Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)|
MP, MR CHRIS
12 MAY 2009
Q100 Gwyn Prosser: If the violence
is almost part of a doctrine, would we not have expected far more
incidents and far more complaints?
David Howarth: What seems to happen
in these demonstrations is, first of all, they are corralled,
so they are surrounded and no one is allowed in or out. There
is a question about the lawfulness of that corralling, whether
it is done in line with what the House of Lords said in the Austin
case. I am very doubtful that that was the case in the Climate
Camp. A second part of so-called "kettling" is the police
advancing very forcibly with riot shields and batons on the crowd
to compress it into a smaller area. I think that is where a lot
of the complaints are going to come from, from injuries that were
suffered by that activity. Whatever you may think about the corralling,
that second part of the tactic has never really been fully explained
to me or anybody else. Why does that happen? What is meant to
be achieved by it? It seems on the day, from the reports I had,
it simply made the protesters angry, it caused a reaction, it
caused tension and it seemed more than likely to result in violence.
Q101 David Davies: How long do you
think people should be allowed to demonstrate peacefully for on
a highway before the police are able to use force to either compress
them or remove them?
David Howarth: Compressing in
that forcible way I doubt is ever
Q102 David Davies: How long do you
think that people should be allowed to do it for?
David Howarth: That is an interesting
question because we have the Tamil demonstration outside now and
it has been going on weeks. The question is whether you would
want to forcibly remove it. I would not.
Q103 David Davies: So if people want
to sit down on a road for weeks, you think that that should be
allowed providing it is peaceful, do you?
David Howarth: It does depend
on which road and what the consequences are.
Q104 David Davies: Let us say it
is a major road through the City.
David Howarth: There is this point
about Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 which I think is
at the heart of this. On the night of 1 April the police made
it clear to me that they were dispersing the Climate Camp, not
because of public disorder, which is the first leg of Section
14, not because of serious criminal damage, which is the second,
but solely because of this third leg of serious disruption to
the life of the community. Obviously that is a balance that has
to be struck in every case.
Q105 David Davies: So there is a
David Howarth: There must come
Q106 David Davies: --- when the police
could use force. What you are really arguing about is not whether
the police are right to use force or kettling or rail track compression,
it is the time, is it not?
David Howarth: Absolutely, the
circumstances. My main concern about the night of 1 April was
exactly that, what the circumstances were.
Q107 Chairman: Many of us have sympathy
have sympathy with the position of the Tamil community. Are you
saying that it is perfectly acceptable to block the road outside
David Howarth: It depends on the
Q108 Chairman: The effect is that
London was brought to a standstill.
David Howarth: I do not know whether
that is true. One of the questions in all these instances is about
the evidence base that is being used. I do not have the evidence
and I do not think you do either about precisely what the effects
are of the Tamil demonstration, but they seem to me to be far
more serious in terms of traffic disruption than blocking 100
yards of Bishopsgate where it is only two lanes.
Q109 Chairman: Is that acceptable?
Traffic disruption is acceptable, is it?
David Howarth: Some traffic disruption
must be acceptable otherwise no one would be able to protest on
Q110 Chairman: How long for?
David Howarth: It is a matter
of balance in every case. It depends on the level of disruption
caused. You cannot give an absolute rule. Mr Davies is right,
there will come a point in demonstrations where the demonstration
should not be there any longer, it has caused serious enough disruption
to the life of the community to be removed.
Q111 Mr Winnick: Even if a demonstration
was as peaceful as you can possibly imagine and there are no allegations
of violence of any kind, if the demonstration is pretty large,
which has often been the case of the Labour movement on various
occasions certainly in the past, May Day comes readily to mind,
would there not inevitably be traffic disruption?
David Howarth: Absolutely. The
question is whether any degree of traffic disruption justifies
the removal of a demonstration, which I fear was the assumption
being used by the police on the night of 1 April, at least that
is what it seemed to me in discussions with them, or whether it
has to be a question of judging the risks as they really are and
putting some sort of value on the demonstration as well as on
the degree of traffic disruption that is being caused. It has
to be done consciously. I do not think you can say just because
there is traffic disruption at 11:00 pm at Bishopsgate, in the
middle of the City of London and the financial district, with
one white van not allowed through, that is the end of the demonstration.
You need to be able to think through the balance itself.
Q112 Mr Winnick: You have spoken
about the right to demonstrate, the very essence of our democracy,
of that there can be no doubt. Are you clear in your own mind
that there needs to be a sharp distinction between demonstrating,
which can involve shouting and the rest of it, and outright violence
against the police?
David Howarth: Absolutely.
Q113 Mr Winnick: I take it you condemn
any form of violence directed against the police.
David Howarth: Absolutely. My
big distinction is between peaceful and non-peaceful protests.
I think non-peaceful protests, attacking police officers, attacking
other people, are utterly unjustified. We are perfectly correct
in policing that in a tough way.
Q114 Mr Clappison: You are obviously
very learned in all these matters and probably in the law in these
matters as well. Demonstrators have a right to protest peacefully
and the police have to act within the law. Following on from what
Mr Winnick said, I am a bit concerned by what you said at the
beginning, where in your initial remarks you appeared to lay the
blame on the police for raising the temperature in respect of
these matters. I do not know about the Climate Camp demonstration
and the Climate Camp cause, but it is apparent from any reading
of recent history that G20 meetings have been accompanied by violence.
They were in Seattle a number of years ago and they have subsequently.
After this G20 meeting took place the same meeting went on to
Strasbourg where there was very serious violence. I would ask
you if you would reconsider the approach you are taking on this
when talking about the police raising the temperature. There seems
to me to be a reasonable degree of foresight that one can exercise
in relation to history of these matters and some of the demonstrators
who appear to take part on an international basis in G20 protests
that violence takes place.
David Howarth: I should refer
you to what the police said at our meeting, which is that Commander
Broadhurst himself expressed concern about the way in which the
matter was being reported. He said basically it was the media's
fault, but he did not like the way in which it was being reported
and the expectation of violence being ramped up. He said that
his officers read the newspapers, they listen to the news and
that would make his job of maintaining discipline on the day more
difficult. I do not think there is any doubt that there was a
problem. There was a problem about ramping up the level of expectation
and violence. The question is who was responsible for it, whether
it was just the media or whether the police made mistakes as well.
Q115 Mr Clappison: You said initially
that it was the police who were raising the temperature on this.
I think the record will bear that your remarks said that. Whatever
the police may have said in briefings, I put it to you that given
the history of G20 meetings there have been there appears to be
a risk of violence, wherever they take place, because of the nature
of some of the demonstrators who are attracted to the G20 meetings
and the sort of protests that they want to make which result in
David Howarth: There are two responses
to that. One is that the Climate Camp was not part of that.
Q116 Mr Clappison: I drew that distinction.
David Howarth: This is a very
important distinction to draw. The expectations apply to everything,
not just to the other demonstration. The second thing is that,
even though what you are saying is right, that there was some
risk of violence, what should be the police's strategy towards
that risk? Should they be talking it up, talking it down or giving
their best assessment of the risk? That is the question.
Q117 Ms Buck: You implied that there
was a significant change in attitude in terms of the policing,
particularly when the police in riot gear appeared. Could you
tell us what discussions you had at this stage on the day with
members of the police command and whether you put to them that
there was a change in behaviour with the arrival of either different
police or a conscious change of tactics?
David Howarth: That change at
around seven o'clock happened when we had no colleagues there.
Mr Brake at that point was kettled at the Bank of England. So
we had no direct witnesses. I cannot speak directly about what
happened at that point. Certainly earlier in the day when I spoke
to police officers it was all very friendly. One police officer
expressed to me a concern that there was too much beer being drunk
and that things might get out of hand later because of that and
I passed his concern on to Frances Wright, but I believe that
action was taken within the Climate Camp to put that right. All
I can go on are the secondhand reports that came to me later.
I cannot claim to be an eyewitness to this. There does seem to
have been a change in tactics around seven o'clock with more forcible
tactics being used and police in riot gear being put to the front.
Q118 Ms Buck: Did you speak to any
police officers after the point of that change in attitude, what
did you say to them and what did they say to you?
David Howarth: I spoke at around
half-past ten to 11 o'clock to the Silver Commander. I had previously
tried to get in touch with the Gold Commander and the Bronze Commander
and eventually talked to the Silver Commander. He told me that
the police had basically said that this was the end of the demonstration,
they were using Section 14 to call the demonstration off and they
were going to disperse the demonstration because it was a serious
disruption to the life of the community. I said to him, "Have
you thought about the balance of risk, about using tactics that
might endanger life and limb given the fact that that is what
you are trying to do, you are simply trying to clear a bit of
a city street at 11 o'clock at night?" and his response was
not encouraging, he said, "Well, that's the kind of thing
I will have to sort out in court."
Q119 Ms Buck: Did you say to him
that you had heard by this stage that there was already a change
in police approach and tactics early on and what did he say to
David Howarth: Yes. His response
was entirely in terms of there were people we saw in there who
should not be there who had come from the other demonstration.
I obviously was not in a position to say whether that was true
or not at the time, although eyewitness reports coming to me later,
which I include in my letter, seemed to contradict that.