John Catt, 88, "Sat On A Folding Chair and Appeared To Be Sketching," Which Obviously Makes Him A Domestic Extremist

Abby Zimet

Calling surveillance of him "sick to the hilt," an 88-year-old British artist and peace activist has won a landmark lawsuit against police who labelled him a "domestic extremist" and logged his protest activities on a secret database in minute detail, down to slogans on his t-shirt. Information in the database,  maintained by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, tracked John Catt and his 50-year-old daughter Linda as they attended close to 60 protests over  four years, many as part of the Smash EDO campaign against a US-owned arms factory near their home in Brighton. At each event, Catt would take out a sketch pad and draw demonstrators. Appeals court judges ruled that police surveilance of such peaceful, entirely legal activities constitutes "a significant interference with the right to respect for private life." As a result of the ruling,  police, already under criticism for abuse of privacy and civil rights, may have to weed from the database details of thousands of other activists doing similarly dangerous things like drawing pictures and exercising their legal rights.

From the database: "John Catt arrived in his white Citroen Berlingo van. He removed several banners for the protesters to use and at the completion of the demo returned the same to the van. He was using his drawing pad to sketch a picture of the protest and the police presence." From a demonstration against Guantánamo Bay in 2005: "John Catt was seen wearing a Free Omar T-shirt...(He) was very quiet and was holding a board with orange people on it."

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