Countryside Alliance holds personal files on thousands
- Hunt lobby holds personal files on thousands
John Vidal and Stuart Millar
Friday November 1, 2002
The Countryside Alliance has declared that it holds financial,
sexual, religious and other personal intelligence on its opponents,
using data from sources including private detectives, political
groups, police and debt collection firms.
According to its 27-page entry on the data protection register, the
pro-hunt organisation, which coordinated the Liberty and Livelihood
march of 400,000 people in London in September, also discloses
information on its opponents to the police, the Inland Revenue,
judges, the prison service, Customs and Excise, the Home Office and
the armed forces.
The alliance's vast entry in the register - one of the largest for a
voluntary lobbying group - is believed to have been built up over
years of being opposed by anti-hunters. The alliance, which has
100,000 members, is believed to have a database of more than 400,000
people who support it.
Most organisations hold personal details on staff, membership and
customers, but the alliance's entry reveals it holds data under 17
different headings, ranging from administration and finance to
fundraising and public relations.
But it is the breadth of the data it holds for the purpose of "crime
prevention and the prosecution of offenders" that suggests the
alliance is maintaining records on individuals that are at least as
comprehensive as those of the state.
It declares that its intelligence gathered for crime prevention
purposes is drawn from, among others, "employees, agents, private
detective agencies, security organisations, police forces, political
organisations, debt collection and tracing agencies, neighbours,
friends, religious organisations and associations".
It states that the data it holds on individuals may include "physical
descriptions, habits, current marriage or partnerships, loans,
mortgages, sexual life, mental health record, security details,
student record, convictions, political opinions, lifestyle, ethnic
origin, political opinion, religious beliefs, financial transactions,
union membership, and infirmities".
The subjects of these files may come from a bewildering range of
backgrounds, according to the entry which lists 25 different
categories of individual on whom records may be held. These include:
competitors, complainants, witnesses, offenders and suspected
offenders, minors, elected representatives, editors, immigrants and
The scale and breadth of the alliance's intelligence gathering goes
well beyond the information held by other lobbying groups and
Neither Greenpeace, the League Against Cruel Sports, the Labour and
Conservative parties nor the National Farmers' Union hold such
comprehensive records on individuals. The NFU entry is three pages
long and Greenpeace's seven.
The alliance is doing nothing illegal in holding its records. The
Data Protection Act is concerned more with how personal data is
handled than the nature of the data itself.
Data protection sources yesterday cautioned against trying to read
too much into entries on the register as organisations may err on the
side of caution when filling in the forms. But one insider said a 27-
page entry appeared "extremely large" for a voluntary body with a
narrow range of objectives.
Anti-hunt groups voiced surprise at the size of the alliance
files. "The alliance seems to treat people who oppose them like the
quarry they hunt," said Doug Bachellor, head of the League Against
Last night, the alliance defended its operation. "Our predecessor
organisation [the British Field Sports Society] and people who hunt
have been the subject of gross attacks, including bombings, over 20
years. [The comprehensiveness] of the data register entry is a result
of not unfounded security fears," a spokesman said.
He later said the extent of the register entry was under review, but
denied the organisation held sexual or financial data. "We hold stuff
that has been in the public domain. Special branch have an animal
rights index. We have no need for the information they hold."