Policing of the G20 Protests - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witness (Questions 337-359)


19 MAY 2009

  Chairman: Could I welcome to your right Commander Broadhurst, who is the Gold Commander. We have some specific questions to you as well, Commander. If you want to chip in, you can, but we do have other things to ask you about. You are welcome to sit there.

  Q337  Mr Winnick: Sir Paul, I do not want to break the sequence of questions on the G20 but with the Chairman's permission, before you leave I will ask you another unrelated question. I believe I have the Chairman's permission to do so. Continuing with the questions on the G20 protest, what is your concern? You told the Chairman a moment ago you have a concern about the demonstration. What concern do you have?

  Sir Paul Stephenson: I said I was concerned about the video imagery, some of the things I saw.

  Q338  Mr Winnick: Like what, for example? Tell us.

  Sir Paul Stephenson: I saw an officer push somebody to the ground. In the context of what I saw in that video imagery—

  Q339  Chairman: Sorry. You saw an officer do what?

  Sir Paul Stephenson: On the video I saw an officer push somebody to the ground.

  Q340  Mr Winnick: Sir Paul, did you see, as we all saw on television, a police officer slapping first of all with a gloved hand a woman protester who later says she was not in any way being violent, and then, after slapping her across the face, hitting her on the legs?

  Sir Paul Stephenson: Yes, I saw that. That is why I am saying those are the images that caused me concern that need to be investigated.

  Q341  Mr Winnick: As the Chairman said, we had Denis O'Connor, the Chief Inspector. He said, in reply to a question of mine on 21 April about what he saw: "I was very uncomfortable with it, I was concerned by it, but what I would have to say is this: the object of conducting an inquiry into the tactics and into the behaviour is to unpick all of that" and look into it accordingly. Do you share the same sentiments as he had when he addressed us, namely that he was uncomfortable with what he saw?

  Sir Paul Stephenson: I would use my own language, Mr Winnick, and that is that I am concerned and it is right it should be investigated.

  Q342  Mr Winnick: I asked him whether he would consider that what he saw was incompatible with British policing. He replied: "What I saw was unacceptable." That is your view as well?

  Sir Paul Stephenson: No, that is not my view. My view is that I am concerned at what I saw and it should be investigated. May I remind you, as I have already said to this Committee, I am the disciplinary authority for the Metropolitan Police Service. For me to prejudge these matters would be entirely improper.

  Q343  Mr Winnick: So you do not go along with what he said, "What I saw was unacceptable"?

  Sir Paul Stephenson: I do not know how I can expand on my answer.

  Chairman: I think we must move on to the next question.

  Q344  Mr Winnick: I am going to ask you about Ian Tomlinson. There is just one question before moving on to Ian Tomlinson, Sir Paul. How is it possible for a police officer to do what we saw and about which you agree you have concern? How is it possible for a police officer to act in the way we saw on television, what I have just mentioned?

  Sir Paul Stephenson: I think you are actually asking me to go into the investigation, and I am trying to give you a very proper reason as to why I cannot and should not do that.

  Q345  Mr Winnick: On the statement which was issued on 1 April regarding Mr Tomlinson, do you stand by that statement?

  Sir Paul Stephenson: I stand by what the Met said. Based on the information known to us at the time, that is accurate.

  Q346  Mr Winnick: But it was not accurate, was it? The police statement said that the police had no involvement with him before that.

  Sir Paul Stephenson: That was not our statement. That is not what the Met said.

  Q347  Tom Brake: You are carrying out an internal review of video footage. Can you confirm whether that is going to include looking at a rather serious allegation made by a photographer working for one of our national newspapers who alleges that he saw plain clothes officers in the crowd agitating the crowd?

  Sir Paul Stephenson: I have seen reports of that. It is an extraordinary allegation. To my certain knowledge that is not something we have ever done but if there is evidence to suggest that is the case and the evidence comes forward, either we or more appropriately the IPCC will investigate it, I am quite sure.

  Q348  Tom Brake: What sort of evidence do you need? I have in fact written to you on the subject and provided you a copy of the report which contains the said allegation. Do you need more in terms of evidence to be able to look at that as part of your internal review of video footage?

  Sir Paul Stephenson: We will take the appropriate action and no doubt contact you accordingly. If it is a complaint or should be dealt with as a matter of complaint, then we need to refer it to the IPCC. I wonder whether we have done that, Mr Brake. If it is, that is what we should do and I will check and make sure we have done it.

  Q349  Tom Brake: The difficulty would be that if they were plain clothes officers then they will not have any form of identification, so I am not quite sure how the IPCC would be able to pursue that particular allegation, whereas yourselves you have access to the video footage which might be able to confirm who these plain clothes officers were.

  Sir Paul Stephenson: Let me assure you that if there was an investigation by the IPCC, they would have access to any video footage within my possession or indeed the City of London's possession.

  Q350  Tom Brake: Presumably there were plain clothes officers in the crowd. I would expect there to be to spot the worst trouble makers.

  Sir Paul Stephenson: I just have to say the idea that we would put agent provocateurs in the crowd is wholly antithetic to everything I have known about policing for the best part of 34 years.

  Q351  Tom Brake: Can I ask Commander Broadhurst, please?

  Commander Broadhurst: I was obviously the Gold Commander. We had no plain clothes officers deployed within the crowd. It would have been dangerous for them to put plain clothes officers in a crowd like that. The only officers we deploy for intelligence purposes at public order are forward intelligence team officers who are wearing full police uniforms with a yellow jacket with blue shoulders. There were no plain clothes officers deployed at all.

  Q352  Tom Brake: In which case, Commander Broadhurst, can I ask you what explanation there is for two men who I personally saw walking through the police lines where I had attempted to secure the release, if I can put it that way, of a number of people who needed medical attention for instance and not succeeded? What explanation can you give for the fact that those two men walked through the police lines without any form of challenge? Who were they and why were they allowed to walk through the police cordon?

  Commander Broadhurst: I do not know who they are. They were not plain clothes officers deployed by me or anybody on the operation. All I would say initially, and you can come back to me later on when I give evidence to you, is that there is an issue around the discretion used by individual officers, the message communicated to those individuals, how they interpret that. It may well be that the people you saw have gone through some officers who have used more discretion than others who are not letting anybody out. That is an issue I need to grapple with in our training and our work on such tactics.

  Q353  Mr Streeter: I have a very short question, Sir Paul. One of the things we were hearing in relation to the Tamil demonstrations in Parliament Square over the last two or three weeks is that because of the media onslaught over the G20 policing, the police were sort of going softly softly and perhaps too timidly. Can you just assure me that you will not overreact to any criticism which may come from any quarter—and I agree with your comment about the policing of the G20 by and large—and that you are not now going to overreact in the wrong direction and be far too timid?

  Sir Paul Stephenson: Mr Streeter, we will learn lessons from any operations, be they successful or otherwise, but in learning lessons we will not overreact; we will not be too timid. We will do what we think is appropriate based on our experience, the lessons learnt and what we think is right for the circumstances. I think you have to look at the Tamil process and look at the different and difficult circumstances as to how we police that event and we police every event commensurate with the threat, the intelligence and the likely consequence of our actions, and that is what we have done with the Tamil protest. I think as people will have been aware last night, there were some difficulties last night. Not wishing to overstate it, that has resulted in round about 25 injuries to police officers and some injuries to other people. We will do what we think is the right thing to do and then learn lessons from that.

  Q354  Chairman: Commander Broadhurst, you are the Gold Commander for the Tamil protest as well, I understand.

  Commander Broadhurst: I am currently, sir, yes.

  Q355  Chairman: Can I declare my interest? I am a member of the All Party Tamil Group and I support their cause—and clearly the situation in Sri Lanka is dreadful—but also I have seen an ever increasing number of people outside Parliament and they have been able to build a structure where people are at the moment on hunger strike, or have been on hunger strike. The worry for me is that although I have sympathy, and members of this Committee have sympathy, with the plight of the Tamils, there may be other organisations in the future with whom we may not have so much sympathy who will do exactly the same thing. The concern is that you are setting a precedent. Those of us who stayed in central London last night heard the police helicopters going above Westminster throughout the night. This is obviously going to go on; it is not going to stop. Do you think you are being a little too soft on this?

  Commander Broadhurst: I do not think I am being soft at all, sir. As you heard from the Commissioner, last night, in trying to move the more belligerent end of those protesters, we took a number of injuries, none serious but a broken nose and other injuries such as that. The biggest problem we have with the Tamils, and I will perhaps come back to it later on, is that we have no organiser to speak to. Nobody within that community will give us information about what to expect. We will always police proportionately. If I have 30 demonstrators, I would have very few police officers to manage those, provided they were not violent or others, which this community tend not to be. Our problem with the Tamil community is that they have the ability to mobilise hundreds and, as yesterday, thousands within a very short space of time, which then overwhelm police resources. We have had them a few times when they have split into the road, probably only about six times in the last six weeks that this demonstration has been running. I have always taken the view that when that happens, they tend to put their women, babies, children and the elderly at the forefront, which then makes it difficult for us to use force. You cannot move even a peaceful crowd without some degree of force, unless they themselves move. I have always been of the opinion that we have managed to clear the Square; it has taken some hours and at some inconvenience but we have done it peacefully. In terms of the structures, that was an authority given to them by the Greater London Authority which has the authority for structures on the Square. They are actually breaking a bylaw. We have no powers of arrest as such; we can only prosecute. The decision was taken on humanitarian grounds whilst they had hunger strikers on the square, again a situation I was unhappy with but had no police powers to deal with; it was given on humanitarian grounds. My understanding now is that the last of what I would call the true hunger strikers have gone. We have some students who are undertaking a daily fast. Discussions are now underway with the GLA that is the responsible authority around them giving authority to get the tent down. Clearly we will then have to work with the protesters to try and do that in a peaceful way. Like yourself, Chairman, there is a concern around setting a precedent. We do not think we have set a precedent and we must take each protest on its own, but this one now I think needs, and I am asking today through the Home Office, some form of Government intervention around messages we give to the community, now the war, is over about how we bring it to some kind of exit strategy and finish.

  Q356  Chairman: I spoke to the Serjeant at Arms about this yesterday and what she said is that the police just needed the powers to do what they had to do. Is it more powers you need?

  Commander Broadhurst: There is a debate of course around the powers outside Parliament and that will continue. In terms of moving the tent, if the Greater London Authority serves notice on them that they want the tent taken down, I would say in the first instance they should get bailiffs along to remove them, as would be normal police practice. We would stand by to prevent a breach of the peace. I would have concerns about the numbers of supporters the Tamils could get before we do that. Then the question I would ask of the Operational Commander is: do you want me to pick a fight to get the tent down? I would rather negotiate and get it down but I fear we would never arrive at that situation.

  Q357  Chairman: Commissioner, you wanted to come in.

  Sir Paul Stephenson: Can I add a couple of quick points? With all due respect to yourself, the issue of whether we sympathise or not with whoever is on the Square demonstrating is not a matter for the police. We will treat them within the law and within our capabilities. Secondly, whatever the rights and wrongs of any demonstration, it does have to be said, at this moment in time, that policing that demonstration is a huge drain on the resources that should be available to Londoners, and it is damaging the Met Performance and does lead to lack of policing on the streets of London. I think that is the context for these demonstrations.

  Q358  David Davies: I just wondered if Commander Broadhurst or Sir Paul felt a certain irony that they are being criticised by some politicians for apparently over-policing G20 but as soon as a protest comes along with inconveniences the politicians themselves they are being urged to do more about it. How on earth can they get a clear message unless the politicians involved are prepared to give them one?

  Sir Paul Stephenson: I think the most appropriate answer to that is I hear what you say but it is not a policeman's lot to be over-sensitive, sir.

  Chairman: Mr Davies wants to declare his interest.

  Q359  David Davies: As a Special Constable with the British Transport Police who, I am sure the Commander will feel, did equally as well as the Metropolitan Police during the G20, at which I was also present, albeit in a different capacity to Mr Brake. We have heard a lot of anecdotal evidence from protesters, some of it quite concerning. In my own capacity I have heard a lot of extremely concerning anecdotal evidence from police officers about what went on. We have heard from senior police officers, like yourselves. Do you think it would help the Committee's inquiry if we heard from individual police officers who were involved in policing those protests about the sort of provocation that they suffered?

  Sir Paul Stephenson: I think it always helps to get a balanced view of what went on and what did not go on, and we can hear from Commander Broadhurst and Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison has given evidence to another Committee to try and place the right context on these matters. Without wishing to try and be overly humorous I would also be concerned; at this moment in time we are extraordinarily stretched, and the officers you are talking about speaking to are currently out there actually trying to keep peace on the streets.

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