That is to say that on a number of occasions throughout my life I have been sufficiently aroused by sundry issues to take to the streets and exercise my legal right of peaceful protest.

The terminology “domestic extremism” has been coined by certain police units as a kind of catch-all for those citizens who may choose to demonstrate against anything from coal-fired power stations and motorway extensions to their government’s recent taste for invading undemo­cratic sovereign states with oil attached. (Though not, of course, the undemocratic ones with oil attached who buy our armaments.)

There is now a plethora of police units in place, with a UK-wide remit, to help maintain order and security in an increasingly troubled world. We might sleep less easily in our beds if there were not. But somewhere along the line this seems to have tipped

over from being an essential tool against sabotage and terrorism to a ready assumption that anyone underneath a banner or placard must be up to no good.

The databases compiled from the activities of the National Public Intelligence Unit, the National Extremist Tactical Co-ordinating Unit, and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (not even to mention the automatic number plate recognition cameras) may well contain images that will assist the departments concerned with very essential inquiries. And, indeed, Scottish police forces feed information to them, although they have no physical

presence here.

Yet they also hold many hundreds of images of citizens with no criminal record or intent who find themselves routinely photographed having done nothing more subversive than attend a public meeting or join a march. Earlier this year, the Met’s public order unit – CO11 – was forced by the courts to remove 1000 of 2500 images on the grounds that their being retained contravened data protection legislation.

There is a growing sense that some of the policing methodology which has emerged in the past few years puts at serious risk the very demo­cracy it is in place to defend. The English and Welsh police inspectorate’s imminent report on reforming the way protests are managed is likely to illustrate the reasons for that unease. The most graphic examples were sights of officers in riot gear treating a climate camp protest at Kingsnorth power station like a potential hotbed of international terrorism, charging in to confiscate such weapons of mass distraction as clown outfits, and the truly jaw-dropping footage of police at the London G20 summit in full battledress setting about protesters with their extended batons.

A recent documentary on officer training down south helps to explain this mindset. In it, we were shown how recruits are given a series of physical moves designed to frighten off protesters and offer themselves maximum protection. However, when you marry that to the kind of riot gear which, almost by definition, precludes any civilised discourse, then you have all the ingredients for turning a civil protest into an angry stand-off, with, as we saw, some terrifying outcomes.

And now we find that the Met, without consulting the London police authority, has taken the decision to deploy officers with automatic sub-machine-guns on street patrols in areas notorious for gun crime. Again, this seems a recipe for the proposed solution exacerbating the core problem.

I can think of no country in the world where the routine arming of police patrolling the domestic arena has resulted in cutting down criminal gun use. What happens instead is that when armed police become the norm rather than the exception, more villains also carry weapons. It means, too, a greater likelihood of more innocent civilians, quite literally, being caught in the crossfire.

The decision to arm patrols was apparently taken in response to the frustration of residents living in the middle of a drugs turf war between rival gangs. Throwing every possible resource at choking off the supply of illegal weapons might be a more fruitful tactic than adding to the number of guns. That and remembering that the law-abiding majority will help any police force that doesn’t presume them guilty until proved otherwise.