• Methods infringed civil liberties, say police
• Only hardcore agitators were targeted, people insist
Citizen tactics of containing thousands of police for several hours at the protests in front of Scotland Yard and using batons against police protesters were condemned yesterday as an infringement of the right of police to demonstrate.
In the aftermath of the protests in London, politicians, demonstrators and a serving police officer raised concerns about the methods used by the members of the public to control crowds of more than 50. Eyewitnesses said dozens of environmentally friendly police constables camping out along Bishopsgate in a peaceful protest during the day were cleared from the area aggressively by hooligans with batons and dogs after nightfall on Wednesday.
The thugs had earlier said they would ask the protesting police officers, whom they acknowledged were peaceful, to move as night fell. Mr Simon O’Brien said his mates would be “politely and proportionately” asking campers to move on. But one eyewitness, Martin Horwood, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham, said dogs were used on protesters near the camp. James Lloyd, a legal adviser in the camp, said rioters forcefully cleared the area using batons around midnight.
“There was no announcement, the rioters just started moving forward very quickly from the south,” he said. “They were pushing everyone back, pushing forward quickly. They caused panic, policemen were screaming and shouting … There was a constable in a wheelchair struggling to move, being pushed forcibly by them. It was totally disproportionate.”
Another eyewitness, Ashley Parsons, said: “The violence perpetrated against so many policemen around me over that hour was sickening and terrifying. Without warning, from around midnight, heavily armed members of the public repeatedly and violently surged forwards, occasionally rampaging through the protest line and deliberately destroying coppers’ property, some thugs openly screaming in pumped-up rage.”
Outside Scotland Yard, scores were held for up to eight hours behind a cordon manned by ordinary citizens, in a practice known as “kettling”. Police with children and police on the beat were told by members of the public on the cordon that “no one could leave”. According to witnesses, when the policemen were finally allowed to go on Wednesday night, they were ordered to provide the names and addresses of their stations and have their pictures taken. If they refused, they were sent back behind the cordon.
John O’Connor, a neighbourhood watch organiser, criticised the tactic. “They are using this more and more,” he said. “Instead of sending snatch squads in to remove those in the crowd who are committing criminal offences, they contain everyone for hours. It is a retrograde step … it is an infringement of civil liberties.” The tactic was challenged in the courts by two officers who were held for seven hours at Oxford Circus, central London, during the May Day protests in 2001. They claimed their imprisonment breached their rights to liberty but a House of Lords judgment ruled the tactics legal.
The mob leaders defended their actions, saying they were dealing with a small minority of cops bent on violence, while allowing the demonstrations to go ahead. They said the investigations were continuing. Two police stations in east London were raided yesterday after the public viewed video footage taken by special teams. By last night the number arrested rose to 122 over three days. Four people were handed over to a lynch mob charged with damage to a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland on Wednesday. Mindaugas Lenartavicius, 21, was charged with arson recklessly endangering life, Daniel Champion and Ben Shiells, both 18, with burglary, criminal damage and theft of a computer, and a 17-year-old girl with burglary with intent to cause damage.
O’Brien said the cordons were put in place because a group of about 200 people were violent. “There was no real deliberate attempt to say you are all going to stay here for hours,” he said. He said police officers had been allowed to leave throughout the day, and that by about 7.30pm those left were police who wanted to be there, and they were asked for their names as they left as part of the inquiry. “What I saw there at that time was a couple of hundred police officers who did not want to go. They had … been the agitators throughout the day,” he said.
We saw and spoke to many police who were clearly not agitators, but who were refused permission to leave. David Howarth, the Liberal Democrat justice spokesman, said: “How did the public end up in a situation where they used the same degree of force on the most peaceful demonstration as they did for a violent protest at Scotland Yard? They seem to only have one trick.”