Police take down FitWatch; bloggers angry


by Sunny Hundal    
8:20 am - November 16th 2010

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For years Fit-Watch were a thorn on the side of the Met Police.

They were a roughly formed group of people who wanted to “resist and oppose the tactics” of the Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT).

FIT have been notorious for harassing protesters, although they were remarkably well behaved at the G20 demonstration last year.

FitWatch.org.uk sought to record and detail their experiences of dealing with FITs. Yesterday their website was abruptly taken down.

On their Twitter account last night they posted this message:

Fitwatch blog has been suspended for “attempting to pervert course of justice”. Will post more info soon. #demo2010 #fitwatch #policestate

The Guardian’s Paul Lewis later confirmed:

Police requested #fitwatch domain hosts – JustHost.com – to take down the blog. No evidence of court order.

The PoliceStateUK account said the site was taken down by police after a posting regarding the student demo, which can still be viewed on Google Cache.

Various other sites have now replicated that posting in protest., including Police State UK blog.

If true, it’s rather worrying the Police took down that post without any explanation, without warning and without a court order.

This morning, the Guardian have published a news story confirming that the police took the site down.

Update: Fit Watch’s Emily Apple tells the Guardian she is defiant.

Paul Lewis reports that around 67 websites now carry FitWatch’s original text. The Met Police aren’t confirming if they’ll take all the websites down.

Fitwatch are still on Twitter (link fixed) and Facebook.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Sounds like a site for spying on attractive girls.

Think you may want to change that last twitter link .

If true, it’s rather worrying the Police took down that post without any explanation, without warning and without a court order.

You can see why they did, though, can’t you?

(a court order would have been nice – don’t know if it’s legally necessary)

Fitwatch on twitter is @Fitwatcher http://twitter.com/#!/Fitwatcher

And their new blog has also been suspended http://www.fitwatch.org.uk/cgi-sys/suspendedpage.cgi

Love the advice on that cached link.

“Admit your involvement in criminal damage / disorder ONLY to people you really trust.”

Brilliant on so many levels.

Can’t they just arrange hosting abroad?

To me this is one of those stories where you have to ‘filter out’ the particular views and motives of the protesters involved (since whether protesters have what I might see as a valid point is beside the point of how a politically impartial police force ought to treat them).

So the test I’d apply to check I wasn’t just demanding special treatment for people I broadly agree with would be to imagine that these had been, say, EDL protesters smashing up the Labour Party headquarters in protest at immigration policy.

In those circumstances, if a website had posted a ‘how-to’ guide for those protesters knowing themselves to be guilty of criminal offences on the immediate actions they should take to scupper any possible prosecution, would I regard that as an ‘attempt to pervert the course of justice’ and expect the police to take immediate action to minimise the chances of that attempt being successful? Yes, I probably would.

(As to whether *this particular* course of action is the right one, that’s less clear-cut. Was there a way they could have got that particular post taken down rather than the whole website?)

Given that it was advising people on how to destroy evidence (and therefore assisting criminals) I’m not surprised the police wanted it taken down.

Police state UK, of course, it’s one law for them and one law for the public. Indeed I invite you to SPOT THE DIFFERENCE

http://miniurl.com/67250

…and yes, that this was done without a court order is worrying for what it says about police powers. Even though time was of the essence, surely it couldn’t take that long to get judicial approval to take action over an alleged attempt to pervert the course of justice?

…and yes, that this was done without a court order is worrying for what it says about police powers.

Hmmm, you seem to have assumed they used a ‘power’ – they might have simply phoned or emailed the host, which rolled over.

11 – that seems more likely. If the IP provider had refused to take the site down, that is when the police would have sought a court order. Much cheaper to do it all by consent.

And giving detailed instructions on how to destroy evidence of a crime is about as good an illustration of a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice as can easily be imagined.

Erm, I hate to break it to our authoritarian chums in this thread but giving information and education is not, prima facie, a crime – hence why it’s perfectly legal to buy books about how to set up a cannabis factory, or create your own amphetamines out of various things in your kitchen.
The fact that the police can just wade in and close down any unfriendly website they deem fit will only serve to drive the anti-cuts movement further underground (ie more secure servers, etc) and will not stop people from getting angry and sharing information.

Erm, I hate to break it to our authoritarian chums in this thread

Who’s that then?

… but giving information and education is not, prima facie, a crime – hence why it’s perfectly legal to buy books about how to set up a cannabis factory, or create your own amphetamines out of various things in your kitchen.

In fact it depends on what the information is about; s2 TACT 2006 immediately springs to mind.

The fact that the police can just wade in and close down any unfriendly website they deem fit …

Is it a fact, though? Comments @11 and 12 dispute the use of a ‘power’; there is no evidence of the use of a ‘power’. Hosts do roll over for lesser ‘crimes’, e.g. allegations of copyright infringement.

I tried searching for fit-watch but got fit-kids instead.

Bloody iPhone keypad.

@14

My slightly disingenuous “authoritarian” jibe was aimed at Richard @9 and Tim J @11. That act you reference is entirely to do with “terrorism” and nothing to do with information after civil disobediance. And the disputing the “power” of the police is semantic trickery – if Inspector Knacker can get a website taken down via a mere phone call it’s hardly a good state of affairs.

(Tim J @12 I mean)

16

No doubt the use of (often ill conceived) anti-terrorism legislation is seen by many to be quite legitimate though?

After all it seemed to be used for a multitude of things in the recent past by local authorities with even less justification than trying to stop the “anarchists cookbook” element of the OP!

16 – I suggest you take a look at what the previous Government defined ‘terrorism’ as actually being: Terrorism Act 2000

In this Act “terrorism” means the use or threat of action where-
(a) the action falls within subsection (2),
(b) the use or threat is designed to influence the government [or an international governmental organisation] or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and
(c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious [, racial] or ideological cause.

Hmm. Use of violence (which includes against property) designed to influence the Government for the purpose of advancing an ideological cause? I can see a pretty good case for holding that the student demo falls within this definition. It is of course an extremely (not to say insanely) broad definition, but hey that’s authoritarian Governments for you.

@18

Meh, all too true. Doesn’t stop the law being a massive ass if that is the case in this situation though.

Where are the Tory Libertarians when you need them?

Mr S. Pill,

That act you reference is entirely to do with “terrorism” and nothing to do with information after civil disobediance.

You claimed that “giving information and education is not, prima facie, a crime” and then gave examples of “how to set up a cannabis factory, or create your own amphetamines”. Do they have something to do with “information after civil disobediance”?

By the way, is destroying evidence “civil disobedience”?

And the disputing the “power” of the police is semantic trickery – if Inspector Knacker can get a website taken down via a mere phone call it’s hardly a good state of affairs.

In my experience I have sometimes been able to get a website or page taken down via a mere phone call (well, faxing company headed paper, but still) – “allegations of copyright infringement” was a clue. I’m not suggesting it’s a ‘good’ state of affairs at all – my point, which I thought was obvious but clearly not, is that the police might not need a court order, that’s all. Why on earth would the police need a court order if I don’t?

Particularly if they are saying to a host something along the lines of, “you’re hosting instructions on how to pervert the course of justice… which means you’re helping to pervert the course of justice”.

19. Tim J

‘ Hmm. Use of violence (which includes against property) designed to influence the Government for the purpose of advancing an ideological cause? I can see a pretty good case for holding that the student demo falls within this definition. It is of course an extremely (not to say insanely) broad definition, but hey that’s authoritarian Governments for you. ‘

Well we had this broad definition of seditious libel until just last year. Anyone who had ever said anything contemptuous of an MP was probably breaking the law until it was abolished last year.

‘ A statement is seditious if it “brings into hatred or contempt” the Queen or her heirs, or the government and constitution, or either House of Parliament, or the administration of justice, or if it incites people to attempt to change any matter of Church or State established by law (except by lawful means), or if it promotes discontent among or hostility between British subjects. A person is only guilty of the offence if they intend any of the above outcomes. Proving that the statement is true is not a defence. It is punishable with life imprisonment. ‘

Am I eading this right – you call yourself ukliberty but you, personally, have shut websites down by using groundless threats of prosecution?

I think the fact that an obvious joke is enough to get you imprisoned is all the evidence we need that the police and judiciary are not fit to decide on what can or cannot be said on the internet.

Am I eading this right – you call yourself ukliberty but you, personally, have shut websites down by using groundless threats of prosecution?

I read it as ukliberty having demanded that sites stop infringing copyright. Infringement of intellectual property rights and all that.

Shatterface

Am I eading this right – you call yourself ukliberty but you, personally, have shut websites down by using groundless threats of prosecution?

I didn’t say I threatened anyone. On behalf of employers, I have sent communications regarding copyright infringement and a few recipients complied with the communications – I made no threats at all, in fact I was quite friendly.

16 – I didn’t say it should be taken down, merely that I can see why the police wanted it taken down.

‘I didn’t say I threatened anyone. On behalf of employers, I have sent communications regarding copyright infringement and a few recipients complied with the communications – I made no threats at all, in fact I was quite friendly.’

If you mentioned copyrite, that’s a legal threat.

Intellectual property is theft.

I didn’t say it should be taken down, merely that I can see why the police wanted it taken down.

That’s disingenuous nonsense and you know it.

a) the police want taken down anything which isn’t a giant flashing sign saying “we love the police, they’re excellent, crime is terrifying, stay afraid, give the police more money and power”.

b) the job of the courts in a civilised society is to ensure that the police don’t get what they want.

The fact that it’s legal, rather than a sackable and imprisonable offence for a copper to call up a web host and say “oi, mate, take this this down”, rather than going through the courts, is utterly despicable; and anyone who believes otherwise is likewise.

By telling you that the way to fire a gun is to pull the trigger, I am in breach of anti-terrorism legislation.

By viewing this comment, you are in receipt of instruction in the use of firearms and are also breaking the law.

Breaking such stupid laws is something everyone should do in my opinion and when ISP’s start deleting blogs without a court order, we are all on a slippery slope.

Shatterface,

I didn’t say I threatened anyone. On behalf of employers, I have sent communications regarding copyright infringement and a few recipients complied with the communications – I made no threats at all, in fact I was quite friendly.

If you mentioned copyrite, that’s a legal threat.

I can’t say I’ve lost any sleep over writing something along the lines of:

Hi,

I’m writing on behalf of $employer. You appear to be hosting a copy of our $product. Would you mind deleting it?

Thanks

Intellectual property is theft.

My colleagues thought that making something that some people used without giving my colleagues anything in return wasn’t great. How terrible of them.

34. Chaise Guevara

@ 29

“Intellectual property is theft.”

So if you have the skills to make something with your hands you can sell it, but if your talents allow you to create concepts, literature or music then the world should get it for nothing and any attempt by you to claim it makes you the thief?

Yes. That sounds fair.

Funny watching all the usual tory trolls who used to come on here daily and warn of a police state , and big brother under Brown now slavishly defend the police at every point. Who remebers how they whinned when a tory MP was arrested and held in a police station for 8 hours.. Oh how they whined.

Obviously a police state is just fine as long as the brownshirts are running the country.

johnb @30 has it down pat.

By telling you that the way to fire a gun is to pull the trigger, I am in breach of anti-terrorism legislation.

I’m pretty sure that you’re not. There was some pretty ropy terrorist legislation passed by Labour, but there is at least a legal definition of what terrorism is.

Speaking as a vaguely libertarian, sometimes Conservative-voting, clear troll (or so I am assured by those whose debating skills seem to amount to typing troll whenever someone expresses a view they dislike), can I suggest there are two issues here.

One is the worrying idea that the police can take down a website at will, legally or otherwise. Not the greatest problem – if you are worried about it, take out webhosting in Russia or something – but still a major worry around liberties. I haven’t seen anyone supporting this on this thread.

Secondly, there is the fact that it appears the particular website produced material which directed people involved in a specific incident under investigation how to destroy evidence of their complicity in crimes. Please note, the key issue here is that this was a specific investigation – fitwatch appears to have had a post which advised rioters under police investigation for the violence (against property) at Millbank how to escape prosecution. Hence the fact that the fitwatch twitter account notes the specific charge of “attempting to pervert course of justice” – the offence that is incurred by helping a suspect in an investigation cover their tracks. Fitwatch’s content was not illegal in itself, but their interference in a criminal investigation (by seemingly advising potential suspects how to eliminate evidence) was clearly illegal.

The second issue explains the first in a way – it is likely the webhost was given specific details that this was a crime of “attempting to pervert course of justice”, not that the material was generally illegal, and acted accordingly. Although there is an issue of freedom of speech here, I am not sure that this is really an abuse of police powers, since if the page had remained up the police would be able to make arrests without judicial review – it could actually be argued the police were reasonable here in getting the page taken down without any arrests or charges. Not saying I see it this way (I think I will wait to see if further information confirms my suspicions before I form a judgement) but this looks quite legal and reasonable on the police’s part (and the webhost’s).

The fact that it’s legal, rather than a sackable and imprisonable offence for a copper to call up a web host and say “oi, mate, take this this down”, rather than going through the courts, is utterly despicable; and anyone who believes otherwise is likewise.

This is rather puzzling. If a policeman believes a crime is being committed, it’s not exactly uncommon for him to tell the perpetrator to stop doing it, rather than just arresting him. Arguing that the policeman ought to be imprisoned for so doing is bizarre.

@37

Terrorism Act 2000

Weapons training.

(1) A person commits an offence if he provides instruction or training in the making or use of firearms.

(2)A person commits an offence if he receives instruction or training in the making or use of firearms

(5)It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section in relation to instruction or training to prove that his action or involvement was wholly for a purpose other than assisting, preparing for or participating in terrorism.

OK Tim, I’ve told you how to fire a gun. Now prove you’re not a terrorist…….

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/11/section/54

ukliberty,

Thanks – can’t access the police letter thing (it comes up as red, but not a hyperlink) but the fitwatch statement appears to confirm my suspicion above – they were deliberately advising people how to avoid being arrested for criminal activities and the police took action because, and this is as far as I know uncontreversial, this is a crime.

Watchman, that’s strange re my link, perhaps I mucked up the HTML – try this one:

http://publish.indymedia.org.uk/en/2010/11/468001.html

Thanks again – working now.

So far my suppositions above are still correct – an explicit set of advice about how people who the police are seeking about criminal activities can avoid detection, produced in response to a specific event, was regarded by the police as an attempt to pervert the course of justice. I have to say, I can see their point.

Watchman, I’m inclined to agree. I like Fitwatch, but if they are genuinely surprised or shocked at the reaction of the police (who aren’t the biggest fans of Fitwatch) they are a bit naive.

I’m not sure Tim J is entirely right @39, though; it is one thing for a policeman to stop and warn a man for speeding, quite another to prohibit him from driving for a year without going to court.

‘So if you have the skills to make something with your hands you can sell it, but if your talents allow you to create concepts, literature or music then the world should get it for nothing and any attempt by you to claim it makes you the thief?’

If you show me an example of intellectual property which is truly original, not made up of previously available material, I might reconsider.

I’m not sure Tim J is entirely right @39, though; it is one thing for a policeman to stop and warn a man for speeding, quite another to prohibit him from driving for a year without going to court.

As far as I’m aware it was just a request from police wasn’t it? They informed the ISP that they were hosting illegal material and asked them to take action. The ISP would have been perfectly within their rights to tell them to get stuffed. And the police would then have had to apply for some sort of court order.

48. Laughing Gravy

I know nothing about the details – other than what is in this thread – but on the face of it this looks like conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The host site may itself have been in danger of being part of the conspiracy. In the circumstances, they were probably well advised to take the particular post off.

Sunny:

“FIT have been notorious for harassing protesters, although they were remarkably well behaved at the G20 demonstration last year.”

Well, apart from well-known FIT faces like PCs Alan Palfrey and Steve Discombe being around for much of it.

Palfrey put himself about so much he was in riot kit alongside the Level 2s, TSG and City of London dog handlers who fatally assaulted Ian Tomlinson under the direction of CoL Chief Superintendent Alex Robertson, who was acting as operational or ‘Bronze’ commander at the time.

Despite being supposed experts on ‘professional protesters’ present, Palfrey and his FIT colleagues failed to identify Mr Tomlinson as just a regular civilian, and helped create the situation in which CS Robertson could direct the dog handlers to let loose their hounds on Mr Tomlinson, before giving PC Simon Harwood the nod to baton and shove him to the ground.

That PC Palfrey and the other officers present – including the other FIT officers, the City of London dog handlers, British Transport Police, TSG officers, Level 2 borough officers and CS Robertson himself – all failed to report any of this until well after it had been established that Mr Tomlinson’s death came subsequent to ‘contact’ with police is of course no reflection on the probity, professionalism or honesty of him or any other officer, and certainly not on the good offices of the Forward Intelligence Teams.

50. Chaise Guevara

“If you show me an example of intellectual property which is truly original, not made up of previously available material, I might reconsider.”

Well, you can’t create anything absolutely original, hence all those Ancient Greek monsters that were essentially two or three existing animals glued together then made twice as big. But then all physical property is made out of previously existing material too. It’s the effort and skill involved in combining these materials in a new way that counts. The materials are not original, but the final piece is.

It still seems to me that you’re saying someone who spends five years building a beautiful palace should be able to sell it for any money he wishes, but an author who spends the same amount of time writing a beautiful novel should not.

Of course I agree that there should be time limits on IPR: probably lifetime for works of art and considerably shorter for anything that can help the human race. But I wouldn’t go so far as to put everyone who makes their money artistically out of work (not to mention screw up the economy by destroying innovation).

@32 – that is why there are around 146 blogs/sites carrying the article now rather than the 2 sites that were yesterday.

Fitwatch have done some good work, but sadly on this occasion they’ve completely shot themselves in the foot.

I’ve seen the advice they published, and it’s clearly advice intended to help people who’ve engaged in criminal behaviour to avoid prosecution. Well duh, that’s going to get you into trouble.

Shatterface

What Chaise said.

The idea that the creative work of songwriters, novelists, filmmakers etc has no financial value and should be given away free, making it impossible for anyone to earn a living by creating such things (or even cover the costs of creating them) just seems like the ugly face of materialism: if it’s not a ‘thing’ you can leave on the driveway or display on the mantelpiece, it’s worthless.

Most writers and musicians – even ‘professional’ ones with publishers or labels – are lucky just to cover the costs of creating their work by the time they’ve sold 1000 or 2000 books or tickets or albums. God knows how many you’d have to sell to actually make a living at it. The assumption that’s it’s OK to just take that work without paying for it at all just makes a bad situation worse.

51. earwicga

‘ that is why there are around 146 blogs/sites carrying the article now rather than the 2 sites that were yesterday. ‘

Who would have thought that by trying to ban things the thing they tried to ban became more popular. Surely a lesson in there somewhere.

Quite Richard. There were a lot more this morning as well :)

Fitwatch blog back up and running http://www.fitwatch.org.uk/

@50

“Of course I agree that there should be time limits on IPR: probably lifetime for works of art and considerably shorter for anything that can help the human race.”

You imply that the two are mutually excusive ;) I intend to write a wee blog post about IP (from a musical POV) in due course, will post it to this thread when done. FWIW: musicians, at least, make most of their money via gigs and merchandise – not record sales. So, say, downloading an LP ain’t costing them half as much as getting into a gig for free. (the music industry loses of course. but they deserve to).

S Pill:

FWIW: musicians, at least, make most of their money via gigs and merchandise – not record sales. So, say, downloading an LP ain’t costing them half as much as getting into a gig for free. (the music industry loses of course. but they deserve to).

I’m sure this is true of full-time, professional musicians who have tens or hundreds of thousands of fans, and can charge £15 or £20 for tickets and £5 or £7 for albums. As I say, though, even most serious,’signed’ musicians are not at that ‘headlining tour’ level; the big, chart acts are the exception.

59. Chaise Guevara

@ 58

Actually, I’ve known signed bands that are barely known outside of their own county and they’ve said the same. You see such a small cut of record sales that the money you get from gigs and merch is your main income. That’s why bands bother selling t-shirts. If anything, I reckon it’s the bigger bands who see a decent slice from CDs etc. This doesn’t generally happen, but a big enough band could release an album and not bother touring at all. I think the more successful bands mainly tour because it’s a way of promoting the album (and because they enjoy it, obviously).

CD sales can vary from zip to millions, but there’s a limit to how many gigs you can play in a week, and your effective maximum income is the standard cut from a stadium full of people paying £50-odd each.

60

Well, maybe it depends on your label, or maybe there’s a big jump in economic viability between playing (say) 250-capacity venues and 500-capacity venues. I have a friend whose band is doing OK but not at ‘chart’ level – i.e. they’re on an indie label, have had some good reviews in the national press, done a Marc Riley session, had some good support slots etc. He doesn’t really expect gig money to do much more than cover the costs of petrol and rehearsal space, but he would expect to see a profit from selling CDs (after the first few hundred have covered pressing & promo costs, anyway).


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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  2. Elliot Page

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  3. Richard Brooks

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  7. ralph brown

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  8. Steve Woods

    RT @libcon Police take down FitWatch site; bloggers angry http://bit.ly/dAoz6P // beware state meddling. Don't use .uk domains & UK hosting

  9. Marvs

    Via @libcon Police take down FitWatch site; bloggers angry http://bit.ly/dAoz6P

  10. John Sargent

    RT @libcon: Police take down FitWatch site; bloggers angry http://bit.ly/dAoz6P

  11. Peter Hague

    Seems like the Tories got some good advice from their new Chinese friends: http://bit.ly/d4albj

  12. Graham Linehan

    RT @petehague: Seems like the Tories got some good advice from their new Chinese friends: http://bit.ly/d4albj

  13. Ken

    RT @Glinner: RT @petehague: Seems like the Tories got some good advice from their new Chinese friends: http://bit.ly/d4albj -

  14. Matt Flaherty

    RT: @petehague: Seems like the Tories got some good advice from their new Chinese friends: http://bit.ly/d4albj (via @Glinner)

  15. Ross L Menzies

    RT @Glinner: RT @petehague: Seems like the Tories got some good advice from their new Chinese friends: http://bit.ly/d4albj

  16. luther

    RT @Glinner: RT @petehague: Seems like the Tories got some good advice from their new Chinese friends: http://bit.ly/d4albj #fitwatch

  17. Matthew Moore

    Interesting. RT @Glinner: RT @petehague: Seems like the Tories got some good advice from their new Chinese friends: http://bit.ly/d4albj

  18. George Preston

    Police take down FitWatch site; bloggers angry | Liberal Conspiracy http://goo.gl/5X2OH

  19. Kevin Beynon

    RT @Glinner: RT @petehague: Seems like the Tories got some good advice from their new Chinese friends: http://bit.ly/d4albj

  20. Griffo68

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  21. Jim Wolfe

    RT @Glinner: RT @petehague: Seems like the Tories got some good advice from their new Chinese friends: http://bit.ly/d4albj

  22. Nick H.

    RT @libcon: Police take down FitWatch site; bloggers angry http://bit.ly/dAoz6P

  23. Pucci Dellanno

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  24. Ken

    RT @Glinner: RT @petehague: Seems like the Tories got some good advice from their new Chinese friends: http://bit.ly/d4albj #censorship

  25. Jill Hayward

    RT @Glinner: RT @petehague: Seems like the Tories got some good advice from their new Chinese friends: http://bit.ly/d4albj

  26. Adrian Williams

    RT @Glinner: RT @petehague: Seems like the Tories got some good advice from their new Chinese friends: http://bit.ly/d4albj

  27. stuartamdouglas

    Police take down FitWatch; bloggers angry | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/4yFDxKs via @libcon

  28. Pontus Westerberg

    @evgenymorozov of course the #fitwatch post is now all over the internet…twitter can be pretty handy sometimes. http://bit.ly/d4albj :-)

  29. Fitwatch returns; police action branded ‘illegal’ | Liberal Conspiracy

    [...] branded ‘illegal’ by Sunny Hundal     November 18, 2010 at 10:00 am We reported earlier this week that the Met Police had abruptly decided to force a hosting company to take down the website [...]





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