Police suppression of peaceful pro-NHS protest, March 17th 2012

Here's what happened when me and a few friends went to London to show our opposition to the atrocious Health and Social Care Bill 2011. The one currently being forced through parliament with a middle finger to all who look on.

I feel it's important to document what I witnessed at this demonstration since, as many have noted, there has been little-to-no coverage of this protest by the BBC and other UK mass media. A deeply worrying trend for anti-government protests, but one others are better placed to comment on than me.

The bottom line is: this was a completely nonviolent, unaggressive protest. The police action was hostile and totally unprovoked. There is no way we could have been seen as a threat to anyone.

The goal of the police did not seem to be to confront the protest or get into a fight. Each time a kettle was formed, it was dropped after a short time on some signal. The police were acting in a coordinated fashion, and their only goal seemed to be to suppress and disband the protest. By kettling and separating any big group which formed into smaller groups, they prevented the the crowd coordinating, communicating or decision-making properly. At its start, the protest was self-motivated, passionate, and made up of citizens trying to make a (last) stand for something they believed in. Through their action, the police successfully reduced it to separate groups of disconnected, scared, angry people who didn't know what to do and felt unable to continue.

The way the police acted was, while not actually violent in any cases I saw (grabbing, shoving and restraining, but no beating), extremely intimidating. They incited the crowd to run for safety on multiple occasions, though there were many elderly and disabled amongst us (this was a pro-NHS campaign after all). I did not see anybody get hurt, but if the crowd had been any denser, larger or had any rogue elements, things could easily have kicked off — if they had it would have been completely the fault of the aggression and intimidation tactics of the police. No attempt was made at dialogue, or even megaphoned monologue to warn the protest that action would take place. Instead, the riot police acted quickly and unpredictably, communicating with shouted codes, avoiding eye contact with the demonstrators.

There are other accounts online. Important points to note from my view of events that may contradict or corroborate other points of view:

  • All aggression I saw was on the part of the police.
  • All the protesters I saw were completely nonviolent, and not even aggressive.
  • I saw no signs of police firearms, though there have been alarming reports of this (including photos of police with automatic weapons within sight of the demo) from elsewhere.

Below the fold is my account in full, to the best of my recollection.

Edit: still no mainstream attention, but a great roundup of social media coverage by Steven Sumpter can be found here.

Edit: Since I complain here about a lack of media coverage of the protest, I should acknowledge that the Guardian's NHS Reforms Liveblog has just made mention of the protest and included a link to this post. I'm flattered that it's "worth a read" and delighted that they explicitly "don't endorse it's view" :P
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UK stop and search powers are illegal

The Guardian reports:

The Strasbourg court ruled it was unlawful for police to use the powers, under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, to stop and search people without needing any grounds for suspicion.

The widely-drawn ruling said that not only the use of the counter-terror powers, but also the way they were authorised, were "neither sufficiently circumscribed, nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse".

Vindicated!

Legal use of Terrorism Act 2000 44(2)

In follow up to my previous post. So I complained to the IPCC. After a number of initially dismissive letters back and forth, I started to get some thoughtful responses. One clarified that

"Under [section 44(2) of the Terrorism Act 2000] officers do not need to have reasonable grounds to suspect involvement in terrorism."

This prompted a measured response on my part and now I have received a final letter from a DI of the British Transport Police. The letter acknowledges the recent European judgements, claims that

the vast majority of officers do use the powers of search with a genuine belief that that they are protecting the public"

and that

“whether this as been the correct method of prevention perhaps only time and hindsight will tell".

(I’m not going to reproduce it here because the letter appears to be personally written, rather than stock or secretary written.)

Well, I’m happy with that. Not happy, exactly, but at least it’s honest. My beef is no longer with the BTP.

Misuse of Terrorism Act 2000 44(2)

I just watched the compelling documentary Taking Liberties, which prompted me to finally send my complaint to the IPCC, and finish off this draft.

I was travelling Oxford to Cambridge, and had missed my connection at Paddington Station, London. With insufficient money for a hotel, I decided to just sleep in the station and catch the first train back to Cambridge. It was a cold night, so I plugged my headphones into my iPod, switched it to Pseudopod, pulled my Warwick Atheists hoodie tight around me, and sat on a light for warmth. For the next hour or so, I moved between sitting on lights and sitting with my back to a lit sign on a stall, trying to get most warm and most comfortable. There were a few other people in the station — perhaps in similar circumstances, perhaps homeless and seeking shelter from the outside wind. After some time I was dosing and listening to Pseudopod still, when I was woken (about 01:45 am) by a couple of officers in uniform who informed me that they were conducting “random” stop-and-searches under new anti-terrorism regulations. They asked me why I was there, and various other circumstantial questions. They asked to look in my backpack (which contained clothes, university work, laptop, wires).

Here’s a copy of the receipt they issued me before leaving me to sleep, if you're interested:

[.jpg]

I looked up “44(2)”, which means “section 44, subsection 2”, presumably, (the only official justification for the search given) and found it in the Terrorism Act 2000. I quote:

Terrorism Act 2000

Power to stop and search

44. Authorisations.

(2) An authorisation under this subsection authorises any constable in uniform to stop a pedestrian in an area or at a place specified in the
authorisation and to search —
(a) the pedestrian;
(b) anything carried by him.

(3) An authorisation under subsection (1) or (2) may be given only if the person giving it considers it expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism.

From this, it doesn't seem like "random" searches are authorised, since they by definition can't be justified as "expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism.

I am submitting a somewhat abbreviated version of this to the IPCC in the form of an official complaint.