Published Tuesday, 14 December 2010
Lawyers have launched a legal challenge to the police tactic of kettling during recent student demonstrations, claiming a breach of human rights.
The lawyers, acting for five of the thousands of demonstrators penned in by police last Thursday, have written to the commissioner for the Metropolitan police, Sir Paul Stephenson,arguing that kettling breaches European human rights legislation.
The latest student demonstration saw thousands of people descend on London to protest about the rise in tuition fees and the drastic cuts to post-16 education.
There were outbreaks of violence and several thousand demonstrators were kettled for hours in falling temperatures in three separate locations in central London.
The five demonstrators – including four sixth-formers – say they were kettled for up to five hours in Trafalgar Square.
Bethany Shiner, 23, the lead claimant, said: "I was with a group of young people who behaved at all times perfectly properly and lawfully. We then found ourselves kettled in sub-zero temperatures."
Shiner, who has completed a masters degree in art and politics at Goldsmiths, University of London, added: "It is outrageous that the police should resort to such tactics against all protestors, most of whom were acting peacefully."
The are represented by Bethany's father, Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers. He says the police tactics breach articles 5, 10 and 11 of the European convention on human Rights. "My clients are very concerned that the Metropolitan police are now using kettling as a stock response to all public protests and appear to have authorised kettling in advance of this particular protest," he said.
He has sent a pre-action letter to Stephenson and the police have 14 days to respond. He added: "The police are required to have a range of lawful responses to different scenarios and not just resort to the most coercive tactics at the first sign of trouble. The policy of kettling has to be struck down."
The legal challenge came as the Met said more than 180 people have been arrested conerning the student protests. Senior officers said most of the 182 suspects were aged between 17 and 25 and had no records of violence or crime.
Detective Chief Superintendent Matt Horne, who is leading the inquiry, said he expects more people to be arrested as a team of 80 officers comb through video and stills footage.
Speaking at New Scotland Yard today, where protesters were expected to attempt to "kettle" police later, he said the inquiry could take months to complete.
In apparent contradiction to Theresa May's comments in the Commons yesterday, when the home secretary blamed violence on "an organised group of hardcore activists and street gangs", Horne added: "What struck me is the number of people arrested who did not go that day with necessarily any intention of committing any violent action."
He said there had been a "stark contrast" between scenes in Westminster and at the protesters' homes, where police had been confronted with crying parents and shocked young people.
He added: "I would urge those who turn up for protests to think about the impact this could have on their future careers. When they are shown footage of their actions that day, some are shocked by the impact of their behaviour."
Stephenson said he had been "stripping London out" to police the protests, adding that almost 3,000 officers were deployed last Thursday. The Met had ruled out using water cannon three years ago, but was taking advice from colleagues in Northern Ireland about whether they could be used in London.
Senior officers would consider asking the home secretary to ban forthcoming marches.
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