Terrorism Laws Used to Stifle Political Speech

Walter Wolfgang, an 82-year-old political veteran, was forcefully removed from the UK Labour party conference for calling a speaker, Jack Straw, a liar. (Opinions on whether Jack Straw is or is not a liar are irrelevant here.) He was later denied access to the conference on basis of anti-terror laws. Keep in mind that as recently as the 1980s, Labour Party conferences were heated affairs compared with today's media shows.

From The London Times:

A police spokeswoman said that Mr Wolfgang had not been arrested but detained because his security accreditation had been cancelled by Labour officials when he was ejected. She said: "The delegate asked the police officer what powers he was using. The police officer responded that he was using his powers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act to confirm the delegate's details."

Also this:

More than 600 people were detained under the Terrorism Act during the Labour party conference, it was reported yesterday.

Anti-Iraq war protesters, anti-Blairite OAPs and conference delegates were all detained by police under legislation that was designed to combat violent fanatics and bombers - even though none of them was suspected of terrorist links. None of those detained under Section 44 stop-and-search rules in the 2000 Terrorism Act was arrested and no-one was charged under the terrorism laws.

Walter Wolfgang, an 82-year-old Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, was thrown out of the conference hall by Labour heavies after heckling the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw.

When he tried to get back in, he was detained under Section 44 and questioned by police. The party later apologised.

But the Home Office has refused to apologise for heavy-handed tactics used at this year's conference.

A spokesman insisted: "Stop and search under Section 44 is an important tool in the on-going fight against terrorism.

"The powers help to deter terrorist activity by creating a hostile environment for terrorists."

He added that the justification for authorising the use of the powers was "intelligence-led and based on an assessment of the threat against the UK."

The shadow home secretary, David Davis, said: "Laws that are designed to fight terrorism should only be used against terrorism."

Posted on October 10, 2005 at 8:13 AM • 31 Comments

Comments

StephenOctober 10, 2005 8:55 AM

"Up to early 2004 around 500 people are believed to have been arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000; seven people have been charged."

Looks like everything's working as planned so far.

PaulOctober 10, 2005 9:02 AM

I believe Mr Wolfgang shouted "Nonsense" rather than "liar".

If you see the TV footage he wasn't just asked to leave but dragged out by the scruff of his neck.

Shameful but typical of New Labour.

nealeOctober 10, 2005 9:05 AM

This isn't quite correct, whilst I personally think that the ejection was wrong in the first place and any rough treatment as part of that ejection should be investigated, the arrest didn't happen till later.

Walter Wolfgang was ejected for shouting out during the Straw's speech. When he was ejected his conference credentials were revoked. He was arrested when he tried to re-enter the conference without credentials. Attempting to gain access to a restricted area without credentials is probably reasonable grounds for the police to at least have a word with you.

CraigOctober 10, 2005 9:16 AM

Just to be clear:

1. Heavy-handed private security initially flung him out. Obviously a stupid thing to do, but regardless of how you feel about New Labour this is hardly behaviour characteristic of a party obsessed with media appearance. I wouldn't read too much into this apart from as a lesson on the dangers of relying on nightclub bouncers to handle sensitive security operations.

2. The police claimed to be acting under Section 44 when they tried to prevent Mr. Wolfgang re-entering the hall. This is the worrrying part of the story as it a clear misapplication of these powers. During passage through parliament Ministers gave assurance that the Terrorism Act would not be used for policing political demonstrations or handling public order issues. Quite clearly, if the forces of law and order are provided with a useful tool they will apply it, regardless of the context.

Clive RobinsonOctober 10, 2005 10:49 AM

Although unconfirmed, it would appear that in the few days of the Labour party conferance, there where 632 Section 44 arrests or detentions.

Further information, not only did Mr Wolfgang get evicted by the "security staff" a second man was also forcefully dragged from his seat and evicted. His crime was to tell the Thugs "security staff" to leave Mr Wolfgang alone.

One of the thugs was later persued by a TV crew and apparently told them he was "safe as houses" (unfortunatly off camra) when the reporter indicated that he had committed assult.

Apparently the reason Mr Wolfgang tried to re-enter the conferance was to get some of his personal possesions (which apparently he did explain to the police).

The worst part was the number of "Politicos" that where wheeled out to make public statments, not one of them sounded either sincer or as if they really cared when they supposedly appologised. The priminister Tony Blair, apparently indicated he was not there at the time, so thats all right then...

Just as a foot note, the labour party was actually put in power by less than 36% of the eligable votes in the UK, but managed to secure an overwhelming majority of MPs. This if nothing else indicates how little support there are for politicians in general in the UK...

ZwackOctober 10, 2005 10:52 AM

The biggest question I have is whether, while he was being dragged out, Mr Wolfgang was told that his credentials had been revoked.

If he was not aware that his credentials had been revoked then he should have been told that his credentials had been revoked, and not allowed back in. No need to arrest him.

Unless my memory is incorrect then he would have been there as a member of the party representing a certain local organisation. Denying him attendance would be a serious issue as it denies who ever he is representing their proper representation.

The Labour party has gone far from where it used to be a few years ago. I wish it would change back. Come back John Smith, all is forgiven.

Z.

Ben LiddicottOctober 10, 2005 11:20 AM

Zwack is wrong, the gentleman was not a delegate representing anyone, but a guest.

That said, it is still no way to behave to someone.

Cheers,
Ben

Davi OttenheimerOctober 10, 2005 11:54 AM

Yes, since you are not allowed to "watch" (pun intended) the Labor party conference you might as well expect to be evicted for speaking:

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2005/09/...

The only thing left would be if they also prevented you from listening.

Also, I agree that Labor's handling was downright shameful with regard to citizen dissent but I think it only fair to point out that Blair and some of the party publically apologized after the incident and blamed the security force for being overzealous:

http://politics.guardian.co.uk/labour2005/story/...

" Returning to the scene today, Mr Wolfgang received a round of applause from both the conference floor and from party members standing outside. However, the two cabinet ministers on stage at the time, Lord Falconer and David Miliband, refused to join in. Later, in his closing speech to conference, the defence secretary, John Reid, apologised to Mr Wolfgang with the prime minister applauding from the stage. [...] Asked if he would heckle today if there was something he disagreed with, Mr Forrest said: 'Absolutely. They let us back in because they made a mistake in not allowing us to heckle.' [...] Tony Blair today personally apologised Mr Wolfgang, who has been a Labour party member for 57 years. 'We are really, really sorry,' Mr Blair said. 'I apologise completely and it should not have happened. The stewards of conferences are volunteers and we are going to have to look at how we train them but obviously it should not have happened.'"

probitasOctober 10, 2005 12:05 PM

Politics aside, I would like to make an observation about basic human nature. One of the big problems with hiring somebody to provide security is that you often need to give them the keys to the kingdom. A big complaint often heard is about guards "misappropriating" candy, loose change, etc. from the desks of workers at night. Basically, they are misapplying powers granted them to help in carrying out their duty.

Section 44 appears to be setting up a very similar situation. Elected officials are proving themselves unworthy of properly exercising the powers they were granted in the name of hindering terrorists. Between failing to use the powers to thwart real attacks, killing innocents to prevent non-existant threats and using Section 44 to silence critics, they are demonstrating their inability to be trusted with the most rudimentary of tools, let alone something as powerful as Section 44.

Davi OttenheimerOctober 10, 2005 12:07 PM

Also, I agree that Labor's handling was downright shameful with regard to citizen dissent but I think it only fair to point out that Blair and some of the party publically apologized after the incident and blamed the security force for being overzealous:

http://politics.guardian.co.uk/labour2005/story/...

" Returning to the scene today, Mr Wolfgang received a round of applause from both the conference floor and from party members standing outside. However, the two cabinet ministers on stage at the time, Lord Falconer and David Miliband, refused to join in. Later, in his closing speech to conference, the defence secretary, John Reid, apologised to Mr Wolfgang with the prime minister applauding from the stage. [...] Asked if he would heckle today if there was something he disagreed with, Mr Forrest said: 'Absolutely. They let us back in because they made a mistake in not allowing us to heckle.' [...] Tony Blair today personally apologised Mr Wolfgang, who has been a Labour party member for 57 years. 'We are really, really sorry,' Mr Blair said. 'I apologise completely and it should not have happened. The stewards of conferences are volunteers and we are going to have to look at how we train them but obviously it should not have happened.'"

ParsiOctober 10, 2005 2:56 PM

@craig "the dangers of relying on nightclub bouncers"

@probitas "problems with hiring somebody to provide security"

Not so. As Mr. Blair says in Davi Ottenheimer's quotation, "the stewards of conferences are volunteers". Labour Party consituency activists, in fact. The ones who manhandled Wolfgang were identified in the newspapers.

MozOctober 10, 2005 2:57 PM

@David

" it only fair to point that Blair [..] blamed the security force for being overzealous"

It's as if George Bush blamed the US Army or, more aptly, Ghengis Kahn blaming the Mongols. If you are the person in charge, you don't "blame", you "take responsibility" and either "sort it out" or "resign".

The idea of having a "look at how we train them" is one example. Changing the terrorism legislation so it can't be abused in this manner is another.

(apologies for the somewhat aggressive editing by my keyboard)

Alan De SmetOctober 10, 2005 3:29 PM

An important core lesson is to never give someone more authority than they really need. Given recent fears of terrorism many laws have been passed that give law enforcement much broader powers than they previously had. If applied generally, the public would strongly object, but the public was promised that these laws would only be used in very limited ways for very specific cases. The problem is that the laws didn't enshrine those limits; they were simply promises from politicians. With a politician's promise and $1.25, you can get a cup of coffee. Inevitably law enforcement will use the powers in other areas, areas in which they never would have been given the power if they had asked. This isn't a law enforcement problem; they're just trying to do the best they can. Any group tends to use power to the fullest extent they can without regard to the intent of the power grant. So simply limit the power in the first place.

Davi OttenheimerOctober 10, 2005 6:30 PM

@ Moz's Keyboard

You make a good point. However, I was trying to put Bruce's initial quote in context (the Home Office has refused to apologise for heavy-handed tactics used at this year's conference) since the PM and party leader did in fact apologize.

Accountability is still an issue, yet there at least appears to be the guise of a disconnect between the leader and his "volunteer" thugs...oops, I mean stewards.

FoodForThoughtOctober 10, 2005 11:23 PM

Actually there is a little twist with this; section 44 specifically covers "stop and search", and at no time was Mr Wolfgang searched which may mean he was detained illegally.

In other parts of Britain teenagers wearing anti-Blair t-shirts have also apparently had this section used against them....

AnonymousOctober 11, 2005 5:00 AM

I find this comment from the Home Office extraordinarily chilling:

"Stop and search under Section 44 is an important tool in the on-going fight against terrorism.

"The powers help to deter terrorist activity by creating a hostile environment for terrorists."

Surely you can justify almost anything with "creating a hostile environment for terrorrists". They conveniently ignore the fact that they are also creating a hostile environment for lawful dissent.

TarkeelOctober 11, 2005 5:10 AM

George Monviot just ran an article about this, and other abuses of anti-terror bills in general to stiffle protesting, in The Guardian: http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2005/10/04/...

"Had Mr Wolfgang said “nonsense��? twice during the foreign secretary’s speech, the police could have charged him under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Harrassment, the act says, “must involve conduct on at least two occasions … conduct includes speech." [...] "Had Mr Wolfgang said “nonsense��? to one of the goons who dragged him out of the conference, he could have been charged under section 125 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which came into force in August."

Dr Stephen DannOctober 11, 2005 5:19 AM

"The powers help to deter terrorist activity by creating a hostile environment for terrorists."

Did I miss a memo here or something? If the point of a terror law is to make the environment hostile to terrorists, then it's a redundant starting point. If you've got an 'enemy' waging a war of terror, then they probably are finding the current environment "hostile".


Tom WelshOctober 11, 2005 12:01 PM

'If you are the person in charge, you don't "blame", you "take responsibility" and either "sort it out" or "resign"' (Moz).

I have noticed recently that when politicians and corporate executives say that "I accept full responsibility" for something, they do not mean that they are going to do anything about it (e.g. resign, sack staff, change working practices, etc). All that happens is that, since the minister has "accepted full responsibility", no one else has to worry about being blamed. The politician acts like an exception handler that catches all exceptions and does nothing. Very comfortable.

another_bruceOctober 11, 2005 12:35 PM

if i don't like you, i can call you a terrorist and then treat you as one. "terrorist" will take on a broader meaning as anybody opposed to my enlightened leadership, and i can add it to my folder of similarly useful epithets (racist, xenophobe...). the people in the u.k. are already cowed to the point where nobody, even in a crowded conference room, will lift a finger to stop beefy young bar bouncers from roughing up 82 year old men. if i understand correctly, they even have a law forbidding the possession of anything that could be used as a defensive weapon. if there is no individual security, then there is no collective security either.

the doodOctober 11, 2005 9:16 PM

I'm NOT a fan of new security laws however this seems like sensationalism to me. Good for the protestors.

The guy got disruptive, got kicked out, and in my world if you're being disruptive you get booted and the TS rule applies.

I do not defend the alleged heavy-handed approach, but stuff like that happens. Was he man-handled or was he injured? Man-handled? Not hurt? Dignity rumpled? Shaddup, sissy.

So they pulled terrorism blather out over this. He wasn't charged. He and others were 'detained.' It doesn't sound like anyone spent the night in the can over it. But it's BIG NEWS because some asshats used terrorism laws to chill out some protesters.

Big %$&#%$ deal. At least they weren't beaten with batons.

People at a protest can expect to get harassed - it's not right, it's not fair, but that's the way it is. If you end up
spending the night in your own bed (and not a cot in a cell) it's a damn good day - news coverage for your cause and you don't have to worry about a cellmate.

SolinymOctober 12, 2005 2:56 AM

In rogue MI-6 agent Richard Tomlinson's autobiographical book, he describes a scenario where the Brits told the French that he was a terrorist with expert knowledge of diving and underwater explosives. He was beaten up during the arrest. The French police later apologized and offered his description as a terrorist as an excuse.

It would appear that this is not the first time the Brits have played the terrorism card inappropriately. Let us hope it's the last.

The author of the previous comment seems to think that injustice justifies injustice. Sorry, we're having a normative discussion here. We know life isn't fair, that bad things happen to undeserving people. We know it can be worse (and is, in some parts of the world). You can say that about virtually any isolated act, so it's practically not worth saying.

TDOctober 13, 2005 6:10 AM

Section 44(2) of the Terrorism Act 2000 is the section that provides the power to stop and search pedestrians, within a designated area, for items that could be used in connection with terrorism. As far as I'm aware, an area can be as small as a road or as large as a city, perhaps even larger but I am not aware of any s44 authorisations given for anything larger than Greater London (609 square miles).

When a policeman stops and searches someone he is obliged to write them a 'stop and search form' and keep a copy for himself. So if he exercises his s44(2) powers, he will write on the form his reason for the use of s44(2), the date and time, location, and the outcome. This is so that the authorities can audit the use of stop and search powers, because of complaints and fears of disproportionality and discrimination, and the public feel a little reassured that they have the paperwork if they need to query it.

But unlike their other stop and search powers, under s44(2) the police are not required to first form a 'reasonable suspicion' about you in order to search you. Instead, an area has been designated as an area in which they can conduct random stops and searches. Apparently this will deter terrorists.

Brighton & Hove, Sussex, the town in which the Labour Conference was held, was designated as such an area. 600 stop and search forms were handed out - admittedly not all of them were s44(2) forms, and not everyone was searched, just questioned. Wolfgang was initially prevented from re-entering the conference by a policeman who claimed he was doing so under s44(2). Apparently Sussex Police sent a written apology to Wolfgang, but it seems to be a bit late now. You would struggle to convince me that was an appropriate use of s44(2).

There are complaints that the police are using s44 powers to interfere with legitimate protest. There is extensive (and arguably unlawful) use of these powers at anti-war demonstrations, arms fair protests, and so on. Some of the reasons given seem pretty ridiculous to me, for example, "seen putting something in a bag".

It's important to look at this in context. Among the latest ideas from our Government are the proposals to jail terrorist suspects without charge for 90 days (three months), to evict suspected drug dealers from their homes, not allowing them back in until they prove their innocence, and to give the police more summary powers so that we don't have to go through the 'hassle' of giving someone their day in court! Our Government Ministers say things like, "the right not to be blown up is the greatest human right of all", or "the system has to protect innocent people but protecting law abiding citizens must come first".

As a law-abiding citizen of an influential modern Western democracy, I find such developments, especially the disposal of the presumption of innocence, to be of great concern.

I apologise for the length of my post but I hope you all find the information interesting.

DarkFireOctober 13, 2005 10:43 AM

Just to adda bit of info to the above post -

S.44(1) or S.44(2) of TACT 2000 do not give any power of arrest to Police Officers.

They allow officers to carry out stop & searches when the power is authorised by a very senior officer for a particular area for a particular time frame.

Police officers are also trained not to use S.44 to conduct stop & searches for reasons unconnected with terrorism, despite the lack of a requirement for having reasonable grounds for the stop & search procedure.

The problem here was 2-fold:

1) Untrained, unaccountable, dumb civillian security personel should not be used for this sort of thing.

2) The actions of the officers who later stopped him from re-entering were, shall we say, poorly thought out.

alienOctober 17, 2005 12:39 PM

"The powers help to deter terrorist activity by creating a hostile environment for" everyone.

PhaedrusNovember 15, 2005 6:57 AM

As an ex-member of the various parts of the uniformed crown-services in the UK, I can assure you that the objectives of terrorism are actually being promoted by the misuse of any anti-terrorism laws.

It's the hiking-up the 'hostile environment' for all citizens that eventually causes the eventual democratic backlash demanding negotiation.

History has shown that no Govt EVER succeeded in emasculating a serious 'terrorist' grouping. In fact, the best known insurgent/terrorist entities now run their own countries; Eire, Israel, most of Asia from India to Korea, Palestine and, significantly, the USA itself.

The objective of repressive measures is simply not to obstruct terrorism, but to suppress the ability of the public in general to express it's justifiable concerns at political mal-practice and perfidy. As Mr Straw was once the Home Secretary for the United Kingdom he has been groomed in plausible nonsense and double-speak. Whether Wolfgang said 'Liar' or 'Nonsense', he was probably expressing and informed opinion of Straw.

PaulNovember 15, 2005 3:39 PM

What else could you expect from Bliar and his New Labour filth, his political thought Police, now so corrupted that they campaign directly for the Dear leader – witness last’s week’s vote on NL internment plans in the House? That, and all their other repressive laws: “glorification of terrorism��? – presumably this would cover celebrating the 4th July in the USA and their equally absurd “religious hatred��? bill. Police State? It's coming folks, but don't worry it's only to protect you. Nanny knows best, don't you see.

NeilNovember 15, 2005 9:48 PM

The last two comments are spot on.
The Terrorists are winning. Look at the money being diverted from essential services and infrastructure to combat terrorism and the loss of civil liberties for all.
A few people, "terrorists", are turning western democracies into fascist dictatorships at very little expense.

With every new, and ineffectual, law passed I can see the "terrorists" wetting themselves with laughter as our governments turn upon their own citizens.

Combating terrorism has become a very convenient excuse for all governments to oppress their citizens as much as they can. How do you argue against it without being labelled a terrorist or terrorists sympathiser ?
Very neat.

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