UK Politics

Learn lessons from protests, police urged

Police must be "more nimble" in dealing with protests as they prepare for Saturday's mass march in London against spending cuts, a report says.

Parliament's Joint Human Rights Committee said it was concerned about the use of containment - or "kettling" - for peaceful demonstrators.

But it praised police for using Twitter to liaise with protest organisers.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to join the anti-cuts march organised by the Trades Union Congress.

The March for the Alternative, for which around 4,500 police will be deployed, will culminate in a rally in Hyde Park.

The parliamentary committee, made up of peers and MPs, looked at recent demonstrations in its efforts to learn lessons ahead of this Saturday.

Among them were the student march in London in November, where protesters broke into Millbank Tower, causing damage and engaging in a four-hour standoff with police.

It also studied the 2009 G20 demonstration in the City, in which a man died after being pushed over by an officer.

'Democratic right'

The committee's report said: "We welcome the high degree of co-operation between the Metropolitan Police and the TUC in planning for the demonstration on 26 March."

It added: "We hope that this will be reflected in a successful and peaceful demonstration in which all participants feel that they have exercised their democratic right to protest.

"We also hope that this example of good practice will be followed and generalised in the future, including, so far as possible, in relation to smaller-scale and more impromptu protests than the proposed TUC march."

But the committee noted that, during evidence from the TUC and the Met, "neither side had raised with the other the possibility of the need to use containment or 'kettling'.

"This was an oversight that ought not be repeated with regard to the planning of future demonstrations."

It said that "the lessons to be learned from events must be extracted very quickly and assimilated by those on the ground. The system for doing this needs to be more nimble than the current system of policy reviews."

The report added: "We welcome the Metropolitan Police's development of its capacity to communicate directly with protesters by means of social media such as Twitter, and through the use of leaflets distributed to protesters and tailored for the demonstration in question."

'Oxygen of publicity'

It also said: "We are concerned about the apparent lack of opportunity for non-violent protesters to leave the contained or 'kettled' crowd, the adequacy of arrangements to ensure that the particularly vulnerable such as disabled people are identified and helped to leave the containment, and the general lack of information available to the protester about how and where to leave."

The report added that "we were surprised to find that there appears to be no specific guidance setting out the circumstances in which the use of the baton against the head might be justifiable.

"The human rights requirement that the use of force be proportionate requires operational guidance to frontline officers which deals directly with this issue."

Metropolitan Police Commander Bob Broadhurst said he hoped for a peaceful demonstration on Saturday, adding: "The issues will be with the fracture groups who might want to spoil the party.

"Groups lodge themselves with someone else's march and use the oxygen of publicity to make their point."

He also said: "We might end up in some form of containment. We would hope we can keep that for as few people as possible and for as little time as possible."

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "Saturday looks set to be a huge, united and good-natured event, giving all those who want to oppose the government's deep, rapid and unfair spending cuts the opportunity to speak out.

"But the sheer size of the event means that marchers need to make sensible plans for the day, working out their routes there and back home, and bringing a packed lunch and water."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites