Netpol has increasing concerns regarding the approach being taken by the Metropolitan police in relation to the policing of protests at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral on Wednesday and the planned party in Trafalgar Square on Saturday. Fears are growing that people organising or planning protest will be placed under surveillance, and that the police will be willing to resort to ‘pre-emptive arrest’.
The announcement made by the Metropolitan Police that they will be monitoring a ‘range of information’ including internet and social media will exacerbate these anxieties and deter protest to at least some extent. Netpol has spoken to a number of people who have told us they are fearful of talking about organising or even attending protest. This form of deterrent policing is insidious and divisive, and undermines fundamental freedoms.
The Met do not have a good track record in dealing with mass protest. An occupation in Trafalgar Square after a TUC rally in March 2011 was kettled by police who used force to make mass arrests ‘to prevent a breach of the peace’ of people who had committed no criminal acts. Student demonstrations in 2010 were also kettled, measures which resulted in young people being held for many hours in difficult and dangerous conditions.
Nor do the Met have a good record in dealing with protest at major public events. The Met carried out a number of pre-emptive arrests of potential protesters in advance of the Royal Wedding; some of whom are continuing to challenge the legality of police actions. They also arrested 182 cyclists on a Critical Mass bike ride for alleged breaches of conditions restricting protest on the night of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. From 182 arrests only nine were prosecuted and a mere five convicted.
It is hoped that the Metropolitan police, on this occasion, show an appropriate respect for protest rights. Margaret Thatcher’s funeral is a public event of political significance. People should have the freedom to express their views and feelings without fear of dawn raids, pre-emptive arrest, or having to spend hours in a police ‘kettle’.