Friday, 10 December 2010

protests not riots!

The London Standard last night produced a headline, calling yesterday's student protests, 'The Siege of Parliament,' yet this is a gross exaggeration. The protesters, the vast majority of them students, but there were also parents, teachers, lecturers, out supporting the cause. Indeed, whilst I was there, I ran into a young man studying architecture in London. He remembered me, from when I had taught him in year nine. Thus reminds me of why I'm there, and why I will continue to support the young people of Britain, and their educational future. I am fighting for the pupils I have taught, and will teach, to have the right, and I say the right to achieve the highest education they can.

The day started peacefully enough, meeting up with some friends at Embankment station, and then proceeding to Trafalgar Square. We were entertained for a time by the rantings of a man walking up and down out side the National Gallery, railing against the evils of socialism, or it started off like that, but twisted all over the place, so it was hard to decide what he was on about. We came to the conclusion in the end that he was probably UKIP.

We eventually joined the march on the Strand, and went up towards Parliament Square, or we would have, but as the way was blocked by the police, we had to deviate to get in. So I would be interested to know how we were supposed to follow a route that was blocked? Still, I'm sure that some rational explanation will be forthcoming.

Those who think the students should just roll over and let all this happen, wonder why these things happen. It's because people feel passionate about their futures, and of those coming up behind them. I have never known a Tory to go out and protest about things, indeed, if they believed the actions that the Labour government were so awful, why weren't they on the streets exercising their right to protest? Is it because they don't actually believe in anything, and just let things happen.

Nothing happened where we were for a number of hours, though when we went to grab some food, we saw of the news, police charging with horses. I have heard that objects were thrown, which isn't good, but was a horse charge a proportionate response? It threatened the safety of the protesters, though unfortunately a police rider seemed to fall, from their horse, though I understand not badly hurt.

As we went to rejoin the main demonstration, our way was blocked by police. I argued that we had a right to make peaceful protest, but to no avail. It seems that in ConDem Britain, the right to protest peacefully is denied.

However, not to be put off, we went around to Whitehall, where the police were happy to let us through. Now if you want to say that they were negligent, you may well have a point, because it was shortly afterwards that horses were brought up to block us in.

Unfortunately the police who were in the immediate vicinity were just sitting in their vans, so when they were asked to arrest someone who had attempted to steal someone's mobile, they totally ignored it. It also subsequently emerged, that if someone had been stabbed, they would still have sat there (I got this first hand from a police officer). Property more important than doing their jobs it appears.

As the expected time for the end of the debate, and the votes, approached (it was here that I ran into my former pupil), the crowd were in an excited mood. Following the news that tuition fees would rise, naturally there was great disappointment, and we sought to leave, but we were hemmed in. As you would expect, the protesters started to get annoyed, and unfortunately some people started to throw bottles around fairly randomly. We stayed well away from this, but were unable to leave.

Then out of nowhere the police appeared, dressed in riot gear. For a time they just stood there, then they drew batons, and stood there threateningly. It was here that things got a bit out of hand. A number of the protesters, had dismantled some of the railings, and threw them at the police. The police naturally have a right to defend themselves, but they were well protected. However, they just charged at the area where the railing had come from, randomly hitting out. I saw one young man get hit on the head who didn't get out the way quickly enough, and a young woman was also hit on the head.

The police then squashed us into as small a space as possible, which caused great distress to many, and some were having difficulty breathing. The police had to be made to attend to another person who was hurt, and several were limping from leg injuries. I was being squshed aginst a wall, whilst trying to protect other protesters from being crushed. I am lucky, I'm an adult and 6'2" but these were young people, many of them women, who were being treated like this. It's a miracle that more injuries, let alone serious ones, did not ensue.

Eventually we manged to escape into the square, and sought to leave, but all ways were blocked. We wandered back to the square, where there was more space, and we had been there a good while, before the Treasury was attacked. I do not condone the destruction of property, but you could understand the frustration of the protesters, and it was better to attack the building, than the police, who in the main were just there to do their jobs as instructed.

However, after a good while, the police charged the group on the Treasury walls, and lined up outside the building. They then turned and marched away, and the assault continued, leading to them coming in again. We quickly made out way back to the other side of the square, but were still unable to get away.

We then spent some time talking to a number of police officers outside Westminster Abbey. They were perfectly polite, and we had some honest debate. They understood our view that police tactics had contributed to, though not excused, the violent activity. They also agreed that holding people in one place for long periods of time is bound to provoke anger, but as PCs they had no option but to follow orders. I also asked after an officer I heard had been stabbed, and it appears, that a number of protesters were prevented from leaving, and he was stabbed with a piece of glass. This, is, of course totally unacceptable, and I was pleased the officer was not badly injured, and I trust the perpetrator will be suitably punished.

We were then informed that people were being let out slowly, so we rejoined the queue. However this turned out to be untrue (I'm not accusing the officer of lying, as the news has reported that this happened, but that most could not get out), and we stood there for many hours.

At just after eight, we were told that Westminster Bridge was open so we made our way, but then were told this wasn't so, and were sent back to where we had been. However, we went to ask an officer what was going on, and a senior one informed us that indeed the bridge would shortly be opened. Well, it seems the police idea of shortly is different from ours, as we were held for a good forty-five minutes, before they let us through.

But things were not as they seemed. We walked to the bridge, many people jumping and shouting, 'we are free, we are free,' which was sadly quickly disabused. A second line of police, all in riot gear, held us at the bridge entrance for around half and hour, before then taking us onto the bridge itself. As we got towards the end, we were stopped again, and not allowed to move at all. Some protesters appealed to them saying that their last train was due at Waterloo, but were refused, thereby condemning them to a night in London.

As the crowd's frustration grew, those behind us started to push, and eventually we were shoved, we held our hands up at this point showing we were not responsible, and the first police line broke. We were stopped by a second line, and again, not allowed to move. This was getting seriously dangerous now, and I can understand the police preventing those doing the pushing going further, but we were totally innocent of any of this.

Finally, around half ten, we were enabled to leave, though information from others caught in it, says that they didn't get out until half past eleven. So, I finally made it home around a quarter past one, and caught up on other events.

The lead story was that Charles and Camilla's car had been attacked in Oxford Street. It doesn't matter who was in the vehicle, but the attack was totally out of order, and if those who did it are caught, they should face the consequences.

The attack on the Treasury building was also wrong, and all the violence perpetrated by those who were amongst the protesters was not necessary. A number of police officers have been hurt, most of whom were just doing their jobs, and did indeed seek to protect the protesters as well as the general public (although I haven't heard of any of those being hurt, though as stories emerge, this might have change).

It is those in charge who take the largest proportion of the blame. They are the ones who order the 'containment' (kettling being the media term), which is exactly what the American policy was towards the Soviets in the fifties and sixties, so I'm curious as to whether they think there is a war going on, if a cold one.

Once they had identified those who were committing violence, they should have arrested them, and once order had been restored, allowed the vast majority of peaceful protesters to leave. The entire thing would have been over by seven o'clock, and the destruction to the Treasury building might never have happened.

The holding of thousands in the square, then on the bridge, after being told we were being allowed to leave, was totally unacceptable. I saw one young man having a severe asthma attack, which fortunately he recovered from, but it seems health and safety were not considered important.

I have always been sympathetic to the police in these situations, but seeing their tactics at first hand, and the totally disproportianate reaction of some of them, it is difficult to mauntain that. In the near future, they will be wanting our support as they face severe cuts themselves, but that may not be forthcoming if these sort of tactics continue.

So, that is my view of what happened yesterday. I can only give a personal perspective, because I wasn't in other parts of the crowd. As stories emarge over the following days, we will face claim and counter claim, which a full investigation might hopefully reveal. But, to return to previous points, the violence on both sides was not proportionate to the situation, and those in charge of the police take full responsibility for the holding of thousands of young people for many hours.

These were not riots, these were young men and women making thier feelings known, damage was caused, protesters and police were hurt, but there was no battle with the police. No one actually attacked them, therefore, it was not a riot, but it was a protest.


  1. Well written, as always, David...I think a perfectly honest and reasonable account of events...Something the media seem not to be able to do. Relying instead on sensationalism.

    Oh Well......This will not go away.

  2. Superb stuff David, always good to get a sound, 1st hand reliable account from a source we trust.

  3. thanks for that David - good to read a first hand account that puts a lot of the reports into perspective.

  4. Excellent piece David, well written from first-hand experience, unlike most of the so-called reporting in the media.

    I know that Brian Paddick, not necessarily a friend of the Metropolitan Police, has criticised the police tactics on the day, but I received an interesting phone call on Friday night from a relative by marriage who is a retired Superintendant with what was the Royal Ulster Constabulary (with great experience of policing sectarian disturbances); his opinion, expressed very forthrightly, was that while the violence could not be condoned, it was in no small part brought about by a flawed police plan for policing the demonstration, and then a complete breakdown in the chain of command on the day (which might explain the mixed messages you received at Westminster Bridge).

    I've also yet to hear an adequate explanation of why the police felt it necessary to pull a young man out of his wheelchair and hit him upto three times with their batons - as a wheelchair user for some 40 years, I never thought of myself as being in control of a dangerous object! I understand the young man has finally been tracked down and was on BBC Radio 4 this morning, so perhaps some explanation will be forthcoming to his treatment.

    I agree that the attack on Charles and Camilla's car was unjustified in the extreme, but it does beg the question why the driver chose to go down Regent Street (I believe?) in the first place, when it was clearly blocked, and why he failed to follow the first rule of driving a VIP - when attacked just hit the accelerator and be damned - rightly or wrongly the protection of his passengers is his first and only priority.

    Hopefully the violence won't distract too greatly from the shameful behaviour inside the House of Commons, and will not persuade wavering members of the Upper House, who vote on these proposals on Tuesday, to side with the Government just so as they don't create the impression that violent protest has been successful.

  5. A very good account david. I saw all the same events as you as obviously I was there and the kettling is what caused most of the violence. As we was closed in so tight i have very badly bruised ribs and also bruising to my back and legs. I've had to take painkillers ever since as it feels as though I've been in a car accident. How the police can justify kettling i dont know. Without it, surely things would not have ended so badly.

  6. Just thinking out loud -

    1-Who directed Charles and Cammila's car through the protest.

    2- has he/she been sacked.

    3- If not why not?

  7. An exceptionally well written article with description that leaves no room for doubt of accuracy, definitely something the media should have done without prejudice.

    While it’s obvious a small section of those present at the protest behaved deploringly I personally suspect ulterior motives behind some of the actions, namely means to undermine the essence of student protest and deflect spotlight from the protest onto disruptive and destructive behaviour.