Liberty’s report today heaps considerate praise upon the Metropolitan Police for their ‘proportionate and restrained’ policing of the TUC demonstration in London on 26th March and is critical of the conduct of some demonstrators – but has chosen to ignore both the mass arrest of 138 people at Fortnum and Mason and the serious allegations of excessive force used against protesters dancing in Trafalgar Square.
Liberty has faced criticism for its collaboration with the police prior to and during the demonstration and for refusing to cooperate with far more experienced legal observer groups who were protecting the rights of protesters on the day. The NGO’s narrow focus on events during the TUC march, rather than on the broader and more general picture of public order policing, means Liberty has chosen to preclude comment on potential abuses of police powers that took place elsewhere.
Despite Liberty’s criticisms of the police’s kettling policy, the report fails to mention the containment of hundreds of protesters who had gathered in Trafalgar Square on the evening of the 26th March. Witnesses have told us that they were listening and dancing to music when police moved in suddenly, without warning and in large numbers, using shields and baton strikes to implement a tight kettle.
Witnesses have also described being pulled out of the kettle, forcibly held in front of police cameras, and then pushed into police vans. Many were not taken to police stations, but were simply released in other parts of London to make their own way home. Others were taken to a police station and later released without charge, no allegations of criminal activity having been made.
The Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) consider the policing of Trafalgar Square to have been a serious abuse of police powers and we are in the process of compiling a more detailed report in response to this. We are concerned that Liberty have not sought to investigate or obtain information relating to these events.
Given Liberty’s privileged access to the police control room on the 26th March, we are also disappointed that nothing in Liberty’s report sheds light on the decision to arrest UkUncut protesters in Fortnum and Masons. The protesters occupying the department store were assured by police that they would be free to go, when in fact preparations were being made to arrest them. Those arrested had mobile phones and clothes seized by the police, and UkUncut have expressed concerns that the arrests were motivated by a desire to gather intelligence, rather than as a response to alleged criminal activity.
The Metropolitan police has treated Liberty’s broadly sympathetic but highly limited report as an positive endorsement of its policing operation and tactics. Asst Commissioner Lynne Owens stated, “in what was a significant and challenging policing operation we welcome Liberty’s overall conclusion that the policing was proportionate.”
We believe that, regrettably, the police have been provided with an easy opportunity to make political capital from a document that does not represent an accurate overview of the policing operations on the day.