Extinction Rebellion: An excuse for more police bashing
News of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) must have been greeted with eager anticipation by police hating editors and politicians from both the right and left. If police failed to speedily clear the activists then the cry from the right would be ineffective, ‘weak policing’, and if those same activists were speedily and forcibly cleared, the left-wing media could scream ‘police brutality’ across their headlines.
In fact, the major issue from a policing point of view missed entirely by all sections of the media, was the gap in police intelligence in that the Met seemed unaware of the locations chosen by XR to begin their campaign of disruption. However, given the outrage and controversy caused by police undercover officers targeting ‘peaceful’ protest organisations, such infiltrations are now almost certainly considered beyond the pale.
The organisers were determined that their protest be non-violent. As with other protests and demonstrations over the past year or so, I’ve preferred to pop along and have a look for myself rather that rely on a now totally unreliable media and, in fairness, the ‘no violence, no booze no drugs’ order was a constant message at all the protest sites from the start
The no violence mantra took a bit of a wobble on the first full day when the Shell building was targeted, windows smashed and criminal damage committed. Later the same day it was a little unnerving to see a group of 30 black clad anarchists join XR protestors in Parliament Square. Some were masked but after singing the ‘Harry Roberts’ song normally favoured by football thugs, they seemed to melt away quickly.
The absence of sinister masked figures as seen in previous leftist protests, was quite noticeable instead there was a mixture of all ages, some of whom seemed from the ‘flower power’ era while others were obviously students and school pupils on holiday.
Clearly the organisers had done their homework in developing a strategy that would tie up the Met and its officers. It’s philosophy was simple; the end of the world trumps (excuse the expression, yes, he is coming) police attempting to prevent carnage on our streets and businesses, big and small losing millions.
The ‘rebellion’ of course enabled the police hating press to have a field day. Initially it was the right-wing press berating the Met for not shifting the illegal thousands blocking Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Parliament Square. It’s worth noting that since Parliament itself removed the ban in respect of Parliament Square protests, the traffic around Parliament Square is frequently blocked by demonstrators in any event.
The left-wing press must have watched in near despair as the removals from the illicitly occupied sites under Section 14 of the Public Order Act were carried out with great care and consideration which were actually earning praise from those arrested.
Then, on Saturday, the sigh of relief from the editors of the Guardian and Independent must have been positively audible across the protest sites. Two females were filmed being dragged across the road by individual officers. Not mentioned initially was the fact that they had burst through police cordons and were attempting to lie down in front of the moving police lorry that was towing the pink yacht which had been blocking Oxford Circus for the entire week.
Speaking as someone who had been dragged out of Rhodesia House as a sixth former, when protesting against Ian Smith, thus acquiring similar bumps and bruises to those alleged by the two females, I felt a distinct lack of sympathy. Having said that, seeing that one ‘victim’ is thinking of suing the Met, perhaps I should be consulting a ‘no win, no fee’ legal firm!!
The right- wing press and indeed many on social media were constant in their demands that the police move the protestors as was Home Secretary Sajid Javid and other Tory politicians, but there was little advice as to how this was to be done. I saw dozens of protestors removed from Waterloo Bridge and Oxford Circus. Few walked; most ‘relaxed’ and let the police take the strain thus it took a laborious process involving four or five officers carefully carrying each protestor to the police vehicle, with more being required if the protestor in question has overdone the consumption of pies albeit vegan ones.
Each arrest was followed by at least one orange tabard wearing legal advisor assiduously scribbling notes and looking for any misdemeanour by the officers involved.
Eventually each vehicle would leave with normally four prisoners plus an arresting officer for each; its destination could be any custody suite anywhere in the Metropolitan Police area. One wag, on hearing that a police van was destined for Dagenham, suggested that this was a cruel punishment in itself. Rather harsh I thought.
Once all the vans had departed, and there would be a lull before sufficient vans returned thus enabling the arrests to begin again.
With over a thousand arrests, a mountain of paper work loomed which would delay the arrest process of others still further if immediate charges were to be considered. Even bailing for the allotted time would paralyse the Crown Prosecution Service and the court system. Most were therefore released under investigation for relatively minor offences in order that there’d be no deadlines.
The first XR individual to actually appear in court for a Section 14 offence was merely given a conditional discharge which can only increase speculation that most of the 1,000 or so arrested will never face court at all.
The simple fact is that logistically there were not enough officers, vans or custody cells so what were the alternatives?
Kettling or perhaps a Spanish Solution
Why not kettling asked a number of people on social media? Well, keeping the protestors in one place will probably have suited those self-same protestors. On Waterloo Bridge they clearly had adequate supplies while depriving protestors of toilet facilities has been deemed a ‘no-no’ by inquiries post the G20 protests in 2009. Thus, it’s hard to see what kettling would achieve other than to enable protestors to achieve their objectives.
The other option would be to use significant force. In a sort of satirical response to those advocating a more forceful approach, I suggested Spanish police might be prepared to pop across to the UK for few days. I attached footage of Spanish officers brutally attacking a group of sit-in protestors during the Catalan dispute. Amazingly there were some who approved.
The sight of Met officers using dogs, horses, drawn batons and threats of CS spray would not have played well with the British public or indeed the officers themselves and would almost invariably be illegal.
Not a happy one
The unique pressure on the Met was reflected on police social media. Officers were working long hours and having to report back for duty just a few hours after being released. Feeding of officers was haphazard with some receiving a meal before starting duty, others receiving meagre ‘snacks’ while some nothing at all. All this set against a background where police officers who dare to snatch some food in a public place are berated by members of the public or find themselves occupying column inches in the press.
A shortage of police vehicles led to revelations that officers had to travel to the scene of protests using public transport and were this unable to carry with them any form of kit bag as there would be no-where to leave them and indeed nowhere to take a break.
It wasn’t simply the logistical arrangements which were an issue. Dancing police officers and a skateboarding constable grabbed far more headlines than the Lancashire officers attacked with ammonia resulting in their sergeant receiving a very serious eye injury.
A personal view is that this was a minor error of judgement worthy of simply a quiet word. Little wonder that officers, encouraged to ‘participate’ at carnivals especially Notting Hill and Gay Pride events, find the lines a little blurred.
Finally, there was an intense debate on twitter as to whether officers working at the protest had been denied entry to the toilets at New Scotland Yard (NSY). As the debate raged, it was suggested that this occurred as NSY was placed on lockdown when it was felt that the building was vulnerable to protestors. However, quite why temporary toilets couldn’t be placed in the spacious adjacent yard used for car parking is as yet, an unanswered question. Perhaps also a tap for fresh water and even a refreshment van supplying hot snacks and tea.
The criticism of the Metropolitan Police by its own officers in relation to their welfare over the past week was generally damning and should greatly concern Commissioner Cressida Dick.
If it woz Tommy’s followers
Those on the right took to social media to suggest that if these were Tommy Robinson supporters the police would have taken considerably more severe action.
There are arguably some less than subtle differences: The XR protestors are almost invariably sober and don’t hurl foul abuse in the faces of London’s uniform police officers accusing them of not dealing with child grooming gangs in Rotherham and Rochdale.
The XR protestors would probably not have attempted to push through police cordons or negotiate their way around back streets in order to attack their rivals and if frustrated, physically attack police arguing in the aftermath that it was all down to police provocation.
On Saturday afternoon, whilst walking down Whitehall, I could hear the dulcet tones of a partially yellow vested group outside the Lord Moon of Mall public house belting out the wearisome Tommy Robinson song being watched by officers sitting in four Met Territorial Support Group carriers.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that the ‘yelling vests’ had already paid a visit to the XR protestors in Parliament Square. Attempts to intimidate them were frustrated by Met officers. Some on the left complained that the Met did nothing, hinting that they were supportive of the thugs but YouTube footage clearly shows otherwise.
Not so nice
Whilst the protest caused massive disruption and cost millions it was largely peaceful but there were several incidents of concern. The climax is terms of drama occurred on the Saturday and was linked to the symbolic pink yacht which was causing the disruption in Oxford Circus. Police were intent on its removal which led to protestors attempting to block its progress away from the West End.
The removal saw a number of incidents including the blocking of a specialist BTP carrier, the arrest of a female who appeared to have nothing to do with the protest but tried to break through a police cordon and, disturbingly, the presence of very young children in an attempt to block the path through Regent Street of the aforementioned pink yacht and the police lorry towing it.
At the time of writing this protest appears to have almost run its course apart from action in the City. The fact that peaceful protestors could cause so much disruption and suck in huge quantities of police resources will concern both the Met and the government.
A combination of similar ‘blockade’ protests and outbreaks of violence across London for whatever cause, would present a challenge that the Met might well find insurmountable. The state visit of President Trump, given that rightist groups may take to the streets to support him and confront the tens of thousands who will be against his visit, could prove a major challenge.
If, bearing in mind Trump’s stance on climate change, XR decide to adopt similar tactics for the duration of his visit, then we could see the perfect public order storm in London regardless of any assistance provided by other police forces.
The weeks ahead could prove extremely challenging for our police service; one of the smallest (officers per population ratio) police forces in Europe and this government may well rue the day it felt it could do without 21,000 police officers.