On 19th May 2013, Tom Anderson (a pseudonym to protect his identity) and another person was stopped while travelling by ferry from Dunkirk to Dover. The pair had been attending an anarchist festival in the Netherlands.
Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2001 gives police the legal power to ask questions for the purpose of investigating terrorism. People who are stopped under Schedule 7 do not have the right to remain silent, and those who refuse to answer questions risk prosecution and imprisonment. The act is also widely used by police to confiscate electronic equipment such as phones and laptops. The police have the legal power to retain confiscated equipment for up to two weeks.
The pair were questioned for several hours without a solicitor present. Police officers also copied the contents of Anderson’s phone and laptop and retained them.
The police did not ask any questions relating to terrorism. Instead, the pair were interrogated about their role in anti-capitalist protests that were planned in London, timed to coincide with the G8 conference in Belfast in 2013.
The police also questioned Anderson about the articles he had written and about his solidarity visits to Palestine.
Tom Anderson said:
“The police are using Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act to harass radical political organisers in the UK. The majority of the time this act is used in a racialised way against people of colour.
Right now, Schedule 7 is being used on a large scale to target Kurdish freedom movement organisers. This is because they are part of a movement which wants to move beyond the state and capitalism.
The fact that the police settled this case out of court shows that their actions are going beyond their powers. Kent Police settled the case just before it was finally due to be heard in the High Court. This shows that they were worried they might lose.
I would encourage comrades who have been stopped under Schedule 7 to take similar claims against the police. These kinds of claims, if successful, might help to limit the police’s use of this repressive power a little.
But we also need to remember that if our actions and ideas truly challenge the state and power, then we will always experience repression.
Repression like this is intended to divide us. To make us too timid to challenge the system because we might be hounded, detained, interrogated and branded a ‘terrorist’. We need to stand with those who are being harassed and put under surveillance, and carry on working to build a movement which can outgrow the current system.”
The pair refused to answer the majority of questions. They were threatened with arrest for refusing to cooperate but were eventually released without charge. Anderson subsequently decided to bring a civil action against Kent Police, but it has taken seven years to settle his claim for unlawful detention.
This was not the first time terrorism powers have been used against anarchists from Britain and the north of Ireland. Others were stopped while returning from an international anarchist gathering in 2012 and the G20 summit in Hamburg in 2017.
Commenting on the case, Kevin Blowe, coordinator of the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), said:
“It is undoubtedly very helpful to the police to have terrorism powers available to stop and question activists on their political activities when they pass through British ports, because there is no right to silence – a refusal to answer questions can lead to a criminal conviction. The powers are also hugely intimidating – people can be detained for hours on end and have their DNA and fingerprints taken. There is now ample evidence Schedule 7 powers are discriminatory and draconian, undermine civil rights and are used to criminalise communities and political dissent. We want to see these powers abolished.”
Schedule 7 powers are often used in a racialised way. A report by the Islamic Human Rights Commission in 2011 found that only 19% of people stopped for over an hour under the act were white. A 2014 study by students at Cambridge University found that 88% of its sample of those stopped under Schedule 7 at a particular airport were Muslim. A 2019 report by CAGE found that police Schedule 7 stops of Muslims amounted to ‘racial and religious profiling’.
Earlier this year the police paid a settlement to a Muslim woman who had brought a claim against the police after she was stopped under Schedule 7 and forced to remove her hijab. Police also took her photo and DNA.
Image: Port of Dover, by