Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Second G20 assault spurs MetPol inquiry

The Independents Police Complaints Commission [IPCC] are to investigate an alleged assault on a young female by a police officer at G20 protests in London. The incident has prompted inquiries into police procedures as well as the behaviour of some officers.

Footage shows assault

Video footage has emerged which shows the officer striking the protester about the face before hitting her on the leg with his baton [You Tube]. During the incident the protester is heard to shout obscenities at the police apparently in anger at another demonstrator who was pushed by other officers [BBC / Sky News / This is London].

Second investigation by IPCC

The incident is the second such accusation of police brutality. The IPCC are already investigating an assault on Ian Tomlinson a newspaper seller who was pushed to the ground by a police officer as he walked through the city on 1st April. Tomlinson later died from a heart attack.

The following day many protesters had gathered in the city some expressing anger at the death of Ian Tomlinson. Many were contained by cordons of police in an procedure known as kettling. The controversial crowd control method has been criticised as being inhumane.

Police methods criticised

Speaking on Sky News recently, former Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddock described the procedure as a “tried and tested method” of crowd control. However some believe kettling only serves to antagonise a potentially volatile gathering of protesters. There are also issues of human rights with some pointing out the problems arising after several hours without food, water or toilet facilities. The containment method also appears to be counter to Article 5 of the Human Rights Act which sets out the right not to be deprived of liberty except in five well-defined exceptions. The exceptions concern detention to effect a lawful arrest or compliance with a court order, detention of a child who is unsupervised or of a person in breach of immigration rules, or "the lawful detention of persons for the prevention of the spreading of infectious diseases, of persons of unsound mind, alcoholics or drug addicts or vagrants" [Guardian].

Containment tactics were first used over a long period of time on 1 May 2001 when an anti-capitalist protest at Oxford Circus was corralled by the police for seven hours in bad weather and with no access to toilet facilities.

On 1st April some groups of protesters were contained for more than seven hours. And it wasn’t just supposed violent or unruly protesters who were kettled in. One peaceful protester complained to Sky News that she had been prevented from leaving despite explaining she needed to return home to pick up her child from school. Even members of the press found themselves unable to escape. Journalists not holding a UK press card found themselves in the same predicament as the demonstrators. “My colleagues from China couldn’t get out,” one journalist told tvnewswatch. “I managed to get out by showing my press card but they only had Chinese press cards” Ma, who works for a news agency, said.

Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton & Wallington, writing in the Times said that even British journalists were not allowed to leave despite offering legitimate credentials and contact information [The Times].

Eventually people were released but only after complying to “police requests” for name, address and a submission to being photographed. Amongst protesters the tactic is widely believed to dissuade people from attending future demonstrations and effectively stifle the right to democratic protest [Guardian].

Officers suspended as police launch review

Both officers involved in the two IPCC investigations have been suspended and now the Metropolitan Police has said it is to review its kettling policy. “A number of complaints have been raised in relation to the tactic of containment" Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said today. He said that he has asked Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary to review policing tactics [BBC]. It remains to be seen what the findings might be given that the House of Lords have previously rejected claims to compensation by demonstrators kettled in during the 2001 protests. The Lords ruled that the police had behaved lawfully on that occasion.

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