Defiant early days of an 86-year-old Brighton activist

John and Linda Catt
Image caption Keen artist John Catt with his daughter Linda holds up a sketch of a recent protest in Brighton

Standing in the pouring rain while waiting for his wages, John Catt began his life of protest.

He was a 14-year-old farm labourer at the start of World War II when his boss delayed paying him and eight others.

Taking matters into his own young hands he led a protest on the Sussex farm and successfully demanded the money.

More than 70 years later, he faces a more fearsome challenge in the High Court as he tries to force police to destroy secret records held on him.

The 86-year-old used the Data Protection Act to discover the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) had kept records of his peaceful attendance at 55 demonstrations between 2005 and 2009.

He claims they recorded masses of "trivial" data about him, including that he carried a sketch pad and whether he had shaved or not.

He has now been granted permission to take his case to the High Court.

NPOIU said it would be inappropriate to comment in light of the ongoing legal process.

Image caption John Catt picketing Hackney Police Station in 1982

The demonstrations, mainly outside an arms factory in Brighton with his daughter Linda, were the latest in a long line of protests which began with defiance on a Sussex farm.

Recalling the incident, Mr Catt said: "The owner was a terrible man, a tyrant who used to rant and rave.

"It was raining hard and we were soaked. I demanded he paid the men, who were a lot older than myself.

"There was so much electricity running through me at the time the owner eventually paid the eight of us."

His taste for standing up to authority continued when he was enlisted into the RAF during the war.

After landing what he described as a "plum job" working in the briefing room of RAF Tangmere, near Chichester, he protested to his superiors over the "dirty and filthy" conditions of the sick bay.

His outburst saw him confined to barracks for a month as punishment for insubordination.

"That's what first got me into the bad books of the authorities," he said.

'Rights of humanity'

Mr Catt's life after the war reads like a potted history of modern political protest.

He took part in demonstrations over nuclear weapons, the Vietnam war, perceived racism by the Metropolitan Police in the 1980s and poll tax.

More recently he protested over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the increase in tuition fees.

As an accomplished artist he was recorded several times by police for sketching the protests, a hobby he has pursued since he was a young child.

"Protesting makes me feel twice as young," he said.

"There's very few of my age group - the protesters are young people and it's their future not ours.

"I never feel that I'm too old for it - on the contrary I try to embody the rights of humanity and combine it with my art.

"You put uniforms on people and they carry out orders without question."

Image caption John Catt grew up in rural Sussex

Linda Catt, who is also a peace activist, said her father was a "great source of inspiration" and his High Court challenge was the first of its kind.

"He gets his energy from his conviction about life," she said.

"He's been a rebel all his life and he will be to his last days.

"We're currently waiting for a date for the hearing and we've been warned the case could take two years at least."

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