3 Communications between Protesters
24. In addition to the breakdown in communications
between police and journalists during the G20 Protests, we were
also told there were failures of communication between the police
and representatives of the various groups who wished to protest
at the G20. This Chapter will analyse this claim, by examining:
- media statements released by
the police before the protests;
- the use of Section 14 of the Public Act and whether
this was fully and intelligibly communicated to the protesters
before its use at the Climate Camp; and
- the structure of the protest groups themselves
to see whether this was a hindrance to communication and police
25. In oral evidence to us, David Howarth MP, who
acted as an observer at the protests, told us why he had taken
on this position:
I was increasingly concerned about the hyping up
of the possibility of violence
What we were doing there
was as a result of what was happening in the previous weeks in
the media and concern about the police apparently
the spectre of major violence.
Before the G20 Conference police comments suggested
that 1 April would be "very violent".
This in itself could be considered provocative but when, as Commander
Broadhurst admitted to us: "they [officers trained in public
get two days' training a year, and the vast majority
[of officers]... have never faced a situation as violent as that"
it appears inflammatory. To compound this failing, both sides
appeared unwilling or unable to communicate during the day and
diffuse any tension without resorting to confrontation. Commander
Broadhurst told us that due to lack of time for training, "we
do not do enough around the softer issues of speaking to crowds,
was borne out in the evidence of Chris Abbott, a protester at
the "Climate Camp", who told us that before a police
'charge' at 9 or 9:30pm "there was no warning given. There
was no request to move. There was no indication of what was going
In this case the use of force seems needless; Mr Abbott had given
no indication of being obstructive and every indication that he,
for one, would have moved back if asked.
cannot understand why, knowing the pressures that inexperienced
officers would face the police would use language which would
only serve to create a "them and us" attitude and antagonise
the most violent elements within the protesters. We feel that
such statements essentially become a self-fulfilling prophecy
and they should be avoided in future.
The Use of Section 14 at the
27. The inadequacy of the communications between
the police and protesters is best evidenced by the use of Section
14 of the Public Order Act at the Climate Camp from around 9pm
onwards. We were told that prior to this the Climate Camp had
settled down after being "kettled" at 6pm, and there
was a "friendly atmosphere" between the protesters and
Between 9 and 10pm the police applied Section 14 of the Public
Order Act to move the protesters and from around 10:45pm to disperse
the group completely. It is not clear how or indeed whether this
information was communicated to the protesters. We have heard
that no intelligible announcements were made.
To the protesters being dispersed it seemed as if the police,
without warning had began to use force to clear a peaceful protest.
28. Despite the inadequacy of communications, we
have found no proof that the police were systematically unwilling
to communicate to protesters throughout the day. The lack of intelligible
communications with the crowd stemmed from inadequate equipment.
It appears that genuine efforts were made to communicate with
the crowd. However,
in this instance the motives are largely irrelevant. Sir Paul
Stephenson was correct when he said to us:
I think it is fair to say that the presentation of
that, and the way in which that video evidence looks, does stand
the potential of damaging public confidence.
The issue is not one of motives and willingness,
but of perception, openness and accountability.
public protest is an activity under much greater scrutiny than
twenty to thirty years ago, Sir Paul Stephenson told us that "as
technology changes, there are different ways and many more opportunities
for people to be caught behaving badly if they choose to behave
This undoubtedly increases the pressure under which front-line
police officers have to work; because of this they have our sympathy.
However, this does not excuse behaviour which appears to contravene
the norms of democratic protest. The police must be aware that
their behaviour will be monitored, recorded and instantly made
public via the internet. They must modify their behaviour and
30. We recommend
that the police wherever possible refrain from any activity which
can suggest violent intent. Instead, they must firmly prioritise
communications and policing by consent, negating the need for
violent action wherever possible.
31. We also
recommend that more funding be made available specifically for
training in the softer issues of communication and speaking to
crowds. At the very least each unit involved in the policing of
large protests should contain one officer trained and able to
communicate with crowds of protesters. This would enable communications
with protesters to take place on a consistent, codified basis,
and increase the opportunities for large groups of protesters
to be policed by consent.
Structure of Protest Groups
32. However, we do not hold the police wholly to
blame for the lack of communications during the day of the protests.
It seems that the structure of the Climate Camp, the protest which
experienced the greatest difficulty communicating with the police
on the day hindered communication. Commander Broadhurst told us
that prior to the event:
they [the Climate Camp] will not put forward organisers
because they say they are a non-hierarchical organisation where
nobody makes decisions, which then gives me huge problems in trying
to find out, as happened on 1 April, what they intend to do and
where they intend to do it.
Without identifiable organisers it was much harder
for the police to gain the information they needed to plan their
operation and also to communicate with protesters throughout the
33. While we fully respect the rights of peaceful
protesters to organise their groups however they wish, it seems
to us that it was very unhelpful to choose a structure for a large,
disparate group that would add unnecessary complications to police
efforts at communication. It is no coincidence that those protests
which lacked a clear hierarchical structure and did not fully
communicate their intentions to the police beforehand were those
which experienced the greatest use of force by police. It is the
relationship between the protesters and police which defines the
success of the protest from a public safety perspective and we
are not convinced that all protesters did everything they could
to strengthen this relationship.
34. It seems
paradoxical to us that both sides stress the importance of communications,
and complain when these are not forthcoming yet are unwilling
to put people in place to make this process easier. Elsewhere
in this Report we have recommended that the police designate 'contact
points', we also recommend that protest groups put ideological
concerns to one side and instead do everything they can to aid
communications both before and during the protests.
35. It is possible that the police actions at Bishopsgate
were in violation of ACPO Guidelines in this area, and certainly
differ from what ACPO Lead Sue Sim considers to be best practice:
The guidelines are clear that communications should
be given to the crowd. My interpretation would be that people
understand the communication which has been given.
Commander Broadhurst admitted to us that this certainly
was not the case at the G20.
The police faced similar problems caused by a large number of
people in one area at the Countryside Alliance protest in 2004
and the May Day protest in 2001, yet they are still investigating
alternative methods or communication, such as "dot matrix
signs or louder PA systems".
This hints at a wider problem of the dissemination of best practice.
36. In our evidence session with Hugh Orde and Duncan
McCausland we heard that the PSNI have faced similar problems
in the past and these were challenged by the Police Ombudsman.
As a result the PSNI, rather than relying on a megaphone, "record
[on] CCTV or cameras, warnings that we would be giving and that
we were preparing to advance".
This does seem a more effective method for communicating to large
groups, rather than relying on a loudhailer which apparently gave
signals which were "unintelligible" and could only be
heard from ground-level.
37. We question
why these new, up-to-date tactics used by the Police Service of
Northern Ireland have not been shared and adopted nationally and
urge all forces to adopt newer, more efficient methods for communicating
to large crowds as quickly as possible.
28 Q93. Back
Error! Bookmark not defined.; "Fears police tactics will
lead to violence", The Guardian, 27 March 2009 Back
We were sent the notes of a meeting between the MPS and representatives
of the Climate Camp which took place prior to the G20 Protest
on 31 March 2009 where the police reiterated that the problem
from their perspective was the lack of an "organiser"
which would make communication through the day much more difficult.
The police also complained at this meeting that the plans of the
"Climate Camp" had yet to be fully communicated. Back