Greater Manchester Police have agreed to pay compensation to Liam Geary Baulch, an activist who was arrested outside the Conservative Party Conference last year. On 5 October 2021, Liam attended the Conference to conduct a solitary protest against the policies of then-Home Secretary Priti Patel, which included plans to increase police and sentencing powers around non-violent protest. His intent was to hold up a small sign which read ‘Priti Fascist’.
On arrival, Liam took up a position on the pavement some 30 metres outside the police cordon surrounding the conference venue. As he was reaching into his bag to remove the sign, he was approached by three police officers, who asked him to move to a designated protest area. Liam and his partner, who had accompanied him but was not taking part in the protest, asked a number of times why he was not permitted to remain where he was. The officers failed to provide any satisfactory legal basis for their request.
Liam, therefore, proceeded to remove the sign from his bag, at which point it was taken from his hand by one of the officers. After following the officer to request that this be returned, Liam was pushed against a wall, handcuffed behind his back, and arrested for ‘breach of the peace’.
In footage taken Liam’s partner, who had accompanied him to the conference, officers can be heard telling her “He’s being locked up to prevent a breach of the peace because you were told to leave the [inaudible] area” and “he was asked to leave, and he refused to leave, breach of the peace, that’s why he’s been arrested.” Liam was placed in a police van and driven to a tram station outside the city centre, where he was then released.
The power to arrest for breach of the peace can only be exercised where an officer reasonably suspects that the arrest is necessary to prevent imminent, or ongoing, harm to a person or (in their presence) their property. Refusal to leave an area is not in itself a breach of the peace.
Liam instructed ITN Solicitors to write to Greater Manchester Police to challenge the lawfulness of his arrest. Following further correspondence, Greater Manchester Police have now agreed to compensate Liam and pay his legal costs.
“Recent weeks have seen police harass and arrest peaceful protestors, including over simply holding a placard. Some simply held blank signs which was enough to be harassed by police if not arrested. With Priti Patel’s policing bill now in force, we must challenge the policing of protest to ensure the police don’t simply arrest people for expressing views and then drop their case. This still amounts to an abuse of our right to freedom of expression, and that must be defended.
As Suella Braverman makes her speech to conference almost a year later, as groups across the UK take part in strikes, occupations, and non-payment campaigns, it’s crucial to continue defending the right to protest. I was there in the first place to show opposition to the policing bill. With that bill now in effect, it is even more crucial to challenge the policing of protest and ensure police do not over-step, and where they do, ensure there are consequences.”
Lochlinn Parker of ITN Solicitors said:
“We are pleased to have been able to negotiate a positive outcome for Liam, whose arrest prevented him from exercising his right to protest. The police have a duty to facilitate freedom of expression, and it is important that protestors are able to challenge the authorities when they fall short.”
Kevin Blowe from Netpol, which campaigns against violent and excessive policing, said
“All too often, police officers misuse their powers in an arbitrary and unlawful way to crack down on protests they decide are inconvenient. In this case, Liam was arrested for rightly demanding to know why officers wanted to confiscate a sign with a clear political statement and why they considered it “offensive language”. Rather than defend that position, Greater Manchester Police has instead chosen an out-of-court settlement, but it has taken a year and Liam’s rights to freedom of expression and assembly were still violated.
Nothing better illustrates why giving the police even more aggressive anti-protest powers – the issue Liam was highlighting – has always been such a bad idea. The government’s draconian Public Order Bill will, if it becomes law, simply make matters worse. There has never been a more important time to defend the right to dissent”
Home Secretary Suella Braverman to speak at Conservative Party Conference on Tuesday 4 October on the main conference stage at around 5pm