As part of nonviolent direct action, activists risk arrest and conviction for offences during actions. Common ones include obstruction of the highway, breaching conditions under Section 12 or 14 of the Public Order Act, aggravated trespass, criminal damage, obstruction of a police officer (or resisting arrest) and public nuisance. They are set out in more detail in Appendix 1, below.
But in addition to these offences, there is a further risk that someone who knowingly assists someone who commits an offence (or plans to do so) may themselves be guilty of a different kind of criminal offence. This is the focus of this document.
They are called connected offences and can include conspiracy and encouraging or assisting someone to commit a crime and are set out below. Anyone involved in planning actions in which criminal offences may be committed is at risk of being arrested for these kinds of offences before, during, or after planned actions. These all relate to one of the common offences with which most of us are already familiar, ie. conspiracy to cause a public nuisance, conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass etc
This note explains those offences and their risks, and sets out ways that you might mitigate the risk of committing them.
In terms of sentencing, whilst many of the offences risked here are tried in a Crown Court the maximum sentences are generally not greater than those for committing the offence itself (which are usually tried in a Magistrates Court). In terms of typical sentences for first time offenders, we would expect them also to be on a par with committing the offence itself.
MITIGATING THE RISKS
NB: Different people have different appetites for risk and will be impacted differently by those risks. Whilst we can outline them, the precautions you take should be determined by how you perceive those risks to apply to you. Finally, what you do is up to you, but also respect that other’s experiences may be different to your own and don’t do and say things that could increase the risk for other people.
For non UK nationals please see this:
Nonviolent direct action inherently involves a risk of arrest. Therefore, the planning of nonviolent direct actions inherently also involves the risk of arrest for charges related to the planning of offences.
In general these risks are low. But the level of this risk depends on the level and type of your involvement and not just on what you are doing and saying, but on what others in the movement are doing and saying about you. Please do not describe others as organisers or co-ordinators without their permission - they may see their roles differently.
It is understood to be a typical strategy for the police to use preemptive arrest where actions relate to “critical national infrastructure” like airports, railways, power plants, hospitals, telecommunications etc.
Taking this risk seriously can help to prepare you for it and reduce its likelihood and its impact on you, on other Rebels, and on the movement. It is important for you to be cautious but not paranoid. The former can be seen as a way to mitigate the latter.
The risk of arrest for the connected offences is not severe and it can be reduced with planning and care.
By now, it is very likely that police officers have infiltrated working groups and group chats in the movement. This is no cause for panic or paranoia but you should speak and write with this in mind.
The police have tended not to arrest for conspiracy to commit low-level (ie. summary) offences, but they also will not know what everyone in the movement is doing and so there is a low risk they will make arrests and/or raid offices and/or seize documents, computers or telephones in order to gather further information.
XR is a self-organising network. But in order to make out charges such as conspiracy, the police will try to find evidence of particular people organising actions.
There are a number of things that you can do to mitigate the risk to yourself, to other Rebels, and to the movement:
- Data: As a radically transparent network it is important to take control of your own data. Take control over what contact details you share. You may want to consider: using a nickname, a dedicated sim or phone number, and/or a dedicated email address.
- Organisers: if the police are looking to find organisers and high-profile people in the movement. Don’t be one. Instead:
- Split responsibilities for actions between people to reduce each of your risks. Eg. the person who buys a boat to bring to an action should not be on the boat etc.
- Don’t talk about a particular role you might be adopting publicly on Facebook or other social media.
- Don’t take a media spokesperson role (it’s obviously fine for people who are media spokespeople, it’s just that combining a facilitator role with media spokesperson can make you look like an organiser).
- Spread interactions with the police between people. Before actions, perhaps someone identified as ‘Police Liaison’ could notify police of forthcoming actions. Again, it would be better if this isn’t someone who is also a contact point in the network for your group.
- Personal computers and phones: make sure that your contacts, photos and documents are backed up, if you’ve been meaning to do that Time Machine back up, now is the time.
- Writing: be careful what you put in writing - both in terms of the information you share (and how) and your tone in written conversations. Do not encourage or direct people to do things, inform them of options and include caveats to make clear you are not organising them, but they are volunteering themselves. When editing and publishing material online, do you want your name attached (sometimes automatically ie google docs) or would you prefer an alias?
- Messaging: Use the app called Signal for messaging and set the ‘disappearing messages’ function. Where possible, use direct messages to people rather than group messages. This isn’t a block to group messaging, which is a very powerful tool, it is just a reminder to be aware that any messages you put on group chats will be less secure and to word messages appropriately. Please don’t share people’s personal details (name, email and telephone number) on group chats without their permission. Make requests for contacts on group chats but ask for responses by direct message.
- Filming: Be aware of where video footage will go and when. Feel able to say you don’t want to be filmed. Feel able to say that if filmed you don’t want it to be made publicly available (eg. on you tube). Feel able to say that you don’t want your name mentioned or attached to the footage (keeping in mind facial recognition technology can be used on online material too). If there is a documentary team, think about when the footage will be broadcast on National television; would it be before or after a potential trial, which could be 9 months and more after an action, for example.
- Preparing: the risks of arrest are low, but you should prepare in case it happens. Make a back-up plan for children or animals; find an XR Bust Card and know the solicitor’s company that you would call if you were to be arrested; brief a friend on what they should do if you are arrested. Know who you will call from the police station, an affinity group anchor, your friend or relative. You can ask them to call the back office or contact police station support directly.
- During actions:
- Spread the site facilitation, eg. one person could make announcements on the stage, another could liaise with the Steward co-ordinator and another could talk to other sites. This is self-organising, but it can be easy to become the Village Fete style ‘organiser’ by default and this can be picked up on police surveillance cameras and face recognition technology.
- Avoid activities that encourage or assist the committing of offences, eg. don’t use loud hailers to encourage people to ignore police orders etc.
- Use a dedicated protest phone when at an action.
Protecting the Movement
It is unusual for the Police to go for an organisation directly, eg. by raiding its offices, but not without precedent. There is, therefore, a small risk that XR’s offices could be raided by police. The risk of this happening is limited by the reputational damage that the police will be worried about incurring and the fact that conspiracy charges must be heard in a Crown Court with a jury, which the police have so far been keen to avoid. But this risk will likely increase the more disruptive XR becomes.
Whilst raids at homes or the office remains unlikely it is mentioned here as there is no harm in being prepared in any case.
In addition to the above advice which seeks to protect you and other Rebels, to protect the work that XR has done and is planning to do, it is important to think carefully and in advance about a back-up plan if the offices were raided, key materials including laptops and phones confiscated, and people arrested. Are key documents necessary for actions backed up somewhere (eg. on memory sticks in a different location to the office) so that actions can proceed after a raid? What about contact lists in case telephones are confiscated? Are there back up phones and laptops stored somewhere safe? Is there a way to change passwords to key accounts (ie email inboxes) quickly and easily?
Given the potential reputational damage of heavy-handedness to the police, what is the media and messaging strategy if offices are raided, especially on the eve of larger actions?