Four No2ID campaigners were ejected from Gateshead Metro Centre yesterday, after their attempts to protest against the introduction of a national identity register and identity card were deemed "inappropriate" for local shoppers.
Home Office Minister Andy Burnham was due to appear at the centre as part of his whistlestop tour aimed at persuading the nation of the benefits of ID cards and biometric technologies.
No2ID argues that the Home Office is rigorously excluding opposing views from the tour. The campaign group complains that the details and locations of the tour are not being made public in advance, and that the public is only being given one side of the story.
Stephen Hodgson, ringleader of this unlikely group of rebels, said: "It was extraordinary. We had been there about an hour. The minister had yet to arrive. Then Home Office staff manning the stand had a word with Metro Centre security staff, and the security staff had a word with police. The police ejected us from the Metro Centre, saying that our leaflets were 'inappropriate'. It beats me how."
The group was handing out standard No2ID campaign leaflets, which you can have a look at here (pdf).
No2ID's press officer told us he thought it highly unlikely that the leaflets contained any particularly inappropriate information: "The most violent we've ever been on our leaflets is the red ink," he said.
The Home Office has denied asking the police to move anyone along, and says that it is "a matter for Northumbria Police and MetroCentre security".
Northumbria Police, for their part, explain that a local bylaw means leafleting is prohibited in the Metro Centre. A spokesman told us: "The security staff asked the protesters to leave. We were just in attendance to make sure there was no breach of the peace."
The Home Office confirmed that it too was handing out leaflets. One covering information about the new e-passports, and the other with details of the new photograph standards guidelines. "The purpose of the roadshow is to inform the public," a spokesman told us. ®