My experience of the police

I have just been unfriended on Facebook and, I suspect in real life as well, because of what I said about the police. Here’s what my former friend said:

“I trust then you are going to call the local station and ask to be removed from their protection? And refuse to call them when involved in a serious RTA, even if they get there first and could provide life-saving first response to you or a loved one? Your comment is ignorant at best, and slanderous at worst. I cannot, with clear conscience associate with such venomous, negativity, and thus have unfriended.”

So let me talk about my experiences with the police.

When I was in an serious motorbike accident, a police officer barged into the ambulance while the paramedics were trying to treat me. He started demanding information even though I was in no state to give it, and on hearing me tell the paramedics that I was a diabetic he started demanding to know why I had not informed the DVLA. (I was a tablet controlled type-2 diabetic at the time, none of the DVLA’s business.) He fixated on it, trying to get me to accept responsibility for an accident where a car ploughed into me from behind at a roundabout at 60 or so miles per hour. Eventually the paramedics forced him out of the ambulance.

When I was a victim of hundreds of pounds of fraud over an eBay sale, the police refused to help. I had all the evidence necessary for the police to arrest the fraudster, his home address, details of exactly how he had defrauded me. The police refused to even take my report and insisted that I could go to eBay for help. When I went back to the police and told them that eBay and Paypal would not co-operate, the police told me there was nothing that they could do.

When my motorbike was stolen, they came round, took a report, then said there was nothing they could do. Six months later, the police sent us a letter. Apparently my bike had been found burnt out in a known criminals garden while arresting him for something else. Did they prosecute him for theft? No. They tried to bill me for disposal of the bike.

When the motorbike loaned to me by my insurance company suffered a spate of parts being stolen from it, the police took a report, but never got back to me. There were potential suspects, but the police didn’t follow anything up. Some of those parts (the mirrors, for one) had serial numbers on and could have been used as evidence. I lost quite a lot of money replacing those parts and fixing the damage.

When I worked at a timber company with a fleet of lorries, one of the lorry drivers there was a special constable with Essex Police. He boasted about how he liked to get called in at big events, how he liked the power, how he loved going on raids and roughing people up. He had a very cavalier attitude to rules of the road, and when I pulled up relevant laws about when someone was allowed to stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway or use a mobile phone while moving, he shrugged it off and said he would keep doing it and the police would never do anything as he was a special constable.

This is my experience of the police. And now, many people I talk to tell me how the police physically attack them and people around them. I get eyewitness accounts of police attacking bystanders. I watch live video from scenes of the police taking on whole neighbourhoods. I see obvious lies coming from the police about why they get violent. “Policemen dragged from their horses and beaten” – repeated by the prime minister, no less, completely refuted in my video here – when the damage was probably done by his own horse and his colleagues dragging him away. Claims of petrol bombs as justification for attacking at Stokes Croft appear to have been fabricated as an excuse. Statements giving justification for police actions are released before the events even happen. They discharge CS spray without reason. They abuse the legal process by threatening arrest for refusing to give ID, then using de-arrest afterwards to pretend it never happened. They photograph and build databases on protesters and pretend that the databases don’t exist. They enter places where they have no legal right to enter. They fabricate flimsy justifications when no crimes exist. The whole institution of the police takes that attitude that the police are right, if only due process didn’t get in the way. They abuse stop and search powers given under anti-terrorism bills.

This is why I’m pissed off with the police. Can you blame me?

Peaceful occupation and arrest – An account of #ukuncut on #march26 by @magiczebras

@magiczebrasThis guest post is an account of UK Uncut’s actions on March the 26th by @magiczebras

 

Only a handful of people knew where we were heading on Saturday, I personally had no clue where we were going. Just before 3.30pm I was simply handed a card with a red dot on, a sign that I should follow the red umbrellas several people were holding. Once we arrived in Fortnum & Mason we spread out across the shop, and the vibe was pretty jubilant – I’d had doubts we’d make it and I suspect I wasn’t the only one, if you were in London you’ll know the day was quite crazy.

After about half an hour people started to settle, the majority of us on the ground floor. I talked to people I knew on twitter and sat around talking with my friend, who left at around 5 to get her train. People did drift out but the majority stayed. The police hadn’t asked us to leave and we were peaceful. A few people may have wanted to cause damage but were quickly talked out of it by members of UKuncut, we didn’t want to harm our reputation for being a peaceful protest group. I’m so proud of all my fellow members, we were all exceedingly careful not to break things and received thanks from police officers for tidying around before we left.

At around 6pm it was democratically decided we leave, so we all linked arms tight after being told we could leave peacefully together. We were kettled immediately. There was a lot of confusion, at first we thought they’d let us go in dribs and drabs, then we were told we’d be arrested. I was put onto a coach with 17 others and we drove around London until it was discovered Islington had 15 free cells and Camden had 2. I was first out, requiring medical attention because I had low salts. Everything was taken from me, I was stripped to my underwear, given clothes, put on constant watch because, due to anxiety, I kept absent mindedly clawing my arms and I slept when I got to my cell, still being watched. I was woken at 2am to see my appropriate adult, get my DNA taken and see a doctor (5 hours after I’d started requiring one). He gave me a sleeping pill and got them to feed me.

I slept more, was woken with breakfast which I threw up on my clothes – I didn’t have time to get to the toilet. They couldn’t give me clothes or a blanket so I lay in my underwear and slept more. My mother arrived sometime later, her nerves fraught and I waited to be charged. I convinced myself it wouldn’t happen, they’d let us go, but obviously they didn’t. I was charged with aggravated trespass, made to promise I wouldn’t kill myself, or hold them accountable if I attempted, given my bag back (they retained my mobile, iPod and clothes as evidence) and we left. I’m in court on Monday, 12th April at 9.30am, where I will be tried. Looks like I’ll be joining to Armchair Army for the forseeable future.

Politics, Civil Disobedience, and UK Uncut

A couple of weeks ago I made a big fuss about UK Uncut taking over Vodafone’s World of Difference blogs.  I was very critical of it here on my blog – see UK Uncut triumph over the Vodafone website… but lose my support. (I have actually edited that now to remove a lot of my initial criticism.) For the reasons why I was so critical, have a look at what Tim Hardy said in his response at Beyond Clicktivism in Activism is Serious Business. The main cause of my reaction was the seriousness of the potential offence. Computer crime can have some fairly serious consequences.

But this leads me to an important question: How far can protesters go to make their point? All the famous protests in history, all the ones that made a difference, involved civil disobedience. The American Civil Rights Movement, the Suffragettes, and much that Gandhi achieved involved civil disobedience.

Several issues are raised:

  • How serious is the offence committed for the civil disobedience?
  • What is the threshold of injustice at which civil disobedience becomes justifiable?
  • Should civil disobedience target only unjust laws, or should protesters break other laws to make their point?
  • Can protesters break a law to argue for the imposition of another law?

One of my concerns is the severity of the law breaking. The actions of UK Uncut so far, in occupying shops and banks and refusing to leave, are civil disobedience. The protesters are trespassing once asked to leave by a shop manager. In England, trespass is largely a civil wrong not a criminal offence. To me, that makes it a less serious issue than damage to property or violence against people, which are criminal offences. Although seemingingly trivial, the unauthorised access to Vodafone’s blogs is potentially a breach of the computer misuse act, and therefore a more serious criminal offence. The difference is mainly academic in this case, but what about other more serious law-breaking? How far should it go? I don’t know.

What about deciding when to break the law for a cause? Is there a threshold at which it becomes ethically acceptable to break the law? In 1849 Henry Thoreau said in his essay, Civil Disobedience:

“All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable. But almost all say that such is not the case now.
…..
In other words, when a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more urgent is the fact that the country so overrun is not our own, but ours is the invading army.”

Many people are opposed to speed limits; they could argue that their speeding is civil disobedience against speed limit laws. Is that acceptable? Some people do not pay their council tax in protest at bad service in emptying their bins. How about that? Should civil disobedience be restricted to protesting against loss of freedom, or only breaches of human rights?

It seems to me that civil disobedience becomes acceptable once a person has found a group of other people that accept it! The larger the group, the more acceptable, perhaps. Obviously there will always be a group of people opposed to these actions, otherwise it wouldn’t be disobedience. When Rosa Parks refused to give her seat to a white man, you can bet that an awful lot of white people thought she was wrong.

Some would argue that the only laws that should be broken by the protesters should be the laws that they are protesting about. This would rule out occupations, refusing to obey police with a section 14 order, and all sorts of other protest methods. I have come to the conclusion that protesters must break other laws to make their point. Although the right to peaceful protest is enshrined in law, the government and the establishment work very hard to make it meaningless. An example being the current protest method allowed by the police: Arrive, march from A to B along routes checked by the police, getting in no ones way, then go home. All innocuous and quiet and not offensive in the slightest. And completely useless for achieving political aims, even when a million people attend. More is needed, but more may be illegal. And so laws must be broken to get results, or even to get noticed by those responsible for the injustice being protested against.

UK Uncut are arguing for a change in the law to clamp down on tax avoiders. Inherent in this argument is a respect for the law – how can anyone argue for large companies to obey a law on paying tax if they themselves do not respect the law? Civil disobedience can only make sense in this context if the laws broken in protest are carefully selected. Go too far, break the wrong law, and the argument will fall apart and public opinion will turn against the protesters.

And so, I have concluded that UK Uncut must break laws to achieve their aims. Since they are not directly protesting against specific unjust laws which they could break in protest, other laws must be broken instead. I think it is important to consider precisely which laws to break very carefully, or risk losing public support. But after much thought on the subject, and despite my initial reaction to their actions, they still have mine.

Further reading

Civil Disobedience – the history of the concept

Civil Disobedience – an essay written by Henry Thoreau in 1849

The Role of Civil Disobedience in Democracy


Police increase their chilling effect on protest

There is a big march of protest coming up on the 26th of March, March for the alternative. It has been called by the TUC, but will be attended by many other groups opposed to our governments ideological choice of deficit reduction through savage cuts.

This march is looking to have at least two hundred thousand people attend, hopefully more. I encourage everyone reading this to go along. The less-mobile are well catered for too with special gathering points and a shorter route if required. You can even hire a scooter for the day.

There is an aspect that I am unhappy about though, and that is the way that the march is being policed. The guardian explains in its article Police prepare for more kettling at cuts protest.

First of all we learn that the police have designated a “Containment manager.” On the face of it, this is a positive move to make sure that the police are doing everything correctly. But actually, it’s a scary move. It shows that they expect to use containment (kettling)  at these protests. Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens is quoted as saying “Containment is only used where there had been violence or where there is imminent violence.” Is there anyone left that believes this line? Containment has been used on too many occasions in recent months, in inappropriate conditions, adults and children alike, and even on people that were obeying orders to leave. (The Westminster Bridge kettle, 9th December 2010) It has certainly not been used as a last resort unless the police had no other plans at all!

We also learn that the police are providing training to 2,800 TUC stewards on how to defuse conflicts to delay getting the police involved, and how cope with sit-down protests. Defusing conflict is a useful skill, but I am confused who they expect to use this skill on. Do they think protester will be fighting protester? Or are they expecting to defuse conflicts between protester and police? Because if a police officer is ordering someone to move, kettling someone, shoving someone away from a picket line or hitting someone with a baton, I’m fairly sure that neither protester nor police officer will be inclined to listen to a TUC steward.

As for coping with sit-down protests, what do they mean by cope? If the TUC aims to prevent such things from happening, I expect a lot of unhappy people. If trying to protest and make a point without being violent, sitting down and linking arms with others so as to avoid being moved is just about the only option left. The police seem to think they have a right to order protesters to move, and so it seem, do the stewards.

The police have also announced that they will once again hand out leaflets to “inform people of the official march route.” As we have seen before, deviating from the official route is seen as reason to introduce kettling. But why? The leaders that agreed the route do not speak for everyone. Many protesters do not want to simply march from A to B, or follow the route that they are ordered to. They may well want to spend time in an area where certain politicians are more likely to see them. What right have the police and the TUC got to order people to follow their route? What right have stewards, who have no power, got to tell people what to do?

The police have taken a small positive step in that the TUC and Liberty will both have representatives in the MET central operations room and Liberty will observe the event. Remember though, that policing at previous protests was considered flawed enough that there was an inquiry by a parliamentary joint committee on human rights. In the face of this, Hugh Orde, chief of the ACPO, wants to see “more extreme” policing, and Lynne Owens, assistant commissioner of the Met, promises to act “more robustly.” CS spray has been used at protests twice now. Section 14 notices have been used to arrest people that refuse to leave. The police have introduced “hyper kettling” where they actually reduce the space available to protesters until the are crammed so tightly that they cannot breathe. Their moves are authoritarian, continuing the chilling effect that policing is having on our right to protest. I have heard from many people who say that they will not go to protests and certainly will not take children, because of the actions of the police. If that isn’t a chilling effect, I don’t know what is.

Given that trouble mostly seems to flare up when the police make contact with the protesters, here’s my suggestion to them. Stay away. Don’t go near the protests unless there is some actual violence or vandalism that you need to address, and even then, go away again.

Try it. It might just work.

Related Articles

Threats of more extreme policing prove that they still don’t get it

Section 14: Police try to order you around

The right to protest, even if it’s inconvenient

Related Links

March for the alternative

Police prepare for more kettling at cuts protest

Pepper spray used at peaceful protests again

Once again police have used incapacitant spray against peaceful protesters. The police followed two protesters to Kings College in Cambridge following a protest. They were told by porters that they did not have permission to enter, but they did so anyway and proceeded to arrest the two protesters, one of whom was a sixth-form student. During this incident they are reported to have used incapacitant spray against a number of students. Commonly referred to as Pepper Spray, incapacitant spray used by UK police is most likely to be CS spray, although it could also be PAVA or capsicum.

This is an extremely serious matter. CS spray is classified as a prohibited weapon under the Firearms act 1968, and police officers are exempted from this legislation in order to do their jobs. As a such, the use of CS spray is discharge of a weapon and must be fully justified as a last resort to prevent imminent danger of physical harm. Not only that, the official ACPO guidance on incapacitant sprays specifically warns against the use of CS spray in crowd and protest situations. It is not clear in this instance why the spray was used but from watching the video, imminent physical danger seems unlikely. The question must be asked; is the use of CS spray against protesters simply the actions of one or two heavy handed police officers, or does this represent an official step towards more forceful policing?

It is also interesting to note that police are not normally allowed entry to the university without permission. Permission was explicitly and repeatedly denied them, and yet they entered anyway.

NOTE: Unfortunately since I wrote this the video of this event has been marked as private on Youtube. I can only speculate that this is for legal reasons. I will leave it embedded here in the hope that it will be made public again in the future.

More information

Varsity: Chaos on Kings Parade

The Cambridge Student: Police cause outrage as two students arrested inside King’s College

Cambridge Defend Education

Previous articles

More attacks on the right to protest: CS spray

More information about CS spray and UK Uncut

UK Uncut on Newsnight

Do we live in a police state?

 

 

Police intimidation to coerce details from protesters

Yet more evidence has emerged that the police are abusing their power and using threats of arrest to intimidate protesters into giving their details for an unoficial database of protesters, and being arrested, processed and de-arrested if they do not cooperate. This is from a personal account by Adrienne Campbell posted on Viva Lewes.

We were politely asked to move, and given a five-minute deadline. I moved just 30 seconds before the time was up and was grabbed by three coppers who demanded I give my name and address. I refused, believing this was my right. They told me that they would arrest me if I didn’t give my details. I refused. They tried to handcuff me; I resisted. They twisted my arm behind my back and marched me, bent over – very undignified – to the police van where I was handcuffed and arrested. My shoulder and my pride were hurt. I was told I would be ‘de-arrested’ if I gave my details. After a while I did, to a police video camera, and was released. Presumably I will now be joining the rising numbers of people logged on a protesters database. My information is this kind of intimidation is illegal and I will be taking legal advice.

This behaviour by our police is outrageous and there is no excuse for it at all. This is abuse of the law, plain and simple. I urge you all to write to your MP and ask for this practice to be stopped.

Previous articles on this subject

Police abusing our right to protest

Section 14: Police try to order you around

Guest post: Lobbying your Political Representative

More information about CS spray and UK Uncut

We now have some more information on what happened during the UK Uncut protest on Saturday so this is an update post to gather more of it together. I will save the commentary for now in favour of presenting the data I have gathered.

Accounts from people that were actually there:

We have some comments about the previous behaviour of Officer CW2440 on the 15th of January, from @johnnylil

Officers CW2440 and CW2444 specifically are the ones trying to provoke violence from us. We shall remain peaceful. #ukuncut
On jan 15 at last #ukuncut, I tweeted that officer cw2440 was trying to provoke violence. Now I hear he's hospitalised people with CS spray

i will stress, however, that at the jan 15 #ukuncut police were on the whole polite, respectful and peaceful. just cw2440 spoiling things.

Then some longer comments from @johnnylil, so I have strung them together for clarity.

“re CW2440 on jan 15th. Two protesters were trying to peacefully obstruct the entrance to topshop and police asked them to move as it was private property. Protesters requested to see deeds proving this, explaining that otherwise police could not accuse them of trespassing. CW2440 then pushed one of them violently so he fell into group of passerbys. Him or 2442 then later aggressively manhandled another protester for speaking up about his right. ALL VIOLENCE CAME FROM POLICE.”

Pic of CW2440 outside topshop on jan 15th. Taken moments after he assaulted protestor. #ukuncut http://twitpic.com/3v7ggm

Pic of CW2440 outside topshop on jan 15th. Taken moments afte... on Twitpic

I stress that the above was on the 15th of January, and was the same officer that used CS spray on the 30th. Thanks to @Double_Karma for sending the above tweets to me.

We also have some clarification from the lady whose arrest may have sparked this CS spray incident, left as a comment on F for Philistine.

“This is me this is about. This is not an accurate account of what happened. I was physically pulled up by one or more protesters trying to pull me away from the police, which hurt me. I don’t blame the police. Boots made up a ridiculous charge: I pushed leaflets through an open gap in the door! The police then had to do their job. Why did someone try to pull me away from the police? A ridiculous thing to do, which caused the trouble. I am sorry that anyone was injured trying to defend me, but I was not resisting arrest, and was treated fine by the police, so it was unneccessary and damaging. It was brilliant protest and I’m glad we got loads of coverage though :-)”

She later added:

“However, having now seen that video, I can confirm that the incident of the person being sprayed in that video is after I was pulled by the protester, when I had already been taken to the side alley by the police, and so that incident is not related to me attempted to be taken away from the police.”

For the sake of convenience I have gathered several videos here.

Video from @dawnhfoster

Video from The Guardian

Video from @dawnhfoster

Video from @RoTreg It was sideways, so I have temporarily made a copy in the correct orientation until RoTreg gets a corrected copy online. Here’s the original.

Video from Londoner56789

And a picture showing a delivery of milk by @seb_sears to Ben’s Cookies to replace that given for washing out the CS spray.
Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

— UPDATE —

I have been sent a link to more photographs showing officer CW2440 being quite violent earlier in the demonstration.

More attacks on the right to protest: CS spray

A protester hit with incapacitant spray
A protester hit with incapacitant spray

In yet another attack on our right to protest, police yesterday used incapacitant spray on peaceful protesters at Boots in Oxford Street, London. For an eyewitness account head over to F for Philistine where @dawnhfoster has written up what she saw, and includes some video.  You can also read about events from @bc_tmh‘s point of view at Beyond Clicktivism. Since those two blogs have covered things much better than I could, I though that I would show you how events looked to those of us following them at home via Twitter. Reports for the first hour or two were of a successful protest, of people enjoying themselves, talking to people on the street and the police and shop staff being friendly but things went wrong just before 3pm.

13:45 @stavvers: Police being brilliant. Hugh Orde would be a very sad panda #ukuncut

14:48 @UKuncut: Staff at Boots friendly & good natured – laughing and joking with protesters #Ukuncut

14:55 @stavvers: Police arresting and pepper spraying protesters #ukuncut

14:56 @MissEllieMae: Police just pepper sprayed a load of us. We’re calling an ambulance for someone #ukuncut

14:58 @MissEllieMae: People are being dragged away by the police. There is no violence. An ambulance is on its way. This is shameful #ukuncut

15:01 @chris_coltrane: FUCK. Police arrested someone. We shouted “shame”. POLICE PEPPER-SPRAYED PROTESTERS IN THE FACE. #ukuncut http://yfrog.com/h74b9hej

15:03 @chris_coltrane: The girl was arrested for “criminal damage”. Guess what she did? She put leaflets through the door of Boots. #ukuncut

15:04 @UKuncut: 1 person has been arrested in Ldn for pushing a piece paper between a door. The police then pepper sprayed those that helped her #ukuncut

15:04 @chris_coltrane: A dozen people with bright red eyes recovering on the street. The police have taken a peaceful protest, and turned it violent. #ukuncut

15:04 @dawnhfoster: Holy fuck, they just pepper-sprayed a load of people. Waiting for the ambulance. I’m shaking. #UKUncut

15:04 @MissEllieMae: Sitting next to my friend who was pepper sprayed. There was no violence. #ukuncut

15:05 @MissEllieMae: Loads of police here now, everyone is very angry with their behaviour #ukuncut

15:10 @dawnhfoster: Boots have taken victims in to treat them. Chatting to manager, who thinks it was CS gas not pepper spray. #UKUncut

15:12 @stavvers: Ben’s Cookies are providing free milk for protesters who have been hid with pepper spray. Big thanks to them #ukuncut

15:19 @UKuncut: Boots helped to treat protesters affected by pepper spray. Seems even they are disgusted by police behaviour. #ukuncut

15:24 @dawnhfoster: Seriously, where’s the ambulance? #ukuncut

15:27 @UKuncut: Ambulance has arrived to help protesters attacked by police. We <3 the NHS! #ukuncut http://twitpic.com/3uvxt0

15:27 @bengoldacre: When I went on #Ukuncut it was a really strikingly peaceful protest. Interested in justification for police pepperspraying ppl in face.

15:28 @MissEllieMae: Ambulance is here. NHS coming to the rescue… http://plixi.com/p/73581201

15:28 @dawnhfoster Medics treating three guys in ambulance now. Hope they’re ok. Policeman confirms it was CS not pepper spray #UKUncut

21:50 @UKuncut: This slightly dislodged rubber is the ‘criminal damage’ which resulted in police hospitalising 3 people. http://yfrog.com/h5oapkrj

Interestingly, I also saw this from a Boots twitter account:

@BootsMealDeal: We at Boots are disgusted by police behaviour today.

The account was deleted a short time later, along with another Boots account. There is some speculation that the accounts were either fake or were run by Boots staff without authorisation. It did cross my mind earlier that the account might be fake, and on looking back through its tweets I found what looked like a genuine but very unprofessional twitter account.

The aftermath

This video was taken in the immediate aftermath of the incident. Given that CS spray is supposed to be used just prior to restraining someone, and the victim must then be carefully monitored to ensure recovery, this video is fairly damning for the police.

More about CS spray

Officer CW2440 - who sprayed himself in the face as well as the protesters
Officer CW2440 - who sprayed himself in the face as well as the protesters

There was some confusion over what the police actually used on the protesters. Many people referred to Pepper Spray and others referred to CS Gas. What was used was actually CS Spray as confirmed in this Freedom Of Information request. [PDF] (A few police forces use PAVA spray instead.) A lot of people call it pepper spray even though it uses CS while pepper spray uses capsicum. CS spray contains the same active ingredient as CS gas, but dissolved in a solvent that can be sprayed instead of being a powder or being dispersed from a thermal grenade. CS Gas is actually banned for use in warfare according to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. It might be illegal to us it on enemy soldiers, but it seems to be acceptable for the police to use it on civilians. When I tweeted this fact earlier, people seemed very worked up about it. As I write this, it has been retweeted 95 times!

The police document on such things is this Guidance on the Use of Incapacitant Spray [PDF] which is written by the ACPO. (Yes, them again.)

The guidelines are clear that CS spray is to be used only in defence to allow police to restrain someone who is a danger to others. From reading eye witness accounts it is obvious that the officer used the spray not to protect himself or others around him, but offensively when people did not do what he wanted. In 2000 the Police Complaints Authority carried out research in to how CS spray was being used by the police. They found that 38% of the time police were using the spray offensively, not defensively.  I do not have any figures to know if this has changed ten years later but I would hope that it has. The guidelines state that “Tactical training in the use of the spray should emphasise precautions in relation to self / cross contamination.” Perhaps officer CW2440 hasn’t had that training, because not only did he incapacitate ten people and cause problems for several others nearby, he also managed to spray himself in the face.

The guidelines also talk at length about caring for the incapacitated person after they have been sprayed and says this is of “utmost importance.” Details of recovery times are given and the guidelines state that particular attention must be given to monitoring breathing. They go on to say “A medical practitioner should examine those who cannot open their eyes or whose eyes are actively running beyond the normal recovery period. The expected period is 20 minutes after exposure.” In actual fact we can see from the tweets that it took nearly half an hour for an ambulance to arrive in a city where bikes and cars are used in addition to ambulances to make sure that paramedics get to the scene within 8 minutes and usually even less time. Questions should be asked about why it took so long for the ambulance to arrive. Protesters called the ambulance, did police interference cause the delay?

The ACPO guidance also has this to say about the use of CS spray in situations like this.

“2.5.13 Such action on the part of an officer may have a profound impact on crowd dynamics with obvious implications for public safety and public order. The spraying of incapacitants in these circumstances  may, particularly in the case of CS, lead to cross contamination causing panic or even hysteria. Similarly, the use of incapacitant spray, again primarily CS although PAVA in a more limited way, in crowded public areas may cause significant cross contamination and another use of force option may be more appropriate. The decision to use incapacitant spray against a person in these circumstances must be capable of subsequent justification and the closest scrutiny.”

From what witnesses and those involved have said to me I think it likely that the use of CS spray was simply the actions of one officer that acted alone, when he saw protesters trying to bar his way to prevent an arrest of someone that had merely posted a flier through a door.  Perhaps he panicked, or perhaps he was just itching for an excuse to exercise some power. Hopefully there will be an enquiry into this incident. More worryingly though, witnesses reported that police wearing a different uniform arrived on the scene shortly after the spraying, and those officers were carrying handguns. I can’t see any justification for sending armed police out to what had been a completely peaceful and friendly protest before the police got involved.

Other articles about this

Police use CS spray on tax protesters (Guardian)

Police pepper spray #ukuncut protesters (Indymedia)

Three in hospital as police use CS gas at UK Uncut protest (Liberal Conspiracy)

Police use CS gas on tax protesters (Telegraph)

CS spray used on UK uncut protest (BBC)

Facebook group calling for the prosecution of officer CW2440

Clamping down on UK Uncut (A personal account by Ellie Mae O’Hagan – New Left Project)

Section 14: Police try to order you around

The Met police are once again printing a leaflet to distribute at anti-cuts protests. (Don’t click that link yet!)

Advice seen this morning suggests that it would be a bad idea for protesters to take and read one of these leaflets because it will legally bind protesters to a section 14 notice.

DO NOT accept any leaflets from the police on the protest unless you wish to be legally bound by a section14 notice. REPOST! #demo2011 #dayx

So what is this Section 14?

Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 gives police the power to order protesters to confine their protest to a certain place, keep the numbers down, and tell them when to stop. More information from freebeagles.org:

Does a Section 14 or 12 notice have to be in writing?

A Section 14 or notice only has to be in writing where it is issued in advance by the chief constable of police. It does not have to be in writing when it is issued at the time of the assembly by the most senior officer present.

Section 14 – Public Assemblies

As with Section 12, the senior officer may impose conditions on public assemblies, which he considers are reasonably necessary to prevent serious public disorder etc. But unlike Section 12, the conditions he may reasonably impose are in this case limited to specifying:
a) the numbers of people who may take part,
b) the location of the assembly, and
c) its maximum duration.

I find it outrageous that the police have been given this power in law. I do not believe it should ever be in the police’s power to issue orders to people, only to investigate crime and to make arrests to facilitate the trial of those that commit crimes. There is an argument that they can inform people of the law so that they are aware of what is a crime and what isn’t, but giving them extra powers to order people around and making it a crime to disobey is yet another marker on the way to a police state. (There is also the issue of restraining people in the interests of public safety. Discussion about police powers is for another day, however.) There is a way to avoid being prosecuted under section 14, however. In this case, ignorance is an excuse. Since a protesters must be aware of a section 14 notice to be found to contravene it, simply do not take or read any leaflets from the police, and do not listen to any announcements that they may try to give. More info again:

Can I be arrested if I have not been told about the conditions?

It is an offence knowingly to fail to comply with one of the Section 12 or 14 conditions. So it would be a defence to say that you had no actual knowledge of the conditions – eg because you had not been told or, in the case of a notice issued by the chief constable, there was no written notice.

The police sometimes use a megaphone to issue a Section 14 notice at the scene of an assembly, Activists arrested for breach of Section 14 are often subsequently acquitted because they simply could not hear what the police were saying and therefore had no knowledge that a Section 14 notice was in existence.

Threats of more extreme policing prove that they still don’t get it

I read in The Guardian today that Prospect Magazine (Subscribers only) had interviewed Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers. I remind you that the ACPO is a private for-profit company that seems to have a say in the way that we are policed, without being subject to the Freedom of Information Act or any democratic oversight. The interview was very revealing about police perception of social media as a method of organising protests and about their attitude to protesters’ rights.

Behind the police line

Orde is of the opinion that “hyper kettling” (containment followed up by crushing the crowd) is acceptable even though it infringes on human rights. “I can understand the need for it, [It is done] for the greater good, and that’s the really complex part of policing.” On charging at protesters with horses, he commented that it is a “very useful, effective tactic.” Kettling is currently working its way through the court system after various victims of it launched legal challenges on human rights grounds.

Orde also equated protesting on private property with theft, demonstrating an amazing ability to confuse things in his head. Perhaps he is the one telling people that photography in public places is illegal too?

“Walking into Topshop with an intent to cause damage, [means] you’re actually a burglar. If you walk into Boots and do nothing then you are simply a trespasser and the role of the police is to stand by to prevent a breach of the peace.”

His statement implies that UK Uncut protesters intend to cause damage. As a senior policeman he will probably get away with such ludicrous defamation. I believe that he is wrong about the trespassing too. As shops are normally open to the public, it is my understanding that any member of the public is free to enter until such time as a representative of the shop asks that person to leave. It is trespassing if protesters have been asked to leave and refuse, but it is shocking that a high-ranking police officer does not understand the difference.

Where Orde’s understanding fails completely is on the nature of the current anti-cuts protests.

“It is not good enough to throw our hands up in the air and say ‘Oh, we can’t negotiate because there is no one to negotiate with. There are lots of people we can talk to, but they need to stand up and lead their people too. If they don’t, we must be clear that the people who wish to demonstrate won’t engage, communicate or share what they intend to do with us, and so our policing tactics will have to be different … slightly more extreme.”

This idiot has no right to tell any of the protesters that it is “not good enough” to have no leader. These people are not docile little sheep, and they don’t have to follow anyone to object to the government conducting a slash-and-burn campaign on our benefits and our public services. They do not have to follow a leader just because some policeman is out of his depth in dealing with the internet. If the police want to engage with protesters then they can easily talk to them through twitter and facebook. If protests can be organised through a consensus via social networks then there is no conceivable reason why the police can’t have their say on the same social networks. When I was talking to a friend about this interview earlier she said something which I think sums up nicely what the protesters think about the situation.

Anonymoosh said “The police find a way to engage , when they want to, this time they don’t, they want people to be too scared to demo. They only want to know what we are doing , so that they can plan to stop it, they don’t want to engage. They know full well when the meetings are, we arrange them on the net. The truth is , as a movement, we have no need of leaders, it’s the police that need us to, I don’t see why we should oblige.”

Does Orde really think that people are refusing to engage, or does he prefer to have a nice ready-made excuse to kettle the little people?