The following are brief reports on the policing of various protests taking place in February, primarily based on the observations of police monitors. If you were a participant in any of these protest, or any others, and feel you can add to what is said below, please get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The policing of EDL demonstrations
Muslim youth kettled in Leicester
A senior youth and community worker has called for an enquiry into the policing of the EDL protest on 4th February addressing why there was a disproportionate policing of one section of the community, and the impact this will have on further marginalising Muslim young people in the political system.
Saqib Deshmukh, who is one of the key organisers in the Justice for Habib ‘Paps’ Ullah campaign, made the call after groups of young Muslims were kettled whilst EDL members were free to wander through the town.
Saqib also criticised the use of the Children Act to deter young people from taking part in lawful protest against the far right group. Leaflets produced by Leicestershire constabulary, warning that under 18’s could be picked up by police and ‘taken to a place of safety’, were distributed to every secondary school pupil in the city.
The EDL and BNP in Hyde Manchester
The British National Party and the English Defence League also held a rally / march in Hyde, Manchester on 25th February, ostensibly in response to a perceived race attack on a white man in the city.
Police cordons had been set up, but police monitors reported that police allowed a car of EDL to pass through police lines and head towards a local mosque where the local community had congregated. The incident was minor, but raised tensions. A further flashpoint occurred when a group of EDL supporters broke through police lines to taunt Muslims from a distance of around 50 yards.
Greater Manchester Police stated that despite making eleven arrests of EDL supporters, there had been only “minimal trouble”, and for most of Hyde it had been “business as usual”.
Supt Evans stated, “Although 11 protesters from the EDL group were arrested for minor public order offences or being drunk and disorderly, the vast majority were well-behaved and compliant with police”
Policing of the no borders week of action.
No Borders activists have condemned the policing of their conference / week of action held this month, including the holding of activists for two nights in police custody after they were arrested for non-imprisonable offences, and the use of intrusive surveillance and data gathering.
One of the activists suggested the heavy handed approach was attributable to discrimination;
“Think about who we support?! Migrants are the kinds of people the police love to hate and so they love to hate us too.”
Refusal of Bail
No Borders activists conducted a blockade at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre. The activists said they had conducted the protest in response to the practice of taking additional detainees as ‘reserves’ to the airports for charter flights in case illness or appeal prevented a removal. They claim that this practice had been held to be inhumane by a 2011 inspection report from Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons as well as the Home Affairs Select Committee
Arrests were made for a breach of conditions of protest, under s14 of the public order act, and for obstruction of the highway. Both of these are very minor offences which carry a fine as maximum sentence. Despite this, the police denied the arrestees bail, and held them for two nights in police custody before taking them before Uxbridge Magistrates court. The prosecution then argued forcefully that they should continue to be remanded in custody until the termination of the No Borders conference – an additional two days. The court rightly dismissed the application. But the protesters had already effectively served a two day custodial sentence.
Police harassment of solidarity demonstration
Protesters turning up to support demonstrators appearing at Uxbridge found themselves subject to ‘section 60’stop and searches outside the court. An authorisation by police under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 is intended to be an extreme measure, for use in situations where police anticipate serious violence, or that people are carrying weapons. It was clearly an inappropriate response to a group of people turning up to give their friends support in court, and unsurprisingly no weapons were found.
Protesters were told that they must give their name and address or they face arrest, and those who had travelled from other European countries, and were not sure of English law, complied. Activists accused the police of ‘blatant intelligence gathering’.
Later in the week No Borders activists were also subject to being ‘accompanied’ by uniformed police, apparently in order to dissuade them from carrying out further protest actions. This involved police officers closely followed protesters on foot and on trains, even to the point of following them to their homes. It is a police tactic that has frequently been criticised by protest groups, including the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), as being intimidating and grossly disproportionate.
Protests by the Somali community against the Somalia Conference, outside Lancaster House (23rd Feb)
These protests were made subject to conditions under s14 Public Order Act. These placed restrictions on the location, duration and number of people present on each of three protests. The justification for imposing these conditions was unclear. Section 14 conditions should not be an automatic response to protest, but should be applied only where there is a likelihood of intimidation of others, or serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community.
The protest was also subject to close surveillance by police Forward Intelligence Teams, who, we are told, carried out a cheque to ensure the Somali national flag the protesters were carrying was not one of any proscribed terrorist organisation. An observer told us the scenes reminded him of police attempts to criminalise Tamil nationalist protesters when they confused their flag with that of the proscribed group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Overwhelming police numbers were used to evict Occupy LSX from the site they had occupied for four months. Police monitors reported the operation was handled with competent police efficiency, but little regard for the safety or welfare of the people being removed.
The police cleared the site quickly and efficiently, but without a great deal of regard for the niceties of health and safety. They tore at the temporary structures, and pulled people roughly to the ground from platforms occupiers were refusing to leave. One told how he had been grabbed by his face and thrown down from a height of six foot onto solid paving. A piano pulled away by the police toppled and fell on to the leg of one of the occupiers.
Throughout the entire eviction two forward intelligence / evidence gathering teams filmed and photographed everyone who was there, and the police made a total of 23 reported arrests.
The police also dragged away people praying on the steps of St Pauls Cathedral, despite the fact that the eviction order did not cover this area.
Despite the emphasis the police frequently place on the need for good communications and a ‘no surprises’ approach to policing, they had made little or no attempt to communicate with those at Occupy LSX during the eviction process.