Policing of the G20 Protests - Home Affairs Committee Contents


Conclusions and recommendations


Relations with the Media

1.  We accept that it is not possible for all officers on front-line duty, some of whom may be inexperienced in this line of work, to know, understand and fully implement the ACPO Guidelines, particularly in a high tension environment like the G20 Protests. However, we cannot understand why those officers who were unable to communicate with journalists were not willing or able to pass this problem on to a more experienced officer. We suggest that at the heart of most communication difficulties encountered by journalists is a lack of leadership on the ground and an inadequate briefing before the protests. (Paragraph 10)

2.   At the very least all officers should be aware of the existence of a designated media contact point, who is trained in basic communication with journalists and able to give correct information on request. It seems to us that some members of the media experienced a broken chain of command and ignorance on the part of the police which impaired their ability to do their jobs. (Paragraph 11)

3.  We accept the difficulties implicit in briefing freelance journalists, some of whom may not wish to be contacted by the police prior to an event, and to some extent we sympathise with the Metropolitan Police who appear to be keen to improve relations in this area. However, more must be done. While accepting that it is not possible to brief every journalist who wishes to attend large public protests, and that at the G20 Protests budgetary and time constraints prevented every officer from being adequately briefed beforehand on "handling the media", we propose two relatively simple solutions which could be implemented at little cost. (Paragraph 13)

4.  Since it is to everyone's benefit that the relationship between the police and journalists is clear and codified, we suggest that the briefings given to members of the media before public protests be published on the website of the police and the National Union of Journalists prior to the event. While there may be operational reasons why a complete brief cannot be published, we are surprised that a version of this information is not made public already. In this way anyone who is planning to attend a public protest in a media capacity will have the ability to receive a briefing in this area and at the very least be assured that a media contact point will be available on the day. We urge the police to consider this action. (Paragraph 14)

5.  Equally, we cannot understand why experienced officers on the ground were not granted a degree of discretion in how the police strategies were enacted. While we accept that communications between the control centre and the front-line can always be improved, we are yet to be convinced of the absolute necessity of why a relatively simple message like "please let them out if they are bona fide press" needed to be sent from the Gold Commander, who presumably had many other more pressing matters to concern him. (Paragraph 15)

6.  We recommend that in its promised review of police tactics on public order situations HMIC looks at the command structure at big events and considers the benefits of allowing experienced officers on the ground the power to make relatively simple, non-controversial decisions such as these. As far as possible, power should be devolved to officers on the ground authorised to react to changing situations. (Paragraph 16)

7.  The police must be aware that, as a matter of course, their actions will be filmed whether or not journalists are present. They must amend their attitude and tactics accordingly. The police should be aware that in the modern world actions which may be justifiable under the rules may nonetheless be completely unacceptable. (Paragraph 19)

8.  We echo Sir Paul Stephenson's comments: in many ways the problem for the police in these situations is not their actual actions, but the perception that they are seeking to avoid accountability for these actions. We are therefore surprised that the problems of identification posed when officers change into protective equipment have not been addressed before and recommend more funding specifically for solutions in this area. (Paragraph 22)

9.  Senior officers must take personal responsibility for ensuring that all officers are displaying their identification numbers and the individual officer must be provided with enough numbers so that these can be worn at all times and on all equipment. It would be helpful if the Home Office and Metropolitan Police would let us know the length of time it takes between the ordering of a new identification badge and this badge being delivered to the individual officer. It is unacceptable for officers not to wear identification numbers at such events; this must be a matter of the highest priority. We urge that any officers found to be deliberately removing their identification face the strongest possible disciplinary measures and the police must make every effort to be identifiable at all times. (Paragraph 23)

Communications between the Protesters and Police

10.  We 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. (Paragraph 26)

11.  Policing 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 badly." 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 briefings accordingly. (Paragraph 29)

12.  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. (Paragraph 30)

13.  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. (Paragraph 31)

14.  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. (Paragraph 34)

15.  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. (Paragraph 37)

Use of Close Containment

16.  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. (Paragraph 41)

17.  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. (Paragraph 45)

18.  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. (Paragraph 46)

19.  We fully endorse Sir Hugh Orde's comment that "talking works". (Paragraph 52)

20.   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. (Paragraph 52)

21.  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. (Paragraph 53)

22.  Protesters should remember that "talking works" is a maxim which is true for both sides. (Paragraph 53)

The Use of Force

23.  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. (Paragraph 58)

24.   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. (Paragraph 60)

25.  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. (Paragraph 63)

26.  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. (Paragraph 65)

The Use of Tasers

27.  Tasers do have a role in policing. As an "alternative to lethal force" they are undoubtedly preferable to firearms and in certain situations, ASP batons, in dealing with a violent threat to an officer, members of the public or the subject themselves: (Paragraph 70)

28.  The decision to extend the deployment of Conducted Energy Devices to some non-firearms officers, and the training they receive, should be kept under review. The use of this weapon on a general scale poses many issues regarding public safety and more widespread use of Tasers would also represent a fundamental shift between the police and the general public. British policing is based on consent and face-to-face engagement, the use of Taser has the potential to erode that relationship and create a rift between the police and the policed. Furthermore, we would not endorse any move to authorise its wider use beyond dealing with a violent threat. (Paragraph 71)

29.  We recommend that the police continue their self-imposed ban on the use of Taser in public protest situations. More generally we urge the police to reject the use of "distance weapons" in policing demonstrations. Instead of investment in expensive equipment to give the police "distance" while policing large scale protests, we suggest that the money could be better spent on training for front-line officers and in the planning of operations, removing the need for such "distance weapons". (Paragraph 75)

Conclusion

30.  Despite a lack of time for planning, the policing of the G20 Protests was in many ways a successful operation. Front-line officers who were untrained and inexperienced in this area were placed in a highly combustible atmosphere and performed an admirable job. The vast majority of those wishing to protest were facilitated in a peaceful manner with a minimum of fuss and drama. On the whole, the police should be congratulated for their work. However, this success should not distract from the failings in the operation which were also on show and we feel that an element of luck must be attributed to the success of the operation. It is troubling that the policing operation relied so heavily on untrained, inexperienced officers. Future events may not be so calm and some officers will be found wanting through no fault of their own. (Paragraph 76)

31.  This is a risk the police must not run. We cannot condone the use of untrained, inexperienced officers on the front-line of a public protest under any circumstances and this must be avoided at all costs. Equally while "containment" may have been the optimum tactic available in this operation, we urge the police to address the specific details of its application which we have discussed above and make public the situations in which they consider its use appropriate and the internal checks they have on its strategic use and practical deployment. We note the reviews on this matter and urge the police to take decisive action to prevent a re-occurrence of the problems we have identified. It is clear that the concerns about the policing of the G20 Protests have damaged the public's confidence in the police. There must not be a repetition of this. (Paragraph 77)

32.  Above all, the police must constantly remember that those who protest on Britain's streets are not criminals but citizens motivated by moral principles, exercising their democratic rights. The police's doctrine must remain focused on allowing this protest to happen peacefully. Any action which may be viewed by the general public as the police criminalising protest on the streets must be avoided at all costs. (Paragraph 78)



 
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