What happened to David Mery, the techy who was arrested as a terrorist in a London tube station because of his coat

[Editor's note: I mentioned the arrest of technology editor David Mery in my recent Guardian column on Prism; he wrote in to correct some details and explain the astounding circumstances of how Britain's absurd war on terror caught him in its mesh for the crime of wearing a coat in the summer -CD]

I was observed directly when I entered Southwark tube station and then on CCTV. All the time it was by Met police officers. To my knowledge no computer algorithms were involved. In Naked Citizen, Patrick Hafner mixes the interview he did with me and some CCTV recognition algorithms, but the two are not directly related. The Met police officers at the entrance of the station were those who found my behaviour suspicious and decided initially to stop and search me under s44 of the Terrorism Act.

Who exactly took the decision to arrest me and the choice of legislation is less clear, as it appears that initially officers wanted to arrest me under the Terrorism Act but were overruled and decided on Public Nuisance (which can still carry a life sentence).

The Met and IPCC investigation files are still retained (until 2015 and 2014) but my police national computer record was deleted as well as my fingerprints and DNA, and I eventually also got the photographs back. The short version of the whole story is here.

That I let a tube train pass by without boarding it is the only important dispute in the police version of events and mine. That's the police version. Mine is that I tried to board the first train that arrived, but was then stopped by the police.

The Metropolitan Police never got the CCTV footage (the officer in charge was told to do so by his superior but never did and is the main reason he got some warning), Transport for London retained it only for 14 days and I asked for it too late.

The BTP apparently did have it, but did not give it to me and have no idea what happened to it. (I wrote this up and the first requests)

What is more relevant in the context of your story is that unrelated intelligence on file that was linked to work connections was a input in the decision to arrest me.

As I wrote: 'The officer explains what made them change their mind and arrest me instead of releasing me. It was because of my connection with my employer. Apparently, on August 4th, 2004 there was a firearms incident at the company where I work. (The next day I find out that there had indeed been a hoax call the previous year, apparently from a temp worker claiming there was an armed intruder in one of the buildings.)

Also that some staff had been seen taking photographs of trains at the tube station with a camera phone. (Most of my colleagues do have camera phones – also on 2nd June, as part of a team building exercise, new graduates were supposed to photograph landmarks and try to get a picture of themselves with a policeman.)'

As you probably know, and as it no longer exist there's no issue in now naming my then employer, it was Symbian. As the provider of the OS for the then majority of smartphone, Symbian obviously must have had some relationship with GCHQ at least for export control regulation of encryption.

Your conclusion about my experience: 'Once a computer ascribes suspiciousness to someone, everything else in that person's life becomes sinister and inexplicable.' remains entirely valid and is why I fought so hard to expunge my records and help fight for other innocents as well.

I've included a short list of examples of why this suspiciousness may make one's like sinister (in the context of the NDNAD) here.


  1.  “…my police national computer record was deleted as well as my fingerprints and DNA…”

    I am dumbfounded.

    1.  That is a good thing. You don’t want to be on the police database, and you certainly shouldn’t be for such a blatantly ludicrous arrest

    2. That would certainly never happen in the good old, flag-waving U.S. of A.  That information is needed to protect our liberty.

  2. Warning: attempting to understand what he was wearing or doing that got him arrested may cause neurological injury. If you start to experience bleeding from the nose and ears, proceed immediately to YouTube and watch cat videos.

    1. Think how much worse it would have been had they found the Zero History ugly T-shirt he was wearing beneath the coat.

    1. Your comment seems suspicious to me.  I should probably alert the NSA about your lack of activities.

  3. I think it’s hard for people who weren’t there in London in 2005 to understand the scary paranoia after 7/7. Police with body armour & machine guns and an unspoken fatwa against backpacks (I travelled on the Tube at the time with my massive army pack….I got suspicious evils like you’d never believe. David Mery was lucky to not be shot, like Charles De Menenez. It was a total shift from usual terrorist reaction, one that suspected everyone.

    1. I was in London in 2005, and I remember the paranoia well.

      I was also in London in the 90s, when the UK faced far better organised, resourced and dangerous terrorists.  Much less paranoia, much more stiff upper lip. 

      And, oh look, they managed to get through it without snooping on everyone’s phone calls and emails. Not that most people HAD email, of course.

      1. I was nearly blown up twice in one day by IRA bombs in 1983.  At the second site, people just chatted about things while waiting for the bomb squad to finish their work.  Stiff upper lip, indeed.

      2. London can take it’s self a bit too seriously sometimes, the attacks in Glasgow near the same time ended with the police having to protect the terrorist from the public.

        1. Let’s hope that Mr. Farage has the good sense to stay out of Alba henceforth.

    2. It was a total shift from usual terrorist reaction, one that suspected everyone.

      Which is the perfect cover for any actual terrorist.

    3. Funnily enough this doesn’t correlate with my experience.

      People were twitchy… for like a week. After that it was all the media and government bodies, whilst everyone else had moved on with their lives.

      9/11 on the other hand is a real odd-ball case. From what I gather some people are still finding it ‘too soon’ and have maybe almost got past the grieving stage (almost). Propaganda will do that to a person, I guess.

      1. The thing about 9/11 is that it was literally visible to some millions of people who might reasonably have believed that the whole city was on the verge of being destroyed.

  4. See?  As long as you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear from a police surveillance state.  It’s not like the police are going to take honest citizens off the street, just the guilty ones.  All of us honest citizens will be much safer because the police know what terrorists look like.

    1. Worse… not stupid at all, but following stupid rules and assumptions which have been trained into them. It’s systemic stupidity that doesn’t depend on any individual component of the system.

    2. The problem is the system they are embedded in. Everybody has their little job to do but one important assumption is that they are there to Do Stuff and the job wouldn’t have been passed to them if there was no stuff to do. In the case of Charles De Menenez the case had been passed to a specialist armed team which created an implicit assumption that something needed to be shot.

  5. Wait, public nuisance carries a potential life sentence?!

    If that were the case here, half the city would be in San Quentin.

    1. Public Nuisance (which can still carry a life sentence).

      Whoot? I mean, WHUT?


      Pls specify. It’s not as such somebody running naked around Trafalgar Sq. because he lost a bet would rot in the tower until doomsday. It is known.

  6. I missed this when it happened and feel pretty relieved for this guy.
    He’s lucky armed police didn’t empty a full clip into his head, pause to reload and then continue to shoot him in the face.

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