I have said it for years now – there is something fundamentally wrong with the Metropolitan Police. I say this not as an ‘agitator’ (whatever that is), nor as a demonstrator myself; I was alarmed at the way in which the pitifully tiny violent minority was playing up to the cameras on Wednesday, and decided not to become what was clearly part of the problem. I do however unwaveringly support the right to protest and believe it must be protected from those (like she who runs the Home Office) who would see it restricted to what suits them best. I also say this in the full knowledge that there were plenty of police during the day at the Bishopsgate Climate Camp protest who treated the entirely non-violent protesters well, with respect and with good humour. Given the relative difference in size between the ‘anti-bankers’ protest and the climate camp, this meant that during the day at least most of the demonstrators and most of the police behaved well.
Or did they?
Police tactics of containing thousands of people for several hours at the Bank of England protests and using batons against climate camp protesters were condemned yesterday as an infringement of the right to demonstrate.
In the aftermath of the G20 protests in the City of London, politicians, demonstrators and a former police officer raised concerns about the methods used by the Metropolitan police to control crowds of more than 5,000.
Eyewitnesses said hundreds of environmental demonstrators camping out along Bishopsgate in a peaceful protest during the day were cleared from the area aggressively by riot police with batons and dogs after nightfall on Wednesday.
The police had earlier said they would ask the protesters, whom they acknowledged were peaceful, to move as night fell. Commander Simon O’Brien, said his officers would be “politely and proportionately” asking campers to move on.
But one eyewitness, Martin Horwood, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham, said dogs were used on protesters near the camp. James Lloyd, a legal adviser in the camp, said riot police forcefully cleared the area using batons around midnight.
“There was no announcement, the riot police just started moving forward very quickly from the south,” he said. “They were pushing everyone back, pushing forward quickly. They caused panic, people were screaming and shouting … There was a person in a wheelchair struggling to move, being pushed forcibly by them. It was totally disproportionate.”
So again the most peaceful protesters, as at their Kingsnorth protest last summer, are treated with violence and contempt by the police. But why would they change their tactics, when they were so successful with this segment of the day’s demonstrations? Why bring in the riot police of all units? Well it would seem strange if it were an isolated or unusual abuse, but it wasn’t. Initially their tactic of ‘kettling’ was used indiscriminately, ever more so as the day went on:
“Tactics to herd the crowd into a pen … have been criticised before, yet the police will not want groups spilintering away from the crowd,” (he wrote).
The containment was backed up at the Bank, first with mounted police and then with police dogs. As people were eventually allowed to leave at about 8pm, they were funnelled out down a narrow exit with a police officer grabbing them by the arm as though they were under arrest, again regardless of age or demeanour.
One officer, asked why people were not allowed to leave under their own steam, replied: “They might fall over.”
People were then asked for their name and address and required to have a photograph taken. They are not obliged to do so under the law, but those who refused were put back in the pen.
Neither the authoritarian manner nor the means of control are in their remit; they did so anyway. Polite? Proportionate? Not from the sounds of it. Yet they continued to do it because they were allowed:
Nearly eight years ago, on May Day 2001, a similar “kettle” operation was imposed in Oxford Circus for around seven hours. This led to a lengthy civil action, brought against the commissioner of the Met by one of those detained. In January this year, the law lords finally upheld the right of the police in this case to carry out such containment.
The upshot of the ruling and the police’s application of their “kettle” formula is that people thinking about embarking on demonstrations in the future may have to decide whether they want to be effectively locked up for eight hours without food or water and, when leaving, to be photographed and identified.
So it made no difference that the people ‘kettled’ weren’t a threat to anyone. Because the police were legally allowed to use the tactic (however abusively) they chose to do so. Was the crowd affected violent beforehand? By all accounts no, yet they increasingly became so because of the tactics used. Well done Metropolitan Police. Yet ‘kettling’ was the tip of the iceberg when it came to police abuse. Beth McGrath reports:
Within an hour of arriving, the same police who had stepped back and let me through closed in around the camp and refused to let anyone in or out. I then watched the police push forward into the crowd with a brutality that was not only shocking but utterly unnecessary. All the protesters put their hands in the air and sat down collectively on the road. Yet as the crowd lowered I saw a young man stagger back with his head split open, another boy with a broken nose, a girl next to me had been kicked between the legs.
People were badly hurt and the atmosphere spun into a frightened panic. A friend of mine from university who had come from Nottingham to join the camp just put his head in his hands and cried. This was the scene minutes after people had been allowed to wander into the camp without any warning of the planned police actions, or any chance to leave peacefully.
As they rolled in back-up police and black armoured riot vans, and as the police kicked and crushed people’s bikes, the protesters called out to them, and the onlooking bankers, up in their ivory towers, “This is not a riot!”. As their batons came down, legal observers called out to people to take the police numbers of those who had hurt protesters. En masse, the line of police all covered up their badges. It was a chilling show of a police force unaccountable to their own laws, and their own humanity. The police were indeed braced for violence, but most of that young crowd of protesters were not.
Explain to me someone how the Metropolitan Police can continue to act as a near-unaccountable militia. For that matter take a look at this.