Kettling of G20 protesters by police was illegal, high court rules

riot police at G20 – Wiki Commons
Vikram Dodd — London Guardian 

The high court has ruled that the Metropolitan police broke the law in the way they “kettled” protesters at the G20 demonstrations in 2009.

In a landmark judgment on Thursday, high court judges found for protesters who had claimed police treated them unfairly. It also criticised the use of force by officers.

In the case, the high court heard that officers used punches to the face, slaps and shields against demonstrators who police chiefs accept had nothing to do with violence. The judgment does not strike down the police tactic of kettling or mass detention, but it will be seen as a rebuff to the Met.

The judgment places limits on the use of kettling. It says: “The police may only take such preventive action as a last resort catering for situations about to descend into violence.”

The case concerned the G20 protests in London on 1 April 2009, during which Ian Tomlinson, a bystander, died after being struck by an officer. Police in charge of the protest ordered a climate camp to be kettled and then cleared, but officers were left to decide how much force they should use. 

Video shot on the day showed demonstrators trying to avoid being beaten by raising their hands in the air and chanting “this is not a riot” at police clad in helmets and riot gear. Officers on the videos are seen to strike demonstrators, who cannot be seen to be engaged in violence.

There were several demonstrations in the area that day, but the court case deals with a climate camp in Bishopsgate. A police chief accepts it was peaceful but decided it should be contained to avoid potentially violent people joining it.

In the judgment, the high court said that a police operation to push back climate camp protesters just after 7pm was “not necessary or proportionate”.

The judgment continues: “There never was a reasonable apprehension of imminent breaches of the peace at the climate camp.

“Mr Fordham [the protesters’ barrister] submits that the defendants’ contention that there were groups within the climate camp who were intent on disorder or criminal damage is largely unsupported by the evidence. We think this is correct.”

The case was brought by Josh Moos and Hannah McClure, who were among a crowd of up to 5,000 held for five hours by police. A police decision to disperse the crowd to avoid it remaining overnight was lawful, Sir Anthony May, president of the Queens Bench Division, and Mr Justice Sweeney ruled.

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