Saturday, 20 March 2010

Report attacks police behaviour on G20 protests

A police watchdog has criticised the Metropolitan Police's approach to the G20 protests in London last April. The central London protests were the scene of the death of bystander Ian Tomlinson - killed after being violently pushed by a riot squad officer.

The Met's controversial 'kettling' tactic is strongly criticised in the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) report. A "macho" approach to training for "worst-case scenarios" also comes in for official criticism. Guidance for supervisors and officers is described as inadequate.

The conclusions come from the MPA's civil liberties panel, set up in response to widespread criticism of police behaviour at the protests which greeted G20 leaders. Around 10,000 people gathered in the City of London to demonstrate about issues such as bank bailouts, war and cliamte change. Ian Tomlinson's death followed several hours of protests which saw many people trapped outside the Bank of England, as a direct result of 'kettling' by police.

Ian Tomlinson's widow Julia welcomes the report. She says: "We always knew there was a macho culture in the police and a culture of violence. Of course they had not properly prepared for what happened at G20. Everyone could see that."

The report can't be dismissed easily. The 8-member panel was chaired by Victoria Borwick, a Conservative member of the London Assembly. Her team reports that police failed to communicate with protestors, for example not telling them water was available, and didn't have any toilets inside the police cordon.

The 67-page report is filled with criticisms. The panel extends its condemnation to the Met's response afterwards, referring to its "bunker attitude" to receiving criticism. It also raises concerns about how the force will police the 2012 Olympics.

The aggressive policing on 1 April 2009 followed the Met's contentious approach to demonstrations in solidarity with Gaza. The protests less than three months earlier, involving tens of thousands of people, had also been policed heavily. Groups such as protest organisers Stop the War Coalition submitted evidence of police mistreatment of protestors.

Despite the widespread condemnation of police tactics, and the death of Ian Tomlinson, the Met has continued to pursue overwhelmingly Muslim demonstrators arrested on the pro-Palestine protests. A Stop the War statement says: "Over 70 young people, most of them Muslims, are being handed down harsh jail sentences for minor offences committed at demonstrations in January 2009 against Israel's attack on Gaza, which left 1400 dead."

Campaigners are organising a defence of the young Muslims facing jail. The campaign for justice for Ian Tomlinson, meanwhile, continues. His widow Julia is hopeful: "I am so glad that this report has been written. It feels like someone is finally doing something."

This article is also published at Counterfire.

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