Wednesday, 25 July 2012

New Report Highlights Clampdown On Protest Freedoms

In the piece I wrote on Monday reflecting on the verdict in the trial of PC Harwood, I mentioned the imminent publication of new research by the Network for Police Monitoring, which provides evidence of how the 'window of opportunity' for change after the G20 protests in 2009 has closed remarkably quickly. That report has now been published and is available from here [PDF, 10.2 Mb].

The report, funded by the Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust, covers a fourteen month period from late 2010 to the end of 2011, beginning with mass student protests in London that grabbed the headlines and left lawyers grappling with the legality of holding school-age children using the tactic of containment known as ‘kettling’ for hours on end in freezing conditions.

However, many other protests took place in London and around the country during 2011, many of them raising additional concerns about the proportionality of protest policing. As well as kettling, NetPol's reserach documents the use of solid steel barriers to restrict the movement of protesters; intrusive and excessive use of stop & search and data gathering; and the pre-emptive arrests of people who have committed no crime. These tactics have combined to enable an effective clamp-down on almost all forms of popular street-level dissent.

One of the most disturbing developments has been the use of pre-emptive arrests in advance of last year's royal wedding, which only last week was ruled lawful after an unsuccessful judicial review at the Royal Courts of Justice. Ten people on their way to a republican party and a small group of people dressed as zombies were detained while drinking coffee in Starbucks. At the same time, another man was arrested, simply because he was a ‘known anarchist’.There is more information on these cases on the Pageantry and Pre-Crime website.

The report also highlights the use of ‘section 60’ stop and searches, which require no ‘reasonable suspicion’ and have been disproportionately targeted at young people taking part in protests. In some cases under eighteen year olds have been threatened with being taken into ‘police protection’ if they participated in demonstrations. NetPol is also critical of the invasive but routine use of police data gathering tactics, which oblige protesters to stand and pose in front of police camera teams and to provide their personal details. Evidence suggests an increasing misuse of anti-social behaviour legislation to force protesters to provide a name and address under threat of arrest.

Val Swain, commenting on the report’s launch on behalf of NetPol, said:
“The evidence we have gathered has been published just as news emerges of further pre-emptive arrests and other restrictions on the freedom to protest taking place in advance of this summer’s London Olympics. With an apparent willingness by the courts to defend any actions by the police against protesters, we fear that dissenting voices face an even harsher clamp-down in the weeks to come.”

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