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EXCLUSIVE: ‘Hiddleswift' caught in UK terror police fake photo storm

Police admitted they were in 'hot water' after editing photo of celebrity couple and copyrighted film images to promote Prevent strategy
Tom Hiddleston in his role in the BBC's Arab Spring-themed drama The Night Manager (BBC)

British police photoshopped a Twitter post showing celebrity couple Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston frolicking in the sea to suggest that the British actor supported the UK government's controversial Prevent counter-extremism strategy.

Officers responsible for updating the Twitter account for Northamptonshire police's Prevent team also flouted copyright laws by using images taken from films including the Star Wars and James Bond franchises to promote their work.

The posts were all removed on 14 July after a celebrity's representative complained to Northamptonshire police that associating his client with Prevent was “irresponsible in the extreme”.

Prevent, a strand of the government's counter-terrorism strategy to identify people at risk of “radicalisation,” has been criticised by international human rights groups and widely condemned as discriminatory against Muslims.

The complaint was filed on the same day that Middle East Eye contacted Luke Windsor, Hiddleston's publicist, to seek comment regarding the Twitter post.

In police emails subsequently obtained by MEE under Freedom of Information laws, officers also admitted they were in “hot water” over copyright issues and ordered the tweets to be deleted “ASAP”.

The tweets in question were posted by Prevent officers using the @NorPolPrevent account between May and June this year as part of a weekly series carrying the hashtag #famousfriday.

Hiddleston and Swift featured in a tweet posted on 8 July which purported to be a retweet of a post from a Taylor Swift news site with the text: “Taylor and Tom at the beach today! Tom is wearing an I ♥ Prevent top!”

In the original tweet, the slogan on the t-shirt read “I ♥ TS”. Police also added a hashtag #TomSaidNoToBondBecausePreventDontSpy, referring to rumours that Hiddleston had been lined up to play James Bond.

Daniel Craig, the actor who currently plays Bond, features in another tweet, as do Star Wars’ Chewbacca, the Ghostbusters, the A-Team's Mr T, and Fred Flintstone.

The Bond tweet, which features an image of Craig as Bond and the British spy's 007 logo, plays on widespread complaints that Prevent amounts to a form of surveillance. “Prevent does not conduct surveillance… I do,” it says.

Yet the Ghostbusters tweet appears to encourage people to inform on neighbours. “If there's something strange in your neighbourhood,” it says, referencing the lyrics of the 1984 original movie's theme tune. “Who you gonna call? Prevent.”

MEE contacted Northamptonshire police shortly after the tweets had been removed to ask why they had been deleted and to inquire about steps taken to secure permission from copyright holders to use the images to promote Prevent. 

A spokesperson said several tweets had been deleted by users of the account “to avoid anything being misconstrued”.

“I can confirm that @NorPolPrevent use Twitter as a means to engage with local communities. This has, on occasion, included using images to portray messages in a non-confrontational or humorous manner,” the spokesperson said.

But police emails obtained via a Freedom of Information request revealed more details about the chain of events leading to the deletion of the tweets.

Although redacted to conceal the identities of third parties and individual officers involved, the emails show that a news producer working for Northamptonshire Police reported a complaint being made about the Twitter account on 14 July.

“We’ve received a complaint from [REDACTED] regarding the below. Did we photoshop this? And can it please be deleted ASAP,” the message says, before quoting a comment made by the complainant: “Photoshopping [REDACTED] to suggest [REDACTED] is irresponsible in the extreme.”

“We will get it removed asap if that’s what is being requested,” one of the users of the account replies.

A further email from a seemingly more senior figure within Northamptonshire Police then reads: “I don’t want to detract from the good work @NorPolPrevent do via twitter, but probably just helpful to be mindful of editing pics of ‘celebrities’. They spend a lot of money and carefully craft their public images, and associations with contentious topics can be concerning for them!

“Also from a copyright perspective, we can be treading in hot water! Like I said, I can see the merit in trying to myth bust and use humour.... just advising to be careful...”

The choice of Hiddleston to promote Prevent could be construed as an own goal by Northamptonshire police given the actor's work as an ambassador for UNICEF, the United Nations' children's rights organisation.

“School is so much more than a building. It's where you meet your friends. It's teachers, it's protection, it's stability and it's hope, and it is where you find out who you are and who you want to be,” Hiddleston said in a recent UNICEF promotional video.

Yet the extension by law last year of Prevent into schools, colleges and other public-sector settings has raised concerns, including from two United Nations special rapporteurs and other human rights monitors, about its impact on children and young people in education.

Since then thousands of school children have been referred into Channel, a counter-radicalisation programme within Prevent, with most of those referrals related to so called “Islamist extremism”.

In a report in March, Ben Emmerson, the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, said that teachers “should not be required to act as or intelligence officers”.

“Such measures may lead pupils and students to self-censor to avoid being branded ‘extremist,’ cause teachers and other staff to view pupils and students as potential threats, or avoid discussing certain issues or inviting guest speakers whose views may be controversial,” Emmerson said.

And during a visit to the UK in April, Maina Kiai, the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, cited reports of schoolchildren being reported to Prevent for comments in class and said that the “spectre of Big Brother loomed large”.

Prevent has long been undermined by image problems but its advocates argue that it has is primarily concerned with safeguarding youngsters vulnerable to being drawn into extremism.

They say it has made a positive impact on the lives of thousands of young people, with some even claiming that Prevent has helped protect the UK from attacks such as last month’s Islamic State (IS) group-claimed Normandy church killings.

Many police Prevent teams and counter-extremism organisations involved in Prevent have turned to Twitter to promote their work amid criticism that much of what they do lacks transparency and has not been subjected to public scrutiny.

But Raza Nadim, a spokesman for the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (UK) which has campaigned against Prevent and who highlighted the @NorPolPrevent tweets on his own Twitter feed, told MEE that the flippant tone of the account raised questions about “how public money is being allocated and used to ‘counter extremism’”.

“What is more worrying though is that there won't be any real accountability of the government or those tasked with carrying out Prevent's work. I have questioned Northamptonshire police's Prevent team about their posts but their flippant responses to me just highlighted the incompetency of many of the people involved in this line of work," he added.

Hiddleston's publicist, Luke Windsor, declined to comment to MEE on the matter.

A user of the @NorPolPrevent account posted a tweet on 22 July regretting that #famousfriday had come to an end but pledging other Friday fun-themed hashtags instead and then tweeting a picture of a unicorn.

The following week's tweet featured the golden arches of the McDonald's hamburger chain.

A spokesperson for Northamptonshire police told MEE: "No steps were taken and no complaints have come through to us from McDonald's about their trademarked golden arches."

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