How British cops are criminalising peaceful protest

Citizen K sez,

Last week Lib Dem MP David Howarth held a meeting in Westminster to present a highly disturbing and potentially explosive report on the way police in the UK are criminalising legitimate protest. The report, produced by the Climate Camp's legal support team and entitled Policing of the Kingsnorth Climate Camp: Preventing Disorder or Preventing Protest?, documents a concerted campaign by police to deter, smear, intimidate, harass, and criminalise UK citizens who did nothing more than attempt to exercise their right to peaceful protest.

As well as documenting the alarming police tactics at Kingsnorth, the report also highlights a deliberate attempt to deflect criticism through misinformation. Government justified the heavy-handed approach by revealing that 70 police officers had been injured policing the protest; but a freedom of information request revealed that these 'injuries to police' included such things as heatstroke, toothache and insect bites. Vernon Coaker, the Home Office minister who had made the claim about police injuries, was later forced to apolgise to the House and admit that "there were no recorded injuries to police officers sustained as a result of direct contact with the protestors

A 10-minute video showing the heavy-handed policing was also presented at the launch of the report.

Kingsnorth report reveals shocking police campaign of intimidation against protesters (Thanks, Citizen K!)

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  1. More frequently than ever now, it seems that governments are forgetting the simple fact that they are from, by, and for the people. Hundreds of years of establishment has afforded them a “right” to flex their muscles to maintain power.

    Large entities (governments, corporations, etc.) are forgetting their roots and responsibilities – the people should let those vested with power know that they will be held accountable.

  2. Well, you know, if those protesters weren’t there in the first place, those coppers wouldn’t have sustained the heatstroke, mosquito bites, etc, so it’s ultimately their fault…

  3. I’m from Kent, and it’s pretty depressing (but quite unsurprising) to see the police breaking the law in the name of upholding the law. The police forces in the UK have to be made aware that it is their duty to protect the rights of the people, not to beat the people into compliance for political purposes.

    However, judging by the policeman who said that the police had entered the field with batons drawn to ‘protect the campers’, it might be unlikely that logic would have any effect.

  4. Government sanctioned thugs solely there to protect corporate interests.

    *tries but fails to hum Fuck Da Police*

  5. It’s always like that when I go to protests. I get searched and they never find anything. I’ve always been pretty peaceful even when I got hit for no reason by a cop. What can I do, I’m not so strong and still quite young. One could think that the only thing that protects me against police violence is the law. But civil rights apparently don’t protect protesters. I don’t know how to react to this.

  6. The level of anger I feel from just watching the injustice and misuse of power in that video have once again convinced me I’m doing the smart thing by not showing up at events like this.

  7. This is what the police in Britain (and the US) have always done. Many of them effectively regard themselves as the coercive arm of government, and nothing more.

  8. @blaatann: However, if these abuses of power are to be stopped, we need *more* people to turn out to such events, not less.

  9. as well as stopping the brutality can we do anything to prevent the police giving smart aleck answers to reasonable questions?

    ‘ooh you can ask me but it doesnt mean i’ll answer, fnar fnar’

  10. So the whole point of Climate Camp was to break the law? And they’re upset that the police didn’t let them do it? Does Climate Camp have the right to shut down the coal plant by occupying it?

    From the report itself:
    “Civil disobedience most typically takes the form of protesters placing their bodies in the way of processes to which they object, for instance blockading roads or occupying machinery. Occasionally, it has also taken the form of criminal damage […some civil disobedience has been vindicated by history…] we believe that such retrospective vindication might well also have been earned by any civil disobedience carried out at Kingsnorth, had it been possible to actually get past the police and do it.”

    They said they were planning bad things, and the police reacted. Okay.

    Now the wide confiscation of harmless items, and the adding of protesters to databases, is scary stuff indeed, but it’s hard to feel sorry for them.

  11. @agger: Yeah, but even though I’m not a violent person, I get so angry with these people, I can’t help but think that my presence would be more of a problem than anything else.

    I would have loved to go all “V for Vendetta” on the bastards though..

  12. What the hell has happened to that country?! Between the fascist police (and there isn’t anything else you can call it), and the corporate security state set up by New Labour. There isn’t much difference between Britain and some tin pot dictatorship. Just the thin veneer of free democracy, and the promise of not being harassed by the police as long as you go along with whatever the government proposes.

  13. DESPREZ:

    “So the whole point of Climate Camp was to break the law?”

    Hardly the whole point. If certain people attending were planning on occupying machinery or premises, or causing criminal damage, then it would be up to the police to arrest those people.

    They don’t have a right to inflict widespread intimidation, violence, confiscation, questioning, searching and obstruction of peaceful protest on everyone attending (and apparently some nearby residents, as well).

    They would also do themselves a massive favour if they stopped talking to people in such an obtuse, snide and/or abusive way. I’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of behaviour from police myself (as I’m sure many here have) and it does absolutely nothing to defuse a potentially chaotic situation.

    Then again, maybe the sunburn and bee stings were making them cranky, poor diddums.

  14. @Desprex: Yeah, the seventy year old man with the walking stick was clearly planning some unlawful shenanigans, clearly they stopped him in his tracks:

    “Carol, a Legal Observer, reported that a man in his mid-70s had his walking stick seized, on the grounds that it could be used as an offensive weapon, by PC 2475 from the Welsh Police during a search at the Golf Club search point on 8th August 2008 at approximately 12.35pm. The man asked her to approach the officers to ask for it to be returned. She was told that he could not have it back unless he gave his personal details, which he refused to do.”

  15. “There isn’t much difference between Britain and some tin pot dictatorship.”

    That’s not really true. At all. Try living in Britain, and/or in a “tin-pot dictatorship”, and see the difference.

    It doesn’t do the situation any good to exaggerate. It simply makes the objectors look hysterical, and in turn the authorities give them a patronising pat on the head, a smirking wink to the media and wider uncaring public, and go about their business.

  16. I have never been to a protest in the UK (or any non-American one) and I have begun to notice a theme among protesters to piss off cops.

    Now I get the whole Police-abuse-powers problem, and I do not condone it, But I like the police, I like that if something terrible happens I have at least a 60% chance that the police will help me.

    So it irks me when protesters try their darnedest to piss of coppers at protests. I am from Seattle, look up some critical mass videos from Seattle and you can see some prime examples of people being moronic while protesting.

    2 Examples:

    KIDS- What the hell people? DO NOT BRING BABIES OR KIDS TO POSSIBLE VIOLENT SITUATIONS. Using children as a credibility shield is in very poor taste. This protest seems like a good kid friendly one, but still, don’t be that person who champions arbitrary justice against the thin blue wall with the wails of her very frightened children.

    Cameras- We all have them now, please learn camera discretion. A camera is a WEAPON to a police officer because they live in a world of BLAME. If you can trap a police officer in a crime good for you, but realize what it is you are doing, TRAPPING AN OFFICER, now I am no trapper but I think a pretty good rule is to NOT wave your trap around in your preys face.

    You can not have a society without cops, they are a part of it. Protesters need to think of even greater ways to get the message out without enraging cops or crossing the line. We KNOW that cops have power and we KNOW that they can abuse it, so don’t try to kid yourself into being shocked when they DO abuse the power.

    It isn’t new or novel to scream at the police in a protest. The police are not the ones you are protesting. You can not directly fight a policeman. You have given them the power to control/detain/fight you as the price for society and protection. These are all things you will know BEFORE protesting so change up your game!

    Adapt and return fire!

  17. “So the whole point of Climate Camp was to break the law? ”

    Oh look, someone deliberately misunderstanding things so he has an excuse to support the violent thugs.

    Well that was completely expected.

  18. As an Englishman living in the States, I’ve always been proud of my home – particularly with how America has changed since 9/11. Today, for the first time in my life, I am ASHAMED to be an Englishman.

  19. I’m sorry, but when you can’t protest peacefully, have your property taken by agents of the state, be arrested for taking pictures of the police, not be able to walk around without being on cctv most of the time, get slapped with an ASBOS for not being like the rest of your neighbours, have to submit to police searches on the street, show your papers on demand…

    Maybe its easier to see from the outside.

    Lets face it, if you are fairly well to do, or go along with being pushed around by the cops, or both. Then Britain will seem like a really great place to live. You get to vote every few years for people saying pretty much the same things, and you can spend money on consumer items. If however, you happen to speak up about any of this bullshit being stuffed down your throat, like big business coal fired power plants (in this day and age!?!?). Then you are going to have a big, power-tripping cop kneeling on your neck. With your camera confiscated, a few bruises and a bunch of trumped up charges slapped on you. Just like in the U.S.A.

    Your politicians are letting terrorists win, because they gain from it personally. They start off with all this crap in order to protect you from a largely imaginary enemy. Then they use what you have given up to protect themselves and their big business buddies from their enemy. You. Government and terrorists – 1, you – 0.

    Britain needs some good old fashioned Poll Tax riots. Its not nice, but its probably going to be the only thing that will reverse what has happened in your country. Electing the Conservative wont work. They’re sitting their wishing they could have done all this themselves.

  20. @#25: “It isn’t new or novel to scream at the police in a protest. The police are not the ones you are protesting.”

    Maybe they should be protested.

  21. This is just ridiculous. If the protestors started damaging the plant or harassing power station staff then by all means lock them up.

    Marching into a random field and attacking people with truncheons is just hooliganism and the police should be arresting themselves.

    All that the police have done is drive peaceful protestors towards illegal actions. I mean, if you’re going to get arrested and beaten for singing protest songs in a field, you’re better off sneaking into the plant at night with some boltcutters and busting stuff up.

    I’m impressed by the resolve of the protestors to refrain from turning the event into a brawl. I’m not sure I’d stay so peaceful if my friends were being hit with truncheons.

    Also, why the hell haven’t I seen this on the main BBC news. Are they too busy reporting on Jade Goody’s wedding?

  22. All cops are the enemy of freedom due to the fact that not one of them made a peep about what they (cops)are doing is wrong. Good little-minded government drones coming to a police state near you.

  23. Fenrox,

    I don’t know where to start with your comment.

    DO NOT BRING BABIES OR KIDS TO POSSIBLE VIOLENT SITUATIONS.

    Dude, the violence spoken of here was on the part of the police. Why aren’t you saying, “Hey, police, stop beating people up!” Why are you talking to the victims and not the perpetrators?

    Plus, great message to send your kids about civic engagement. Only for grown-ups! Don’t worry your sweet little head about it! Stay at home and play your X-box!

    I’m always happy to see kids at protests, because children deserve a voice in their society and have the right to express themselves.

    A camera is a WEAPON to a police officer because they live in a world of BLAME. If you can trap a police officer in a crime good for you, but realize what it is you are doing, TRAPPING AN OFFICER, now I am no trapper but I think a pretty good rule is to NOT wave your trap around in your preys face.

    You are not “trapping” a police officer when you photograph him/her committing a crime. You are CATCHING him/her. The photo isn’t a trap, it’s EVIDENCE. Someday, when we all wear super-tiny spy cameras, we will be able to take your advice. Until then, let’s keep cameras legal and punish police officers who try to steal them or erase photos, OK?

    You are right that a civil society requires a police force of some kind. Just not this kind.

  24. #25 “How can you blame the police for BREAKING THE LAW, when all you protesters do is go around CATCHING THE POLICE BREAKING THE LAW, and then making them look bad by beating your children with truncheons, when they only meant to beat YOU with truncheons!”

    The International Brotherhood of Unashamed Sociopaths should put you on its pamphlet covers.

  25. around 11:13 – obviously someone watched too many times 300 ??

    this is simply ridiculous, it only shows how highly incapable this police force is

  26. Crap, I was posting something and wanted to get into it and the browser crashed and posted part of it.

    Anyway, I am not on the police side of this argument, they are laugh-out-loud crazy and wrong in this situation. These protesters are AMAZING for not going insane and rioting over all the crap the officers tried to do.

    Hell even from a benign angle the whole thing looks wrong, I mean, were the police out there just to counter this coal thing? Were they there to see if they can incite a riot at a protest? If there were no police there at all what would have happened?

    I am for protesters changing up the way they protest.
    @28 – HELL YES they need a protest against the police! the police in that area have gone mental with power!

    But if you are fighting the police you are going to have to plan for all the bad things that will come with that. And this peaceful simple protest of coal goes to show that more training is needed for ALL protests on the side of the protesters! If you cant have a bike ride around a coal factory to protest it then the nature of protests has changed and protesters need to change accordingly.

    @31 – I didn’t post that… if that is you reworking my words then you are a dick, also I might need to take a couple of writing classes if that’s what i sound like. (see what I did there? I said TWO things! It’s like my rant where I tried to tell protesters that they should change up the way they protest by taking both sides but then random internet people decided that I was wrong. Gooood times.) cock.

  27. Nothing new here. google “miner’s strike police”. Or “Wapping dispute” or “Grundig dispute”. The UK cops have always had strange ideas about their place in society :(

  28. @FENROX

    Cameras- We all have them now, please learn camera discretion. A camera is a WEAPON to a police officer because they live in a world of BLAME. If you can trap a police officer in a crime good for you, but realize what it is you are doing, TRAPPING AN OFFICER, now I am no trapper but I think a pretty good rule is to NOT wave your trap around in your preys face.

    Good. We live in a society where the police also have cameras, however it is not uncommon for their film to miraculously vanish when it might condemn them for a crime. If a police officer is so stupid or through-and-through a villain as to commit a crime while staring into the lens of a camera we don’t want them on the force.

    Police officers are not prey—as I said above they also have cameras—according to this logic they’re carrying with them traps for themselves. Having and knowing that multiple parties control multiple cameras will keep more people honest, because if the police mysteriously lose their film, suddenly they aren’t free of the burden of evidence, they’ve just buried their side of the story instead.

  29. that video made me cry.

    but that’s the way cops are. the more people see reports like this and awareness increases, the better.

    they can’t get away with this!

  30. The one bright point about this – if there is one – at least our police can’t carry guns – yet.

    Someone in charge of the police forces at the protest needs some serious re-education though – allowing officers under their control to raise batons as a threat is a major no-no, there is no way for the police to then back down and allow the situation to calm, once the baton is raised the only step remaining is to bring it down, normally on the head of someone who is offending them by shouting loudly. I think most of the police have never heard of ‘Sticks and stones might break your bones but words will never hurt you’ – at every protest I’ve been to, the police seem to think people shouting is a personal affront to their masculinity and can only react violently

  31. Well, at least they haven’t started dressing up cops as protesters and getting them to start fights with their undisguised brethren.

    Yet.

  32. I wholeheartedly support the confiscation of clown outfits from any public gathering.

    Hopefully the police will find out you can’t confiscate feces from a large group.

  33. BB previously covered the seizure of the “cache of weapons” and a copy of the War on Terror boardgame. The same incident shows up in the report linked above:

    There are two mechanisms which encourage police to exaggerate the risks of violence posed by protesters. Firstly, since it would be difficult to defend spending £5.9m in order to secure E.ON’s private property against incursions from trespassers, the police are under pressure to justify their budget, which in turn encourages them to exaggerate violence on the part of protesters.

    Secondly, if the police can claim to reasonably believe that violence is likely it triggers a number of powers useful to their operation, particularly the power to prevent a breach of the peace and the power to authorise a s.60 stop and search order.

    A particularly extreme example of this occurred on August 5, the day after the police had received generally negative media coverage for heavy-handed behaviour inside the camp. Carefully tapping into a very current public concern about knife crime, police ran a press release claiming a ‘weapons cache’ of (mostly) knives had been found in the woods near the camp. The Assistant Chief Commissioner of Police is cited as saying “I would suggest that a minority of people had hidden them with the intention of causing harm to police officers, and possibly to the horses or dogs that we are using.”

    Although it is impossible to prove, we simply do not believe that the ACC genuinely believed this accusation. Most of the knives publicly displayed by the police were kitchen knives, which had an obvious use in the camp. Many people resorted to leaving items likely to be seized outside the camp, simply to avoid the inconvenience of having them confiscated and the hassle of then reclaiming them.

  34. “When you make peaceful protest impossible, you make violent protest inevitable.”

    That’s what I’m starting to think too…
    It has come to the point where I’m happy when the black block is at a protest. To me, they are a form of protection against police brutality.

  35. When you make peaceful protest impossible, apathetic, online warriors fill out form letters of protest on the internet.

    You have to get your body out there and put it in harms way. The police aren’t worried about this, its what they hope you’ll do. Who it really worries are their masters. The politicians. Who are almost always a pack of pussies who hide behind the cops.

    If things continue with the economy and you get a large segment of the population out of work and not able to afford basic cable anymore. Then you will start seeing some real protests. The kind where the police are afraid to step out from behind their shields.

    Martin Luther King Jr. led peaceful protests that were inspiring and will be remembered for a long time as a model for protest. However, those who followed him, like Malcolm X, grew impatient with the lack of results that this noble undertaking garnered. Turning to more radical forms of protest in order to get the results they wanted. Its just human nature really.

    I’m older now and a father, so I hope my more radical days are over for me now. No more G7 and G8 protests for me. I hope however, that the younger generation will be able to take up where I and others, and those before us left off, and do something besides get really angry online.

  36. power without accountability breeds cowards. It seems a whole generation of police have grown up there used to freely abusing power and laughing in the faces they stamp their boots on.

    This summer there will be significant change in the nature of protest. Government oppression, police abuse and culmination economic turmoil means that a whole new class will be taking their displeasure to the streets. I predicate before the year ends, mass protest will be violently put down with excessive force resulting in the deaths of protesters. This will likely be a result of arrogance from a police culture that has not been challenged by consequences. In the demonstrations that follow, police will take real casualties too. This will come as a shock to them as they really are just operating at the simple minded bully level. Their owners in government though will be rubbing their claws together in glee and preparing to roll out the military.

  37. Stuff like that is why some ppl here are talking about forming a non-lethal militia. A shield brigade to protect protesters FROM the police. Riot shields with no weapons. It is fully self-defense, so the ones who look bad if anything happens are the police.

  38. For all the public image of the unarmed British bobby, the UK police when have always been rather heavy handed towards protesters.

    I learnt the hard way when they decided to break up the Poll Tax protest in London in 1990. We were bottled in by lines of riot police while another group drove riot vans into the crowd. I happened to have one end of a large banner & so made a convenient target. Although there was apparently unrest in other parts of the crowd the mood near me was calm until the vans tried to run us over…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poll_tax_riots

  39. “When you make peaceful protest impossible, apathetic, online warriors fill out form letters of protest on the internet.”

    Eh? Because these people getting angry about it on the net can’t therefore be out protesting as well?

    Modern protest thinks and organises to a large degree on the internet. It seems possible to me that people discussing these issues on a comments forum is likely to inspire more people to attend protests.

    And in return, why would your being older and a father prevent you from attending protests?

  40. Political policing in the UK is nothing new and not confined to the current government. In the 80s Thatcher’s Conservative government also committed war crimes and used the police as their personal hired thugs. Then as now it was the Met (London) police who were the worst offenders. Their economic policies also tore the country a new one, just as now.

  41. Stuff like that is why some ppl here are talking about forming a non-lethal militia. A shield brigade to protect protesters FROM the police. Riot shields with no weapons. It is fully self-defense, so the ones who look bad if anything happens are the police.

    I suspect you would in fact look bad. The plainclothes cops behind your shield lines would see to it by throwing rocks or molotov cocktails until the appropriate images appeared in the media.

  42. TAKUAN:

    My brother was the journalist who originally covered that story. It’s fucking shocking, and a pay-out alone would be bordering on offensive.

  43. Online protest is bullshit. Its like protest-lite; all the fun and none of the danger. Unfortunately, also without any of the oomph that gets politicians to actually act upon the issue at hand. Its just a bunch of emails and screechy web pages that government can harrumph about. But never have to really do anything about.

    Organizing live protest online is an invaluable tool for modern protest. It makes everything easier than it used to be. This is an altogether different thing from online protest. It may actually be the first useful thing that anyone finds to use Twitter for. This is organizing though, not actual protest.

    As for protesting now, in my later years. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t, but I have to be more careful now. Man, when I went out and protest, police needed their shields. Getting cracked over the head and brutally kicked while on the ground bleeding (true story). Then being thrown into jail for a week, is not something a guy who has to provide a home for his kids should be doing. G7 protests are what I think of when you say the word ‘protest’. I would have loved to have been in Britain for the Poll Tax protests. Really trying to make a difference.

    Sitting around singing Koombyaa and holding hands as a form of protest, all the while letting the police search and seize from me. That would make me feel the same as if I was protesting online from the comfort of my living room. Like a fraud.

    A word of warning for any young people who want to go out and tear it up with the cops. When you throw something at them or take a swing at them, they are going to come at you like you would not believe. So be prepared to take a beating, or run really fast. Also, I speak from experience in Canada. Where the police tend not to be quite so murderous or swift to use rubber bullets. Keep that in mind as well.

  44. “Organizing live protest online is an invaluable tool for modern protest. It makes everything easier than it used to be. This is an altogether different thing from online protest. It may actually be the first useful thing that anyone finds to use Twitter for. This is organizing though, not actual protest.”

    I was talking about organisation on-line rather than action on-line, though the two are not completely distinct.

    “Getting cracked over the head and brutally kicked while on the ground bleeding (true story). Then being thrown into jail for a week, is not something a guy who has to provide a home for his kids should be doing.”

    I can see that, but this is a particular form of protest that is pretty infrequent by comparison to peaceful protest. I’ve been part of both kinds, and they both have their up- and down-sides. Violent protests may scare the authorities more, and therefore result in positive, reactive change. But they also make it easier for the authorities and media to demonise the protesters, and to sideline the issues they’re fighting for. It makes it easier to impress the (false) distinction between “yobbish protesters” and “good, honest, hard-working families”. Peaceful protest’s main problem is that it’s so fucking easy to ignore – look at the anti-war protests in the early 00’s.

    I would also add that the Poll Tax riots were a somewhat different beast (as far as I understand – I was barely out the womb), because while violent, they didn’t allow for the distinction I mentioned above, as it was clearly “honest, hard-working families” who were doing the protesting. They had a mainstream, grass-roots support, galvanising an urgent anger and desperation, that the climate camps and so on just don’t have.

  45. “It may actually be the first useful thing that anyone finds to use Twitter for.”

    I think Twitter is already being used this way, in some countries.

  46. Is Hitler still in power? The police were barbaric and without cause, Whats happened to the police that were so violent. How can we continue to let this happen? The Government is taking our liberty from under our noses, how can it be legal? We are not responsible for what we inherited but we are responsible for what we leave behind. Ghandi changed the face of India in peaceful sitting demonstration.

  47. if the public was bugs bunny – and the gov were daffy duck —- how would this pan out do u think

    “youre dessssspppickable”

    “of course you realize… this means war”

    “ssssssufferin suuccckkatash!”

    “i shoulda made that right turn at albuquerque.”

    “Ridicule is the Burden of Genius.”

    wait – or is the public daffy – and the gov bugz….
    (sssshhh be vewy vewy quiet – im huntin wabbits)

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