Memorandum submitted by the Campaign for
the Accountability of American Bases
Arising out of the oral evidence given to the
Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) on 21 October 2008 by Lindis
Percy (Coordinator with Laila Packer of CAAB), we are grateful
for the opportunity to submit further examples and concerns on
the issue of "policing and protest".
In the first submission by CAAB, we made reference
to the increasing encroachment of the State in the area of "policing
and protests" that we have experienced over many years.
We draw the attention of the JRCH to the aims
and objectives of CAAB which are specifically, to bring public
scrutiny and awareness to the accountability and presence of the
US Visiting Forces and their Agencies in this country and world
wide. Protest is just one of the ways CAAB campaigns to raise
Our experience inevitably involves the US Visiting
Forces and their Agencies, when protesting at and around US bases.
It is an issue which is politically sensitive. We consider that
this is important to note when referring to the undermining of
civil liberties concerning such protests. At US bases and where
there is a contingent of Ministry of Defence Police Agency (MDPA)
officers, it is also important to note that these officers are
paid for and under the control of the US authorities (revised
Memorandum of Agreement 2008).
Application for an Anti-Social Behaviour Order
In 2005 North Yorkshire Police and the MDPA
made an application to the court for an Anti-Social Behaviour
Order against one of the Co-coordinators of CAAB. The implications
for the future of peaceful protest were potentially very serious.
The application was for a 10 mile exclusion
area around the American base at Menwith Hill for a period of
10 years. The application was wisely rejected by the District
Judge hearing the case. The defendant was eligible for and granted
legal aid. However the outcome may have been different if the
defendant had had to represent herself. We make the point that
not only is the benefit of legal aid for representation often
essential, the necessity and importance to challenge the law is
prohibitively expensive for the citizen.
12 PUBLIC ORDER
We are concerned about the "creeping"
and insidious restrictions imposed by North Yorkshire police on
demonstrations organized by CAAB and other groups. Once the precedent
was set last year (annual 4 July "Independence FROM America"
demonstration and referred to in the first submission), the police
have continued in this practice; regardless of careful liaising
with the police and representations made by the organizers. For
example, we suggested and were willing to provide stewards wearing
reflector jackets, put in place warning notices of the demonstration
and inform those wanting to participate in the walk round the
base of the health and safety issues. These suggestions were firmly
rejected. The rational behind these restrictions sometimes appears
petty and illogical.
We were again prevented from walking round the
American base at Menwith Hill on 4 October this year. The grass
verge, at the lay-by where the demonstration was being held was
also out of bounds; it being legally part of the highway. Several
demonstrators were aggressively threatened with arrest when trying
to retrieve banners from the grass verge and needing to cross
the road. The conditions referred to "a procession".
Despite discussing this with senior officers no compromise was
forthcoming. Again the numbers of police brought in was out of
all proportion to the numbers of protestors present; involving
police horses, police waiting in vans, police on foot and on bikes
and in vehicles.
We suggest that this way of policing demonstrations
(which are very small in comparison with some of the London demonstrations)
only increases the growing antagonism between the police and the
public. This is not in the interests of either party.
On 4 July this year (Independence FROM America)
we learnt that many of our Muslim brothers and sisters who wanted
to come to the demonstration were deterred from coming because
they were frightened that they would be "arrested and detained
for 42 days". Others said they feel intimidated and harassed
by the constant photographing and videoing by NYP and the MDPA.
These concerns apply to the regular Tuesday
evening protest outside the American base at Menwith Hill and
therefore technically involving the highway. We recognize that
the right to protest and a person's right to go about his/her
lawful business is a matter of balance. However we draw the attention
of the JCHR to the authority of Hirst and Agu v Chief Constable
of West Yorkshire 1987 which is a helpful authority on this
issue and includes some historical quotes concerning protest.
CAAB has many experiences of the balance being
tipped by the MDPA in favour of the person whose right it is to
go about their lawful business; rather than the police enabling
the protest. We believe that this often happens because of the
business relationship between the MDPA and the US authorities.
The way of policing these protests is often inconsistent despite
having meetings and writing letters expressing our concerns. It
is a continual struggle. Complaints made against the police are
rarely substantiated in our experience despite having a credible
concern. The training of police officers and the application of
the law concerning the legal right to protest is clearly an issue
Over the years, several new laws have been brought
in to restrict protest, often by way of a Statutory Instrument.
Some of these laws were never meant to be directed at peaceful
protest eg, "aggravated trespass" (sections 68 and 69
Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994). Section 69 is often
used against protestors and it appears to be used as a form of
bail conditions regardless if officers "reasonably believes
that the alleged offence will be is about to be and/or has actually
been committed". This law and the Serious Organised Crime
and Police Act 2005 (see below) has been used in favour of Military
Land Byelaws; many of which we believe are invalid yet are still
The issue of "public and private space"
was raised at the oral hearing. We make a general point about
this. Increasingly and because decisions of great importance to
us all are not meaningfully debated in Parliament (eg the UK link
to the Missile Defense System at Menwith Hill and Fylingdales),
we firmly believe that it is important to protest within public
and private spaces. The caveat being that the protest must be
peaceful. SOCPA criminalizes those peacefully protesting and labels
them as "terrorists". Protestors are caught up in an
Act entitled "serious organized crime". We respectfully
submit that mere trespass is not a "serious organized crime"
and protestors are not terrorists.
In an increasingly dangerous and complex world
and where the systems and structures in a democratic society often
fail the citizen, it is more important than ever to maintain and
nurture the precious right to protest without fear, interference
or erosion of this right by the State. It is the duty of the police
to enable protest. We owe it to future generations to ensure that
our rights are maintained and stewarded.
We very much welcome the investigation by the
JCHR concerning "policing and protest" in this country
and for the opportunities to voice our concerns in this forum.