Challenging the BBC on "kettling"

Guy Aitchison
17 April 2009

This is an email I sent to the journalist Julian Joyce after reading his  ridiculously complacent and one-sided feature on "kettling" for the BBC website. I'll publish the response here too if he replies.  

Dear Julian,

I'm writing regarding your recent article for the BBC website on the police practice of kettling, Police "kettle" tactic feels the heat. I found the article partial and misleading and slanted in such a way that suggests the police's view of the kettling tactic (and the allegations of assault) is the correct one; this, despite the many instances we already have since the protests of the police misleading the media.

At several points you reproduce the police account of kettling and the G20 protests as though it were entirely uncontentious and the only academic source you quote supports the technique. The whole article fails to bring out the fact important democratic principles are at stake.

For example, you suggest that anyone who agrees not to behave violently can leave a kettle and that the only ones who stay are those that insist on leaving non-peacefully: "Anyone determined to stay - like Ms Trench - may be held for hours, without access to food and water." "Eventually, say the police, most [protesters] get fed-up and agree to depart peacefully." In fact the police weren't letting anyone out (including passers by not involved in the protests) and those they did let out were often (unlawfully) forced to give their details and have images taken by forward intelligence teams, something which you, again, neglect to mention in your article.

Furthermore, like the rest of the BBC's coverage, the article makes no mention of the kettling of Climate Camp, the most egregious example of police kettling at the G20 protests according to witnesses (see for example here, here and here). The camp was entirely good-natured and co-operative but the police kettled it aggressively anyway, brutally attacking peaceful protesters in the process. There's plenty of footage on YouTube that proves this.

There are several more examples of your complacent attitude towards kettling and the police’s version of events.  You say: "Additionally, investigators will want to know the context of the alleged assaults, and also whether the widely-circulated online video clips tell the whole story. Police sources have told the BBC they expect the current inquiry to support the continued use of kettling." That would be the inquiry by a former police chief (Denis O'Conor) responsible to the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who has already declared the G20 policing a great success, then would it? Luckily we have this police investigation to tell us the "whole story" then (a story which changes by the day it seems, but let’s not mention that).

This is followed by two sentences put together in such a way that suggests your view of the "raw numbers" (and hence the success of the kettling operation) is identical to that of the police. "As for raw numbers, policing tactics at the G20 protests appears to have paid off. Despite the two instances of alleged police assault, chiefs are said to be happy there were relatively few arrests and injuries compared to previous summits." Oh really? I'd have thought that one death at police hands would suggest the police tactics didn't pay off.  There's likely to be far more investigations into allegations of assault as more evidence emerges. Hard too to put a number on the damage done to our democracy as more and more people are deterred from attending protests for fear of being kettled and beaten, but , hey, as long as the police chiefs are "happy".

You conclude by suggesting that the final word on the legality of kettling has been had following the ruling of the Law Lords in January that the practice does not amount to a violation of the right to demonstrate and freedom of expression under the Human Rights Act. You neglect to mention the fact that the case is being taken to the European Court of Human Rights, who, it is hoped, will take a more robust approach and uphold our fundamental democratic right to protest.

I suggest that, in the future, if you wish to be taken seriously on this important issue, yourself, and the rest of the BBC's journalists, should take a slightly more sceptical attitude to what is fed to you by official sources, especially the police.

Best regards,

Guy Aitchison

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