Water cannon, CS gas bullets – government intimidating the public

man blinded by water cannon

In the last few days there have been a number of news stories about how the police intend to respond to riots this summer. It seems that the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police are suddenly convinced that there are going to be riots, and they plan to respond quite harshly.

The Express announced on the 5th of May with a headling of “Water cannons on standby for summer riots” that the Home Office and the Met Police were holding talks about allowing the police to buy water cannon “in case disorder arises from protests planned for London before the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.”

Then on the 9th and 10th of May The Independent and The Telegraph published a story about the Home Office testing a “Discriminating Irritant Projectile” – a cartridge that is fired from a baton gun instead of “rubber bullets” that sprays CS gas or tear gas when it hits. This is the kind of weapon that we have seen being used against people in awful footage from repressive regimes like Egypt.

The BBC has reported that “An entire prison block at Maghaberry jail in Northern Ireland has been set aside to house protesters convicted of disorder at the G8 summit.” In the same article the NI justice minister told the BBC that they were also changing the law to allow people to be tried in places other than the usual court rooms so as to speed up dealing with people arrested at the summit.

Riot policePreparing for potential protests at the G8 summit does seem sensible, but the scale of this preparation is questionable. The acquisition of water cannon and new CS gas bullets by the Met is a whole new step in the war on the public. Combined with the massive jump in the use of Tasers by police (and non-firearms police at that) this is a very nasty shift against the safety of the public and against the right to protest. What jumps out to me about all these stories is that police and government have sought out the press to make a point of talking about the measures.

It is hard to tell what the intention of the government is by talking about all of this in public. It is likely that the intention is to intimidate people into staying away from the G8 summit and other protests. I wonder though, if by talking about riots as a certainty they want to provoke a protest so that they can brutally suppress it.

The announcement about preparations of jail cells and extra court capacity seems like an act of intimidation towards those people who intend to peacefully protest at the G8 summit – perhaps they are worried that a whole new segment of society will be protesting for the Enough Food For Everyone campaign. The announcements of water cannon and other measures with specific mention of protests in London preceding the G8 summit are even worse. Whatever they are scared of, these announcements are likely to put people off from exercising their right to protest, just as previous police violence has prevented thousands of people from protesting against welfare cuts and NHS privatisation over the last two years. I think that talk of these measures in the right-wing press like The Express and The Telegraph is designed to both intimidate potential protesters and to scare the readers of those papers into voting the Tories in again at the next election as “the party of law and order”. It’s a tried and tested formula for the Tories – when in doubt get violent towards the downtrodden and tell the scared electorate that you will protect them.

 

Violence and mass arrest at Critical Mass

Hundreds of cyclists were arrested on Friday night after trying to take part in a Critical Mass event. Critical Mass takes place every month and has been going for eighteen years however on this occasion police clamped down heavily to prevent the cyclists from taking the intended route and the evening ended in serious violence and mass arrest.

In the first few seconds of this video British Transport Police Officer 4125 is shown grappling with a man in a Shopmobility scooter, and then aiming something at him. (Probably CS spray.) The man shouts several times “I am disabled” but is ignored. A police medic can be seen trying to wrestle him away and prevent him from using it. Further in at 1:06 he can be seen and heard striking someone with a baton.

Trying to use spray
Trying to use spray
Baton strike - the rebound
Baton strike – the rebound

The person who uploaded the video has written this account:

27th July 2012 19:30pm In the early stages of the Monthly Critical mass Bike ride a British Transport Police Officer PepperSprayed a Disabled Man in a shoprider who had been apparently hit by a car along with several others. During the melee as the officer is pulling out the pepper spray , A fellow Female police medic attempts to stop the action, but is struck back and the officer sprays the Disabled man and most of us in the crowd, not satisfied, he then whips out his telescopic truncheon and trys to apply a wrist lock / neck Lock on the Disabled man using the truncheon. Eventually a real Police officer arrives with 3 vans and about 50 Backups. The disabled man is arrested and the British Transport Cop is led away by some other officers. 27th July 2012.

From earlier in the evening:

https://twitter.com/IzzyKoksal/status/228908475969830912

FIT recording Critical Mass
FIT recording Critical Mass. Photo by @IzzyKoksal

https://twitter.com/hrsyofgrmnghst/status/228909745216561154

https://twitter.com/ThereziaCooper/status/228912127216345088

https://twitter.com/BrixtonHatter/status/228912357668159488

https://twitter.com/IzzyKoksal/status/228961930855981056

View from inside @MetPoliceEvents kettle of #criticalmass. Photo by @OurOlympics
View from inside @MetPoliceEvents kettle of #criticalmass. Photo by @OurOlympics

 

#criticalmass arrest buses
#criticalmass arrest buses – Photo by @indyrikki

https://twitter.com/aaronjohnpeters/status/229005065602600961

https://twitter.com/aaronjohnpeters/status/229005296079622144

https://twitter.com/aaronjohnpeters/status/229010072796291072

Update

Here is the event shown in the video above from a different angle.

Bail conditions imposed on those arrested:

Bail Conditions on Critical Mass

https://twitter.com/JasonNParkinson/status/229136354758520833

News Coverage

Russia Today: Mass arrests as London police attack ‘Critical Mass’ cycle ride during Olympic ceremony

BBC: Arrests made at mass bike ride on Olympic Ceremony night

ITV: Protesting cyclists ‘detained’ (Lots of pictures)

Guardian: Critical Mass cyclists arrested near Olympic Stadium

More Information

Critical Mass London

Wikipedia: Critical_Mass

Guardian: Critical Mass police ban blocked by law lords – 2008  article. Critical Mass ruled lawful and attempts by the police to ban it were overturned.

Why Take The Flour Back are wrong and I’m leaving the Green Party

A group calling themselves Take The Flour Back are opposed to Genetically Modified wheat. Their plan is to visit Rothamsted Park on the 27th of May 2012 and destroy the GM crops being grown as part of the experiment described here:

“Scientists from Rothamsted Research are conducting a controlled experiment to test wheat, genetically modified to repel greenfly and blackfly, which could help reduce pesticide use and promote sustainable agriculture in the future.”

Scientists from Rothamsted Research recorded this video in an effort to open dialogue with the protesters.

You can read a written message from the scientsts here: Rothamsted Appeal Letter [PDF file]

Misinformation

The protest group make a few assertions in favour of their vandalism:

Rothamsted have planted a new GM wheat trial designed to repel aphids. It contains genes for antibiotic-resistance and an artificial gene ‘most similar to a cow’.

Rothamsted deny that they have used any genetic material from cows.  In fact, the odour is produced by a protein called (E)-β-farnesene which is also produced by hundreds of other plants including plants which we consume, such as Hops. Rothamsted state: “To suggest that we have used a ‘cow gene’ and that our wheat is somehow part-cow betrays a misunderstanding which may serve to confuse people or scare them but has no basis in scientific reality.”

There is no market for GM wheat anywhere in the world.

This isn’t true. Plenty of GM products are sold and consumed, although some of that is through abusive behaviour by large US businesses. That is a different problem to address. Perhaps they mean that people are generally opposed to GM food, but whether true or not that should not stop experiments that could have far-reaching benefits. People should be allowed to make their own choice. I fully support the idea that any product sold which contains GM ingredients should be labelled to allow people to choose.

This experiment is tax-payer funded, but Rothamsted hope to sell any patent it generates to an agro-chemical company.

Rothsted completely refute this:

Our work is publically funded, we have pledged that our results will not be patented and will not be
owned by any private company – if our wheat proves to be beneficial we want it to be available to
farmers around the world at minimum cost.

Take The Flour Back continue:

La Via Campesina, the world’s largest organisation of peasant farmers, believe GM is increasing world hunger. They have called for support resisting GM crops, and the control over agriculture that biotech gives to corporations.

I wonder how this organisation can support this statement. I do not believe that GM crops increase world hunger, but I do know that large companies are abusing patents to force the purchase of GM seeds in many cases. This is a problem with those companies and not with GM products.

‘Take the Flour Back’ will be a nice day out in the country, with picnics, music from Seize the Day and a decontamination. It’s for anyone who feels able to publically help remove this threat and those who want to show their support for them.

Wrong. That should read:

Take the Flour Back’ will be a nice day out in the country, with picnics, music from Seize the Day and vandalism and destruction of scientific experiments before the evidence can be gathered by people who fear what they do not understand.

A news story on the Green Party website also added:

The trial is happening in the open air, meaning that when it starts to flower it can cross contaminate other wheat crops and wild grasses. This is a real threat.

However this is false. The wheat used for this experiment is self-pollinating and the flower fertilises itself rather than dispersing pollen through the air to another plant. The seeds are too heavy to disperse in the wind and the plant has no adaptations to facilitate insect pollination. Even so, the researchers have taken precautions against contamination:

The GM plots will be separated from the edge of the trial by 10 meters of barley (or space) plus a 3 metre ‘pollen barrier’ of wheat that helps to contain pollen from the GM plants within the trial site. All these plants are treated as though they are GM and harvested /destroyed at the end of the trial. There will be no cereals grown for 20 metres outside the boundary of the site and no wild relatives of wheat that can cross with our cultivated variety exist in the vicinity.
Couch grass species, distant relatives of wheat will be controlled in a 20 metre wide area around the trial site to avoid any slight possibility of cross-pollination.

The right to protest

I am completely in favour of a right to free speech and the right to protest, even with people that I do not agree with. However, I am horrified at the idea of destroying scientific research. To make good policy we need knowledge, we need evidence. We obtain evidence through research. To destroy this research before we have any results is like setting fire to a library. Risk assessments have been carried out, precautions have been taken, consultations were carried out. Even if those who object did not engage at that time surely if there were a danger then they could attempt to stop things now through legal processes which will make a decision based on evidence. I think the protesters have probably not done so because the evidence is not on their side.

Why I am leaving the Green Party

I have explained why I oppose Take The Flour Back, but I am also resigning my membership of The Green Party over this issue. London Assembly Member and former candidate for London Mayor Jenny Jones tweeted on the 10th of May:

https://twitter.com/GreenJennyJones/status/200465542736396289

This was followed up with a news story on the Green Party website which repeated some of the false statements made by Take The Flour Back and announced that Jenny Jones would attend the protest.

I believe this represents support from the Green Party for vandalism and the destruction of scientific experiments. One of the reasons that I took a long time to join the Green Party after betrayal by the Liberal Democrats in 2010 was the anti-science attitude that I saw with their policies supporting homeopathy and reacting against many things out of fear and contrary to evidence. Indeed, the Green Party knew that this was a problem and recently made an effort to make their policies evidence based. I joined about three months ago when I thought that things had changed but this fiasco over GM experiments has left me feeling that I cannot trust the party. Perhaps I have given the Greens less of a chance than I did the LibDems but after one betrayal I am not waiting around for another.

I no longer feel that I can trust political parties. Manifesto pledges mean nothing. Promises seem to lead to the exact opposite behaviour. Politicians happily lie and mislead the public as to their true intentions. I’ve learnt my lesson. I sent in my resignation to the Green Party a few minutes ago and I will no longer support any political party.

There is a campaign by Sense About Science and a you can sign the petition asking people not to destroy research.

Further Reading

Take the flour back

Rothamsted Research

Rothamsted Wheat Trial: Second generation GM technology to emulate natural plant defence mechanisms

I wish to thank my wife and scientific adviser, Karen Sumpter (@missnfranchised)

Olympic threat to freedom and liberty

Hugh Robertson MP, minister for sport, has a message for you.  Here it is:

“If you know of people, including neighbours, who are going to break the law during the Olympics you should let the authorities know.”

He said protesters targeting the Games will be “letting down” Britain.

Mr Robertson said the right to peaceful protest was enshrined in English law but added: “If people get involved in illegal activity we expect the police to crack down straight away. This is an opportunity for us all to show the world the best of Britain and the last thing I want is that ruined by Occupy London protests or anything like that.”

Does this sound a little bit… familiar? Fear of informants among family, friends and neighbours is a characteristic of most totalitarian regimes. When the state is so authoritarian that everyone is guilty of some crime or another, everyone must fear being reported by everyone else, perhaps in return for some government favour or some hope of immunity. I note that Mr Robertson implies that any dissent, any protest should be reported, not just illegal behaviour.

General clampdown on protest

Before we go any further, it’s worth looking at what happened at the last big event. Prior to the royal wedding last year the police arrested people pre-emptively, people who only wished to protest in a perfectly legitimate way. Some of them merely had signs expressing their objection to the public spectacle. I suggest you read my blog post on this, The suppression of dissent. Protesters have often been intimidated by police in the past, and it has been happening a lot recently too. A protest in November last year was heavily intimidated in the days before with talk of rubber bullets and water cannon, and with letters sent to warn people away. In the end it wasn’t as bad as that, but the police effectively silenced the protest and kept it out of sight.

Protesters have routinely been kettled, including “hyper-kettling” and beaten with batons. Alfie Meadows was injured so badly by a police baton that he needed emergency brain surgery, yet he was charged with violent disorder instead of the police officer that did that to him. The Met deny responsibility even when innocent bystanders are unlawfully killed (murdered) such as in the case of Ian Tomlinson. Kettling has recently been found legal, although hyper-kettling was not considered in that judgement. We have seen armed police at protests recently. Austerity is causing massive dissent. NHS cuts, service cuts and closures, welfare cuts have all been controversial and provoked protest. Despite all this, most protests go unreported by the press unless there is violence.

I would expect peaceful protest around the Olympic games; something of that expense and magnitude and with so much corruption will of course be a focus of unhappiness from those who see what is happening. I think that it is highly likely that we will see pre-emptive arrests before the Olympic games, and in all likelihood it will be worse than those at the royal wedding. I seriously doubt that the police will care whether or not a planned protest was going to be peaceful and obedient or was going to break the law. In fact the last government already made arrangements to make even peaceful protest, a vital right, illegal around the Olympics.

More Information: How protest is being outlawed [New Statesman] From kettles to courtrooms: The police crackdown on protest [Red Pepper]

Olympic Security

It is the security operation around the games themselves that worry me though. The Met police have been acquiring new toys recently. Water cannon are still a possibility, but these CBRN barriers will certainly be used.

CBRN barrier

CBRN barrier - rear

CBRN stands for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear. That’s right, the police are so scared about rebellion that they are using steel cordons designed for use around nuclear accidents and incidents of a similar level. Pretty intimidating, don’t you think? They have also acquired these nifty watchtowers:

#operationtrafalgar #totalpolicing on Twitpic No running, no heavy petting, no bombing. on Twitpic

These towers will be dotted around London so that the police can make sure that you are being watched, and that you know it. Lest you forget, though, we are being offered some Olympic merchandise to remind us about everything. Here’s Olympic mascot Wenlock in his police uniform:

Wenlock in police uniform, Photo by Dan Hancox
Olympic mascot Wenlock in police uniform - Photo by Dan Hancox

More information: Kettling 2.0: The Olympic State of Exception and TSG Action Figures [Games Monitor]

Absurd security around the Olympics

Even with all the security equipment the government are obviously scared of dissent. During the games there will be 13,500 troops deployed as security staff, in addition to an unknown number of police officers. MI5 has recalled 3,500 agents and cancelled holidays around the games. HMS Ocean will be moored on the Thames estuary with Royal Marines on board, and HMS Bulwark will be present for events around Weymouth. There will be Surface to Air Missiles around London ready to bring down any threatening aircraft. There will be an SAS unit nearby. So that these can all be deployed quickly to quash any naughtiness, 290 CCTV cameras have been moved from Birmingham to London.

More details: Olympics 2012 security: welcome to lockdown London [Guardian]

Draconian clampdown on Olympic terms and symbols

Just what is and isn’t allowed has also been tightened up. The last government introduced a law to make all the changes for the games. The no marketing right protocol says that businesses are forbidden to associate activity with the Olympic Games. No Olympic Rings can be used in any signs or displays, the phrase “London 2012” is protected and enforced, and you can’t use “2012” either because the enforcement got a bit over-zealous. First we have the case of Cafe Olympic, a fairly generic name and innocuous enough, you would have thought. The name had to be changed. A butcher in Weymouth had to remove display of Olympic rings and the number 2012 made from sausages.

Section 22 of the Olympics Act 2006 gives police power to enter private property including homes where they believe that an advert referring to the Olympics is either being displayed or created, and to seize materials. Although intended to prevent businesses from associating themselves with the Olympics, it equally applies to political posters or banners made in protest. Questions have been asked about that: The law and the Olympics [BBC] Police powers for 2012 Olympics alarm critics [Guardian]

Surveillance state

In a slightly bizarre move it seems that border control at our airports and ports have access to information on people involved in the Olympics – even torch bearers. When Bryony Gordon was stopped on entry to the UK she was questioned on what she was doing at the Olympics – who knows why – because the person checking her could see that she is going to be a torch bearer.

All of this security clampdown is really just the last straw. I have already written about how the Olympics are full of corruption, taken over by corporate involvement, hugely expensive (Possibly as much as £24 billion in reality) and has many more problems. See my previous blog post, Olympic Opulence: Bread and circuses without the bread. Even the BBC published an article with 10 reasons some people will dread the Olympics which I recommend that you read.

I wouldn’t object to an Olympic games that focussed on the sport and the athletes. These Olympic games, though, are an expensive, corrupt, authoritarian farce. Are you sure that they are worth the price?

 

Heavy handed police threaten NHS protest

Several hundred people gathered today in front of the Ministry of Health to protest against the Health and Social Care bill and what it will do to the NHS. During the course of the protest riot police intimidated and grabbed at protesters, held them against their will, and broke up the protest into small groups that petered out. This was suppression of protest, something that I have written about many times before. As yet the mainstream media outlets have been silent about the protest and about the policing of it. Read on for some images, videos and tweets from the day. For a detailed personal account with many pictures and videos please read This blog post by Cai Wingfield, and see the links at the end of this post for more.

https://twitter.com/#!/HeardinLondon/status/181040095707672576

Video taken by Kate Belgrave

"Outside the department of health!" - photo by @thinktyler
"Outside the department of health!" - photo by @thinktyler
"protest in Whitehall" - photo by @COPDdoc
"protest in Whitehall" - photo by @COPDdoc

 

Despite being completely peaceful, the protest received significant police attention within an hour. Large numbers of police vans arrived with Territorial Support Group (TSG – riot police) as well as armed police. The police surrounded the protesters, possibly with the intention of containing (kettling) them – that was certainly how it was perceived. The presence of armed police and being surrounded raised tensions among the protesters significantly.

https://twitter.com/#!/WailQ/status/181048809189679104

Armed police at Save the NHS protest - photo by @heardinlondon
Armed police at Save the NHS protest - photo by @heardinlondon
Armed police officer at NHS rally - photo by MELPRESSMEN MELPRESSMEN
Armed police officer at NHS rally - photo by MELPRESSMEN MELPRESSMEN
Armed police leaving NHS rally - picture by @WailQ
Armed police leaving NHS rally - photo by @WailQ

https://twitter.com/#!/Brixtonite/status/181040965920886785

https://twitter.com/#!/HeardinLondon/status/181046914572226560

https://twitter.com/#!/chris_coltrane/status/181047579600097280

Let me describe the atmosphere at this point, because in a second things get nasty. COMPLETELY peaceful. The crowd is sparse and moving at a fast walking pace. There is a little chanting but no aggro. The yellow-uniformed police are walking at the same pace of us, and have not (that I’ve heard) requested that we don’t march. The mood is very upbeat. People are smiling and laughing, happy to be doing something positive and perhaps get a little attention (there has been almost no media presence that we’ve seen, unless you count the Socialist Worker as media). The crowd is made up of people of all ages. There are young children and babies, medical students, young adults, up to middle-aged and some elderly people. There is a high proportion of people who have reduced mobility. I spot several people walking with sticks or crutches. I see someone in a wheelchair wearing a V mask, there with their V-masked family.

Now someone shouts something. I’m within a few people of the front of the march. Suddenly, to my right, tens of baseball cap-wearing cops stream out of concealment, running. They’ve obviously been waiting for us.

The mood of the crowd turns quickly to dismay. This is completely out of the blue. These new cops are highly organised and running quickly. They have helmets and truncheons on their belts. People are suddenly scared. There are shouts of “KETTLE! KETTLE!” and “RUN!” from those who see what’s about to happen. People start to run (including me). But it’s too late, they’re already blocking the way ahead of us.

Quote taken from personal account by Cai Wingfield.

Suddenly it’s clear something is happening. More shouting and running. A line of riot cops is forming ahead, their arms outstretched. Shouts of “KETTLE!” and “RUN!” again from the protesters. We start to run, searching for a break in the line or another way through. All around there is running and screaming, people don’t know what’s happening. I reach the first cops as they start to grab people. I think I see some people grabbed bodily and with serious force, but I don’t stop running. My arm is grasped at by a gloved hand, but I break free. Others are not so lucky, including some of those I’m at the demo with. The line is being held now, people are not being allowed to leave or enter the zone. I see passers by, elderly and disabled people kept inside the cordon. It’s about 4:14pm.

Quote taken from personal account by Cai Wingfield.

Riot police appear suddenly - photo by Cai Wingfield
Riot police appear suddenly - photo by Cai Wingfield
Police kettling the protesters - photo by Cai Wingfield
Police kettling the protesters - photo by Cai Wingfield

Video by Cai Wingfield

Note that the containment (“kettling”) is fairly loose; it is not the hyper-kettling favoured by the ACPO where crowds are surrounded and compressed and then held for hours as the police and horses closed in. It is people being held without charge and against their will all the same.

It seems that the police still don’t understand that modern protests are arranged through consensus and social media. They persistently try to find the leader, even though there isn’t one. (And then they often use the inability to negotiate with a leader as justification for escalating their tactics.)

https://twitter.com/#!/stavvers/status/181041462295789570

https://twitter.com/#!/HeardinLondon/status/181041678721892352

 

The protest moved away despite being surrounded by police.

https://twitter.com/#!/hangbitch/status/181048011328196608

https://twitter.com/#!/MediocreDave/status/181048591966674944

https://twitter.com/#!/piombo/status/181049537429905409

https://twitter.com/#!/directreaction/status/181050507840860160

https://twitter.com/#!/stavvers/status/181052438780985345

 

The police have not come out of this looking good.

Video taken by Kate Belgrave

https://twitter.com/#!/LosTheSkald/status/181045205229780992

https://twitter.com/#!/Ade_on_drums/status/181056068716208128

https://twitter.com/#!/HeardinLondon/status/181052526882332672

https://twitter.com/#!/HeardinLondon/status/181059824249876480

https://twitter.com/#!/JoshAJHall/status/181060643674267648

https://twitter.com/#!/JoshAJHall/status/181063903575408641

https://twitter.com/#!/HeardinLondon/status/181058210319433728

https://twitter.com/#!/HeardinLondon/status/181058624251113474

https://twitter.com/#!/Beckiebroccoli/status/181067934825844736

 

Metropolitan Police Territorial Support Group officer U1632 attacked an innocent and totally peaceful protestor, from behind, during a demonstration against NHS privatisation in London, today, 17 March 2012. U1632 ran up behind the young man and whacked him across the calves with a 2-foot long steel-core truncheon, causing his victim to collapse in agony on the pavement, before hauling him off to an unknown fate, out of sight, behind police lines.

Quote from Cop thug U1632 attacks NHS protest [indymedia]

 

I was there today. The van pulled up in front of me and three police got out with what I would identify as a machine gun but not knowing much about these things i@m not sure exactly what type of gun it was.

The protest was not at Parliament Square. It started at the dept. of health where the cenotaph is on whitehall. It moved out onto whitehall where we intended to stay, completely peacefully. A huge number of police started towards us from parliament and we broke and started moving up whitehall towards Trafalgar Square. The police were trying to kettle but the protest was keeping ahead of them. As I got to Trafalgar Square a red police van pulled up as described above.

They only stayed for a few minutes before getting back into the van but it seemed to me like they were trying to intimidate. I still can’t quite believe it. To see this at a peaceful protest in the uk is not in any way normal. I asked a police officer who was stood by the van what the reason for deployment was and he told me to ‘fucking jog on’

Some senior police I spoke to later suggested they were diplomatic police and the van was under threat but I can tell you that they came up, under no threat and made a show of getting out with the guns.

The protest had a very mixed turnout. Many older people there and a lot of disabled people. We weren’t a rabid mob threatening anyone.

Quote from voxxtrot posted at reddit

 

 

 

https://twitter.com/#!/stavvers/status/181068695160897537

 

It appears that the armed police may have been at the protest by accident, having simply been close by at the time. It should be noted that the armed police were from the Diplomatic Protection Group, a part of the Metropolitan Police that guards diplomatic residencies in London. DPG officers are routinely armed when deployed. Nevertheless, it is not appropriate to send armed police to a peaceful protest and it is not known why they were present.

https://twitter.com/#!/_gmh_/status/181091702361169920

 

More:

The NHS demo and the failure to report [Personal account by Stavvers]

Police suppression of peaceful pro-NHS protest, March 17th 2012 [Personal account by Cai Wingfield with lots of pictures and videos]

Some thoughts on machine guns, Nazis and who kettles the kettlers [soundfurynothing]

Twitter timeline and photos – Storifed by @DrNoCuts [Storify]

Blog and videos by Kate Belgrave – Save our NHS demonstration London 17 March 2012 [katebelgrave.com]

Photo set by MELPRESSMEN MELPRESSMEN [Demotix]

Photo set by Heard in London [Demotix]

There has been no coverage by any mainstream media as yet, but I will provide links here when I find any.

Invisible Invincible – Pod Delusion report

My report from the Invisible Invincible protest is now on The Pod Delusion podcast. Unfortunately it had to be cut by quite a lot to fit the available space, but you can read my original text below. It is largely based on a previous blog post with some added explanation.

My report starts at 15:17 in to the podcast. An MP3 file is available for download via The Pod Delusion website.

Continue reading “Invisible Invincible – Pod Delusion report”

Invisible Invincible: my day of protest

It begins - the start of the protest

Many of you reading will already know what I was doing on Saturday, but I want to get this written up anyway. So here goes.

My alarm went off at 6:30am. Being a chronic insomniac, it was pure luck that I had actually got to sleep by about 2am and so had had some sleep before hand. Strangely I find it easier to function after four hours sleep than after seven, if not for very long, and so I forced down a double dose of painkillers and coffee and managed to get washed and dressed – no small feat for me at any time of day. The I bundled myself into my powerchair and we were off.

First stop was a bus into Evesham. Karen and I walked/rolled to the bus stop and waited in the cold. Eventually the bus arrived (We knew it would be wheelchair accessible this time because Karen had phoned to check the day before) and we travelled twenty minutes or so into town. Then we had to go on half a mile from the bus station to the train station. I had pre-booked assistance to board the train but not tickets, so we went via the ticket office to buy the tickets. £74 of tickets, which went on credit. Protest is costly, in more ways than one. Trains to London actually depart from the other side of the platforms and my chair wasn’t going to go over the footbridge and so we left the ticket office and went around to the other side via the main road, which took a few minutes. After a few minutes wait in the very cold waiting room (people in wheelchairs are told to arrive half an hour before the train is due, as well as to book 24 hours in advance) the train arrived. Unfortunately when I found the car which I had been booked into, it turned out to be beyond the end of platform. The train manager looked a bit harried as we walked all the way to the other end of the train so that he could put us in first class where there was another wheelchair space. The next hurdle was that there was hardly any room to manoeuvre on the way in to the train and I got stuck trying to get past the luggage space. I had to get out of the chair and the train manager actually lifted it clear of the obstruction, all 90KG of it. Once we were underway I settled down with a coffee and tried to eat the bacon roll which we had brought with us, and I wrote a blog post to explain why I was protesting.

In London I got off the train after a brief delay while the ramp was taken to the wrong end of the train, and we made our way out to catch a bus to our meetup location. I must say that I am very impressed with the wheelchair ramps on London buses. There is a button next to the middle door to alert the driver of a wheelchair, and then after passengers have disembarked the doors close again while the motorised ramp is lowered. Then the doors open and allow the wheelchair to board, with plenty of space to get to the designated wheelchair spot. I wish these buses were everywhere.

We got to the McDonalds where we were meeting far earlier than we needed to but we started to bump into other people arriving for the protest anyway. I was pleased to recognise someone that I had seen at a march in Birmingham the previous June, and even more pleased when I realised that it was in fact @pseudodeviant who I knew from Twitter. It turns out that we had met, and had been talking to each other online but not realised who we were! We were approached by John Domokos, a video journalist from The Guardian who interviewed us both about our reasons for protesting. The first of many interviews I would do that day. After a few minutes I met and talked to one of the organisers of our protest about our plan. The number of wheelchairs and other disabled people hanging around outside was making us a bit conspicuous so he suggested I go to meet up with another group a short distance up the road. I was really please to find people from UK Uncut waiting there to assist us, including some people that I had been talking to over the internet for more than a year but had never met. There was much chatting and smiling.

Then just before twelve we all moved off towards Oxford Circus. Volunteers from UK Uncut waited for the lights to go red and then ran across the Regent Street crossing with a chain, locking it at both ends. A line of people disabled people followed rapidly and took up their places along the chain. I was near the back of the line as I was waiting for Karen to return with food for me (I’m diabetic and had realised that I would miss lunch) so I rolled into place right at the end of the line across Regent Street, actually still on the pavement. We all locked on to the chain with D-locks and a cheer went up. We had done it!

Video: arrival

Interview with LBC. Photo by Richard of Cornwall DPAC
Interview with LBC. Photo copyright Richard, Cornwall DPAC

After that events were hectic and a bit of a blur to me. Being on the end of the line I was the prime target for hoards of journalists. I did interviews with more than I can remember. I did pieces to camera, for podcasts and radio, talked to journalists scribbling notes, to people from the BBC, The Guardian, The Times, LBC, to more than one team from each of those. I talked constantly for two hours, and my head was spinning. I did a live piece for the One O’Clock news on BBC London radio.  The noise of the crowd and the samba band was quite overwhelming and it was only adrenaline from the audacity of what we were doing that kept me going. In between the journalists I met people who I had been talking to on Twitter for months. A great many people seemed to recognise me, which frankly I found quite scary! I also was very pleased to meet Laurie Penny, if only for thirty seconds or so. Throughout the protest people from UK Uncut and others constantly checked if we were OK, offered tea and coffee, and kept us updated with what the police were saying.

I was quite impressed with the police, the Met were calm and pleasant and smiling, which was unexpected. They did pull up with sirens blaring, but then who doesn’t like a good excuse for blues and twos? Two police vans stopped in front of the line and blocked us from the rest of the junction and a row of police lined up in front of the vans facing us. Police did try to take down a banner that was being held across the Tube entrance, and there was a Met cameraman carefully videoing us all, no doubt for the database of protesters that they deny keeping. After about an hour the police made an announcement. I haven’t got a clue what they said, because it was completely incomprehensible, even without the sign-language interpreter that one of the other protesters asked for!

As we neared half past one it seems that the police were getting a little impatient. They informed some of our group that they would tolerate us if we moved aside to only block one side of the road, otherwise they would “take appropriate action.” I almost wish I could have seen what that appropriate action was, because I don’t think the police had any idea. No doubt they had disturbing visions of what the many journalists there would say about police dragging away people in wheelchairs, blind people, people on crutches. And it’s not as though their vans had wheelchair lifts or spaces.

By the time the police had made their feelings on this matter known many of us were quite cold and uncomfortable. This protest was extremely draining for most of the people involved. Although many of us wanted to stay until forced to move, the fact is that most of us could not, and so we all agreed that we would leave at 2pm. In the end it was really chaotic. We all unlocked from the chain and a speech was made, but then no one quite knew which way we were going. Some people had mentioned adjourning to a pub to get warmth and food but as no one knew which one that didn’t happen quickly. We actually ended up milling around in the road and chatting until the police started to look quite stern at about quarter past two.

Oxford Street slow walk
Slow walk down Oxford Street

On the way to the pub there wasn’t room on the pavement for all the wheelchairs, so they ended up in the road. We were in a walking pace procession right down the road in Oxford Street. Eventually it became possible to get on to the pavement but some stayed in the road and a few minutes later some police vans came speeding down the wrong side of the road and then crept along next to the crowd. Eventually everyone reached a pub and tried to cram inside, although it wasn’t possible for everyone in wheelchairs to get in. Several other people and I ended up in a pub next door for an hour or so before moving across to the first pub were we were finally able to get some food and seats.

Police waiting outside our pub
Police waiting outside our pub - were they lonely?

We had a lovely time in the pub and I met yet more people who I previously knew only through Twitter. I stayed far too long for my own health but I had already condemned myself to days in bed in pain and not moving and this was a very rare opportunity to meet people and so I pushed through with help from copious painkillers.

Eventually Karen and I left the pub and returned to Paddington station. The train back to Evesham is only every two hours and we had more than an hour and a half to wait. We passed the time sitting in a coffee shop at the station and I began to zone out from exhaustion and the strong painkillers that I take. At this point the crowds and the noise of the station seemed like distant things and I was floating in a haze of opiates and tiredness.

When we went to find our pre-booked assistance for boarding half an hour before the train was due to leave the manager told us that Evesham station was unmanned after lunchtime, which we already knew, but he also didn’t think there would be any staff on the train who could place the wheelchair ramp for me instead of station staff. This caused me to panic a bit but the station manager called another manager who called the train driver who thought there might be staff on board after all. I went to board the train, which is where we discovered that the train did not have a wheelchair space at all. I eventually ended up blocking the door area with my wheelchair for the whole journey. I am quite surprised that the assistance booking line were not aware of the situation with the station staff, the train staff or the type of train. I was really uncomfortable so I moved to a seat next to Karen, and after Oxford I moved to an empty double seat where I tried to stretch out to relieve some of the pain. I crashed completely at that point with horrific burning and aching pain in spite of my double dose of painkillers. I was in so much pain that I was crying, and trying to hide it from the other passengers.

When our train arrived at Evesham sometime around midnight I had passed out from pain and exhaustion. Karen tried to get me to move back to my powerchair but was unable to wake me up. My memory of this is hazy but I know that I did stir a little and try to stand but could not, and I ended up on the floor of the train and then slumped across the arm of my wheelchair. I understand that a stranger on the train helped Karen to lift and drag me into my chair. Unfortunately when we arrived the ticket inspector could not unlock the ramp at the station. She had been given the code for the lock but it did not work. My family had come to meet me at the station to drive us home and so I was carried off the train into a manual wheelchair by my brother, mother and wife, apparently dropped near the edge of the platform on the way. They also carried my extremely heavy powerchair off the train. Between them my brother and my wife got me into the car and then from the car to my bed, although I was almost completely unable to move.

And so that is where we are now. I am still in bed at the end of Monday, 48 hours later. I have managed to visit the toilet a couple of times, and I eventually managed to change my clothes this afternoon, but I’m in a lot of pain and I can’t really do much. This is all completely in line with what I expected and I am doubtful if I will be spending any time out of bed before next weekend. This is what the protest cost me, what I knew it would cost me. All I can do is hope that the politicians notice and reconsider their policies.

News items

This video is my personal update from Sunday afternoon.

This is my live interview with BBC London radio – 1pm 28/01/2012

Interview live on BBC London radio (mp3)

 

Here is my interview with BBC News

Here is the Guardian piece and video which includes my interview

You can find more links to news stories about our protest in this previous blog post Welfare Reform Bill protest news links

Welfare Reform bill – email to my MP

This is the email that I have just sent to my MP ahead of the Welfare Reform Bill activity in parliament this week.

Dear Mr Luff,

I am writing to you once again about the welfare reform bill, which as I am sure you know will return to the commons on Wednesday.

I have received your previous letter dated 11th January 2012 and I am sorry to say I feel that your response was inadequate. In that letter you assured me that the the changes to DLA are the result of one of the biggest consultation ever carried out by the Department of Work and Pensions; however I must inform you that the report which I sent to you and asked you to read proved without a doubt that the government had not only ignored the results of that consultation, but had completely lied about the results in order to claim support where there was none.

You may be aware of a protest that took place at Oxford Circus in London this Saturday just passed. I was one of the people involved in that protest and as a result I have been interviewed by LBC, The Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, and many more. I was interviewed live as the top story on BBC London Radio news. I can safely say that there is a lot of interest in our objections to this bill and that the people affected do NOT trust either Iain Duncan Smith or your government. If you care to look I have included links to many of the news stories on my own blog, a link to which is at the end of this email.

I have many objections to the Welfare Reform Bill. By the government’s own admission, the change to PIP will remove support from a great many people. The cumulative effects of this change, and other proposed changes, will be to leave people dependent on more expensive and more acute services. In the end this will cost the government far more than is saved, and will lead to people moving out of communities and back into care homes and institutions.

There are a great many other things wrong with the Bill but what is even more concerning is that way that the government has lied – and I use that strong word quite deliberately – and misled the public to promote their position. They have ridden on the back of scrounger rhetoric from the tabloids, rhetoric which Anne Begg of the Work and Pensions select committee said was being fueled by careless press releases from the DWP. I would go further and suggest that the DWP and the ministers involved are deliberately providing incomplete and out-of-context information to provoke these headlines such as “75% are faking” and other similar attacks.

In short, I do not trust the government, I believe the welfare reform bill to be an irresponsible, mean, penny-pinching and harmful piece of legislation that was drafted without thought or care for the evidence of its impact. I urge you to pause this legislation and review its impact, or at the very least, do not overturn some of the meagre efforts that the Lords have made to mitigate some of its worse effects.

Yours Sincerely,

Steven Sumpter.

Welfare Reform Bill protest news links

A wheel and a foot with a chain across them

Yesterday’s protest went amazingly well. I’m not functioning enough to write much about it yet, but here are some news links. I will add more as I find them. Please sign the petition to stop and review the welfare reform bill and read Why I protested [My own blog]

 

Mainstream media

Disabled people protest at Welfare Reform Bill [BBC video]

Protesters show anger over Welfare Reform Bill [BBC]

Campaigners protest in London over disability cuts [BBC Breakfast video]

BBC Radio news headlines [BBC London 94.9 FM] (Jump to 57 minutes)

Disability campaigners stage central London protest against welfare reforms [Guardian with video]

Disabled bring Oxford Circus to a halt in welfare cuts demonstration [Mirror]

Wheelchair users chain themselves together and blocked central London over welfare cuts [Mail on Sunday]

Disabled Protesters Block Regent Street [Sky News]

Disability campaigners occupy Oxford Circus [ITN Video]

The demonisation of the disabled is a chilling sign of the times [The Observer]

Disabled Protesters Block Regent Street [LBC]

 

Blogs and photos

Activists join together to fight ConDem attacks on the disabled [Indymedia]

stop the welfare bill – civil disobedience [Indymedia] Great report with lots of photos

Disabled People’s Protest In Oxford Circus [Personal report from Pseudodeviant]

“Because I’d rather die than go back into an institution”  [Benefit Scrounging Scum]

An ‘amazing success’ – disabled protest blocks Oxford Circus [Coalition of resistance]

I’d Rather Die Than Go Back Into An Institution [CWU Northwest]

Disabled people lead central London blockade in Welfare Benefits protest [Ekklesia]

Photo sets: Demotix1 Demotix2 DPAC [Flickr]

 

We also got some attention from a Tory Basildon Councillor.

https://twitter.com/#!/CllrMackenzie/status/163239121161175040

And a great reply from @pseudodeviant

https://twitter.com/#!/pseudodeviant/status/163266240213811200