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HMIC review into protest policing

I haven't yet had a chance to read Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary's report on the policing of protest in light of the G20 which was released today. There's some good analysis on the Guardian website and by Stuart White on NextLeft. It seems that Denis O'Conor, the chief inspector of constabulary, has made some pretty serious criticisms saying that the current approach is "inadequate"and needs to change in response to new circumstances, paying far greater regard to human rights obligations.

The report seems to recognise the distinction between a protest being "lawful" and a protest being "peaceful" in apparent acknowledgement that unlawful activity by protesters isn't sufficient justification to shut down a peaceful protest. The report stops short of calling for an end to the vicious practice of "kettling" protesters but it does recommend a more flexible approach in applying cordons to let peaceful protesters and passers by leave and criticises Met commanders at the G20 for being unaware of their human rights obligations when they kettled thousands of protesters near the Bank of England.

The Met have apparently accepted the report's recommendations and launched an urgent review of training and tactics at protests. Campaigners interested in securing the right to protest will aim to keep the Met true to their word (hopefully the rumours of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the body which scrutinises the Met and is open to the public, not meeting this month due to "lack of business" aren't true) and continue to ask serious questions about the circumstances under which kettles can be imposed on protesters (the report doesn't address this enough, according to Stuart). I'll post more on this and on last night's interesting Panorama documentary on protest policing (watch it on BBCiPlayer) later.

BBC's useless response to our letter on G20 policing - and our reply

On May 21st Stuart White and I wrote an open letter to the BBC outlining serious concerns we have with their coverage of the policing of the G20 protests. The next day we received this message from Philip Boyce at BBC Complaints. As you can see it is totally inadequate as a reply as it either ignores completely or deals inadequately with all the shortcomings we identified. You can read our reply, demanding that the Beeb take the issue seriously and provide clear and straightforward answers to our questions, below this letter. 


Thank you for your e-mail regarding our coverage of police tactics at the G20 protests.

I understand you felt we didn't sufficiently cover the tactics deployed by the police on the days in question and that you feel this amounted to poor reporting.

The G20 was a challenging story to cover as there were so many issues surrounding the event. There was the conference itself, the receptions at Downing Street and Buckingham Palace, the various protests taking place in the City and of course the death of Ian Tomlinson.

Daniel Boettcher was live in Bishopsgate as police moved in to disperse the Climate Camp protestors later on in the evening. The News Channel showed live pictures and Daniel described the scenes as he witnessed them.

He pointed out that the protestors had been sitting on the ground as the police dragged them away and we have reported on the criticism of the tactics used by police at the Camp on the BBC News website.

The Met must stop spinning G20 policing

Guy Aitchison and Andy May: The Metropolitan Police Authority met yesterday for the first time since the policing of the g20 protests. Defend Peaceful Protest put its questions directly to MPA chief executive Catherine Crawford. The Met were represented by acting deputy commissioner Tim Godwin (standing in for Sir Paul Stephenson) and temporary assistant commissioner Chris Allison.

The good news is that the MPA, which is made up of 11 independent members and 12 London Assembly members, were largely supportive of the protestors' rights and had critical things to say about the G20 policing (see Anna Bragga's post for a full report).

The bad news is that we were not satisfied with the Met's response which, when not actively misleading, amounted to "we're conducting an enquiry, so we're not going to answer any of your questions yet." 

Probably the most disturbing thing is that the senior police officers are still attempting to spin their way out of trouble.  Chris Allison defended the tactics of "containment and controlled dispersal" (the police's preferred term for "kettling") which he said was the least violent option.

We believe there were at least 3 police defences for the containment tactics used which are extremely misleading if not totally untrue.

The Last Straw Man

I'm pleased to see that a new campaign has sprung up in response to Jack Straw's increasingly desperate attempts to defend the government's abysmal record on civil liberties. The cheeky Last Straw Man campaign is a reaction to Straw's article on the eve of the Convention on Modern Liberty in which the justice minister actually claimed that "we have done more to extend freedoms than any government before". As Last Straw Man says "Straw’s reasoning was less than convincing, and coming merely two days after he vetoed the release of minutes of cabinet meetings from the run-up to the war, his argument was one big straw man - hence the title of the campaign."

The camapaign aims to:

1) To expose the ‘straw man’ arguments used by Jack Straw in dismissing criticism of the government’s record on civil liberties

2) To provide information about the government’s increase of surveillance on its citizens, its restriction of our rights and its expansion of police powers

3) To suggest ways of taking action to prevent any further erosion of our freedoms.

There's been a fair few initiatives like this one launched recently. I think the policing of the G20 protests may well turn out to be a "tipping point" as former Met commander David Gilbertson predicted in the Guardian on Monday. The website also has a handy video guide to making your own "Straw man" out of card, sticky tape and straws.

The architectural photographer as terrorist

A professional outing in west London finds Edward Denison detained as a terror suspect, and with a new sense of fear about his country.

Letter to the Evening Standard

I received an email yesterday from the Evening Standard Letters page asking me to comment on Sir Paul Stephenson's response to the fallout from the G20 protests and the article in the Guardian by former Met commander David Gilbertson blaming a systemic crisis of leadership in the force for police violence. I took the opportunity to point out the remarkable shift in editorial policy at the Standard in the short number of weeks since the protests. So far there has been almost no self-reflection by the media on their pernicious role in hyping up the prospect of violence in the run up to the G20 and then uncritially reporting, and, in the case of the Standard it seems, exaggerating the police's version of events in ways that smeared protesters.

Here's the letter anyway. Stephenson has since popped his head above the parapet to condemn officers hiding their ID badges as "unacceptable" but my main point about his weak initial reaction still stands. Can't think why but the Standard didn't run with it.

THE Evening Standard is right to call for a “proper investigation” into the “culture and tactics that led to violent clashes at the G20 demonstrations”. It is a measure of the impact the shocking footage of brutal police behaviour at the protests has had that the same paper which on April 2nd covered the death of Ian Tomlinson under the headline “Police pelted with bricks as they help dying man”, is today warning that “parts of the force are out of control”.

Former Met commander David Gilbertson is surely right when he says in the Guardian today that “G20 has become a tipping point”. This is a wake up call. It should be a cause of serious concern to all those who aspire to live in a free society when former police chiefs are warning us of a culture in which officers are taught to see the public as the “enemy”.

BBC journo's response to my letter on "kettling"

BBC journalist Julian Joyce has replied to my email to him about his feature on kettling for the BBC website which I thought was misleading and slanted in such a way that supports the police's view of this horrible technique. Rather than replying to all his individual comments on my email (which could go on interminably), I'll reply more generally in a post at a later date.

The first point he picks up on in my email (about whether or not the police were letting people out of the kettle), could have perhaps been made clearer by me. The important point I want to make, and the reason I say his article is misleading, is that it wasn't the case, as he implies, that the police were letting people out of the kettles if they agreed to leave non-violently. There appear to have been rare occasions on which people were let out before the kettling operations were complete (though I was by the Bank of England and Climate Camp and never once saw this myself), but mostly police cordons trapped thousands of protesters and private citizens going about their daily business regardless of whether they were being peaceful or not. I stand by the point about the important democratic principles not being brought out in the article (including a single quote from a representative of Liberty seems a rather mechanical approach) and I think my point about his failure to mention the events at Climate Camp deserved a response. I may write a complaint to the BBC on their neglect of this important story and their coverage of the police handling of the G20 protests more generally at a later date. Meanwhile, here's Mr Joyce's reply in full with his permission:

Not "kettling" but "bubbling" - a charming correction

There's an interesting post by Tory MP David Davies (not to be confused with the former Shadow Home Secretary) in Conservative Home giving the police's perspective on the G20 protest and the practice of “kettling” (or in Davies’ fluffier and much less intimidating phrase “bubbling”). Davies is a special constable, although he was not present at the protest.

He urges caution in condemning the police over Ian Tomlinson's death before a full inquiry has been had, reminding us of the case of PC Mulhall who was wrongly accused of excessive force based on CCTV footage. Of course a full inquiry is needed before we can reach any conclusions, but while the full answer to the question, “Did a member of the police cause or contribute to Tomlinson’s death?” must await investigation by the IPCC, the question, “Were the police heavy handed?” is much clearer.

There have been numerous articles on police tactics in the last two weeks. Most of them come down too hard on one side or the other: either the protesters were there to provoke violence and burn the banks or the police were there to start a fight with entirely peaceful protesters.Davies points out that the police are human too and I completely agree – they are a diverse group like any other and among them was a section who were pumped up on adrenaline, psyched up by weeks of aggressive rhetoric and only too happy to lash out when the opportunity arose. There were also those who didn't want to be there, who just wanted to do their job and go home. There were all manner of attitudes in between.

Practical proposals to reform the police

Over at Centre Right Graeme Archer has posted a practical set of proposals for bringing the police under control (hat-tip Sunny):

  • All police officers at public demonstration must keep their ID visible at all times.
  • No police officers at public events should ever be dressed like a terrorist thug. No balaclavas. Such dress is ridiculous when the officers concerned are upholding public order, not carrying out surveillance.
  • Anti-Terrorism must be given a seperate directorate to the metropolitan police duties. Then the latter can be devolved properly to the Mayor and to the borough police authorities. This confusion over who can sack coppers is ridiculous. I vote for the Mayor. I want the Mayor to be able to sack Met leaders who fail.
  • Borough commanders should be answerable to a directly elected borough police "sherriff" and be sackable by that elected representative.
  • ACPO should be abolished. It's a money-making firm that spends its spare time cheer-leading for the authoritarian wing of the Labour Party.
  • Just as the storage of DNA from wholly innocent citizens is an outrage, so is the routine video-ing of members of the public by police officers. This must stop.
  • In contrast, members of the public must never be prevented from recording the activities of police officers.
  • Looks like a strong list to me and good to see the supportive comments that follow. To this list I'd add:

    1. An end to the practice of “kettling” peaceful protesters as a tactic to deal with demonstrations where a “breach of the peace” is suspected. The practice is provocative, counter-productive and almost certainly a violation of human rights.
    2. An end to the use of catch-all anti-terror powers to harass and intimidate protesters.

    What do OK readers make of the list? Is there anything you'd add?

     

    Reaction to the G20 fallout

    Over at Comment is Free Dave Hill has some important questions for Boris Johnson who has so far been silent on the Met's handling of the G20 protests:

    Can such a champion of liberty tolerate a police service – one he aspires to bringing under his direct political authority – preventing innocent citizens from walking their own streets and returning to their homes for several hours after they've exercised their democratic right to protest?

    Johnson last week took it upon himself to announce the resignation of Met counter-terrorism boss Bob Quick, even though that national part of the service's remit is plainly the Home Office's business (or as plainly as anything is in the dog's dinner of accountability that applies here). Will he take a similarly bold lead in reassuring Londoners and those who visit the capital that on his mayoral watch the Met should be as respectful of civil liberties as in other contexts he claims to be? Is he ready to take issue with the authoritarianism of New Labour as manifested in the Met's recent deployment of its powers on an issue of fundamental principle, or are the limits to his professed love of liberty about to become rather tellingly exposed?

    Met orders review into policing of protests

    The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, has asked Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Denis O’Conor, to conduct a review of the policing of public events. It follows the suspension of the officer seen in this footage assaulting a woman outside the Bank of England at the vigil to mark the death of Ian Tomlinson (the officer who attacked Tomlinson has already been suspended). Stephenson said he wants a review of “containment” (i.e the practice of "kettling" protestors which you can read my thoughts on here) so as to be “reassured that the use of this tactic remains appropriate and proportionate”. He said that officers should wear shoulder ID badges at all times so as to be clearly identifiable, following reports that some officers had them covered during the G20 operation. There may also be further investigations of assault as Stephenson says he wants the footage taken by forward intelligence teams to be “reviewed to identify any other matters of individual police conduct that may warrant investigation."

    Let us hope that any incriminating evidence hasn’t already been "accidentally" deleted or mislaid by police as they trawl through the footage from their 83 cameras in the proces of adding the profiles of peaceful and non-peaceful demonstrators alike to their illegal intelligence database. The Met, who, let’s remember, initially hailed the policing of the G20 protests as a great success along with Jacqui Smith, came under pressure to launch a review following the tenacious work of investigation and exposure by the Guardian (esp Paul Lewis) and hundreds of citizen journalists, bloggers and campaigners. None of the footage proving police violence comes from official sources or cameras. Instead, as Craig Murray points out, "we have a series of contradictory lies about whether official camers were not there, not working or had just nipped off to the loo, at the moments police violence was captured by amateurs." If it hadn’t been for so many protesters and passers by filming the police’s actions on their cameras and mobile phones it’s a safe bet this review wouldn’t be happening and the Met’s story, regurgitated by a compliant media, would have gone unchallenged. It’s no wonder the police want to ban us taking photos of them.

    Avaaz petition on protest policing

    There is a great and fast growing Avaaz petition in response the policing of protest that has been documented by Guy and Chris Abbott in OK and many others across blogland. Please take a look now and sign if you agree. It's here.

    Who guards the guards?

    Cross-posted from Belfast and Beyond

    A couple of weeks ago I blogged about an approaching SDLP seminar on the oversight of policing in times of threat.

    With the events in London of recent days – rough-house public policing, followed by attempts to obfuscate; blundered security, followed by daylight counter-terrorism raids – it seems clear that it is not just in Northern Ireland where hard questions about policing oversight need to be answered.

    Trapped and beaten by police in Climate Camp

    Media coverage of the G20 protests has focused almost entirely on the violence outside the Bank of England and, following the release of Guardian footage, the tragic death of Ian Tomlinson. Events at the Bishopsgate Climate Camp, which was cordoned off in an aggressive operation by riot police, went largely unreported by the BBC and other major media outlets. Most of the reporting has come from online sources (see Stuart White and Beth McGrath for example). Here we publish another eye-witness account of the aggressive police action.

    Chris Abbott: I went down to the climate camp after work on Wednesday as I had heard that it was completely peaceful and I wanted to see what it was like. Unfortunately, I got trapped there when the police first charged and then penned everyone in early in the evening and none of us could get out (this was about 7.00-7.30pm). Footage of this is now on YouTube. During this first, entirely unprovoked, attack I lost my girlfriend in the crowd - but I later found out she was punched by a policeman while trying to stop another girl being trampled on after being knocked to the floor.

    Once that had calmed down, my girlfriend and I found each other and were sat with others in front of the line of riot police on the south side of Bishopsgate. It was completely peaceful once again and we were even joking and talking with the police. We were there for a couple of hours when they suddenly charged again without any warning (this was about 9.30-10.00pm). We were still sat down and offered no resistance at all. My girlfriend was pressure pointed on the neck (extremely painful), dragged backwards off me and had both her wrists bent behind her back by two policemen who threatened to break them. They dragged her outside the police cordon and then said "what should we do with her now?" before the other said "let's throw her back in", which they did - head first, with her hands behind her back. She landed on the floor and has now got severe bruising on her legs (which we have photos of) and very painful wrists (which we actually thought might be broken).

    "The crowd in uniform may be the more violent" warns former police chief

    Guy Aitchison (London, OK): As the fallout from the video showing the brutal police assault on Ian Tomlinson continues, former Assistant Commissioner of Special Operations at the Met, Andy Hayman, warns in the Times that serious questions must be asked about police tactics at the G20 demonstrations (you can read my experience of the policing and the disgusting practice of "kettling" peaceful protesters here). Hayman, who mingled with both police and protestors last Wednesday, warns that "the commissioner must ask serious questions about the style of policing. If left unchecked, we have a more violent crowd in uniform than the crowd demonstrating."

    Britain's policing problem

    Britain was once famous for its unarmed and relatively restrained police force, but the death of a man at last week's G20 protests in London has brought into focus serious concerns with a new aggressive form of policing. Former police chief Andy Hayman today warned that "If left unchecked, we have a more violent crowd in uniform than the one demonstrating."

    Here I give my account of the protests and the police tactics used. This article was written several days prior to the release of the video showing  Ian Tomlinson, the man who died at the protests, being beaten and pushed by a baton-wielding policeman shortly before his death.

    Does Britain now have an aggressive system of policing that undermines the country's democratic traditions by systematically intimidating and closing down any protest it does not consider ‘safe'? The way that the G20 protests were managed suggests that we do. In particular the policy of "kettling" is a deliberate form of indiscriminate, collective punishment of demonstrators committed to peaceful protest, which seems designed to frighten people from expressing their disapproval of a system that is now, even by its own admission, dysfunctional.  The development is part of a wider pattern of state authoritarianism not to speak of out-of-control policing. I was present in the City of London throughout Wednesday's events. Here I give my account of the protests, and an overview of the reports about them, with some ideas on how we can re-claim our liberty from those who would undermine it through fear and bullying.

    Since Wednesday April 1st there have been several first-hand accounts by protestors of the heavy handidness and, in many cases, brutality of the police's approach to the protests at the Bank of England and Climate Camp. These have helped counter some of the all too predictable smears coming from sections of the mainstream media. There is now a strong case which says that not only did the police action raise serious civil liberties concerns; it was counter-productive, provoking violence and endangering the safety of peaceful protestors.

    Video shows police assault on man who died at G20 protest

    A video has just gone up on the Guardian website showing Ian Tomlinson being beaten from behind by a baton-wiedling police officer as he attempts to walk away. The police offer him no assistance as he lies injured on the ground. He died shortly after.

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