Guardian reporter Paul Lewis discusses the Met’s pre-emptive kettling attempt earlier today, and how it may itself not be legal (twitpic by Jonathan Warren):
In terms of the letter of the law, there is a chance that Scotland Yard overstepped the mark today. I’ve just been in touch with Louise Christian, the human rights lawyer who is bringing a test case against the Met’s policy of “kettling” to the European Court of Human Rights. The Law Lords previously ruled in the Met’s favour in the Lois Austin case , hence the force’s repeated claims that the tactics has been deemed “lawful”. But it is not as simple as that, as senior officers need to prove that containing people was “proportionate” to the threat posed by a crowd. The notorious kettling of climate camp activists at last year’s G20 protest is currently before a Judicial Review at the High Court over exactly this point. The stakes are high as the Met could lose money – and a lot of it – if it is shown to have arbitrarily imprisoned thousands of people.
If today’s reports are true, and the Met tried to kettle students before their march had properly even begun, the commissioner could find himself in the dock yet again. There i evidence to support those reports – lines of police and pre-prepared barriers suggest there was a pen in Whitehall, into which police planned to funnel students. A kettle needs to be a response to evidence of disorder, rather than an entirely preemptive tactic that suppresses protest before it has begun. “I think what has happened runs contrary to the Law Lords ruling in the Austin case,” Christian said. “It makes clear that they need to have an evidence-based approach. If they decide in advance that they are going to do it, then I suggest that would be unlawful.”
Legality aside, there is also the question of whether the apparent plot worked. It is clear that when the march saw the kettle awaiting them, they sprinted off in various directions. The Met is currently dealing with a public order nightmare; separated groups of protesters marching their way around the London, on an ad-hoc route. Tweet reports of “feeder” marches in the Oxford Street, the Strand, Victoria, Embankment and Tottenham Court Road. My colleague Matt Taylor said there were “shambolic” scenes. How do you deal with that?
And this is the public order nightmare they created, selected from a small number of tweets:
@OwenJones84 What an indictment of British democracy that demonstrators have to think outside the box to try and exercise democratic right to protest
@copwatcher Seems to be no violent incidents on today’s student protests. That’ll be because the police are unable to orchestrate them.
Speaking of orchestration, here are the Met Lies of the Day:
The Met police worked with organisers in advance to agree a suitable route from Trafalgar Square down to Parliament Square for a peaceful protest.
However, today’s march set off at an earlier time than agreed. This meant that the march began without a police escort. The police escort was essential due to gas main works on one side of Whitehall.
As a result, a line of police officers formed a cordon across Whitehall. This line of police officers intended to steer the march to one side of the road and the agreed route. There was never any intention to contain the protesters.
The march then broke into small groups, travelling in different directions.
The march continues peacefully, however, it is causing some disruption for Londoners in the West End, in what are already difficult conditions due to the weather.
And yet the Met are kettling people, suggesting there’s not a single shred of truth to this press release. Even if the comment about ‘steering’ was true, how does it explain the picture above, or the many accounts of attempted kettles? If they acknowledge the march is continuing peacefully, it doesn’t square with their acknowledgement they were planning to do just what they say they weren’t, nor with their behaviour on the ground. As one protester said:
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