coal-fired power station in north Kent.

Intelligence passed to the energy firm by officials from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) included detailed information about the movements of protesters and their meetings.

E.ON was also given a secret strategy document written by environmental campaigners and information from the Police National Information and Coordination Centre, which gathers national and international intelligence for emergency planning.

At first, officials at BERR declined to release the e-mails, despite a request under the Freedom of Information Act from the opposition Liberal Democrats.

The decision was reversed on appeal and although large sections have been blacked out, they show that BERR officials passed a strategy document belonging to the “environmental protest community” to E.ON, saying: “If you haven’t seen this then you will be interested in its contents.”

They also show that government officials forwarded a Metropolitan police intelligence document to E.ON, detailing the movements and whereabouts of climate protesters in the run-up to demonstration.

Furthermore, E.ON passed its planning strategy for the protest to the department’s civil servants, adding: “Contact numbers will follow.”

BERR and E.ON tried to share information about their media strategies before the protest and civil servants asked the energy company for press contacts for the companies EDF and BP, as well as Kent police.

On Sunday, the disclosures were criticized by environmentalists, members of parliament and civil liberty groups, adding to the growing controversy over the policing of protests.

London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson last week requested an independent review of his force’s tactics, amid mounting evidence of violent behavior by officers at the G20 protests. Two officers have been suspended for alleged brutality, including one who has been questioned on suspicion of manslaughter following the death of newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson.

Denis O’Connor, chief inspector of constabulary, who will carry out the review, is now expected to look at other demonstrations, including last year’s policing of Kingsnorth.

Further concern about police tactics emerged last week when 114 environmental campaigners were arrested in a pre-emptive raid.

Member of Parliament David Howarth, who obtained the e-mails, said they suggested BERR had attempted to politicize the police, using their intelligence to attempt to disrupt a peaceful protest.

“It is as though BERR was treating the police as an extension of E.ON’s private security operation,” he said. “The question is how did that [police] intelligence get to BERR? Did it come via the Home Office or straight from police? And once they’d got this intelligence, what did they do with it?”

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the civil rights group Liberty, said the sharing of police intelligence between BERR and E.ON was a serious abuse of power.

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