Monday, June 29, 2009

MPs condemn police tactics at G20 protest.

British MP's have produced a report into the G20 protests which is "highly critical" of police behaviour during this demonstration.

The report by the cross-party group of MPs says they "cannot condone the use of untrained, inexperienced officers on the frontline of a public protest under any circumstances".

Their inquiry also calls for the police to seriously consider whether they can continue with the use of tactics such as kettling – containing protesters behind cordons for a sustained period of time – and the controlled use of force against those who appear hostile without first holding a public debate over the future of policing public protests.

During the G20 protests the Met repeatedly attempted to "kettle" thousands of mainly peaceful demonstrators .

The technique is widely believed to have sparked angry confrontations with protesters, who complained that they were penned in for hours and subjected to baton charges.

The tactic of "kettling" would not be acceptable were the police to attempt it on a football crowd, so why are they allowed to use such a tactic against peaceful protesters?

The argument that some in the crowd might wish to cause trouble would be equally applicable to football supporters, and yet the practice would be clearly seen as counter productive were it to be used in such a non political situation.

Officers in charge of the Met's public order operations have been lobbying hard to retain the kettling tactic, which they regard as an effective method of preventing unruly protests from spreading through large areas of a city.

The select committee stops short of commenting on the death of the newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson or the case of Nicola Fisher, who was struck across the face by a police sergeant. But the MPs say that the images and film footage of those incidents shocked the public and have the potential to undermine trust in the police. They hoped the incidents would mark the start of a widespread debate on the use of force by the police.

"The basic principle that the police must remember is that protesters are not criminals – the police's doctrine must remain focused on allowing protest to happen peacefully," said Keith Vaz, the committee chairman.

The police at the G20 summit decided to treat all protesters as if they were potential criminals, rather than citizens who were enjoying one of their most basic rights; the right to protest.

And, when one realises that certain members of the police force removed their badge numbers before engaging with the public, then one can imagine that they did so because they intended to take part in actions for which they did not want to be held accountable later on.

It is undeniable that certain parts of the G20 crowd set out to create trouble, but it is equally undeniable that certain innocents - especially Ian Tomlinson - were treated as criminals by the police simply because of the fact that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The police themselves are claiming that inexperience was behind much of the police behaviour.

During the Commons inquiry, Commander Bob Broadhurst, the "gold commander" in charge of the G20 policing operation, told the MPs that there had not been any large-scale disorder in London for a number of years of the kind seen summer after summer in the 1980s and 1990s: "That means I now have a workforce of relatively young people that we draw on who are policing Sutton High Street one day and the next day called into central London."

He said there were 2,500 officers who had only two days of public order training a year and the vast majority of whom had never faced a situation as violent as the G20 protest before.

"That may also be why one or two of them, as you have seen on television, may have used inappropriate force at times ... I would probably say that was probably more fear and lack of control, whereas our experience in the past is the more we experience these things, the less quick officers are to go to the use of force because they understand more the dynamics," he said.

It sounds very convenient to me to blame "inexperienced youngsters" for the brutality which we witnessed at the G20 summit, as the people caught on film didn't look to me like they were puppies on their first day on the job.

But the MP's are making the point that this must simply never happen again. Protesting is not a crime in this country, and the police would do well to remember that.

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