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Last month, the high court ruled that the Metropolitan police broke the law when they kettled protesters at the G20 demonstrations in 2009. Josh Moos, one of the activists involved in the landmark case, considers the lessons to be learnt
As Hannah McClure and I celebrated our legal victory over the Metropolitan police we simultaneously struggled with the media’s emphasis on possible compensation claims. Our goal in bringing the case against the Met was not damages. In fact, the idea that serious infringements of protest rights can be properly compensated for with money is pretty offensive. People protest to draw attention to what must change for the benefit of everyone in society. Making a police force’s insurance company hand over money to protestors whose rights have been compromised changes very little.
Our goal was to bring the police to account. While the police have a long history of violence against protestors such as Blair Peach back in the 1970s, I found it distressing how they were able to detain thousands of climate change protestors and passers-by for five hours and then make orders that force could be used to compress the protest into a much smaller space and ultimately end it. Much of the force used, especially the use of shields as weapons, was filmed and is disturbing to watch even two years on. The court certainly thought so and was highly critical of shield strikes. The fact that senior police officers could make these decisions and hand down such orders without being reprimanded was, to me, obscene. This “over-zealous” approach can be seen in the current Ian Tomlinson inquest.
In response to the question “Does your training tell you if someone is not a threat to you or any other person it is acceptable to baton them? Is that your training?” PC Harwood, the officer who struck Tomlinson before he died, replied “Yes.” This kind of unaccountability had to be challenged. Kettling, a tactic that has become so much part of the everyday protest experience, similarly had to be challenged.
Our case was not simply about the G20 camp. It was about protest in the UK as a whole. The police should not be able to treat climate change protestors, or anyone else, however they wish and get away with it. However, Sir Hugh Orde, head of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), seems to think otherwise. In early 2011, after previously claiming that the Met had learnt its lessons after the G20 Climate Camp protest, Orde stated that the police could use more extreme tactics against protestors. He defended kettling and claimed that horse charges could be “very useful”. This was in response to the wave of protests that gripped the country following the savage cuts by the Con-Dem coalition.
In the course of these protests there were multiple examples of unreasonable uses of police force, accompanied by an apparent belief on the part of the police in their own immunity. In December 2010, Jodi McIntyre, a cerebral palsy sufferer, was dragged from his wheelchair by police officers on two occasions. An officer justified having done so, claiming that it was “for [Jody’s] own safety”. The previous month had seen tuition fee protestors, as well as children and pregnant women, charged by police on horseback. Despite the Met’s claims to the contrary, a video was posted on Youtube clearly verifying that the crowd had been charged.
After the Kingsnorth Climate Camp in 2009, ministers claimed that 70 police had sustained injuries at the hands of protestors and used this evidence to justify the operation. It later emerged from police records that the injuries comprised sun stroke, bee stings and hands slammed in car doors. In reality, four police officers were injured through contact with climate change protestors, categorised at the lowest level of seriousness. Subsequently, parts of the police operation at Kingsnorth were found by the courts to have been unlawful.
During protests, police do not and will not act in the interests of the people. They are there to maintain the status quo. To do this, the police will use and manipulate any power they are given to its very limits. The police may claim to have “learnt their lesson”, but such statements are undermined by the fact that they have already decided to appeal this most recent judgment. The police learn their lessons not out of choice, but because they are forced to do so. This is why I was part of the team which took out this case against them.
Josh Moos is an activist and campaigner for Plane Stupid