These documents discussing the formation of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) were released by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to the Guardian journalist Rob Evans under the Freedom of Information Act in March 2012.
Evans asked ACPO for documents which explained why the NPOIU was set up in 1999 and outlined its purpose and mission.
ACPO disclosed extracts from minutes of meetings of the ACPO Council Committee on Terrorism and Allied Matters in 1999 and 2000. ACPO would neither confirm nor deny whether they held any further information.
The limited documents disclosed shed some light on the birth of the NPOIU, as it was discussed in hotels and manor houses in South Wales, Jersey, Northern Ireland, Oxfordshire and Swindon.
In February 1999 the unit’s first head, Barry Moss, gave a progress report on the formation of the NPOIU which he expected to be operational by April that year.
Moss told the Committee: ‘the original concept of a fully-integrated unit might not be easily attainable’.
First and foremost, the NPOIU was established as an expansion of the Animal Rights National Index (ARNI). As the NPOIU’s terms of reference were being negotiated, there were questions about how broad its remit might be and how it could incorporate the work of other pre-existing units.
There was clearly a desire for a national intelligence unit addressing political protest and public order issues which could coordinate the gathering and dispersal of intelligence across the country.
Moss suggests that the new unit, in an expansion of ARNI, could ‘deal with political extremism, race issues, and national public order issues such as the Farmer’s dispute and Millennium related issues’.
Some police forces wanted major sporting events and ‘travellers’ to be included within the remit of the new unit, covered at that time by the Northern Intelligence Unit and the Southern Intelligence Unit. One document states that ACC Tim Hollis, Secretary of ACPO Public Order Sub-Committee, was examining the work of the North and South Intelligence Units to see ‘whether their activities could be profitably amalgamated into the NPOIU or if they provide for local needs which would not be addressed by the NPOIU’. Later minutes show that the North and South Intelligence Units became satellite units to the NPOIU, receiving tasking from the NPOIU whilst preserving their existing information databases.
The first disclosed draft terms of reference for the NPOIU show that it was focussing primarily on two categories of activism, ‘Animal Rights and Environmental Extremists’, though it would also cover ‘other political extremism or protest activity’. A few months later the final terms of reference don’t specify any particular categories. They state that the NPOIU’s purpose is to gather, analyse and disseminate intelligence relating to criminal activities and substantial threats to public order which arise from ‘political extremism or protest activity’.
Minutes from July 1999 discuss the need to link the work of the NPOIU with the ‘work led by HSBs in forces’. HSB is an acronym for Head of Special Branch. The NPOIU needed to work with Heads of Special Branches to ‘bring together all the components that will make up the flow of intelligence’.
The Metropolitan Police’s Special Duties Section (SDS – formerly called the Special Demonstration Squad) within Special Branch was still operational when the NPOIU was being formed. The NPOIU would cover similar terrain to the SDS but on a national level. For nearly a decade the two units co-existed, presumably as both collaborators and rivals.
Problems immediately arose over the funding of the NPOIU. The Home Office were funding the ARNI and Barry Moss told the Committee that the original idea was that the MPS would act as the lead force for the new unit and the ARNI funding provided by the Home Office would pass into the MPS. In practice, that funding was insufficient to cover the new expanded unit. In January 2000 the minutes stated that funding needed to increase from the ARNI budget of just under £1 million up to the cost for the NPOIU of approximately £1.6 million. Later minutes report that the Home Office would continue funding the ARNI but that the shortfall for the new unit was still unresolved and would be met by the Met in the short-term, with further work required to put the unit on a stronger financial footing for the long-term.
The documents name a number of senior police officers who played key roles in establishing the NPOIU: Barry Moss, Tim Hollis, David Veness, Special Branch Commander Roger Pearce (now an author) and P Blewitt.
The NPOIU was initially staffed with selected personnel from Met Police Special Branch who were posted to the new unit.
Read more about the long history to get to the NPOIU in our article series ACPO and the emergence of national political intelligence.
Zoe James, New Travellers, New Policing? Exploring the Policing of New Traveller Communities Under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
Remember, these are only the files that the authorities chose to disclose and may only represent a small fraction of the total files held.