Education and public sector protests in London

Two major marches took place in London during November – the education demo through The City on 9th November and the Public Sector march on 30th November. Both events marked Hogan-Howe’s first major outings for “total policing”, with controlling excessive policing prevailing.

Control, containment and dispersal

The preceding days set the tone for both marches, with letters sent to all those arrested on previous student/anti-cuts protests warning against committing, or witnessing, any disorder.

However, the majority of recipients of these letters were not charged with any offence, and many of those who received the letters felt the police were trying to intimidate them away from lawful protest.

The education demo was surrounded by police from the beginning, giving the feel and appearance of being a moving kettle. Wapping boxes patrolled by riot police armed with short and long shields guarded most side streets.

Public order fencing in Trafalgar Square on N30 -

Public order fencing in Trafalgar Square on N30 -

Whilst there were kettles throughout the day, they weren’t imposed for the scale and duration of previous demonstrations. Instead, in a change of tactics, the police advocated dispersal, with conditions imposed determining the length of the end rally. This impacted on the rights to freedom of expression and association of protesters, especially since, at many recent protests, people have held general assemblies and discussions at the end of protests.

Although the public sector march was too large to be policed as a moving kettle, there was a large police presence, and mobile public order fences were erected on Whitehall to prevent unauthorised protest. This control of the route even extended to individuals trying to leave the protest. Two police monitors who tried to leave at Trafalgar Square were immediately grabbed by TSG officers who forced them to return to the designated protest route on the basis two people might form a breakaway protest.

Plainclothes police

Plainclothes police make arrest on 9 November

Plainclothes police make arrest on 9 November

Another feature of both of the protests has been the increased use of plainclothes police officers amongst the crowd, several of whom have been identified as TSG officers. On 9th November, they were used primarily to spot people and make snatch squad arrests. On 30th November, somewhere between 10 to 20 were spotted in the kettle in Panton Street after the occupation of Panton House, leading some to comment there were more plainclothes police in the kettle than protesters.

Val Swain, from Netpol: The Network for Police Monitoring stated, “Unlike uniformed police officers, those in plain clothes wear no identifying numbers, and cannot be held to account. The use of plain clothes police can cause an unpleasant level of distrust among demonstrators, even those who are law-abiding. Nobody wants to go on a demonstration where you are not sure whether the person next to you could be recording what you say for the police file. That is not the sort of society we want to live in.”

Other protests

Away from the main protests, there were several other solidarity protests which were met with “total policing”.

Searches on release from kettle on 9th November

Searches on release from kettle on 9th November

The Electricians’ Union held a separate protest on 9th December, which having evaded police control for several hours, was kettled on Blackfriars Bridge whilst they were on their way to join the main march. The group were extensively filmed by Forward Intelligence Teams before being individually taken out of the kettle and searched under Section 60 with the majority tricked into giving personal details. The manner in which they were individually released from the kettle meant it was impossible for them to join and show solidarity with the education march as a group.

Meanwhile, in Hackney on November 30th, there was what can only be described as an extraordinary policing operation, described by one local resident as “terrorist policing”. Local residents and workers organised a solidarity march between various different pickets were prevented from marching in the road and were kettled outside Dalston library, before being arrested for breach of the peace. Despite the 37 people in the kettle being compliant, and being surrounded by police officers, there were also dog units and a helicopter deployed. Senior officers at the scene confirmed to police monitors that people had been detained to prevent a breach of the peace because they had been marching in the road. However, this didn’t prevent officers from re-arresting everyone later in the evening for affray and seizing clothes and mobile phones.

Kurdish protester beaten unconscious by Met police and left without medical attention for two hours

Injured Kurdish Protestor lying on pavement surrounded by police officersA Kurdish protester required hospital treatment on 27th November after falling unconscious, having been hit on the head from behind by a police baton. Footage and images taken on the scene show the man lying flat out on the floor, covered in a space blanket. Despite the seriousness of his condition, witnesses have stated it took between two to three hours for an ambulance to reach him, despite repeated requests. Witnesses further stated they were informed by the Ambulance Service that an ambulance had been turned away by the police.

The protest, a counter demonstration to a Turkish nationalist march, was peaceful until the police assaulted a well known community journalist, causing objections from the crowd. Batons were drawn, and, according to witnesses, people were shoved, pushed and hit. Protesters were kettled, with many searched, photographed and forced to give details before being allowed to leave.

Occupy Cardiff evicted by South Wales Police

South Wales Police aggressively removed an Occupy protest site from the edges of Cardiff Castle on 11th November. Police moved onto the site in heavy rain, seized tents and other possessions, then used force to remove remaining protesters. Six people were arrested for refusing to leave under s61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, legislation developed for use against travellers, and an 1875 byelaw that prevented camping on the castle grounds.

Although Cardiff Council formally enforced the byelaw, not every councillor agreed, with one even calling the decision ‘shameful’. One protester said, “It was clearly not a good use of public money or an example of proportionate policing for riot cops with tasers to attack and trash the camp, intimidate and arrest people.”

Police return student journalist’s video after NUJ intervention

On 21st November, Lewis Stainer, a student photographer covering the occupation in Market Square, Nottingham, witnessed the arrest of someone from the camp. He attempted to video the arrest and was promptly intimidated into handing over the video tape.

However, following intervention from the NUJ, the tape has now been returned, although no apology has been offered despite the police clearly breaching their own guidelines which state “Police officers do not have the authority to prevent a person taking a photograph or to confiscate cameras or film, and such conduct could result in criminal, civil or disciplinary action.”

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill
The unpleasant Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill is still making its way through Parliament. As well as criminalising squatting in abandoned residential property, it also eats away substantially at our access to legal aid. Legal aid has never been easy to get for civil cases, but with the enforcement of this bill taking legal cases against the state – including actions against the police – will be harder to do. Conditional fee agreements (no win no fee) will also be more difficult to get, and may disappear altogether for low value claims such as unlawful arrest. Essentially, this bill is a shield for the police who currently pay out many thousands of pounds in damages for their unlawful actions.

At the same time the government is in consultion to extend powers to remove face masks, introduce new powers of curfew, and to make changes to section 5 of the public order act. Netpol would welcome view and especially experiences of how the police use their current powers of dispersal, removing face coverings and make arrests for section.5.

Most worryingly of all, the Bill enables a future Director of Legal Services to end across the board free legal advice in police stations. Provisions in the Bill mean that you may have to be on benefits, or accused of a serious offence to get free access to legal support while in custody.

Kettling the powers of the police campaign

This briefing has been produced as part of the Kettling the powers of the police campaign. The campaign statement calls for an end to the abuse of police powers, the unrestrained use of surveillance and the unending expansion of public order and protest laws.

All groups and individuals are also invited to feed into the campaigns objective of building a ‘dossier of evidence’ on policing issues. Many incidents are currently unreported and a dossier will bring to public attention the scale and range of the problems being faced

Please sign up to support this campaign, and/or email your stories and experiences of policing.

Please also get in touch if you have any policing issues you’d like to see included in future briefings