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Chief Bakes

Police from several UK forces seek details of Charlie Hebdo readers

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Chief Bakes

Several British police forces have questioned newsagents in an attempt to monitor sales of a special edition of Charlie Hebdo magazine following the Paris attacks, the Guardian has learned.

 

Officers in Wiltshire, Wales and Cheshire have approached retailers of the magazine, it has emerged, as concerns grew about why police were attempting to trace UK-based readers of the French satirical magazine.

 

Wiltshire police apologised on Monday after admitting that one of its officers had asked a newsagent to hand over the names of readers who bought a special “survivors’ issue” of the magazine published after its top staff were massacred in Paris last month.

 

Related: UK police force apologises for taking details of Charlie Hebdo readers

 

The case in Corsham, Wiltshire, was thought to be an isolated incident but it has since emerged that Cheshire Constabulary and Dyfed-Powys police have also approached newsagents over the sale of Charlie Hebdo.

 

In at least two cases – in Wiltshire and in Presteigne, Wales – officers have requested that newsagents hand over the names of customers who bought the magazine.

 

“This is so ridiculous as to be almost laughable. And it would be funny if it didn’t reflect a more general worrying increase in abuse of police powers in invading privacy and stifling free speech in Britain,” said Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of free expression campaign group Index on Censorship.

 

“Does possessing a legally published satirical magazine make people criminal suspects now? If so, I better confess that I too have a copy of Charlie Hebdo.”

 

Paul Merrett, 57, the owner of a newsagent in Presteigne, Wales, said a detective and a police community support officer from Dyfed-Powys police spent half an hour asking his wife Deborah, 53, about the magazine.

 

“They wanted to know about Charlie Hebdo. They came in unannounced and we had customers,” he said. “There were questions asking where we got the Charlie Hebdo copies from, did we know who we sold them to – which we didn’t say. We were a bit bemused because it was out of the blue.”

 

“My wife said, ‘Am I in trouble?’ because she thought she was in trouble for selling them. They said, ‘No, you’re not in trouble’ but just continued with their questioning for half an hour.”

 

Merrett added: “It was all about Charlie Hebdo. I guess they wanted names and addresses of people we sold them to, which we didn’t tell them anything like that. We sold 30 copies.

 

“My wife was a bit worried with the questioning but she certainly wouldn’t have given any names to the police. I’m shocked they asked. They wanted to know where we got the copies from, how did we let the customers know that we had them.”

 

A Dyfed-Powys police spokeswoman declined to say why officers sought the names of Charlie Hebdo readers but said: “Following the recent terrorism incidents, Dyfed Powys Police have been undertaking an assessment of community tensions across the force area.

 

“Visits were made to newsagents who maybe distributing the Charlie Hebdo magazine to encourage the newsagent owners to be vigilant. We can confirm the visits were only made to enhance public safety and to provide community reassurance.”

 

In Warrington, Cheshire, a police officer telephoned a newsagent that had ordered one issue of the magazine for a customer, who asked to remain anonymous. She said: “My husband ordered a copy of the special edition of Charlie Hebdo from our local newsagent in North Cheshire.

“Several days later the latter had a phone call from the police, saying they’d been told that he had been selling and advertising Charlie Hebdo in his shop. He replied that this was untrue: he had supplied in total one copy, concealed, to a customer who was a French lecturer. I find the police action quite disturbing.”

 

DCI Paul Taylor, of Cheshire Constabulary, said he was not aware of any officer contacting newsagents by telephone but added: “We were aware of the potential for heightened tensions following the attacks in Paris. Therefore where it was felt appropriate officers visited newsagents to provide reassurance advice around the time of its publication.”

 

The MP and former Conservative shadow home secretary David Davis said he thought the police action was more “stupid than sinister” but disquieting nonetheless.

 

“Quite what they think they’re doing and why they are wasting police time tracking down individual readers of Charlie Hebdo, really makes you wonder what sort of counter-terrorism and security policy those police forces are pursuing.

 

“It also has to be said that when police forces check up on what you are reading it’s unsettling in a democracy. I’m quite sure it’s not intentionally so, but it is unsettling and not something you should do lightly.”

 

The Metropolitan police said they were unaware of any such investigations by their officers in London.

 

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said there had been no national guidance issued to forces about approaching newsagents that stocked copies of Charlie Hebdo.

 

However, counter-terrorism officers are known to have shared intelligence nationally following an assessment of potentially vulnerable communities after 17 people were killed in three days of violence in Paris.

 

The attacks began with two gunmen bursting into the Charlie Hebdo’s Paris offices and opening fire in revenge for its publication of satirical images of the prophet.

 

In the UK, counter-terrorism officers have stepped up protection of police officers and the Jewish community over concerns that they may be targeted by Islamist militants.

 

Five million copies of the magazine – which has a usual print run of around 60,000 – were published in a special edition, with about 2,000 of them reportedly distributed in the UK.

 

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David

If that's true I find it rather distasteful let alone worrying.

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obsidian_eclipse

Its more likely that police were asked to show some presence around the areas the magazines were sold and to see if large numbers of copies were being further resold so they could monitor the communities they were being distributed in. If someone bought 100 copies and decided to go posting them around mosque's or whatever purely to incite a reaction for instance. Its doubtful if police are going to raid Mr Walker at number 16 because he bought a satirical magazine, hearsay and rumour can quickly take hold though.

Edited by obsidian_eclipse

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Chief Bakes

As national policing lead for preventing extremism, I read with concern your article (More police forces ask who bought Charlie Hebdo, 11 February) suggesting that police had tried to monitor sales of the magazine. This was never our intention.

 

Following the attacks in Paris, there has been an increase in incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia. Officers have been actively monitoring possible sources of tension and investigating reports of hate crimes.

 

Forces were aware of the potential for heightened tension with the release of Charlie Hebdo and many neighbourhood police officers, who are well known in their communities, may have opted to visit sellers to establish any concerns and provide reassurance. It is through work such as this that we learn more about people’s worries and can help to solve problems.

 

Unfortunately, there will always be groups and individuals who try to exploit situations to spread hatred and division. There were people who posted copies of this magazine to mosques just to cause offence.

 

However, it is important that we do not erode the very freedoms that we are trying to protect. I understand why asking for the names of those who might have bought this magazine will appear overzealous and unnecessary. There was no national guidance to this effect and it is not to be supported unless there is clear evidence that a crime has been committed.

Chief Constable Peter Fahy
National policing lead for Prevent, Association of Chief Police Officers 

 

I have bought the Guardian almost every day for 50 years, but would leave you over your Charlie Hebdo badge offer (7 February) if I had anywhere else to go. The free speech I value is the freedom enjoyed by my Muslim neighbour and my atheist self to express our own beliefs, and our considered responses to each other’s beliefs, without being murdered, arrested or spat on. Publication of mocking or obscene images of others’ sacred objects appears to me to be a form of graphic spitting, less about free speech – there are other ways to advance a legitimate argument – than about exhibiting contempt, advertising one’s cleverness, and selling magazines. To be murdered for such behaviour is tragic and undeserved, but does not make one a martyr in a sacred cause. Je ne suis pas Charlie.

Ruth Brown
Plymouth



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Meditate

Sorry Obsidian but it is indefensible and could be construed as yet another example of police unnecessarily extending their powers unilaterally. Having said this it is good to see the likes of Sir Peter Fahy speaking up against it as well. When things like this happen it should not be rationalised as defensible practice.

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cookyy2k

Sorry Obsidian but it is indefensible and could be construed as yet another example of police unnecessarily extending their powers unilaterally. Having said this it is good to see the likes of Sir Peter Fahy speaking up against it as well. When things like this happen it should not be rationalised as defensible practice.

Frankly I think this is a whole load of the Guardian finding something they can blow to a completely antipolice story (rare that isn't it?).

“Following the recent terrorism incidents, Dyfed Powys Police have been undertaking an assessment of community tensions across the force area.

“Visits were made to newsagents who maybe distributing the Charlie Hebdo magazine to encourage the newsagent owners to be vigilant. We can confirm the visits were only made to enhance public safety and to provide community reassurance.”

Seems perfectly legitimate to me combined with the quote from one of the shop keepers:

They wanted to know where we got the copies from, how did we let the customers know that we had them.”

Where the copies came from ie is their a distribute in the local area that could be targeted by nutters. How the customers were made aware ie have you got a massive sign out front or a huge post on the local facebook advertising the sale and possibly attracting the nutters.

It's just the media and it's usual misunderstanding of how and why intelligence is gathered oh and it's ridiculous contempt for the people who keep them safe.

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