Police powers finally kettled by High Court

FIT cop big camera crop

For years it has been common practice for protesters held in a kettle (police containment) to be forced to submit to police filming and/or provide their details as a condition of leaving. There have been countless incidents in which protesters who have tried (lawfully) to refuse these demands have been threatened with arrest, or told they could not leave the kettle.

This should now change, as the High Court has today ruled that the police have no powers to force people to give their details, or comply with police filming and photography, simply because they are held in a kettle.
Lord Justice Moses criticised police practice in no uncertain terms. He stated,

It is unacceptable that a civilian photographer on instruction from the police should be entitled to obtain photographs for investigation and crime investigation purposes…as the price for leaving a containment. Although the common law has sanctioned containment it has done so in only restricted circumstances.

It was not lawful for the police to maintain the containment for the purposes of obtaining identification, whether by questioning or by filming. It follows that it was not lawful to require identification to be given and submission to filming as the price for release.

The case was taken by Susannah Mengesha, who had attended a demonstration called by Occupy/UKUncut in Picadilly after a trade union march in 2011. Susannah was there as a legal observer, and became caught in a kettle the police imposed after protesters had moved to the headquarters of Xstrata, a mining corporation in nearby Panton Street.

After a lengthy period of time, the police containment manager decided it was no longer likely that there would be an ‘imminent breach of the peace’ and began a ‘controlled dispersal’. Protesters were funneled through lines of police officers to a dispersal point where they were stopped and searched then allowed to leave. Before reaching this point, however, people were forced to undergo close-up filming by police cameramen, and were told they must provide a name and address or face arrest.

Both Susannah and other legal observers recorded that the police had told protesters they were using section 50 of the Police Reform Act. This gives police powers to demand details on threat of arrest, where they reasonably believe a person has been engaging in anti-social behaviour.

In court, the police denied using this power, presumably aware of the difficulties in asserting that a peaceful protest equated to anti-social behaviour. Instead they tried to defend their actions by claiming that protesters gave their name and address and submitted to filming voluntarily. A police video was given to the judges to evidence that Susannah had complied freely – but Lord Justice Moses considered that “the video showed the contrary”.

Susannah has stated that she is ‘very happy’ with the judgement, which should change the way the police operate. She has also forced the police to remove any record of her attendance that night from their databases. She said,

I am deeply concerned by the increasing criminalisation of protest. I do not accept that by choosing to express political dissent people automatically volunteer away their rights to personal privacy and freedoms.

Freedom of protest is under relentless attack from the state. Under the new legal aid reforms, protest law judicial review cases such as mine, which are usually the last refuge against oppressive state behaviour, would not have been possible.

Any other protesters wishing to remove data collected in similar circumstances are invited to contact Netpol or their lawyers for advice. To contact Netpol in strictest confidence, e-mail info[at]netpol.org with a contact telephone number.

32 responses to Police powers finally kettled by High Court

  1. Paul Smyth

    Reblogged this on The Greater Fool and commented:
    Bully boy Government Stormtroopers at it again. Nice to see a judge put them in their place, it would be better to see the perpetrators prosecuted and locked up.

  2. Anger at police kettle of student activists. | Netpol

    […] of demonstrators held in a kettle was commonplace, until a landmark ruling last year. In the case of Mengesha, the High Court found that demanding details as the price for release from a kettle was […]

  3. Police powers finally kettled | Claire Colley

    […] Over the years, I’ve been caught in police kettles many times, both as a demonstrator and as a journalist. My National Union of Journalists press card will sometimes obtain release, but it’s not a passport guarantee out of a kettle that it should be as many riot police will ignore or are ignorant of press/policing agreements. Being kettled is a disconcerting experience. You’re often kept for hours with no toilets or water and no idea of when you will be let out. Demonstrators are also routinely filmed by the police, and personal details asked for upon being released, with rights to privacy curtailed for state surveillance and monitoring. However, a High Court ruled yesterday that the police do not have the power to force people to comply to give their details as the following piece explains: http://netpol.org/2013/06/18/police-powers-finally-kettled-by-high-court/ […]

  4. frances

    it makes me wonder why now. could it do with a certain group of people we have living here now

  5. Bob

    Download and distribute the latest version of the Guide to Public Order Situations.

    Copy it, share it, social media it – anywhere it might be useful.

    And please send back comments to the email address in the guide about your experiences so it can be updated after the G8 and other events.

    http://earthfirst.org.uk/actionreports/resources#PO

  6. Barry Appleby

    Well what do you expect from the Blair, Brown and Cameon police state? A police force that does very little to enforce the rule of law and protect the public during riots but can deploy vast resources during the Olympics to arrest cyclists holding a scheduled peacefull mass cycling event which the Police had tried to ban from ever being staged by claiming that they had the right to do so under some act that regulates their powers. Like verything else in the UK,, yet another corrupt and incompetent institution badky in need of far/reaching reforms.

  7. Philip Smeeton

    I assume that there has to be a clear distinction between peaceful demonstration and violent demonstration, people throwing stones and assaulting people and property cannot be treated in the same manner as genuinely peaceful demonstrators (in some cases peaceful demonstrators find it necessary to defend themselves from violent attack from opposing groups). And there is the issue of people losing their jobs as a result of political activity. Only people that have broken the common law should be registered and on police files.

    • Bob

      Violence is attacking people, but damaging property isn’t violence. Anyway, it’s only on EDL (& other fascists) and anti-EDL protests that different protesting groups might attack each other.

  8. Eunice Slyfield

    What would happen if you covered your face while being held in a police kettle?

    • Voice of people.

      They are now trying to pass a law that covering your face in an ‘illegal’ protest or riot is against the law. All that is left is for it to be passed up to the monarch for rubber stamping. You can be assured that what is deemed as an ‘illegal’ demonstration will soon change as discontent continues to run deeper through working classes.

      • Mik

        I wonder how this law will affect the masked agent provocateurs who often help to start riots on the behest of the Police, something that seems to be common practice?

    • policemonitor1

      During another judicial review of intelligence gathering brought by John Catt, lawyers acting on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and ACPO argued that if Mr Catt had wished to avoid his details being captured by the police he could have “covered his face” whilst protesting.

      We agree with this interpretation of the law – covering your face (in a kettle or elsewhere) is lawful. However, the police have powers to demand that a person removes a face covering where an appropriate authorisation has been given (s60aa Criminal Justice and Public Order Act). There have also been a number of reported incidents where police have used force to compel people held in a kettle to face cameras for individual close-up shots.

  9. paul iwala

    It seems deeply unfair how (specifically) the Police of the Metropolis have
    commonly employed the punitive measure of ‘containment.’ The message seems to be “do not protest.”

  10. colley

    Reblogged this on Claire Colley and commented:
    Over the years, I’ve been caught in police kettles many times, both as a demonstrator and as a journalist. My National Union of Journalists press card will sometimes obtain release, but it’s not a passport guarantee out of a kettle that it should be as many riot police will ignore or are ignorant of press/policing agreements. Being kettled is a disconcerting experience. You’re often kept for hours with no toilets or water and are routinely filmed by the police, and personal details asked for upon being released, demonstrators rights to privacy curtailed for state surveillance and monitoring. However, a High Court ruled yesterday that the police do not have the power to force people to comply to give their details as the following piece explains:

  11. DP111

    No Wilbert. It has always been one law for us and another for them. “Them” and “Us” applies right across all branches of government – from politicians and civil servants to their their armed enforcers

  12. willburt

    So does this mean that the member of the Police that lied when they told the court the the protesters provided their details voluntarily will be charged with contempt of court or perjury?

    • Benny

      Police are trying to take our civil liberties away and bring increased presence of a police state for a crooked monarch dictatorship.

    • Ray Kempson

      As I am pleasantly surprised with the Judges ruling in this case, I will be shocked if the law is properly applied by prosecuting the police who lied in court.

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