Policing of the G20 Protests - Home Affairs Committee Contents

4  Use of Close Containment

38. The use of containment strategies has "been around since the [ACPO] manuals began",[46] and it is an established, accepted tactic by the police. After its application at Oxford Circus during the May Day protests of 2001, its use was challenged in the courts. A case brought by Lois Austin against the tactic is currently being considered by the European Court of Human Rights. The House of Lords has already passed a ruling in this case. The Austin ruling says that containment as a strategy is lawful only in specific circumstances including: when the cordon is necessary for purely crowd control purposes and to protect people and property from injury, when many of the people contained were bent on violence; and those who were not demonstrators, or were seriously affected by being confined, were allowed to leave.[47] The continued use of containment strategies from a lawful perspective is therefore a matter for the courts and as a tactical measure is to be addressed in the forthcoming HMIC Report. However, we have been told of several problems with the application of close containment at the G20. This Chapter will address these problems.

39. From a tactical perspective, a containment strategy has much to recommend it both in the context of the G20 Protests:

If [the protesters] intention was to cause as much disruption to the City as possible, containing them is the most sensible option. The only alternative to containment is dispersal … you push the crowd back and get them to disperse in small groups so they go their own ways.[48]

And more generally, as ACC McCausland told us:

our role in terms of the use of containment has been to potentially diffuse the situation and allow protesters and people to move away from the area the that they are potentially wanting to get into.[49]

40. It is undoubtedly to the benefit of the police if protesters can be contained in one area; it allows the police to focus their efforts and resources on one area and theoretically prevents many minor disturbances. If there are potentially violent elements in a crowd of protesters, it is certainly better for these to be contained in one area under heavy police supervision. Containment tactics should be encouraged in these circumstances. However, it is entirely possible, as at the G20 Protests, that innocent bystanders can be caught up in the contained area and be detained for several hours until the police judge it appropriate for them to leave. This detainment of innocent, peaceful bystanders is a violation of their rights and is something which must be minimised as far as possible.

41. The use of containment involves a shift in power and control from the protesters to the police and should be used sparingly and in clearly defined circumstances. These circumstances should be codified. The use of containment tactics should also be closely linked to police intelligence. The police must have reasonable grounds to believe that the protesters being contained are liable to cause disturbances elsewhere and innocent bystanders and non-violent protesters (where they can be identified) must be allowed to filter out; containment should continue only for as long as absolutely necessary and the comfort of those contained must be given as much consideration as possible. As we discuss later on, this was not the case in the particular example of the G20 Protests.

The application of containment tactics at Bishopsgate

42. The use of "containment" as a tactic remains controversial and we would appreciate greater clarity from the police over its use. We are also concerned about incidents that occurred within the "kettle" and question elements of its application.

43. One point of contention is the question of how comfortable protesters were made during their containment. After the May Day protests in 2001 it was recommended that the police make a greater effort to ensure the comfort of those 'contained'. We have heard conflicting information on the provision of water and toilets at the 'Climate Camp' in Bishopsgate and at Bank. Commander Broadhurst assured us that the City of London Corporation provided water supplies and toilets for those contained[50] but we also have been told that this was not the case throughout the day; after one police "charge" the toilets were behind a cordon and water was not made available to those who requested it.[51] It is impossible for us to judge whether water and toilets were made freely available to protesters. However, given the recommendations made after the May Day protests this is a question that should not need to be asked; that there remains doubt on this issue is unacceptable.

44. While the comfort of those contained at the Climate Camp and at Bank is one issue of concern, a more worrying element of the application of the kettle is the attitude of police towards protesters who claimed they had a medical problem. We have heard much anecdotal evidence from those present at the protests that people requiring medicines were unable to leave the containment area despite their medical need. "We were told specifically by the police that they were under specific orders not to let people out even for medication."[52] According to Commander Broadhurst, the Bronze Commanders on the ground at the G20 Protests were unwilling to allow protesters to leave the containment area to gain access to medicines in case they were lying about their medical condition.[53] This position seemed to be endorsed by the Commander.

45. There is no excuse for the police preventing peaceful protesters or other people innocently caught up in a protest from leaving a "contained" area when the police can be sure that they do not pose a violent threat to society. This is doubly true when people are asking to leave for medical (or related) purposes. We are particularly concerned at the evidence we have received suggesting that an explicit order was given to maintain the "cohesion" of the police lines at the expense of peaceful protesters' right to egress and to access medicine. While it may be true that some protesters would falsely claim a medical need to leave a contained area for the purposes of causing disorder, we believe that this is a risk that the police must be prepared to run; the dangers of denying protesters their needed medications are too great.

46. The police must reorganise their priorities with regards to the circumstances under which protesters are allowed to leave a "contained" area. It is not acceptable for a blanket ban on movement to be imposed. Again we recommend a devolution of power in this area. During any containment procedure experienced officers must be authorised to use discretion and allow access and egress in cases where a medical need is involved, trusting their own judgement and experience when necessary. Crucially, as with the media contact points, their existence and availability in this role must be commonplace; it must be made clear to front-line officers in briefings before and during the day.

7pm onwards at the Climate Camp

47. The "Climate Camp" at Bishopsgate illustrates many of the problems in the way the containment strategy was applied: a failure on both sides to communicate; the lack of a "filter" system for dispersing protesters (in contravention of ACPO best practice); and the "very intense, very rapid"[54] dispersal under Section 14 of the Public Order Act all combined to create a situation which typifies the worst aspects of the policing of the G20 Protests.

48. In Chapter 3 we criticised the lack of communication between the police and those who were "contained". In the interests of fairness it is worth stating that this experience was not uniform. Earlier in the day when the police considered it necessary to make changes to the policing arrangements at Threadneedle Street, "They warned that people needed to move back. Protesters listened and everybody moved back peacefully, with nobody getting hurt".[55] Sadly this was not the case in the Climate Camp after 7pm.

49. The most troubling aspect of the "kettling" was the subsequent "dispersal" of the crowd at around 11:30pm. This has been described as a "very intense, very rapid clearance… very scary".[56] The use of force to disperse protesters in this situation could have been easily avoided and can be traced back to an incorrect application of the "kettle". According to ACPO lead, Sue Sim, beat practice requires that:

They have to communicate with people, it is good practice to communicate, and that is what the manual says: it talks about communicating with crowds. It also talks about allowing people to filter out, and that is what would be considered to be good practice.[57]

We feel that the application of the kettle at Bishopsgate fails to meet these two requirements.

50. It is not clear to us why, having contained protesters in one place to prevent "lots of little disturbances,"[58] the police were unable to "filter" out the protesters in small groups (searching them for offensive weapons first if needs be). We fear that this may be a common approach nationwide and not merely isolated behaviour from one force; in written evidence from Cambridgeshire Police we were told that "any group given the right circumstances is potentially violent".[59] While technically this may be correct, it does strike us as an inefficient approach. The police and HMIC should consider whether it would be better, as far as possible, to use intelligence to identify potentially violent protesters and contain them while simultaneously filtering out small groups of peaceful protesters. This would reduce the need for "mass" clearances, limit the use of force (as the contained area would be that much smaller), be a more efficient use of resources and be more in the spirit of the Austin ruling.[60]

51. Again we stress the importance of communications between the police and protesters before large-scale events, not least because this will help the police identify violent elements within the protests. Both sides benefit from an orderly protest and it is in the protesters' interest to signal their peaceful intentions beforehand. This would allow the police to focus their energy on those groups who have identified themselves as potentially violent through their lack of communications: "if they choose to engage: great. If they do not then you know what you are dealing with and you police in a different way."[61] While we do not deny the essentially peaceful nature of the 'Climate Camp' we are concerned that the group provided the police with the bare minimum of information beforehand[62] and we believe that this was may have been a contributory factor in the subsequent use of force by the police.

52. We fully endorse Sir Hugh Orde's comment that "talking works".[63] We are firmly of the view that the problems that were reported by those "contained" at Bishopsgate could have been easily prevented through greater communication throughout the day. We recommend that in future the police exhaust all possible avenues of communication before using force and be as open as possible about their intentions at all times. We also recommend that the police follow their own guidelines and allow peaceful protesters to filter out of the cordon and go home. This would minimise and focus force used in a subsequent dispersal.

53. Equally, we recommend that groups of protesters make every effort to prevent the police viewing them as a threat to public order. We are of the opinion that in the case of the 'Climate Camp' the degree of reticence on the part of the protesters adversely affected the police's perceptions of the protest and made the use of force, unfortunate though it was, more likely. Groups with peaceful intentions should make every effort to alert the police to their intentions, removing any suspicions the police may (rightly) have and aiding the planning process to mutual benefit. Protesters should remember that "talking works" is a maxim which is true for both sides.

46   Q248. Back

47   For the full ruling: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200809/ldjudgmt/jd090128/austin.pdf Back

48   Q373. Back

49   Q270 Back

50   Q392 Back

51   "Legal Observation at the Climate Camp" Tom Brake MP. Back

52   Q139. Back

53   Q393. Back

54   Q130. Back

55   "Legal Observation at the Climate Camp", Tom Brake MP Back

56   Q130. Back

57   Q242. Back

58   Q373. Back

59   Q2. Back

61  60   Q286. Back


62   Q154. Back

63   Q269 Back

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