Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said of his force’s policing operations in advance of the Royal Wedding:
He fiercely defends having made pre-emptive arrests of suspected troublemakers before the wedding. “Things were put in place to try to prevent trouble on the day and arrests were made. But you also saw British cops at their best.”
He was particularly proud of the way his men engaged with the public and got them on side so that when difficult crowd manoeuvres had to be performed, they were compliant. As he passed one knot of spectators they were chanting: “We love Gary”, Sir Paul recalls. “Who’s Gary?” he asked. The policeman replied sheepishly: “It’s me, guv.”
So the question is, given what his thugs actually did, was he actually defending it or were these genuinely rogue operations, not sanctioned by him? It brings up an eerie recollection of the inquest into Jean Charles de Menezes’ death – noone told the cops who incompetently followed him, or those who ultimately murdered him to do so, but a certain environment was set up and sanctioned by the top which allowed it to happen. Is this what allowed the pre-wedding abuses to take place so freely? Let me remind you what they actually were:
There was this appalling ‘snatch and grab’ of people peacefully singing in Soho Square (via Liberal Conspiracy):
And what of the mind boggling arrest of Charlie Veitch for pre-crime (this video will shock you):
I’ve blogged about ‘Love Police’ Charlie before. To see him arrested for ‘conspiring to’ (read: thinking privately to himself about) potentially upset a royal supporter or two makes much of the police’s antics under New Labour look tame. Is this British policing at its best? The outcome here:
Charlie was collected by the Metropolitan Police from Parkside and taken to an undisclosed police station in London for 8 hours. Efforts by his lawyer, family, and partner to locate him were made in vain – he had effectively been ‘disappeared’ into the police system. Charlie was denied his right to a phone call from London, again continuing the obstruction of his access to his lawyer, family, partner and supporters. He requested that the police telephone his partner to inform her of his whereabouts, which was promised but not performed. With his family in the dark as to his whereabouts, concern was considerably growing.
Charlie was eventually released on bail 23 hours and 45 minutes after his arrest at approximately 1600h on Friday 29th April from Edmonton Police Station, London – just within the 24 hour limit that a person can be lawfully arrested and detained without charge.
Entirely political policing, which, as Veitch himself noted in the video is what we’d expect of China, of Bahrain, of Syria even. Since when did we start arresting people at home because they might do something politically (and peacefully) which we disagree with? You might ask that of Chris Knight:
Knight similarly hadn’t done anything, but the Met decided that he should be pre-emptively arrested essentially for conspiring to use his freedom of speech. A mock execution of an effigy of Prince Andrew away from the wedding procession might have caused offence, but since when was that an arrestable offence, especially considering it hadn’t happened yet? Is that British policing at its best? I’ve blogged about Knight too – suspended from his job in advance of the G20 protests merely for publicly stating what he thought the consequences might be on the day of the Met’s inflammatory rhetoric. British policing also swooped on his planned event in Soho Square (seen in this video):
And what about these arrests at Charing Cross? Of course there were many other outrageous acts of blatantly political policing (links available via the Liberal Conspiracy site earlier in this article).
Sir Paul may express his pride in this British policing, but he notably doesn’t mention TSG thug Simon Harwood, nor of his colleagues who enabled him to attack Ian Tomlinson and who then shielded him from accountability. I would argue the opposite to the Commissioner – his force, more than ever, is a tool to enforce the status quo through violence and political repression. That can’t reasonably be any cause for anyone to feel pride.
We’re not even into the second calendar year of the ConDem coalition – you remember, the one which said it would do better than New Labour on civil liberties? – and already things are threatening to become far worse than at any point in that period. The Metropolitan Police, ever trigger and truncheon-happy, is now threatening to ban protests:
Asked at the press conference if the Met would consider banning future marches, Sir Paul replied: “That’s one of the options we have got. Banning is a very difficult step to take, these are very balanced judgments.
“We can’t ban a demonstration but we can ban a march, subject to approval by the Home Secretary.”
But he went on: “When you have got people willing to break the law in this way, what is the likelihood of them obeying an order not to march or complying with conditions on a demonstration?
“Sometimes putting that power in could just be inflaming the situation further.”
Strange, that. He seems not to understand that it’s his force which has already inflamed the situation further. That his force, embarrassed by poor planning but surprisingly good policing of the first student protest, has now embarked on a vendetta against this country’s children and young people. Pre-emptive kettling (and lying about it)? Check. Hitting children and young people (not to mention kettling them) for no reason at all? Check. Running contained protesters (and others) down? Check. Baitvans? Check. Giving protesters brain injuries, then trying to deny them medical assistance? Check. Banning further protests would of bloody course inflame the situation further. The fucking idiot should be trying to defuse the situation, not make it worse.
He said public buildings and monuments in London, such as the Cenotaph, could be boarded up to protect them during future demonstrations, as happened ahead of May Day protests in recent years.
Sir Paul conceded the events are stretching his force’s capabilities, saying: “When you are putting 3,000 people out, not just on one day but a significant number of days, the consequences of that for the rest of the organisation are quite clear.”
He said he is “very worried” about the knock-on effect on securing neighbourhoods and town centres as hundreds of officers are redeployed to Westminster.
Sir Paul said he did not want a “paramilitary model” of policing in Britain but admitted a fresh review is taking place of whether or not water cannon should be used against rioters.
“I do not want to engage in an arms race, a knee jerk reaction to thugs and hooligans who do not know how to behave when they are accompanied by an overwhelming number who want to demonstrate peacefully.
“I am most reluctant to move towards this but at the same time we should keep everything under review.”
This is the man who the other day said protesters were lucky they weren’t killed by the police that day. I don’t believe a police commissioner in any Western city should be using such language or even suggesting using additional weaponry on protests which have been wholly legitimate; angry but legitimate. Blaming angry students for grievances shared by many more people than just them, overexaggerating the violence, dismissing the violence of his own people and justifying the tactics his Commander Bob Broadhurst thinks makes sense for policing large scale protests in London; this is a return to G20 style policing without a large scale outcry. In this grudge match he no longer seems to feel the need to justify his thugs not wearing their ID badges:
Does someone have to die again before this continued abuse of their role stops? And why is most of the press complicit in it this time?
After the #dayx3 student protest, timed to coincide with the parliamentary vote to skyrocket university tuition fees, much was made in the UK press about the incident that evening involving Prince Charles and Camilla. Their Royal car had paint thrown at it and Camilla was allegedly ‘poked’ through the window by a protester. In response to that, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson allegedly offered his resignation:
According to the Sunday Times, Sir Paul Stephenson, Britain’s most senior cop, offered his resignation as Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police to His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, after the car carrying Charles and his wife was surrounded by protesters in central London last week.
Now we know that HRH, number two in a constitutional monarchy, has long had ideas on architecture, planning and whatever else swims into his appalled view – if not above his station, certainly beyond the parameters of his ‘above the fray’ non-political role. But even Charles clearly baulked at the idea that he should accept Sir Paul’s resignation.
The Met Commissioner is responsible to us, the people, through the Home Secretary. His grand-standing offer to go (he admitted to colleagues, apparently, that his resignation was unlikely to be accepted) was all of a piece with the fiasco that unfolded on Thursday during the student protests against the coalition Government’s trebling of tuition fees.
Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable that the boss of London’s police should offer to resign because the heir to the throne and his wife were a little bit upset! Why not offer to resign after his force killed Ian Tomlinson? He may not have been the Met’s boss at the time but why not resign after the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes? Robert Chesshyre goes on to add:
So the question should be: if Sir Paul is seriously thinking of quitting, ought it not to be for the consequences of failures by his force other than the upset experienced by the heir to the throne?
One student, 20-year-old Alfie Meadows, was allegedly struck so severely by a police baton that he fell unconscious and required emergency brain surgery.
That is bad enough. But the story emerging is far, far worse: that police officers prevented Alfie’s tutor summoning an ambulance; that when he finally did get to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, there was a stand-off because according to Alfie’s mother the hospital was treating injured police who didn’t want an obvious protestor, however badly hurt, treated in the same building.
Even in Afghanistan, coalition Medevac helicopters will remove injured Taliban fighters for treatment even in the heat of battle.
It was only – as Alfie’s mother, Susan Matthews, 55, herself a university lecturer and also on the demonstration reported – the intervention of an appalled ambulance man, who insisted that Alfie stayed put, that stopped him being driven away to another hospital with severe (and possibly fatal) consequences.
A senior nurse then took the stricken Alfie to a separate resuscitation room to keep him away from the police who found it “upsetting” to see protestors in the hospital.
As I’ve pointed out (and will continue to do so) the incident with Alfie was hardly an isolated incident, and it’s phenomenal that Stephenson should find it so easy to trivialise the brutal behaviour by his officers. I wasn’t at the demonstration, but I acknowledge that there was violence on both sides, however this is clearly a man who has his priorities all wrong. He’s willing to sacrifice his career to impress the heir to the throne, yet not in response to wanton, excessive violence by his uniformed thugs. Speaking of those uniformed thugs I am dumbstruck every time I hear them and their superiors complaining about the missiles thrown at them. Think this through – they have said they had snooker balls thrown at them. I know from my experience at demonstration at the Millbank Tower that the harder elements at that protest were throwing missiles, but can someone tell me why a) getting hit by a snooker ball when you have body armour on is a problem and b) how many students were likely to have gone out en masse to steal balls from snooker halls? Please. For that matter how the hell does a handful of snooker balls against riot cops merit indiscriminate attacks with batons against unarmed young people?
David Cameron has repeatedly invoked the concept of a ‘broken’ Britain; this is the surest example I’ve yet seen of one. And yes, Stephenson should go, but we all know he won’t.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson this morning said:
“I think parents have a responsibility. I know what I would be telling my kids. My kids would not be going on a demonstration, because I do not think it is appropriate for 13 or 14 year children – not my children.
“That is for other parents to make their decision, but in coming to that decision, they’ve got to look at the events that have taken place. The vast majority of people who come have come wanting to peacefully demonstrate, but regrettably, there have been people who have turned it to violence.
“Do people really want their young children exposed to that? There’s a responsibility on me and there’s a responsibility on parents.”
Investigative journalist John Pilger said effectively the exact opposite:
Your action, and the action of your fellow students all over Britain, in standing up to a mendacious, undemocratic government is one of the most important and exciting developments in my recent lifetime. People often look back to the 1960s with nostalgia – but the point about the Sixties is that it took the establishment by surprise. And that’s what you have done. Your admirable, clever, courageous actions have shocked and frightened a corrupt political class – coalition and Labour – because they know you have the support of the majority of the British people. It is you, the students on the streets – not the Camerons, Cleggs and Milibands – who are the authentic representatives of the people. Keep going. We need you. All power to you.
Stephenson neglects to mention that the people who turned the last two protest to violence were the Met themselves. Silly him.
Laurie Penny reported directly from the London #dayx #demo2010 second national student protest against the proposed massive hike in university tuition fees and budget cuts:
Outside Downing Street, in front of a line of riot police, I am sitting beside a makeshift campfire. It’s cold, and the schoolchildren who have skipped classes gather around as a student with a three-string guitar strikes up the chords to Tracy Chapman’s Talkin Bout a Revolution. The kids start to sing, sweet and off-key, an apocalyptic choir knotted around a small bright circle of warmth and energy. “Finally the tables are starting to turn,” they sing, the sound of their voices drowning out the drone of helicopters and the screams from the edge of the kettle. “Finally the tables are starting to turn.”
Then a cop smashes into the circle. The police shove us out of the way and the camp evaporates in a hiss of smoke, forcing us forward. Not all of us know how we got here, but we’re being crammed in with brutal efficiency: the press of bodies is vice-tight and still the cops are screaming at us to move forward. Beside me, a schoolgirl is crying. She is just 14.
Let me make this clear: children were being kettled. What do I mean by ‘kettled’? Here:
@PME200 To anyone not aware what “Kettling” is, it’s being trapped by armed police without food/water & being forced to piss or crap yourself. Nice.
Now why would the Metropolitan Police end up kettling children in freezing temperatures at night? It all seems to hinge around the attack on the police van:
Why was the van there, and was it there deliberately to draw out the violent protesters? Steven Sumpter believes so:
During the protests in London today the police stated that they had started “containing” the crowds after they violently attacked a police van. I contend that the van was deliberately planted in order to provide an excuse.
At around 12:30 I started watching BBC News which as showing live footage of the protests from a helicopter. The police were already blocking the route of the planned march with a huge amount of vehicles and offices. I watched that van be driven through the crowd from behind, angering all the people that had to jump out of the way. It was quickly surrounded by furious protesters and forced to stop. A little later, a few (unknown) people started to attack the van, trying to break the windows, roll the van over and paint graffiti on it. Some brave kids tried to stop the attacks, but were eventually pushed aside.
[But] there is something really interesting about this van.
- It has no number plates
- It is painted in the OLD livery of the Metropolitan police.
- It has been out of service long enough to get rusty.
He might be right. Emma Rubach offers the case of Canada’s G20 policing:
Protesters were led to or allowed to march or run past bait cars (police cruisers abandoned in the middle of Toronto streets) and one was definitely trashed and burned fairly quickly according to media reports. A man has been taken into custody.
The other bait cars were left mysteriously abandoned in the street for a long period. In one video peaceful protesters are seen sitting on a car and hanging around it, doing nothing violent at all. No police show up to claim it in a city downtown where you can’t walk down many streets without fear of search and arrest. Then the video shows a suspected agent provocateur wearing an expensive jacket appear. He jumps on the hood and bounces the car, asks a peaceful protester to move aside. Kicks out the windshield with a steel toed boot. He then goes on top and smashes the lights. People oppose him verbally, he studies his work from the street then others appear (rather shadowy in the video) helping him as he sets up the interior of the car. Likely for later burning. And it appears that the burning was set to be done from the inside. That gas tanks of these cars were likely left at the near the empty mark.
So it appears bait cars were placed, but they didn’t rely entirely on protesters to simply burn them. They had police agents on the ground to make sure it was done. Other activist video shows protesters or police agents dressed in black (it’s hard to be sure) setting up a couple police cars by slowly setting fires in their interiors. Again, the cars were simply left in the street as bait or decoys and no police attempt to save their own equipment. Whether police agents or protesters destroyed the cars, it makes little difference. There is such a thing as entrapment. If police know that by leaving a car abandoned in the middle of the street on a protest route will eventually lead to it being vandalized. They have in fact entrapped the vandal, who otherwise may have done nothing. In this case it is worse because with 20,000 police and riot police they could have easily pulled the cars out quickly.
In Toronto in times when people take to the streets, like soccer fans or whatever. Police do put cruisers at a slant to block the road and the two officers stand outside by the car. Never do they abandon it, and if they had to they would put in a quick call and the police cavalry would come to the rescue. At the G20 they just put cars out and left.
Look at how things do appear to add up. Here’s the van surrounded by the crowd:
And here’s a little evidence of agents provocateurs:
@simoncollister Just seen plain clothes cop get himself out of the kettle. Agent prov?
But what of the rest of the crowd? Alex Thomson adds another crucial perspective:
The word from protesters in Whitehall was that the police left their transit there as “bait” for the protest to turn nasty. The reality of it is that it became surrounded by the march and a number of officers were lucky to get out without serious injury.
Never mind this debate though. What I saw perfectly encapsulates today: a group of students, so young as to still be in school uniform, surrounded said van and persuaded the half-hearted and under-equipped would-be attackers to leave the thing alone.
As far as I am aware it is still there with a new gloss of grafitti and various swear words. But it has not been burned. Your average west Belfast teenager might look upon all this as the rather genteel affair that in truth it was.
Here are the kids who stopped the attack on the van:
Yet the police kettled (and attacked) them all:
@new1deas Police detaining students/schoolchildren for 4 hours pre-emptively, not allowing them to move.
@CarolineLucas Just raised point of order in HoC about kettling of schoolchildren for hours today in freezing cold, asking for Home Sec be questioned
For the record PennyRed is the Laurie Penny whose report I’ve quote from at the top of this post. Given the evidence, what possible justification could there have been for such a severe response? The Met said:
“The containment continues in Whitehall to prevent further criminal damage,” the Met said in a statement.
So it looks pretty likely that they set the van up for attack, might well have provoked darker elements in the crowd to attack it, then giving them justification (in their eyes) to attack back and kettle everyone. Kettling has been judged (domestically) to be legal, but the ECHR has yet to rule on whether or not it breaches human rights law. Given that peacefully protesting children were held for hours, into the night, and in the freezing cold, you can’t help but wonder what the final ruling might be. Aside from that, the Met’s tactics were utterly counter-productive:
Research into how people behave at demonstrations, sports events, music festivals and other mass gatherings shows not only that crowds nearly always act in a highly rational way, but also that when facing an emergency, people in a crowd are more likely to cooperate than panic. Paradoxically, it is often actions such as kettling that lead to violence breaking out. Often, the best thing authorities can do is leave a crowd to its own devices.
Laurie Penny offers a positive perspective on the civil engagement of the protesting kids nonetheless:
But just because there are no leaders here doesn’t mean there is no purpose. These kids – and most of them are just kids, with no experience of direct action, who walked simultaneously out of lessons across the country just before morning break – want to be heard. “Our votes don’t count,” says one nice young man in a school tie. The diversity of the protest is extraordinary: white, black and Asian, rich and poor. Uniformed state-school girls in too-short skirts pose by a plundered police van as their friends take pictures, while behind them a boy in a mask holds a placard reading “Burn Eton”.
“We can’t even vote yet,” says Leyla, 14. “So what can we do? Are we meant to just sit back while they destroy our future and stop us going to university? I wanted to go to art school, I can’t even afford A-levels now without EMA [education maintenance allowance]“.
But the Met, having completely bungled their response to the previous protest, seem to want to make it clear they don’t want a repeat. Led this time by the infamous Bob Broadhurst (who was responsible for their disastrous G20 effort), the only logical interpretation of their tactics was that they terrorised the kids deliberately, having generated an excuse to get away with it in front of the mainstream media and in the face of social media’s even closer view. And why (apart from restoring some wounded pride)? Take a look at the political response to yesterday’s protest:
Michael Gove, the education secretary, has urged the media to deny violent student protesters the “oxygen of publicity” as he called for the “full force of the criminal law” to be applied to activists “smashing windows” to make their point.
Gove evoked the language of former Tory premier Margaret Thatcher as he made clear his fury at demonstrators involved in skirmishes as thousands of students took part in demonstrations staged around the country today in protest against higher tuition fees and university budget cuts.
Gove has said he won’t budge at all on the tuition fee hike, and now has the advantage of the police trying to crush student resistance to his policy, supported by a Home Secretary who has no problem whatsoever with their violent, unjustified behaviour. As at G20, there was a political strategy here; the Met’s behaviour was no accident. Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has today said:
He added that, in the future “we are going to be much more cautious. We are into a different period I am afraid. We will be putting far more assets in place to ensure we can respond properly. Essentially the game has changed”.
and by all accounts I’ve seen completely misrepresented the Met’s response to distressed, kettled protesters:
Sir Paul acknowledged that letting people out from the cordon last night was “frustratingly slow” but “water and toilets were requested and delivered”.
Spin and cooperation with the government like that sets a chilling precedent for the cuts and price hikes to come.