Merseyside Police is accused of ignoring the standard practice, adopted by most UK police forces, of acknowledging that independent legal observers are not the same as protesters – and of justifying this on the basis of the way those monitoring a protest in Liverpool were dressed.
During a recent English Defence League (EDL) march and counter demonstrations against it on Saturday 3 June, legal observers who are part of Green and Black Cross‘ national network of volunteers who monitor the policing of protests were out on the streets near the city’s Lime Street station. As always, they were clearly identified by their familiar fluorescent orange bibs. According to media reports, there were over 200 officers and 25 riot vans deployed on the day.
As counter-demonstrators gathered, legal observers were told a Section 14 notice, imposing conditions on public assembly and giving police the power to order protesters to confine their protest to a certain place, had been issued. They were then instructed to join protesters in a designated protest area for members of Unite Against Fascism, one of the groups opposing the EDL march. Read more
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. Read more
On Saturday 1st June the police arrested 58 people who had been protesting against plans by the British National Party to march to the cenotaph in Westminster. Anti-fascist protesters had breached restrictions imposed on their protest, having refused to be contained within an area designated by the police. Police confronting them used considerable force – eye-witnesses have described officers punching protesters, and one woman was taken to hospital with a broken leg. The police then carried out ‘snatch squad’ style arrests until two buses had been filled with handcuffed people.
The 58 people were all arrested for breaching conditions imposed on an assembly. They were taken to police cells, but none were charged with any offence. Instead they were released on police bail with instructions to return in July to be told whether or not charges would follow. Most were also given highly restrictive bail conditions, banning them from any form of protest and excluding them from much of central and west London. Read more
On Friday 27th July, 182 cyclists were arrested by the Metropolitan police for straying too close to the Olympic venue. Netpol have been given a number of eye-witness accounts from participants in the Critical Mass which tell a highly disturbing story.
Those arrested were forced to tolerate poor conditions of detention, with some spending the entire night detained on a bus at Charing Cross, waiting to be booked into custody, without adequate access to water or toilet facilities. Some people were forced to spend an excessive amount of time in handcuffs, and access to legal representation and advice was patchy. All have also been subject to highly restrictive bail conditions, which in some cases have left people unable to work without breaching the conditions of their bail. Some have had to face a significant struggle to reclaim their own cycles.
But even more disturbing perhaps, was the disturbing ease by which the Metropolitan Police have felt able to carry out a strategy of mass arrest against a group of people whose primary offence appears to have been the act of cycling into East London. Read more
A detailed new report launched today by the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) highlights how promises made by the police to ‘adapt to protest’ after 2009’s G20 demonstrations in London have been forgotten in a remarkably short space of time and a far more intolerant ‘total policing’ style response to protesters has developed in the UK.
The report, which covers a fourteen month period from late 2010 to the end of 2011, paints a bleak picture of the state of the freedom to protest in the UK. It documents how the tactic of containment known as ‘kettling’, the use of solid steel barriers to restrict the movement of protesters, the intrusive and excessive use of stop & search and data gathering, and the pre-emptive arrests of people who have committed no crime, have combined to enable an effective clamp-down on almost all forms of popular street-level dissent. Read more
The use of police ‘kettles’ on demonstrations is now so completely routine and expected, that scarcely an eyebrow was raised at the kettling of yet another march last Saturday. According to the Law Lords and now the European Court of Human Rights, kettling (or containment in police-speak) is supposed to be a tactic used only ‘in extremis’, where police have no other options for ‘the prevention of serious public disorder and violence’.
There was never likely to be ‘serious public disorder and violence’ at the save the NHS demo on Saturday. There was, however, a very real threat that protesters may not be entirely obedient to the wishes of the Metropolitan police. They moved into and sat down on the road, and then set off on a spontaneous march with the intention of taking their protest to Virgin, one of the companies seen as most likely to profit from NHS privatisation.
This was enough for the Met to deploy large numbers (relatively speaking) of police to stop and kettle the protest. Some quick movement by protesters scuppered their first attempt, but the police persevered and eventually succeeded. The kettle was relatively short in duration, with people kept only for half an hour or so. But it succeeded in disrupting and dispersing the protest. And it enabled the police to demand a name and address from everyone detained within it.
The now commonplace practice of lining people up for searches, and demanding names and addresses from each of them, is an intimidating and thoroughly uncomfortable experience even for those who have become used to it. For people not used to being in contact with the police it can be downright frightening. Many people end up complying with police demands and giving their details even though they have every right to refuse, especially if they are told – and they frequently are – that they won’t be able to leave the kettle otherwise. Read more
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. Read more