After the debacle of the refugee demo earlier this month which generated a pile of complaints about the heavy handed and racist policing of a planned rally in support of refugees moved on so that a public square could be given over to fascists and has necessitated an internal inquiry, you may think that Strathclyde Police would rethink their strategy for the facilitation of peaceful protest.
It would seem not.
On Saturday, Nick Griffen had called for “200 nationalists” to turn up in Glasgow. Apparently the English Defence League and the BNP were planning a wee trip north for the day. Lots of people in Glasgow dont actually like Nick Griffen and his rag-tag lackies very much and were keen to make him aware of that. So a call went out from Glasgow Anti-fascist Alliance to support a Diversity Rally called on Buchanan Street near the Palestine Human Rights Campaign and the Communist Party, both of which had been targeted before by fascists. Before it even got to Saturday, Auld Nick had figured that he wasn’t really going to be that well received, withdrew the call and went for a daytrip to Dalkeith instead. Turns out that they don’t really like him much in Dalkeith either– who’d have thunk it huh?
On Saturday I was running late. Passing the Museum of Modern Art, I spotted a group of around 6 men that I recognised as fascists from previous incidents; as inconspiciously as I could I made my way down to the rally hoping to catch the last half hour or so. When I got there, there were around 50 people looking worried and confused who told me that the majority of those who had turned up had been kettled further down Buchanan Street. When I made my way down there, there were over 100 people held in a kettle (or as the police insisted, a cordon). A legal observer outside the cordon told me that the police justified this by Section 17 (1) of the Police Act (Scotland) and that a Section 60 was in place and they had been searching people as they were released from the kettle. Section 17(1) of the Police Act Scotland reads
17 General functions and jurisdiction of constables.
(1)Subject to the provisions of this Act, it shall be the duty of the constables of a police force—
(a) to guard, patrol and watch so as—
(i)to prevent the commission of offences.
(ii)to preserve order, and
(iii)to protect life and property;
(b) where an offence has been committed (whether within or outwith the police area for which the police force is maintained) to take all such lawful measures, and make such reports to the appropriate prosecutor, as may be necessary for the purpose of bringing the offender with all due speed to justice;
(c) to serve and execute when required any warrant, citation or deliverance issued, or process duly endorsed, by a Lord Commissioner of Justiciary, sheriff, being a warrant, citation, deliverance or process relating to any criminal proceeding;
(d) to attend any court of law for the purpose of giving evidence;
This is the same piece of legislation that they arrested people with failing to comply with a few weeks prior. I’ve now read through Section 17 in its entirety. There is absolutely nothing in it that I can see that an individual citizen need comply with. It relates entirely to police officers.
Clearly sections (c) and (d) were not relevant, but it took a long time to establish that no offence had been committed and that they were acting under S17 (1a). They could give me no details of what offences they thought may be commissioned, and those in the kettle had no need of police protection, so by a process of elimination we established that they were detaining over 100 people, including two local councillors in a massive police operation causing considerable disruption to passers-by “to preserve order”.
Fit teams were in operation, filming everyone in the kettle, and they were releasing people one by one, searching them under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice Act, which had been put in force across the whole of Glasgow until 6pm that evening, which authorises them to search for “offensive weapons or dangerous instruments” without requiring suspicion. As they searched they demanded the names and addresses of those being released, and photographed them as they were searched. We quickly got word around that the police had no power to compel you give your name and address under either S60 or S17, and recommended that people did not do so, given that this information could be held for seven years, and that although the police had the power to remove (and confiscate) masks, people may want to cover their face with their hands as they were photographed (0.00 -0.20 in the video below).
As we waited for people to be released, someone jokingly shouted to a local Green councillor that it would take quite a while for her search (as being of the Greenie persuasion, she was inevitably accompanied by her trademark hemp bags), at which point a police officer stood nearby laughed and said that he didn’t think that she would be searched. When I asked why not, he told me that only some people were being searched. And sure enough some people were being released with no search, it would seem that there was a level of profiling going on, with young working class men being targetted. As people were released and the kettle dwindled, one men refused to be searched under Section 60. A second man, who had previously been released from the kettle without search tried to film the arrest. Officers moved in and demanded to search him under Section 60. He too refused (1.57 – 3.53 in the video below). Both men were arrested. Needless to say that no “offensive weapons or dangerous instruments” were found on any of the people searched. This video taken by the second man documents these events.
So, the complaints form for Strathclyde Police got another little battering on Saturday night. But before the ink was even dry, Strathy Polis were are it again. A rumour on the grapevine told us that David Cameron was planning to visit Glasgow Central Hotel yesterday afternoon. With less than 24 hours notice, a goodly number of people showed up to give him the welcome he deserved. Turns out that he is only marginally less hated than Nick Griffen…who’d have thunk it, huh?
A crowd of around 50 people gathered outside the Hotel and a noisy protest ensued (00.00-00.18 in the video below). A senior police officer came over to the protest, and demanded that the protest moved into a pre-formed kettle, quoting Section 14 of the Public Order Act (01.20 – 3.20 in the video below). No-one knew anything about this legislation which has the power to curtail your rights under Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights. This legislation states
If the senior police officer, having regard to the time or place at which and the circumstances in which any public assembly is being held or is intended to be held, reasonably believes that—
(a)it may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community, or
(b)the purpose of the persons organising it is the intimidation of others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they have a right to do, or to do an act they have a right not to do,
he may give directions imposing on the persons organising or taking part in the assembly such conditions as to the place at which the assembly may be (or continue to be) held, its maximum duration, or the maximum number of persons who may constitute it, as appear to him necessary to prevent such disorder, damage, disruption or intimidation.
And instructed the protesters to move away from the entrance to the hotel to a sidestreet, that their numbers may not increase that they must disperse by 5.30 pm.
A protester was called on to become a legal observer and the legislation was read out to her. Despite requests, no guidence was given on what the “reasonable belief” was based on, what serious disorder, damage or disruption they were trying to prevent or what intimidation they believed the purpose of it was.
As people reluctantly and resentfully moved into the kettle, knowing how handcuff-happy Strathy Polis can be, at least two people were threatened with arrest – one for using swear words in public and one for nothing at all (5.53 – 6.00 in the video below). As the legal observer tried to get phone support from a more experienced legal observer for this unfamiliar legislation and talk to a group of people, who had turned up to protest and were being prevented from doing so, to explain the legislation that they were using to prevent this, a police officer grabbed her by the wrist and threatened her with arrest. When asked what legislation they were arresting her under, the police officer looked confused, and eventually let her go to speak to the group (end of incident at 6.20-6.33 in the video below). When she was called over a second time, to provide support to photographers, she was told that she must join the protest, when she refused to protest, they again attempted to arrest her (6.45-9.45 in the video below). Preferring not to spend a night in the cells, she went off to the protest. A second legal observer was also targetted by the police (10.13-10.30 in the video below), while a senior police officer moved in on the cameraman who had been documenting the exchange.
At 5.30pm on the dot, the police moved quickly into the demonstration – forcing people down the street and away from the hotel. Two arrests then took place – its unclear what they were charged with or what legislation the police were using.
This kind of policing is totally unacceptable. Fascism comes in many guises and we must challenge all of them.