Mass arrest – an abuse of power

police film kettle

The arrest of 286 antifascists demonstrating against the presence of the English Defence League in East London on Saturday is another example of what seems to be a growing trend in public order policing – the mass arrest of people participating in unauthorised marches, rallies and processions.

The tactic of mass arrest is highly indiscriminate – no consideration is made of whether the individuals concerned are truly suspected of any offence. Netpol observers spoke to a boxing coach in East London yesterday, who had tried desperately to get police officers to realise that one of the people they had contained had simply been en route to his gym, which was round the corner from the police kettle. No-one seemed willing to listen to him.

The arrests were made because the protesters had breached conditions the police had imposed on demonstrations that day. The conditions, which were published on the Metropolitan police website early last week, were ridiculously restrictive, confining anti-fascist protest to three streets and a park near to Bethnal Green station, some miles away from the areas through which the EDL were due to march.

Imposing such unworkable restrictions suggests that the aim of the police was not to place positive conditions on the UAF demonstration itself – but to render all other protest against the EDL unlawful. Protest outside the designated area was inevitable, but the conditions imposed made all anti-fascist protest a potential criminal offence – apart from that small segment which had been specifically authorised by the Metropolitan police.

police restraint on bus

It was on this basis that the police kettled 286 protesters in two groups at Mansell Street and Commercial Road. People were kept there for many hours, and although the police did eventually provide portable toilets, conditions were cramped and uncomfortable. After being filmed by the Forward Intelligence Team, protesters were placed onto buses or in police vans to be taken to police stations as far apart as Lewisham, Sutton, Croydon and Plaistow. Amongst the those held were five legal observers and, according to reports, at least two people who had simply been trying to walk home.

The cost of the operation has not been announced, but the resources devoted to it must be huge. The arrestees have not, for the most part, been charged, but have been released on police bail with conditions not to take part in further anti-fascist protest.

Saturday’s arrest of 286 people is the largest in a series of mass arrests over recent months, a pattern which may signify a worrying shift in public order strategy. Mass arrests for breaching section 12 and 14 conditions were seen at the Critical Mass in July 2011 (182 arrested) and at fracking protests in Balcombe, Sussex (39 arrested), as well as a previous anti-fascist protest in London in June (58 arrested).

Of all these arrests, few have yet made it to court. Of the 182 Critical Mass arrestees, only nine people were prosecuted through the courts, and only four of these were ultimately convicted. Many of those arrested at the antifascist protest in June are still being held on police bail, with conditions denying them the right to protest. They are still not sure whether any charges will be brought against them.

The evidence suggests that due process is not the priority of the police. Instead the focus is on ‘managing’ unwanted protest through a process of disruption and deterrence. Mass arrest certainly is disruptive, and it also has a preventative effect – through bail conditions, 286 people will be effectively banned from attending future anti-fascist protest, despite them not having been charged, let alone convicted of any criminal offence. Mass arrest is also a valuable intelligence gathering tool. On Saturday the police obtained 286 sets of names, addresses, fingerprints and DNA.

Police have the wide-ranging powers to prevent and deter disorder. But we should not allow them to use such powers to prevent, disrupt and deter protest. Mass arrest of participants in protest is not an acceptable policing strategy.

15 responses to Mass arrest – an abuse of power

  1. Spies in Blue Bibs | Netpol

    […] not always be influenced towards violence by other groups in the crowd” is at odds with the Met’s use of mass arrests to sweep up and arrest protesters, the vast majority of whom later face no further action (as we […]

  2. Resistanbul | Amila Bosnae

    […] I haven’t been able to follow the developments much—unfortunately, we’ve had our own suppression of protest and arrest as means of data farming to worry about here in London with the mass arrest of 286 […]

  3. thelovelywibblywobblyoldlady

    under chapter 1 of the Protection of Freedom Bill 2012, the police have to destroy DNA, fingerprints etc if the individual is not charged with any offence, so write to the Chief Constable (template letters are on Big Brother watch website)

    Here is an extract from the Act:-
    Chapter 1 makes provision in respect of the destruction, retention, and use of fingerprints, footwear impressions and DNA samples. In addition it covers profiles taken in the course of a criminal investigation. Under the new scheme provided for in this Chapter, the fingerprints and DNA profiles taken from persons arrested for or charged with a minor offence will be destroyed following either a decision not to charge or following acquittal

  4. ianji

    A good post, but it is a bit misleading to say that police restricted the UAF protest to locations “some miles away from the areas through which the EDL were due to march”. As I understand it UAF supporters were permitted to rally in Altab Ali Park, about 350 yards from the closest point on the authorised route of the EDL march.

    • policemonitor1

      You make a good point, thank you, this should have been made clearer in the post. The restrictions referred to, which they were published on the Metropolitan police website, restricted any procession against the EDL to those three streets around Bethnal Green. However, as you say, a static rally was permitted at Altab Ali Park. Any march or procession from that point was prohibited.

      • ianji

        Thanks for the response but that is still not quite right. The Met conditions that you linked to allowed UAF to march from Altab Ali Park to Weavers Field along a defined route (Whitechapel Road, Vallence Road, Chester Street and Kelsey Street). I do think the conditions were unnecessarily restrictive, though not to the same extent as those imposed on Critical Mass for the Olympics.

        • policemonitor1

          Thanks again for the correction. Whatever the precise conditions, the thrust of the argument stands – the conditions were highly restrictive, and effectively criminalised all spontaneous assemblies (or processions) against the EDL that took place outside the organisation of the UAF.

  5. Anti fascist mass arrest highlights a number of democracy issues | DIY Democracy / Community Democracy

    […] Direct action taken with integrity, support and thought almost always qualifies as emergency democr…in the case of anti-fascist actions there are extra layers.  It’s important to remember that the EDL have gained much more support than other incarnations of the far right, because they have found a headline that allows them to both unite many of the warring factions, and also pretend not to be generalised racists and facsists, but instead concerned citizens worried about ‘extremist islamism’. But with all organisations we must go beyond what they say they are and look at what they actually are. While it might be the case that many followers are not explicit racists, nazis or fascists they all know that they are in coalition with many that are, and therefore, when they march as a group they are not merely a group of individual intolerant opportunists but a Fascist mob. For me, the opposite of fascism is democracy. […]

  6. Dave.

    I’ve always understood that police bail is virtually unenforceable in that if found breaching it the cops cannot charge or detain you for it as such, but have to have you before the bench within 24 hours on a real charge, something that rarely happens because having you appear in court was never the initial intention of it. Cop bail is just a scare tactic for the uninformed and wary.

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