Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Judge gives green light to police containment tactics

Alex Nunns reports on the Mayday case in which he appeared as a witness for the prosecution

April 1, 2005
3 min read


Alex NunnsAlex Nunns is Red Pepper's political correspondent @alexnunns


  share     tweet  

A protester and a businessman who were detained for more than seven hours without food, water or access to toilets at the Mayday protests in 2001 have lost their claim for damages against the Metropolitan Police. They intend to appeal against the judgement.

On 23 March 2005 Mr Justice Tugendhat deemed that the police tactic of surrounding and holding 3,000 protesters in Oxford Circus was reasonable in order to prevent violence and damage to property. Protesters now fear that the judgement will encourage the police to use the method in future, specifically at the G8 Summit in Scotland this July.

The case was brought by Lois Austin and Geoffrey Saxby. Protester Lois Austin, 35, was prevented from leaving Oxford Circus to collect her child from a crèche despite telling police that her daughter was lactase deficient and needed to be breastfed. Geoffrey Saxby, 48, happened to get caught up in the demonstration while collecting money on behalf of his employer. The pair claimed that the police’s actions were unlawful and breached their human rights. One hundred and fifty other claims for damages depended on this test case.

Austin said: ‘This is a disappointing judgement for people who protest. It criminalises protesters when the real criminals are the people who prosecute illegal wars, ensure that millions of people are condemned to poverty, and promote environmental destruction. We’re very worried that this will enable the police to further impede protest, and it comes at a time when the state is increasing its powers and attacking civil liberties.’

The pair’s solicitor, Louise Christian, believes that the judge was wrong in law to say that everyone in the area of Oxford Circus could be reasonably suspected of violence because of a small violent minority. She pointed out that the judge had conceded that the protesters were effectively imprisoned, but had decided that this was justified on the particular facts of the case.

‘The police are looking at this as a test case on whether they can detain people in other circumstances,’ Christian said. ‘Hopefully the court of appeal will take a different approach, otherwise the problem will be that the police will see this as a green light to use this tactic again.’

The Metropolitan Police issued a statement saying that they ‘were duty bound to protect public safety through implementing this containment in Oxford Circus. For us not to take this action would have run a very real risk of serious injury to the public and our staff, looting and widespread criminal damage’.

In his ruling the judge said: ‘It is obvious from the videos of the three previous English demonstrations that on May Day 2001 there was a real risk of serious injury and even death, as well as damage to property, if the police did not control the crowd’. He agreed with the police that protesters’ literature, which used phrases like ‘sale of the century’ and ‘smash and grab’, ‘could reasonably be understood as incitement to looting and violence, and it was hard to understand it in any other way’.

The judgement will have serious implications for the policing of future demonstrations, providing a precedent for the police to cite. Before the case was brought, the police had no clear legal authority to detain protesters in such a fashion.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Alex NunnsAlex Nunns is Red Pepper's political correspondent @alexnunns


Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook