At the invitation of both the TUC and the Metropolitan Police, Liberty provided around 130 legal observers for the protest on 26 March 2011, including two in the force’s Special Operations Room. Pairs of observers were stationed at 35 fixed points, and around 50 moved with different sections of the march.
Given the volume of protesters and the number of police officers involved, Liberty was impressed by the generally peaceful nature of the protest. However, the report highlights the following issues:
- The principal criticism is the Metropolitan Police’s attitude towards kettling. It was clear to observers on the day that the fatally-flawed tactic was under near constant consideration, and there appeared to be a continual expectation that a containment would be imposed at some point. Kettling is a blunt, resource-heavy and logistically difficult tactic and it is difficult to understand why it has become such a favoured option when policing protest.
- There were frequent problems with the communications technology between the Special Operations Room, Bronze commanders and police officers on the ground, which often led to confusion. Radios did not work effectively, and officers had to resort to using mobile phones.
- Placards bearing swear words were confiscated and protesters’ personal details were taken by police – possibly with the public order offence of causing harassment, alarm or distress in mind. The inclusion of expletives on a placard alone does not constitute such an offence and Liberty questions whether the police had lawful grounds for such actions.
Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said: “As people the world over struggle for basic freedoms, the March for the Alternative was for the most part, a real example of good-natured, well-organised and proportionately policed protest. But the preoccupation with “kettling” and political pressure for knee-jerk public order powers continue to threaten the right to peaceful dissent in the oldest unbroken democracy.”
Contrary to political and media pundits, Liberty observed no evidence of a need for additional police powers.
Liberty’s legal observation extended to the Metropolitan Police’s planning for the TUC demonstration, the policing of the official march itself and the rally in Hyde Park.
Contact: Liberty press office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831128