Peaceful Protest – ‘Domestic Extremism’?

Police must stop categorising protest activities in this way, say 152 campaigners, lawyers, academics, journalists and politicians

John Catt in 2010

John Catt in 2010, the year he discovered that police had conducted surveillance on him at demonstrations between 2005 and 2009. This year the European court of human rights ruled that police acted unlawfully in compiling and retaining records about his activities. Photograph: Frank Baron/The Guardian

One of the greatest threats to free speech in Britain is the routine labelling, by the police, of non-violent protests and campaigns as “domestic extremism”. This term has no clear legal definition but is used to justify intensive surveillance and the retention of information on people who in many cases have never been arrested.

One of the greatest threats to free speech in Britain is the routine labelling, by the police, of non-violent protests and campaigns as “domestic extremism”.


Designating a campaign as extremist means everyone associated with it may also find themselves labelled in this way, even if they do nothing unlawful. From anti-fracking and anti-racist campaigners to peace and anti-nuclear groups, international solidarity activists and opponents of hunting, so many people who are legitimately protesting are also subjectively targeted by sweeping terrorism powers. This includes the draconian “counter-radicalisation” Prevent programme, which has been used to try to stifle the political views of young people, their parents and those who work with children and vulnerable adults.

Categorising legitimate free speech and dissent as “domestic extremism” intimidates and alienates people from taking part in protest activities, restricting their ability to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and association. This cannot continue.

Already this year, the European court of human rights in Strasbourg has ruled that police acted unlawfully in compiling and retaining records about the political activities of campaigners John and Linda Catt on a “domestic extremism” database (Protester, 94, wins long battle to be deleted from police database, 25 January). It added that UK law in this area is too vague to provide adequate protection against the arbitrary use of police powers.

We collectively support the demands of the Network for Police Monitoring’s “Protest Is Not Extremism” campaign, which calls on the police to stop categorising campaigning and protest activities as domestic extremism. We also seek a clear separation of protest policing from counter-terrorism and better protection for campaigners against surveillance, including independent oversight of how police use it in relation to political protest.

The Campaign is backed by the following:

Kevin Blowe Coordinator, Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol)
John and Linda Catt Campaigners who successfully challenged the police’s “domestic extremism” database
Shamik Dutta Bhatt Murphy, John and Linda Catt’s solicitor
Jenny Jones Green, House of Lords
Silkie Carlo Director, Big Brother Watch
Deborah Coles Executive director, Inquest
Mark Thomas Writer and performer
Dave Timms Friends of the Earth
Sheena Mooney Reclaim the Power
Kate Hudson Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Alexandra Phillips MEP Green, South East England
Joe Corré Talk Fracking
Dr Gail Bradbrook Co-founder of Extinction Rebellion
Claire James Campaign Against Climate Change
Millie Graham Wood Privacy International
Eveline Lubbers and Donal O’Driscoll Undercover Research Group
Estella Schmid Campaign Against Criminalising Communities
Anna Vickerstaff
Graham Thompson Co-founder of Plane Stupid
Asad Rehman Anti-racist campaigner
Melanie Gingell Peace in Kurdistan
Emily Apple Journalist and campaigner
Rebecca Lush Environmental campaigner
Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya University of East London
David Mead Professor of UK human rights law, University of East Anglia
Professor David Miller University of Bristol
Dr Tanzil Chowhdury Lecturer in public law, Queen Mary University of London
Dr Will Jackson Liverpool John Moores University
Dr Asim Qureshi CAGE
Dr Hilary Aked Researcher and campaigner
Professor Emeritus Nick Cowern Newcastle University
Dr Andrea Brock University of Sussex
Catherine Harrington Frack Off London
Claire Stephenson and Bob Dennett Frack Free Lancashire
Tina Rothery UK Nanas
Tom Wainwright Barrister, Garden Court Chambers and co-author of The Protest Handbook
Michael Hamilton Senior lecturer in public protest law, University of East Anglia, and secretary of the OSCE-ODIHR panel of experts on freedom of assembly
Damien Short Director, Human Rights Consortium, and reader in human rights, Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Andy Meinke Activist Court Aid Brigade
Carol Towner Protest Justice
Lydia Dagostino Solicitor, Kellys
Simon Pook Solicitor, Lizars
Mike Schwarz Solicitor, Bindmans
Rachel Harger Solicitor, Bindmans
Ian Brownhill Barrister
Owen Greenhall Barrister, Garden Court Chambers
Alex Gask Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers
Matt Foot Solicitor, Birnberg Peirce
Jules Carey Solicitor, Bindmans
Raj Chada Solicitor, Hodge Jones & Allen
Lochlinn Parker Solicitor, ITN
Patrick Ormerod Solicitor, Bindmans
Michael Oswald Solicitor, Bhatt Murphy
Simon Natas Solicitor, ITN
Steven Bird Solicitor, Birds
Ewa Jasiewicz Union organiser, activist and writer
Liam Geary Baulch Extinction Rebellion
Phil Ball Activist, Arctic 30
Richard Scholey Woodsetts Against Fracking
Steve Mason Frack Free United
Richard Roberts Reclaim the Power/one of the “Frack Free Four”
Rich Loizou Reclaim the Power/one of the “Frack Free Four”
Maureen Mills Halsall Against Fracking
Barbara Richardson Roseacre Awareness Group
Susan Gough Frack Free Kirby Misperton
Liz Cruse Pagans United Against Fracking
Andy Andrews Frack Free Somerset
Julie Daniels Lancashire Nanas
Lorraine Inglis Weald Action Group
Peter Scott Environmental campaigner
Jojo Mehta Frack Free Five Valleys
Merilyn Tarplee The Moss Alliance
Kathryn McWhirter No Fibs (No Fracking in Balcombe Society)
Benjamin Dean Environmental campaigner
Dr Jill Sutcliffe Keep Kirdford and Wisborough Green
Vivien Murchison Concerned Communities of Falkirk
Alan Flint and Diane Bell Frack Free Yeovil
Aedín McLoughlin Good Energies Alliance Ireland
Owen Adams Frack off Our Forest (of Dean)
Diane Wood South Somerset Green party
Tim Dawes Unite Community, Shropshire branch
Chris Cannon SAFE – Singleton Against Fracked Environment
David Penney Keep East Lancashire Frack Free
Anna Currado and Emily Anderson Keep Billingshurst Frack Free
John Clandillon-Baker and Rosie Rechter East Kent Against Fracking
Ian Roberts Residents Action on Fylde Fracking
Rikki Blue Journalist, RealMedia.Press
Mike Hill Expert adviser, technical working group on Hydrocarbon-BREF, Joint Research Centre of the EU commission
Richard Lawson and Sue Young-Pugh Frack Free North Somerset
Cllr Lisa Scott Mole Valley Green party
Chris Cole Drone Wars UK
Martyn Lowe Close Capenhurst Campaign
Janie Mac Campaigner
Maggie Hartley Retired university lecturer
Michael Vickery Frack Free Yeovil
Pat Smith Dorking Climate Emergency
Graham Stewart South Lanarkshire Against Unconventional Gas
Jay Ginn Croydon Green party
Kevin and Teresa Ogilvie-White Frack Free EQS (Exmoor-Quantock-Sedgemoor)
Adrian Palmer Frack Free York and Villages
Thomas Barlow Rebel Cities
Michelle Easton Kirby Misperton Protectors
Ken Gorman Peace campaigner
Leigh Coghill Anti-fracking campaigner
Will Cottrell Chair, Brighton Energy Coop
Cllr Linda Johnson East Riding of Yorkshire council
Russell Scott Investigative journalist
David Adam and Barbara Hickman Frack Free Ryedale
Kim Hunter Frack Free Scarborough
Rob Basto Frack Free Surrey
Ellie Wyatt Frack Free Sussex
Steve Bolter and Peter Anthony Bruce Green Liberal Democrats
Juliet McBride Nukewatch
Josephine Downs Frack Free Malton & Norton
Sheila Menon Social justice campaigner, one of the ‘Heathrow 13’
Sian Sullivan Professor of environment and culture, Bath Spa University
Mike Hannis Senior lecturer in environmental humanities, Bath Spa University, and editor, The Land magazine
Professor Andy Stirling University of Sussex
Amber Huff Institute of Development Studies
Professor David Ockwell Professor of geography, University of Sussex
Andrea Cornwall Researcher
Jan Selby Professor of international relations, University of Sussex
Liz Khan Women in Black London
Jane Talents Trident Ploughshares
Professor Ian Scoones Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex
Jean Hesketh Frack Free Dudleston
Peter Underwood London representative on the Green party regional council
Dr Judith Verweijen Lecturer in international relations, University of Sussex
Simon Reed Director, Conscience: Taxes for Peace not War
Richard Dixon-Payne Sustainable Hackney
June Bhooshi Sheffield Against Fracking
Dr Rebecca Elmhirst Reader in human geography, University of Brighton
Frank Jackson Former co-chair, World Disarmament Campaign
Tim Devereux Vice-chair, Movement for the Abolition of War
Guy Martin Environmental campaigner
Helen Steel Police Spies Out of Lives and one of the “McLibel Two”
Alan and Jane Finney Mosborough Against Fracking
Ian Pocock London Campaign Against Arms Trade
Steve Ballard Secretary, London Hazards Centre
Polly Bluck Tower Hamlets Women for Peace
Dr Rob Byrne Lecturer, University of Sussex


The police have finally dropped the term ‘domestic extremism’ after critics have accused them of rebranding lawful protest by using the phrase to capture a wide range of campaigning activity. The National Police Coordination Centre, which oversees the deployment of police officers to large scale events and in times of national crisis, has confirmed that it will no longer use the term. Its decision comes 12 months after a similar decision by the Home Office (here).

A freedom of information request by the campaigning group Netpol, the Network for Police Monitoring, has confirmed the policy change. You can read more on Netpol’s site here. The NPoCC have told Netpol that the counter terrorism policing headquarters will be looking for new terminology.

‘Domestic extremism’ has been used to justify police surveillance on people, many of whom have not been arrested. In January 2019, The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled police were not justified in retaining and compiling records of 94-year-old peaceful protester, John Catt. The Court ruled the records on a database of ‘domestic extremisms’ were unnecessary, violating Catt’s human rights, and that the database lacked safeguards to protect protesters’ rights.

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