National Public Order Intelligence Unit

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This article is part of the Counter-Terrorism Portal project of Spinwatch.

The National Public Order Intelligence Unit, a national policing unit, is one of the three "domestic extremism" units working under the direction of Detective Chief Superintendent Adrian Tudway. NETCU, NPOIU (of which the CIU is a section) and NDET are the three units answering to ACPO. As the "national co-ordinator for domestic extremism" he commands about 100 staff and has a budget of about £9m a year.[1]

The National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NECTU) website describes its role as follows:

NPOIU supports the police service throughout the UK to maintain a strategic overview of public order issues, including domestic extremism and the activities of animal rights extremists.
The unit liaises with Special Branch teams within police forces in bringing together intelligence that helps to protect the public from domestic extremism and other national security threats.[2]


In January 2011, The Guardian described the NPOIU as

Housed at a secret location in London, its official remit is "to gather, assess, analyse and disseminate intelligence and information relating to criminal activities in the United Kingdom where there is a threat of crime or to public order which arises from domestic extremism or protest activity".
Essentially it is pooling intelligence from special branch officers, uniformed surveillance teams and undercover officers that can be shared with police forces around the country.[1]


The NPOIU was set up in March 1999 to track green activists and public demonstrations. It incorporated the Animal Rights National Index.[3]

A March 1999 report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary linked the new unit to a need, identified by ACPO in July 1998, for a national public order intelligence system:

It is planned that public order intelligence officers in each force area will have access to the unit via a secure network. Her Majesty’s Inspector welcomes the proposal to bring some rationalisation to the present disparate system, but notes that the new unit will operate independently from NCIS, whilst football intelligence will remain a function of NCIS. In the longer term further consideration will need to be given to this system.[4]

The HMIC report expressed concern that "The announcement of any new construction project that is remotely controversial heralds a period of ‘defensive building’, such as the construction of elaborate bunkers, trenches and tunnels, often containing highly dangerous booby traps posing considerable danger to those involved."[5]

The report highlighted the role of animal and environmental protest groups in particular:

These groups have adopted a strategic, long-term approach to their protests employing new and innovative tactics to frustrate authorities and achieve their objective. There is evidence that some elements operate in cell like structures in a quasi-terrorist mode to keep secret their movements and intentions.[6]

Press reports linked the creation of the new unit to these concerns. The Independent stated the NPIOU would "compile profiles of protesters and organisations considered to be potentially troublesome" and would "draw up action plans that chief constables can introduce to head off disorder".[7]

George Monbiot linked the new unit to proposed legislation that would extend the definition of terrorism to include “serious violence against persons or property, or the threat to use such violence … for political, religious or ideological ends”.[8]

In 2006, it was reported that NPIOU officers would be represented on a new group set up by university security officers to monitor the activities of Islamists on campus.[9]


With a budget of £5m this operates as a branch of the National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU) which, in turn, works alongside the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU). It reports to the Association of Chief Police Officers' Terrorism and Allied Matters Committee, codenamed Acpo(TAM).[10]

NPOIU budget

An article in The Guardian reveals that with around 60 to 70 staff, NPOIU is by far the biggest segment of this "domestic extremism" apparatus and costs £5m a year to run, according to the latest official figures. Its budget has doubled in the last five years.[1]

The future of NPOIU

According to NETCU's website

following reviews within ACPO TAM and a HMIC Value for Money Review, it was agreed by the ACPO TAM board to merge the three Domestic Extremism units into single national function under a lead force.[11]

The three "domestic-extremism' units in question are NPOIU, NETCU and NDET. They answered to ACPO until that ceased to exist.[1]

The National Co-ordinator for Domestic Extremism, Detective Chief Superintendent Adrian Tudway, is managed the merger and said in early 2011: "The three domestic extremism units were set up at different times during a six year period, with the current economic climate and the need to maximise resources it makes sense to merge."

An article in The Guardian on the three "domestic extremism" units working under the direction of Detective Chief Superintendent Adrian Tudway stated that

concerns have been growing about the accountability and subject to agreement they will be taken over by the Met under a "lead force" agreement – the same way the Met has overall command of national counter-terrorism operations.[1]


Database of protesters

The Guardian discloses that the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, by far the biggest segment of this "domestic extremism" apparatus, has been compiling a database of protesters and campaign groups across the country since 1999.[1]

The NPOIU has been described as "essentially a giant database of protest groups and protesters in the country."[12]

Housed at a secret location in London, its purpose is "to gather, assess, analyse and disseminate intelligence and information relating to criminal activities in the United Kingdom where there is a threat of crime or to public order which arises from domestic extremism or protest activity".
Police in England and Wales collect intelligence on individuals and then feed it to the NPOIU which, Setchell said, "can read across" all the forces' intelligence and deliver back to them "coherent" assessments.[13]

Database of photographs

In a media response to questions regarding the number of photos on NPOIU databases and their use, ACPO National Coordinator for Domestic Extremism, ACC Anton Setchell said:

There are currently only 1,822 photos held by the NPOIU.[…] Many are only retained for a very short period, some we need to retain for several years; each one is individually assessed and reviewed regularly. Before a photo or any information or intelligence can be entered onto the database, it has to be individually assessed against a set of MOPI and ECHR compliant criteria and be given a review date; the system automatically prompts this review when it is due."[14]

He also stated that the retention of photographs taken by police Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) teams follow the Statutory Code of Practice for the Management of Police Information (MOPI).[14]

The costs of intelligence gathering

Kennedy, 'Flash', was exposed as a police officer having infiltrated the UK environment protest movement for 7 years. Kennedy is reported to be one of at least two undercover operatives working for the National Public Order Intelligence Unit[15].

The Guardian reveals that he said that each undercover spy cost £250,000[15]. He was actively involved in the protest against E.ON's coal-fire power station in Nottingham which, according to The Guardian was subject to "months of surveillance, cost £300,000 and resulted in the largest number of pre-emptive arrests of political activists in the UK"[16].

Accountability: the case of Mark Kennedy / Stone

The measures taken to avoid supplying information as to who these individuals are working for, as well as their remit, raises questions about accountability.

Prosecution abandoned

When details of Mark Kennedy's role within the protest planned against E.ON's coal power fire station were required for the prosecution, The Guardian revealed that

the prosecutors unexpectedly abandoned the trial after they were asked to disclose classified details about the role the undercover officer played in organising and helping to fund the protest. "I have no doubt that our attempts to get disclosure about Kennedy's role has led to the collapse of the trial," said Mike Schwarz, a solicitor at the Bindmans law firm who represented the activists[15].

More than a peripheral role

The Met could face pressure to explain the ethics of deploying an officer so deep undercover. It has been repeatedly criticised for its handling of protests. A Metropolitan police spokesman said: "We are not prepared to discuss the matter"[15].

Though occupying a key role in the organising (contributing to the planning of the actions) and logistics (providing transport and funds) of protest, Mark Kennedy was however finally exposed by activists who found a passport with his real name and confronted him, leading to a confession[15]. Legal documents suggest Kennedy's activities went beyond those of a passive spy, prompting questions as to whether his role in organising and helping to fund protests meant he turned into an agent provocateur, suggests the The Guardian[15].

ACPO as a private company

Simon Jenkins outlines a number of reasons for concern at NPIOU being accountable to the private company ACPO.

Kennedy's bosses in the NPOIU work for ACPO], but this is not what it seems. It is not, as its name suggests, the police officers' staff club, nor is it a public body of any sort. It is a private company, incorporated in 1997. It is sub-contracted by Whitehall to operate the police end of the government's counterterrorism and "anti-extremism" strategies. It is thus alongside MI5, but even less accountable.[10]
ACPO was once a liaison group. But, like all bureaucracies, it has grown. It now runs its own police forces under a police chief boss, Sir Hugh Orde, like a British FBI. It trades on its own account, generating revenue by selling data from the police national computer for £70 an item (cost of retrieval, 60p). It owns an estate of 80 flats in central London. While the generous logistical support it offered the greens was doubtless gratis, we do not know if E.ON UK, the operator of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, paid for security intelligence from Kennedy.[10]
As a private company, ACPO need not accede to Freedom of Information requests and presumably could distribute its profit to its own board. The whole operation is reminiscent of the deals set up by the Pentagon with private firms to run the Iraq and Afghan wars, free of publicity or accountability. There is no more vivid testament to the illiberalism of the Blair regime than these eccentric arrangements. They were all approved by the likes of David Blunkett, Charles Clarke, John Reid and Jacqui Smith.[10]
The desire of police lobbyists is to frighten politicians from cutting their budgets, and, in the case of green protesters, to exaggerate the threat they pose to social order. It seems that ACPO and its Whitehall sponsors are aspiring to the realm of Conrad's The Secret Agent. They have a vested interest in fear. The spy and the rebel "come from the same basket … Revolution and legality are counter-moves in the same game, forms of idleness at bottom identical." It is the story of PC Mark Kennedy. [10]

Gathering intelligence on nuclear activists

In 2012 freedom of information requests by Spinwatch revealed that the NPOIU had been gathering intelligence on activists to “manage the risk” that they pose to government plans to build new nuclear power stations. Journalist Rob Edwards reported that:

a document released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change reveals that the NPOIU briefed a meeting about “activism and nuclear new build” in Whitehall in June 2011. Present were government officials, three nuclear companies – EDF Energy, Horizon and NuGeneration – and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, a specialist force for guarding nuclear power sites.
Police officers from three areas where new nuclear stations are planned were also involved – Avon and Somerset (Hinkley Point), Suffolk (Sizewell) and North Wales (Wylfa). The purpose of the meeting was “to obtain an agreed understanding of the available intelligence on the risk to the new build programme from environmental activism".
Those present hoped “to identify any potential gaps in arrangements for managing the risk of direct action or protests at new build sites”. NPOIU’s presentation gave an “overview of the current situation and nature of the threat”.
NPOIU’s presentation has not been released so its conclusions are not known. There have been two protests at Hinkley Point in the last year involving hundreds of people, and a “mass trespass” is planned there on 8 October. There was also a demonstration at Wylfa in January 2012.

Spinwatch's Eveline Lubbers says that the boundaries between public and private intelligence gathering were being increasingly blurred. “NPOIU was set up to sell data on possible threats to clients such as energy companies building power plants, and airline companies involved in the expansion of airports,” she said. [17]

Transferable skills and alliances: police and private security industry

Questions have been raised regarding the ethics of "former police officers cashing in on their surveillance skills for a host of companies that target protesters".[18] See the Powerbase overview of the revolving door between the private security industry and the police.





  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Rob Evans, Matthew Taylor, Afua Hirsch and Paul Lewis Rein in undercover police units, says former DPP The Guardian, 13/01/11, accessed 24/01/11 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Hirsch" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Hirsch" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Hirsch" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Hirsch" defined multiple times with different content
  2. National Policing Units, National Extremism Tactical Co-Ordination Unit, accessed 11 February 2009 via the Internet Archive.
  3. Secret State: Timeline, Programmes: True Spies, BBC News, 17 October 2002.
  4. Keeping the Peace Chapter 1, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, 1 March 2001, p.18.
  5. Keeping the Peace Chapter 3, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, 1 March 2001, p.49.
  6. Keeping the Peace Chapter 1, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, 1 March 2001, p.14.
  7. methods' of green activists `set terrorist snares, by Jason Bennetto, The Independent,19 March 1999.
  8. Protest and Survive, by George Monbiot, the Guardian, 26 March 1999, via
  9. Counter-terrorism unit to tackle campus extremism, by Roya Nikkhah,,24 October 2006.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Simon Jenkins The state's pedlars of fear must be brought to account The Guardian, 11/01/11, accessed 12/02/11
  11. NETCU website Media 24/11/10, accessed 22/01/11
  12. Rob Evans, Paul Lewis and Matthew Taylor, How police rebranded lawful protest as 'domestic extremism',, 25 October 2009.
  13. Rob Evans, Paul Lewis and Matthew Taylor, How police rebranded lawful protest as 'domestic extremism',, 25 October 2009.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Netcu Website Previous Media Responsespage last modified 7/10/10, accessed 30/01/11
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 Rob Evans and Paul Lewis,  Undercover officer spied on green activists The Guardian 09/01/11, accessed 10/01/11
  16. Paul Lewis and Nidhi Prakash, Ratcliffe coal protesters spared jail sentences The Guardian 05/01/11, accessed 11/01/11
  17. Rob Edwards (in cooperation with Spinwatch), Police trying to neuter anti-nuclear protest, 2 October 2012
  18. Paul Lewis and Rob Evans Green groups targeted polluters as corporate agents hid in their ranks The Guardian, 14/02/11, accessed 14/02/11