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Sep 17

Calling All Pope Protesters

Posted on Friday, September 17, 2010 in Politics, religion


This is an urgent message to anyone planning to take part in ‘Protest the Pope’ events over the next couple of days.

I have been thinking about those extraordinary remarks suggesting that atheism was the key factor in Nazism. It was no random insult, nor was it simply a sign of rambling insanity. The pope is an intellectual, a politician, a man who knows exactly what he is doing with the words he uses.

My conclusion is that the Nazi remarks were a deliberate attempt to deflect the anticipated protests about the scandal of the child sex abuse cover-ups in the RCC.

We know from comments made before the visit that both the Vatican and the UK govt were deeply concerned that the visit might be overshadowed by the sex abuse issue; so what could be more natural than that they would have put their heads together to try to find a way to prevent that happening? And what better method could they possibly find than to launch an attack on the likely protestors – an attack of such grotesque obscenity that we would be immediately deflected into protesting about that rather than the realissue?

It is inconceivable to me that the UK government didn’t know exactly what was going to be in the pope’s speech at Holyroodhouse this morning. Not only that, but had that Nazi comparison been made about ANY other group in British society, government officials would have been falling over one another in their rush to distance themselves from it. The fact this hasn’t happened suggests very strongly to me that this was a put-up job, an indicator of their determination to prevent the visit turning into an embarrassment to the pope (and therefore the government), as well as of the depth of their fear that it might.

And it further seems to me that the attempt has been largely successful – so far. The Nazi slur has dominated the news coverage as well as this website, Facebook, etc. I, too, have been seething about it all day and thinking about little else. The danger now, I fear, is that people planning to take part in the Protest the Pope events in London and Birmingham might also be deflected and might, as we speak, be replacing their child abuse posters with new ones complaining about the deeply insulting comments he made today.Nothing could delight Ratzinger more.

So if you’re planning to be present at one of the protests, PLEASE don’t play into his hands. Of course we are all outraged and disgusted at what Ratzinger said today, but if I am right, that was exactly what he intended us to be. If the protests during the rest of his tour focus on his comments about Nazis and valueless secularists, rather than the issue he fears most, then he will be chortling all the way back to the Vatican on Sunday. The Vatican and the UK government are desperate to stop people protesting about child abuse during this visit. It would be a terrible shame if their ruse worked.

Apr 27

The Murder of Blair Peach

Posted on Tuesday, April 27, 2010 in civil liberties, freedom of speech, human rights, Politics

The Metropolitan Police killed teacher/activist Blair Peach at an anti-fascist rally in 1979:

The anti-fascist protester Blair Peach was almost certainly killed by police at a demonstration in 1979, according to a secret report released today.

Documents published on the Metropolitan police’s website shed new light on the death of Peach, a 33-year-old teacher from New Zealand, whose death marked one of the most controversial events in modern policing history.

A campaigner against the far right, Peach died from a blow to the head during a demonstration against the National Front in Southall, west London.

A crucial report into the death, which Peach’s family have campaigned to see for more than 30 years, was finally released today. It said it could “reasonably be concluded that a police officer struck the fatal blow”. A police van carrying six officers was identified as having been at the scene when the fatal blow was struck.

Except of course this doesn’t tell the whole story. The Met want you to think that it’s all gone murky, that the killer can’t possibly be found and that releasing this report should draw a line under the matter once and for all. The evidence suggests otherwise:

• suspicions centred on the SPG carrier U.11, the first vehicle to arrive on Beechcroft Avenue, the street where Peach was found staggering around and concussed. [Commander John] Cass said there was an “indication” that one officer in particular, who first emerged from the carrier but whose name has been redacted from the report, was responsible;

• the criminal investigation into Peach’s death was hampered by SPG officers, who Cass concluded had lied to him to cover up the actions of their colleagues. He “strongly recommended” that three officers should be charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, giving detailed evidence to show how they were engaged in a “deliberate attempt to conceal the presence of the carrier at the scene at that time”. None were ever charged;

So the Met knows who murdered Peach, and knows who covered it up? Can someone in the know explain why they aren’t being charged now? The problems continue:

It was already known that when Cass raided lockers at the SPG headquarters he uncovered a stash of unauthorised weapons, including illegal truncheons, knives, two crowbars, a whip, a 3ft wooden stave and a lead-weighted leather stick.

One officer was caught trying to hide a metal cosh, although it was not the weapon that killed Peach. Another officer was found with a collection of Nazi regalia.

In his report, Cass said the arsenal of weapons caused him “grave concern”, but claimed there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the officers involved.

A total of 14 witnesses told investigators they saw “a police officer hit the deceased on the head” but, according to Cass, there were discrepancies in their evidence and most could not identify the officer.

Insufficient evidence? What should we make of Commander Cass, when he’d seen what seems abundantly sufficient evidence, yet labelled it ‘insufficient’? And why then should it be abundantly clear to others who killed Peach:

The six officers with the SPG (the forerunners of today’s brutal and equally notorious TSG) are known to be Insp Murray, PC White, PC Richardson, PC Scottow, PC Freestone and PS Lake. Although the published version has been censored by the Met to obscure the truth it seems impossible to avoid the conclusion that Blair Peach was killed by a blow from Inspector Murray’s police radio.

Duncan Campbell argues:

It is shameful that it has taken so long for the report to be published. It would be more shameful if the lessons in it – about honesty and transparency and about the dangers of creating an elite force-within-a-force like the SPG then and the Territorial Support Group now – were not recognised.

They’re still not being recognised, just as the lessons of the G20 protest last year haven’t been learned. Indeed just recently Sergeant Delroy Smellie was acquitted for his attack on a peaceful protester, following the Met’s killing of Ian Tomlinson. Not only was Smellie’s defence palpably absurd, but the reasons for his violent behaviour were never questioned. The current TSG might not be quite as bad as the SPG but having this elite force-within-a-force seems still to lead to a serious level of needless brutality, serious injury and death. And just what is happening about Ian Tomlinson? Any charges anyone?

British ‘justice’ – nothing changes.

Apr 1

Will the Met Always Get Away With It?

Posted on Thursday, April 1, 2010 in civil liberties, protest

The first prosecution against the Metropolitan Police for the violence it perpetrated against unarmed, non-violent protesters at the G20 protests last spring has resulted in an acquittal:

A Metropolitan police sergeant who was filmed hitting a woman with a baton at the G20 demonstrations walked free from court today after a judge ruled he acted lawfully.

Delroy Smellie was suspended last year after video footage was posted on YouTube showing him back-handing a protester and striking her twice on the legs with his metal baton.

He was acquitted of assault by beating after a four-day trial in which his alleged victim, protester Nicola Fisher, declined to give evidence.

Smellie, from the Met’s territorial support group (TSG), a specialist public order unit, argued during his trial that he believed Fisher posed a threat to himself and fellow officers. He said he repeatedly struck Fisher, who was considerably smaller than him, after mistaking a carton of orange juice and digital camera she was carrying for weapons.

The district judge, Daphne Wickham, said there was no evidence that his use of the baton was not approved, correct or measured, adding that Smellie had a “mere seven seconds” to act, and other witnesses had feared for his safety.

Erm what? The TSG must be laughing themselves sick this morning. A big, burly TSG officer really, genuinely thought he had something to fear from a small, female protester attending a non-violent vigil for Ian Tomlinson? And a highly trained riot policeman really thought a carton of orange juice and a digital camera were weapons? Check out the video and see for yourself. Is there really any hope of justice for Ian Tomlinson?

Mar 27

Why Aren’t We Talking About Ian Tomlinson?

Posted on Saturday, March 27, 2010 in civil liberties, Community, protest, surveillance society

We’re talking about Delroy Smellie of course, but what about the unnamed officer who caused Ian Tomlinson’s death? What about the senior officers who gave the orders for such violent policing? What about their role in the attempt to cover up the cause of Tomlinson’s death, blaming the crowd rather than their own? Tomlinson’s wife, as the run-up to the first anniversary of his death approaches, has gone on the attack:

Last August the CPS was asked to consider whether the officer should be charged with manslaughter and, weeks later, Starmer promised swift action. “My view on these things is we should move quickly,” he said, adding that he hoped for a decision “in a few months”. CPS officials later told the Tomlinson family they could expect a decision by Christmas.

“Keir Starmer has let us down personally,” said Julia Tomlinson. “Why did he say there would be a decision around Christmas? Why are we still waiting? My kids need to move on from this. They’re left without a dad now and their lives have been turned upside down over the last year, especially the four girls. He doesn’t seem to realise the pain we’re going through.”

She added: “We feel like there was a cover-up from day one, and we didn’t see it because we were nervous about the police. Now a year on it still feels like all of that is still going on. If it had been someone on the street, a civilian, who had pushed and hit Ian just before he died, and it was all caught on video, surely something would have happened by now. The officer needs to go before a jury. Let them decide what should happen to him.”

She’s right of course. It’s cut and dried what actually happened, so why are they still waiting? On the other hand I would also suggest that the TSG officer who attacked Tomlinson wasn’t the only one who deserves to face justice for causing his death that day. Putting just that officer on trial would entirely miss the point that the Met’s behaviour that day was entirely normal, and the smears against the protesters and lies about Tomlinson himself a familiar refrain when the Met’s policing has caused death or serious injury. I’m still disgusted at how long Jean Charles de Menezes was blamed for his own murder, and how effectively the system closed ranks ultimately to justify it; the same result is likely here. De Menezes’ shooter has never been charged with a crime, despite committing perjury and murder, whilst his commanding officer was promoted. Julia Tomlinson really ought not to expect much better.

Mar 23

The Met Just Can’t Stop Breaking the Law

Posted on Tuesday, March 23, 2010 in civil liberties, human rights, Politics, protest, surveillance society

It was obvious to those of us who saw the video of this horrible confrontation between the Met and G20 protesters:

but it’s finally been ruled unlawful and the Metropolitan Police are going to pay a heavy price:

The Metropolitan Police are facing a compensation bill of £250,000, after admitting a raid on a climate change group the day after the G20 protests in London last April was illegal.

Police burst into the Convergence Centre in east London carrying taser guns, and handcuffed protesters face down.The Met Commissioner admitted it was unlawful to arrest, search them, and force them to be recorded on film, but he refused to apologise to the protestors.

They were non-violent and there were no reasonable grounds for suspicion, but the Met didn’t care last spring. They’d decided, without any evidence whatsoever that there was going to be violent trouble, and went as far as indicating their preparedness to be violent in turn. Look at the story of Delroy Smellie:

The sergeant at the centre of allegations of striking a female protester with a baton during a heated exchange at last year’s G20 protest said he was acting in “self defence” after mistaking a carton of juice and camera for weapons, a court heard.

Sergeant Delroy Smellie, 47, said he struck Nicola Fisher, 36, in a “pre-emptive strike” after seeing both items in her hands. The confrontation outside the Bank of England, on April 2 last year occurred during a vigil for the death of Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper seller who died after inadvertently getting caught up in a demonstration the previous day. Mr Smellie, an officer in the Met’s elite Territorial Support Group, is accused of common assault by beating. He denies the charge, and his lawyers insisted they would argue he was acting in self-defence.

A highly trained riot police officer mistook a carton of juice and a camera for weapons eh? Check the video out and decide for yourself if he’d decided on his course of action in defiance of the evidence in front of him. Now then, why aren’t we still talking about Ian Tomlinson, whose death was directly caused by Met brutality?

Feb 6

Blair’s Judgment Day

Posted on Saturday, February 6, 2010 in photography, Politics, protest

Jan 31

Standing Up for Photographers

Posted on Sunday, January 31, 2010 in civil liberties, photography, protest, surveillance society

Jan 12

To Champion Speech We Don’t Like

Posted on Tuesday, January 12, 2010 in freedom of speech, human rights, Politics, religion

Padraig Reidy argues against banning Islam4UK at Indexoncensorship:

Are the ban and the convictions really a problem for the group? Their reactions to previous bans would suggest that, organisationally, things will carry on as normal, just with a new title and web domain. Moreover, last night’s and this morning’s broadcast news were filled with Choudary and chums, highlighting how their convictions and banning proved that democracy and free expression are at best a sham and at worst a conspiracy against Islam. It’s not quite free publicity, but it’s exceptionally cheap.

So a mixed week for Anjem, but an exceptionally bad one for justice and free expression. The conviction of the five Luton protesters throws up massive problems. While their slogans were nasty, they called soldiers “baby killers” and “rapists”, they were part of a political protest, of which police had been made aware. Anyone who’s been on a protest knows that the language is rarely of the “rectify the anomaly” variety. How many times has Tony Blair been called a murderer? How many times have “Nazi scum” been ordered off our streets? A protest’s sole function is to get noticed — and strong language gets you noticed.

If there had been a public order issue at Luton, the police could have told the protestors to disperse, or even detained them temporarily; it’s far from ideal, but it beats a conviction.

I couldn’t agree more. There’s no way the banning wasn’t in response to the group’s so-called planned march through Wootton Bassett and banning the group on those grounds is patently ridiculous. Is the right to protest contingent on who you are, what you say or what your political agenda is? From the conviction of the protesters in Luton it would appear so and Peter Tatchell is right when he says:

But I defend their right to express their opinions, even though they are offensive and distressing to many people.

Insult and offence are not sufficient grounds in a democratic society to criminalise words and actions. The criminalisation of insulting, abusive or offensive speech is wrong. The only words that should be criminalised are untrue defamations and threats of violence, such as falsely branding someone as a paedophile or inciting murder.

Some sections of the Public Order Act inhibit the right to free speech and the right to protest. They should be repealed.

Jan 11

Be Offensive: It’s Allowed!

Posted on Monday, January 11, 2010 in freedom of speech, human rights, Politics, religion

David Mitchell discusses the furore about the Islamist march ‘planned’ by Islam4UK in Wootton Bassett. Considering the group hasn’t even made the necessary initial representation to the police in order for the march to take place, I’ve found myself astonished at the level of invective raised, particularly the calls for it to be banned. Firstly it obviously was never going to take place anyway, so why make such a fuss, but doesn’t freedom of speech also bring with it the freedom to be offensive or to cause offence? Mitchell is thoroughly right in his support for the freedom to offend for all:

The thing about freedom of speech is that people are allowed to say offensive, indefensible things; that we needn’t fear that because we’re sure that wiser counsels are more likely to convince. “Let the idiots and bullies speak openly and they will be revealed for what they are!” is the idea. It’s a brilliant one and, in confident, educated societies, it almost always works – certainly much more often than any of the alternatives. Why has Alan Johnson lost confidence in this principle? Why have the 700,000 signatories of a Facebook petition calling for the event to be banned?

I know there are circumstances in which freedom of speech is rightly limited – I’m not arguing for a repeal of all libel or incitement to hatred laws. But it’s difficult to see how this demonstration would incite hatred of anyone other than the demonstrators. Public safety can also be an issue. I understand that the police couldn’t let the protest go ahead without a reasonable expectation that it wouldn’t become violent. But if it is banned, let us be 100% sure, let our consciences be absolutely clear, that public safety was the reason, not the excuse.

Entirely right. Of course it’ll never even get that far, because Islam4UK never intended for it to get that far; they merely wanted (as Mitchell says) the free, anti-Muslim invective to prove their case against the establishment. Alan Johnson has said he’d be prepared to ban the march on public order grounds, but contained as that was in the language of having himself felt offended by the march, it’s unclear on what grounds he was really prepared to do so. Let’s be clear: although it was never intended to take place, that march should have had the nominal right to take place in the same way that reprinting the Danish cartoons of Mohammed remains something we all have the nominal right to do. It may cause offence, but being offended is part and parcel for all of us of living in this society. Islam4UK’s Anjem Choudary articulates his own position:

Watch how he deftly blurs the lines between religion and race for his own, self-serving intent. What a bastard, right? He’s then followed by Gordon Brown:

And I couldn’t agree less with Brown’s reasons for wanting the march stopped – being ‘disgusting’, ‘not having public support’ and an ‘abuse of goodwill’ along with being (you guessed it) ‘offensive’ aren’t anywhere near good enough reasons for limiting anyone’s freedom of speech. I agree with his sentiments, and I suspect David Mitchell is right when he says Choudary and Islam4UK’s real intent is merely to ‘defile our holy places’, but is our offense at this really something we need protection from? At what point did our we lose our ability to cope with being offended, when there are so many straightforward strategies available to deal with speech we just don’t like, such as ignoring it?

Dec 11

Poor Poor TSG

Posted on Friday, December 11, 2009 in civil liberties, Editorial

It beggars belief but the Metropolitan Police’s Territorial Support Group (TSG) are acting the wounded party in the face of attacks on them for their ultra violent behaviour at the G20 protests in April:


“They want to be seen as the best and they want to be the best – and of course when anybody challenges them about it, they feel it very personally,” he [Head of the Metropolitan Police Territorial Support Group, Commissioner Chris Allison] said.

They want to be seen as what they are… the overwhelming majority are highly professional cops who go out on the streets to protect communities.”

Pardon me for finding it absurd then that if they want to be seen to be ‘the best’ then they shouldn’t go around either wantonly beating unarmed, non-violent protesters or killing innocent passers-by. If the overwhelming majority of the TSG really are highly professional it seems rather odd that the reports of extreme violence from within their ranks should be coming out with such regularity, with so little then done to change the behaviour of the unit.

Nov 25

Police Misled Parliament About G20

Posted on Wednesday, November 25, 2009 in civil liberties, News


Met Police Commander Bob Broadhurst, in charge of the disastrous G20 policing effort in April, appears to have misled Parliament:

Commander Bob Broadhurst, who had overall command of the G20 policing operation, told the home affairs select committee in May that “no plain clothes officers [were] deployed at all” during the demonstrations in the City of London.

It has emerged that 25 undercover City of London police were stationed around the Bank of England to gather “intelligence” on protesters on 1 and 2 April. Broadhurst stands by the evidence he gave to MPs, claiming the deployment of undercover officers was unknown to him.

The proof is on a video on that page. Broadhurst can split hairs all he likes, saying that he was only talking about the Met, when the plainclothes police in question belonged to the CityPolice, but he still told parliament as the man in charge of the entire operation, that no plainclothes police were deployed when there were. And the City Police admitted it:

The assistant commissioner at the City of London police, Frank Armstrong, then told the MP that about 25 undercover officers were deployed during the protests.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the select committee, has written to Broadhurst suggesting the disclosure about plain clothes officers “contradicts” his evidence to MPs. Broadhurst claimed the officers filmed marching among Met and City of London riot police were “evidence gatherers” seeking to identify a certain protester.

It’s a terrible demonstration of just how inept he and the entire operation were that day, particularly when Armstrong continued to undermine Broadhurst:

[Lib Dem MP Tom] Brake said Broadhurst had “inadvertently misled” parliament, thus revealing a “startling lack of co-ordination” in the top ranks. “If plain clothes officers were only deployed to gather intelligence why is one clearly seen brandishing a baton?”

Was the cop in question in the video instructed to brandish that baton or was that rogue behaviour? The fact is the cops were out of control that day, pumped up largely by Broadhurst into an expectation of the need for violence which never resulted from protesters. Today’s report is sorely needed.

Oct 18

Why Protest at Ratcliffe-on-Soar?

Posted on Sunday, October 18, 2009 in civil liberties, environment, News


A Climate ‘Swoop’ protester explains the direct action protest at the Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal fired power station.

Sep 29

First G20 Policeman to Get Prosecuted

Posted on Tuesday, September 29, 2009 in human rights, News

It’s somewhat strange that another policeman should still not face charges, when his actions clearly led to the death of Ian Tomlinson, but another TSG officer is being prosecuted for violence against a protester:


A police officer who allegedly struck a woman during the G20 protests in London a woman is to be charged with assault, the Crown Prosecution Service said today.

A CPS spokeswoman said Sergeant Delroy Smellie would be charged with assault of Nicola Fisher and he will appear at Westminster magistrates court on 16 November. He faces up to six months in prison if found guilty.

Smellie, a member of the Metropolitan police’s territorial support group, was suspended from duty two months ago after footage emerged of him near the Bank of England, apparently hitting Fisher, 35, with the back of his arm.

He was also shown appearing to strike her on her legs with a baton as she attended a vigil for the newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson, who had died the previous day. She said the incident left her with severe bruising.

Of course he’ll get off, or he’ll become the scapegoat that his renowned colleague has long been expected to become. What must be remembered is that both officers, although behaving in an unacceptably (and unnecessarily) violent manner, were operating under the presumption that this was acceptable behaviour. Don’t forget how the force trailed its intention to be violent that day. The CPS can’t be allowed to get away with making this their only notable prosecution against the Metropolitan Police after their calamatous handling of the G20 protest.

Sep 25

Pittsburgh G20 Policing Goes Violent

Posted on Friday, September 25, 2009 in civil liberties, News

Most of you will have heard of the Metropolitan Police’s pre-emptively violent behaviour at London’s G20 protests earlier in the year. Another G20, more violent policing, this time in Pittsburgh:

It’s quite a choice G20 protesters find themselves faced with: getting beaten for peaceful protest or having their eardrums shattered by military weapons. Nate Harper, Pittsburgh’s police chief was pleased with how the sound cannon performed: “it served its purpose well.”


The sound of things to come in the UK?

Sep 23

North Wales Police Don’t Enforce the Law, They Are The Law!

Posted on Wednesday, September 23, 2009 in civil liberties, News

The Reclaim North Wales biking rally was recently held in Betws-y-Coed to demonstrate against North Wales Police’s heavy handed treatment of bikers in the area. Motorcycle News claimed:

the force admitted stopping around 400 motorcyclists every summer weekend, including 350 who have committed no offence.

Imagine Motorcycle News’ surprise then when they aimed a camera at officers who were monitoring the rally, who turned out to be armed police:

Strangely enough the cop couldn’t quote the legislation needed to justify his seizure of MCN’s camera. When the Register then asked the force whether the cop’s seizure of the camera was lawful, their response was:

“The officer had valid operational concerns about the vehicle being identified via the media and endeavoured to explain his concerns. Given those valid concerns the officer had to be guarded in the explanation he provided at the time. The officer did not object to being photographed and throughout sought the journalist’s cooperation.”


Err no. Not only does the spokesman fail to acknowledge that the cop changed his story quite quickly from concerns about his registration being publicised, to objecting about a photo of him being taken, but he also fails to answer the question. For the record it looks pretty likely that the cop actually needed a court order to get away with snatching the camera; just saying ‘operational concerns’ isn’t good enough. And as the Register also notes, a poster named plasma10, who may or may not be the cop in question, says on the original post on MCN:

I did not over react, however if someone continues to do something when you’ve asked them politely not to several times then unfortunately a harder stance has to be taken

If that’s the cop, then he too thinks he doesn’t have to abide by the law. It all sort of proves the demonstrators’ point, doesn’t it?

(via Marc Valée and Glyn Moody)