The following official complaint was filed yesterday with the IPCC, the body that fields complaints against the British police, by an EDL supporter who attended last Saturday’s truncated EDL demonstration in Walthamstow. The complainant was kettled along with the rest of the EDL for eight hours, handcuffed, “arrested”, and then released.
We need dozens (hundreds, even) more complaints like this one. If you were kettled at Blackhorse Road on Saturday like this gentleman, please consider filing a formal complaint.
I’m told that it’s also possible to sue the Metropolitan Police (pdf).
03 September 2012
I wish to make a formal complaint against the Metropolitan Police in regard to their behaviour, policing style and methods, and general actions on September 1st, in particular regard to their ‘kettling’ operation at Blackhorse Road underground station, resulting in a clear breach of Article 5 of the Human Rights Act (HRA), and consisting of Unlawful Detention, amongst several other legal breaches.
I am contacting you by way of an official complaint (and I trust that you will respond informing me that you are treating it as such) in order to give you an opportunity to remedy the situation without the need for a costly and time-consuming court action, or the need to instruct a solicitor so as to obtain Full Disclosure from yourselves as to the thinking that led to this complete failure of the Metropolitan Police. However, I reserve the right to take this matter up with my solicitors should you fail to respond in an appropriate and reasonable manner to the opportunity hereby given to you.
As you are no doubt aware, on September 1st the Metropolitan Police, after losing control of a violent counter-demonstration to an agreed English Defence League (EDL) march in Walthamstow, East London, first held EDL marchers for approximately two hours, with no access to toilets, medical facilities, food, water, or rest areas, outside of Walthamstow Magistrates’ Court (a court building with all these facilities), while they tried, and failed, to contain the violent counter-demonstration. Amongst those held in these conditions were at least one pregnant woman, and an elderly gentleman with leg injuries who had lost his medically-required foot covering during an assault by counter-demonstrators, and had been forced to walk for about thirty minutes on his bare foot. He was told, several times, that his foot-covering would be returned to him if he just kept going. It never was, and no replacement or medical attention was offered or given, a clear breach of the Disability Discrimination Act (which requires any reasonable action that can be taken to assist a disabled person to be taken; there were several dozen police vehicles within twenty yards of him at all times, but no offer for him to sit in one of these was made, nor any First Aid from the various First Aiders present in the police ranks was given) as well as the basic Duty of Care. Finally, after conceding that they could not effectively police the counter-demonstration, the EDL marchers were asked to return to Blackhorse Road underground station, where we were told our coaches would be waiting to take away those demonstrators who had travelled from outside of London, while the remainder would be put on a train and removed from the area. This was agreed to, with no protest, despite the obvious failure of the police’s tactics on the day to prevent violence, damage to public and private property, or to allow an agreed rally to take place.
After another hour-long trek back to Blackhorse Road underground station, heavily delayed by the repeated failure of the police operation to prevent groups of violent counter demonstrators to block the route and attempt, at several points, to attack the march, throwing eggs, bricks and bottles, the police decided not to allow anyone to board a train. This was initially announced to be because the police were waiting for the EDL coaches to return, and all EDL members would then be moved out of the area at the same time. Again, marchers agreed to this with no violence on their part, although regular phone calls from friends in the area and twitter updates on various sites showed that large-scale disorder was continuing in the surrounding area, and a large part of it was fuelled by the fact that the EDL was still in the borough, this being seen by the more violent and less restrained elements amongst them as a provocation and as an ‘EDL rally’.
After approx thirty minutes, the coaches arrived, and were promptly ordered away by the police. Numerous requests were made to the police to be allowed to leave, under escort if required, either on the coaches or on the train (the station by this time being open and in use). This was refused.
There is little point in listing a blow-by-blow account of the almost eight hours that we were detained at Blackhorse Road. A few edited highlights should be enough:
- People were denied any freedom of movement, being kept in a confined area, which became ever-more confined as the police, for whatever reason, decided to move forward a few feet at a time throughout the eight hours, eventually making it almost impossible to do anything other than stand.
- No toilet or water facilities were offered for almost six hours. Despite repeated requests, and the fact that there were both shops and a station with toilet facilities only a few feet away, we were told that it was ‘not possible’ to allow us to use them. People had no choice but to urinate in the street. The station and shop facilities were, however, made available to police officers. Constables who were forming the line could only tell us that they had been told that we were not allowed to move, if we wanted a different answer we had to speak with the inspectors and superintendent who were there. They simply refused to speak. Eventually, one pregnant woman was allowed, under escort, to use the station toilet – on returning, she informed us that she had had to use the station staff toilet, as the public toilets were being used by the counter-demonstrators who were being ‘kettled’ round the corner; these same counter-demonstrators were being provided with water by the police, two things which we had been told were ‘not possible’ for us. The counter-demonstrators were also being allowed to leave in groups when they requested it.
- Eventually, after about six hours, two porta-loos arrived, and a police officer started distributing water, but only an hour (at least) after water was distributed to the counter-demonstrators, and only after several people had had to receive First Aid for dehydration.
- One group of about fifty people who had travelled from the North of England (Newcastle area, I believe, but I may be wrong about that) received a call to say that there coach was on the M1 heading away, with all their possessions on it. The driver informed them that the police had ordered him to leave without his passengers. Asked about this, a police officer called a ‘senior officer’ on his radio and confirmed that they had told drivers to leave the area as ‘we were to be held for a long time yet’ and that they thought the presence of coaches was ‘provocative’. One constable laughed and said it was no problem, as it was only about £25 for them to get home.
- In all, it was about eight hours before the police arranged for two London double-decker busses to arrive to move people to Kings Cross station. I was fortunate in that I was placed on one of these, and did not have far to travel (how people who had missed their last train or coach, or had had their transport removed by the police, got home, I do not know). I was searched and ‘arrested’ for Breach of the Peace, handcuffed, and put on the bus with a personal police escort, as was everyone else. The ‘arrest’ was a joke, as we were all released without charge at Kings Cross station twenty minutes or so later, as the bus pulled in. The ‘arrest’ was even more of a farce, as I refused to give my name or address and nothing was made of this. Presumably to add to our ritual humiliation, most people had the handcuffs removed in the street, although in my case it may have been because the officer escorting me had lost his handcuff key and had to borrow one from another officer. As a specific question, which I would like answered, could you tell me if it is legal to handcuff someone when they have a) shown no sign of violence or resistance, and there is no likelihood that they will; b) there is no intention to charge them with anything, and they have been informed of this prior to being handcuffed; and c) when the officer doing the handcuffing has no way of releasing the handcuffs, should he need to do so in an emergency situation? Minor points compared to the other events of the evening, but ones which do need, I feel, to be answered.
- In précis, eight hours held, in the open and in public, with no basic facilities (toilet, food, water) for six of these, even though they were all available within a few yards and could have been provided with no reduction in the effective control of the EDL members by the police (and it was, it seems, freely given to the more violent counter-demonstrators nearby) – and this following a previous two-to-three hours of being held and herded around East London as the police lost control of the situation. Disabled, elderly, people requiring medication, and at least one pregnant woman, all held in identical conditions, and nobody able to say why – or those that could, refusing to speak. Finally released after a farce of an arrest, but (deliberately?) too late for many people to get home that day, no assistance offered, and at least (and possibly two) coaches that were waiting, willing and able to remove people from the area being ordered away by the police, leaving people stranded in London.
I feel that the above more than clearly describes a fundamental failure of policing on behalf of the Metropolitan Police (by which I mean those who organised the event, if the word ‘organised’ can be applied to such a shambles and failure to deal with the events of the day; by far the majority of the rank-and-file police officers there behaved admirably, were given no more information than the EDL members, and several were visibly distressed at what they were being asked to do, more than one officer actually telling people, myself included, that they should put in a complaint about the tactics being used. Only a small minority of police on duty that day tried to provoke people by laughing and abusing them verbally, and nobody that I saw rose to their bait) and a clear breach of Article 5 of the HRA.
I am aware of the recent (May 2012) European ruling which declared ‘kettling’ to be a legal act, but I would like to remind you that this was only by a majority decision, not unanimous, and even the majority set out very specific limitations and restrictions for when this tactic was to be used. In this situation, very nearly every single one of them, if not all of them, has been broken. In summary:
- The tactic is only to be used when there is an ‘immanent threat of serious public disorder’ – despite some eight hours of kettling, there was no ‘public disorder’, serious or otherwise, nor was there any reason to believe that there would be; at least, not from the EDL members, whose only interest was to leave the area and disperse.
- The court ruled specifically that the tactic was not to be used to ‘directly or indirectly stifle or discourage protest’ – it is very hard to see what other reason there could possible be for these heavy-handed tactics.
- Again, the court specifically stated (and here I quote directly from the court records): “Had it not remained necessary for the police to impose and maintain the cordon in order to prevent serious injury or damage, the “type” of the measure would have been different, and its coercive and restrictive nature might have been sufficient to bring it within article five.” In other words, simply holding people behind a cordon because they can’t think of what else to do, is a clear breach of Article 5 of the HRA.
- Similarly, all police action must be proportionate and reasonable, including for a reasonable period of time. The length of time used here was clearly not proportionate nor reasonable, by any sensible or rational person’s definition.
- Furthermore, the police have a duty, in all circumstances, to prevent a breakdown of law and order. This instance is an example of the police doing exactly the opposite. The EDL demonstration had finished, all participants wanted to leave the area and return home, with the obvious exceptions of those who lived there – three people that I know of were actually marched past their front doors, and refused permission to leave and go home! The continued violence in the area, which it cannot be emphasised enough, did not come, in any shape or form, from the EDL members held in a draughty side-street, continued, in no small measure, because there was still an EDL presence which was inflaming tensions. If the EDL had simply left (and about 75% of the demonstrators had come by coaches, which were parked no more than fifty yards from where the ‘kettle’ was, and so could have been out of the area entirely in minutes, and out of London in half-an-hour, and would have required no more than one or two police vehicles to escort them whichever way was desired by the police; the remaining 150-200 members could very easily have been put onto any train, with as many police officers as deemed necessary, and taken to whatever central London station deemed most appropriate. This was indeed what members had been asking for from their first arrival at Blackhorse Road) then it is almost certain that the tensions in the area would have deflated and the continuing violence would have been considerably less. Of course, there would also have been several hundred police extra to deal with any trouble which did occur!
- All-in-all, it has to be said that not only was this tactic clearly disproportionate and clearly outside of the guidelines set down by the court at Strasbourg in March 2012 (as well as all previous rulings), and so clearly a breach of Article 5 of the HRA, as well as a clearly illegal detention, but in fact the tactic heightened tensions and caused considerable violence and act of vandalism and arson, and even when this was becoming obvious to even the slowest-witted individuals, there seemed to be an inability to charge on the part of the senior police officers in charge. An attitude of ‘now that they are there, let’s keep them there’ and a complete failure to appreciate that this attitude was causing more trouble in the area, let alone an appreciation of UK and European Law, was the most obvious characteristic of this display of Institutional Incompetence from the Metropolitan Police this day.
I look forward to your early, and full, response, so we can see where we go from here,