Policing of the G20 Protests - Home Affairs Committee Contents

5  The Use of Force

54. The results of the issues above, the poor communications with the press and protesters, the lack of training for some officers and the somewhat indiscriminate use of Section 14 and close containment tactics, can be seen in the aspect of the policing of the G20 Protests which has raised greatest concerns with the public: the use of force against protesters.

A lack of communications and training

55. The use of force per se is not an illegitimate act while policing protest; according to ACPO Lead Sue Sim, under Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act, "if those officers [who used force] are able to justify the violence that they used then that would be alright"[64] and in certain circumstances, the use of "distraction" tactics such as a slap to the face may be approved tactics.[65] However, it is harder for officers to justify the use of force if no warning has been given before its use and we are concerned that inexperienced officers are being taught that the use of force can be acceptable in all situations, providing it is subsequently justifiable.

56. In oral evidence to us, Ms Nicola Fisher told us of her experiences on 2 April. From this and other accounts we have heard, the vigil which Ms Fisher had attended was peaceful[66] until the sudden appearance of police who were acting in what seemed to those present an overtly aggressive manner, certainly one which was disproportionate to the supposed "threat". The issue here is not the deployment of police in that area, which is a decision to be justified by the Silver Commander on the ground; instead it is how the police behaved. From the evidence we have received the use of force against Nicola Fisher was a first, rather than last resort. We do not know whether it was justified, but equally we do not know whether it was needed; Nicola Fisher never got the chance to obey the officers' orders.[67]

57. While the film and images of the incidents involving Nicola Fisher, Ian Tomlinson and others are shocking, we cannot say with any certainty what actually occurred immediately before and after these incidents. However, it is clear that confrontations of some description did occur, during the course of which Nicola Fisher was hit with a baton and Ian Tomlinson collapsed. We have subsequently learnt that police trained in crowd control are taught that a slap across the face or a baton strike to the leg (as inflicted on Nicola Fisher) are appropriate actions to prevent an escalation of violence, and a textbook example of "distraction" tactics.

58. We do not pass comment on the cases of Nicola Fisher and Ian Tomlinson. However, it remains true that the images of "distraction" tactics in action have the potential to undermine the public's trust in the police. We hope that these pictures and films are the start of a widespread public debate on the use of force by the police and lead to further discussions on the tactics available to the police in similar situations. We recommend that the police publicly clarify how and when they should legitimately be used.

59. While the individual actions of some officers on the 1-2 April appear unacceptable, we are still wary of criticising the police service as a whole. We echo Sir Paul Stephenson's comments that "it was a remarkable operation … the vast majority of officers did a remarkable job".[68] We consider the performance of the "vast majority" of the police on duty that day to be even more remarkable given the circumstances under which they operating. We are shocked by Commander Broadhurst's admission that some officers had not received adequate training for this duty and most had not policed actions of this nature before.[69] Given that the Metropolitan Police Service claims to be "used to handling big events"[70] we find this statement doubly surprising. The use of force in individual cases may or may not be justifiable; however when it is preceded by a lack of training it is troubling regardless of the merits of each individual case. Ultimate responsibility though must rest with senior officers; given Commander Broadhurst's admission that some officers lacked the training necessary for this work, the actions of some individual officers at the G20 Protests become, if not excusable, at least understandable.

60. Never again must untrained officers be placed in the front-line of public protests. At the very least each unit should contain a core of fully trained, experienced officers. While greater funding must be made available, the police must also allocate their resources better to ensure that all officers on the front-line of public protest are trained adequately.

Force, the use of Section 14 and Close Containment

61. Given the admission by Commander Broadhurst that some officers on duty lacked training in policing this sort of event we suggest the use of close containment tactics and the over-reliance on Section 14 of the Public Order Act in the dispersal of journalists and protesters could have been counter-productive. We urge the police to examine their doctrine in these areas given the resource limitations under which they work. Given the inexperience of some of the officers on front-line duty that day, we wonder whether such a "confrontational" approach is suitable. Certainly we are unsure of the merits to untrained and inexperienced officers of labelling protesters a source of "serious disorder", suggesting that "distraction" tactics are a valid technique and then placing them in a tense situation for a sustained period of time. We wonder whether the lack of training which some officers had received was taken into account during the planning of the G20.

62. Throughout this Report we have commented on the inappropriate use of Section 14 of the Public Order Act. We have heard evidence that Section 14 was used against two discrete groups of people, journalists and protesters in an effort to disperse these groups from a given area. In neither case are we certain that the groups in question posed a threat of "serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community". We are concerned that the police view Section 14 of the Public Order Act as a handy "catch-all" tool to be used whenever they wish to move people on from a given area. This would be an abuse of the rights of protesters to demonstrate in a peaceful manner and a misuse of the powers granted to the police.

63. We are concerned over the police's apparent reliance on Section 14 of the Public Order Act. Given the importance with which it is viewed by the police, we find it odd that officers are not given training on the suitable legal application of this power. We recommend that all public protest training, especially that of a more advanced level, incorporates the correct application of Section 14. Equally, if communications and relations between the police and protesters are good and both sides put emphasis on prior communication, as we have already recommended, then it may be possible to negotiate a mutually acceptable 'finish time', removing the need for police-driven dispersal.

64. We also heard that the victims of force at the G20 Protests will be waiting an inordinate amount of time for their cases to be resolved. Nicola Fisher told us the IPCC would take between 12 and 18 months to complete their inquiries.[71] We accept that the consideration of these cases by the prosecuting authorities inhibits the IPCC somewhat and contributes to the delay,[72] but since these cases must be a high priority for the IPCC we cannot imagine why this amount of time is needed; but equally, we understand that the G20 Protests have placed an inordinate amount of strain on the IPCC. The 40 officials who are currently investigating incidents around the G20 Protests are a third of the total number of investigators employed by the IPCC.[73] The G20 will therefore obviously affect the performance and capability of the IPCC for a sustained period of time.

65. That it takes over a year to investigate a high-profile case such as the use of force against Nicola Fisher is distressing. We would like to hear from IPCC as why the inquiry will take this long and what efforts they are making to speed the resolution. We are also concerned about such a large proportion of the Independent Police Complaints Commission's investigators being allocated to the events of the G20. Greater funding must be made available to provide the resources the IPCC needs to complete their investigations in a more timely manner.

64   Q227. Back

65   Q2. Back

66   Q163. Back

67   Q170-172. Back

68   Q344. Back

69   Q374. Back

70   Q367. Back

71   200. Back

72   Q53. Back

73   8. Back

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Prepared 29 June 2009