Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-16)|
AARON PORTER AND SIMON HARDY
14 DECEMBER 2010
Q1 The Chairman:
Good afternoon and welcome to the Joint Committee on Human Rights
and this evidence session dealing with the human rights issues
surrounding the policing of the recent demonstrations against
the rise in student tuition fees and against education cuts in
general. Before I ask the witnesses to introduce themselves, I
invite my Committee to declare any interests.
Lord Bowness: I declare a slightly indirect
interest in that I have a very close relative who is a member
of the TSG in the Met.
The Chairman: Could the
witnesses introduce themselves, please?
Aaron Porter: I
am Aaron Porter and I am president of the National Union of Students.
Simon Hardy: My
name is Simon Hardy. I am a member of the National Campaign against
Fees and Cuts.
Q2 The Chairman:
I thank you both for coming before us today at such short notice.
Could I begin by asking both of you to give us a brief account,
from your own perspectives, of how protests were policed on each
of the recent demonstrations? In particular, could you identify
examples of good and bad police practice and of good and bad student
organising practice? Could Mr Porter begin, please?
Aaron Porter: Thanks
very much, and thanks also for the opportunity to give evidence
here this afternoon. The easiest way for me to proceed is to be
clear about the fact that there have been four significant student
protests, on 10 November, 24 November, 30 November and 9 December.
If time permits, I will briefly outline the key points from each
of those in turn.
The 10 November protest was organised jointly by
the National Union of Students and the University and College
Union. The key points to highlight here are largely around the
way in which the numbers surpassed expectations for all of those
in attendance. The NUS had been working closely with student unions
to try and ascertain the numbers in attendance. Our intelligence
had suggested that we were looking at between 17,000 and 20,000
people in attendance. Through that process we had worked closely
with the police. We had met with them on a number of occasions
to jointly agree the way in which the event was going to be stewarded
and policed, and on the setting of the route. It is worth outlining
that we had proposed several routes and the police agreed the
final route for 10 November, which went past Millbank.
Clearly there is an issue with regard to getting
an accurate assessment of the number of people likely to attend
these marches. I think it's fair to say that in a new age where
social media largely dictate the way these events are advertised,
the number of police in attendance on 10 November did not meet
the number of people that we expected. It transpired that around
50,000 people attended on 10 November. The key issue here is around
intelligence and how we can work together to ensure that we get
more appropriate numbers.
Clearly, there were serious issues of violence that
came to Millbank after the protest that we had organised on 10
November. Our stewards had been briefed and they met the requirements
of that briefing, but there were suggestions that there were not
sufficient numbers of police outside Millbank and perhaps there
were question marks around intelligence and the appropriateness
of identifying 30 Millbank as a possible flashpoint.
I will move on, with greater brevity, to 24 November,
which was an action organised by the National Campaign against
Fees and Cuts. It was not organised by the National Union of Students,
although many of my members were in attendance. The issue where
we have greatest concerns was the use of kettling by the police
to constrain those in attendance. I believe that was an unnecessary
use of force. I don't believe it was conducive towards helping
to manage a calm and peaceful protest. I do accept that, given
the events of 10 November, the police would understandably have
looked to change their tactics, but I believe that kettling was
unnecessary. There are suggestions that there were also horse
charges towards certain groups. I was not in attendance personally
on 24 November, but I have had reports and it has been suggested
to me by some students that there were instances of unprovoked
police aggression. Clearly that is something that I would be keen
for the Committee to pick up.
Briefly, on 30 Novemberanother action organised
by the National Campaign against Fees and Cutsthe biggest
concern for us is to be clear about whether the route that was
allegedly jointly agreed by the organisers and the police was
stuck to. There were issues involving protesters appearing to
run away from the police. It is important for us to understand
what motivated that. I understand that if they were kettled on
24 November, they may have wanted to avoid being kettled again
on 30 November.
Finally, on 9 December, two separate actions were
organised. There was a lobby of Parliament and a vigil, organised
by the National Union of Students and the University and College
Union. That passed off without any incident and I am not aware
of any arrests. There was a separate march organised by the National
Campaign against Fees and Cuts, which went from the University
of London union to Parliament Square, where protesters were kettled.
Again, I restate my concerns that were evident on 24 November,
but I have an additional concern around the intelligence from
the police. Given that there had been three previous protests,
what steps were taken to identify potential troublemakers? Clearly
there were some people who had arrived on each of the protests
intent on violence. What steps were taken to remove them to allow
those who wanted to protest peacefully to do so?
I apologise for the length of my contribution, but
I think it was important to break each of the four up and outline
my key concerns with each.
Simon Hardy: Before
I begin, I would like to draw to the Committee's attention some
comments that have allegedly been made by the police, or people
who are using an unofficial police blog discussion forum in relation
to some comments that I made at a press conference on 10 December.
On a website called inspectorgadget, which provides a forum for
police to discuss their operations and activities, someone posted
a video of me at a press conference condemning the police violence
against the demonstrators and making various political points
about that. The forum then has a number of policeor people
who may be police and were using an unofficial police forumwho
proceed to make a series of comments about how they would like
to hurt me by punching me repeatedly on the floor, stubbing flares
out in my face and aiming for my eyes. All this seems to be connected
to the fact that they disagree with some of the comments that
I made about demonstrators having the right to defend themselves
against what I see as illegal and unnecessary police violence.
I wanted to bring that to your attention, because it is indicative
of some of the problems that we face as protesters in the way
that the police treat us and their attitude towards us. I would
like to hear from other police in this room on what they think
about those comments.
Quickly, I want to start off with a general concern
that we have about policing in Britain today, because a lot of
the discussions that are happening now, especially the discussions
yesterday in Parliament about perhaps using water cannons or pre-emptive
arrests of so-called ringleaders before demonstration
Q3 The Chairman:
Can I halt you at that point? Could you address the question that
I asked you specifically rather than in general terms? It is about
the four demonstrations. Time is against us.
Simon Hardy: The
point I want to make is a brief one, about how and why there are
problems with the policing of the demonstrations. I then wanted
to draw that specifically to some of the issues. This is a political
movement that has responded and emerged because of what is happening
in Parliament and because of the way that people see the Government
as illegitimate. People are being radicalised by the actions of
the police and by the fact that the Government has basically said
that it won't listen to the demonstrators. If we get drawn into
an argument that the only way we can deal with these demonstrations
is through more hardline policing and violence, that is deeply
problematic. I just wanted to draw that to the Committee's attention.
As organisers of some of the demonstrations where
there has been quite serious police violence against us, we have
some criticisms. Number one, of course, is kettling, or, as the
police call it, containment. We obviously have very serious concerns
about that. I echo what Aaron Porter said. The excessive, cruel
and unusual form of kettling that occurred on 24 November, which
saw demonstrators, some of whom were very young, kept in freezing
cold conditions on Whitehall until half past nine or ten o'clock,
has radicalised people further within this movement. I have been
at student organising meetings where we have discussed the 30
November and 9 December demonstrations. The overwhelming feeling
from students who came to those meetings is that they did not
want to be kettled. They were terrified of it. Therefore they
are looking at ways of being able to demonstrate without being
imprisoned on the streets by the police for hours on end.
Our second concern is about violence from the police.
Numerous videos have already emerged and some eyewitness accounts.
I have printed off some emails and newspaper reports that I am
more than happy to quote to the Committee, which show the police
batoning students without cause, punching students who had their
hands in the air, kicking students who were on the floor and making
horse charges. There were around 43 protesters taken to hospital
on 9 December. One student, Alfie Meadows from Middlesex University,
had to undergo a three-hour brain operation after having a stroke
after being hit by a police truncheon. This is a very worrying
way of dealing with student demonstrators.
There are two quick final things that we also have
problems with. One is police covering up their numbers. Video
has emerged from the 9 December demonstration of a female police
officer in riot gear whose numbers were not on display. Denis
O'Connor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, told the Commons
last April after the G20 that it was utterly unacceptable for
officers not to be wearing their numbers, and yet this is still
happening. The police also wear balaclavas even when there is
no need to do so.
The final thing is lying. The police lied. One of
the chief police officers said that there was no horse charge
on 24 November. There was. Footage has emerged that there had
been a horse charge against demonstrators. They lie when you're
in kettles. I have lots of evidence of students stuck in kettles
who were told by police to go to the other end where they would
be allowed to leave, and then they were not allowed to leave.
Police told demonstrators a number of different things, and this
creates a real sense of mistrust in the police, when they trap
people in kettles for so long.
Q4 Lord Dubs:
Can I turn specifically to some aspects of the kettling that went
on? For the sake of brevity I am going to put some of my questions
together. Could you say something about the childrenthat
is to say, anybody under 18 who was there? What sort of communication
was there between the police and those people who were being contained?
Were there any individual requests to be released and how were
they handled? What about water, toilets and medical assistance?
Lastly, in the statement made to both Houses of Parliament yesterday
in relation to 9 December, the Home Secretary said, "A cordon
was placed around Parliament Square, but throughout those who
remained peaceful and wished to leave via Whitehall were able
to do so." Do you agree that they were able to, or not?
Aaron Porter: I
should be clear that for 24 November I have to refer to accounts
from students I have spoken to who went on the protest, because
I was not present on 24 November. I have been told by a number
of students who were on the protest that there were instances
of aggression from the police to those clearly under the age of
18 and that there was no adequate provisionor indeed any
provisionof water or toilet facilities specifically on
24 November. There were serious issues about the nature of the
containment or kettling on 24 November.
My understanding is that on 9 December there were
opportunities for people who wanted to remove themselves from
containment and that was afforded. That would indicate that the
Home Secretary's statement was accurate.
Simon Hardy: On
24 November there was no provision for food. The police told the
media that they were handing out water to people in the kettle.
That wasn't apparent to me. If they were handing out water, it
was not widely known about by the people in the kettle. The police
claim to have provided toilets for people. Again, that was not
widely known. The toilets might have been there, but no one knew
about them. The police weren't communicating with us adequately.
When the chief steward at that demonstration tried to talk to
the commander in charge, he said that he was distinctly unhelpful
and did not provide her with the information she was looking for.
On the 9 December demonstration, the kettle, which
began around half past three, alternated between being total,
meaning that no one could leave at any point, and various other
kettles being formed where people could leave, but then they would
end up in another containment area. I can draw the Committee's
attention to a report from the BBC News website under the headline
"Caught up in Demo Violence". It is an interview with
Rachel Bergan from Barnsley, who is 17-years-old. She says that
the police let her go out of one kettle. "According to Rachel,
after begging in tears to be let out, she and her friends got
through one police line but were then halted by another."
She goes on to say, "We were traumatised at this point. We
were crying. We'd been hit by police for just wanting to go home.
We were begging to, please, just let us go home. They showed no
mercy whatsoever [
] I managed to break away. [When the police
came at us again] I was pushed into a ditch by a police officer
and when I tried to get out of the ditch he pushed me back in.
I turned around to see a group of my friends on the floor getting
beaten by police officers." She described these friends as
"17-year-old slim girls" who were beaten with batons
by police for trying to leave the kettle on 9 December.
Q5 Lord Dubs:
My next question is about the use of horses. Could you say something
about that? You have referred to them already, on 24 November
and 9 December. Were they charging the crowd, or were they simply
used to hold the crowd back?
Simon Hardy: On
24 November, I was stuck in the kettle. The horses were used slightly
further up the road. I didn't see it myself, but I heard people
in the kettle saying that horses were being used. People were
outraged. At this point another solidarity demonstration had emerged
towards the Trafalgar Square end, with trade unionists and parents
who had come down and were concerned about their children.
Horses were used. On the YouTube video that I saw,
which was taken by a protester, the police moved at speed into
the crowd. I stand to be corrected, but I gather that that is
not standard procedure. On 9 December, the police again moved
their horses at speed into the crowd to break up a mass of demonstrators
and then followed it up by hitting people with shields and batons
towards one of the exits from Parliament Square.
Q6 Lord Bowness:
In connection with both 24 November and 9 December, can you tell
us what communications you had with the police before the demonstrations?
Did you know who your contact points were? Perhaps you could describe
how you felt that dialogue worked.
Simon Hardy: On
the 24 November demonstration, I am not aware of what communications
were had with the police. I wasn't involved in helping to organise
that demonstration in terms of what happened in London. For 30
November, I went to Scotland Yard with another student organiser
to arrange a route with the police from Trafalgar Square down
to Parliament Square. The demonstration did not follow that route
because, as the crowd was assembling at around 12 o'clock in Trafalgar
Square, a line of police and vans blocked off Whitehall. The crowd
reacted to that by beginning an impromptu and spontaneous demonstration
that took off down The Mall and then ended up round Victoria and
Hyde Park Corner and Tottenham Court Road. That was entirely in
response to what had happened on 24 November. People were again
terrified of kettling. They saw so many police and they assumed
that that was going to happen. There were attempts to negotiate
that route with the police in good faith on 30 November, but because
of what happened on 24 November, things worked out differently.
On 9 December there were several negotiations with
the police about the route of the march. It was requested that
we should be able to have a rally in Parliament Square. The students
felt that it was their democratic right to be outside Parliament
as the tuition fee increase was being debated in the House of
Commons. We were told that that would not be possible for various
reasons, either because Parliament Square was too small for the
numbers that the police expected or because the GLA, who I gather
owns the patch of grass outside Parliament, was unwilling to remove
the fences from the Green because the grass was still growing.
This, of course, created a sense of anger from students that the
GLA and apparently the police seemed to be prioritising regrowing
the grass after the democracy village over the students' democratic
right to protest outside Parliament. That is why, when the demonstration
got down to Parliament Square on 9 December, students didn't want
to carry on to Victoria Embankment, but instead wanted to stay
where they were.
Q7 Mr Raab:
I am interested in the ability to disseminate some of the information
about the protests with those participating before and during.
In relation to the demonstration on 24 November, we had reports
of some groups of students running from one place to another.
Was that a tactic, was it something that just happened within
the context of the demonstration, is it something that you feel
you have no control over? In relation to 9 December, I have a
similar question. We talk about the kettling. I understand that
that started with the build-up within Parliament Square. That
itself, and the protesters remaining in Parliament Square and
not moving on along the pre-agreed route, was one of the things
that precipitated the problems, whoever's fault they are. I wondered
what your views were on the changing of tactics in the course
of those two demonstrations and the extent to which that created
problems for the police, as well as how you might address it in
Aaron Porter: Specifically
for the demonstrations on 30 November and 9 December, given the
kettling on 24 November, there was significant anxiety that I
have been made aware of from students that that would happen once
again. A number of protesters certainly decided that they would
try to avert that if they saw the police shaping up to create
a containment once again. Clearly, I would be of the opinion that
the organisers of a responsible student demonstration should try
to be as clear as possible that it is vital that those on the
protest should stick to an agreed route that has been set before.
There is certainly a responsibility on the organisers to convey
I can only speak as being part of the organisation
that oversaw one of the actions on 9 December. We felt that we
were clear that our protesters had stuck to the route that we
had organised, although we were not part of the march that went
from the University of London union down to Parliament Square.
In the age where students are largely picking up
information about these protests through the internet, we should
use information on the protests themselves to make sure that individuals
are aware of what the route is and why they should be sticking
Q8 Mr Raab:
Mr Hardy, can I put the same points to you?
Simon Hardy: You
are asking about the changing police tactics and how we disseminate
information to the demonstration?
Mr Raab: For example,
on 9 December, we have just talked about the kettling or containment
in Parliament Square. That arose, at least chronologically, after
the breakdown in the pre-agreed route, which was to move on towards
the Embankment. I accept what you have said about the democratic
right to protest outside Parliament, within limits, but this went
further. The agreed route was breached. To what extent do you
guys have responsibility for that practically, either at the outset
or as the protest is proceeding?
Simon Hardy: We
have to be absolutely clear that if the great majority of people
on a demonstration want to do something, all the stewarding teams
in the world will find it very difficult to stop them. That is
effectively what happened on 9 December. The majority of students
who turned up on that demonstration wanted to go to Parliament
Q9 Mr Raab:
Did you actively try to stop them or urge them to carry on to
the Embankment along the agreed route?
Simon Hardy: In
our capacity as stewards, what we could do was very limited. The
National Campaign against Fees and Cuts and the other movements
that have emerged have limited resources, although clearly the
actions that we are calling have popular resonance. In a sense
it is an abdication of duty on the part of larger organisations
such as the National Union of Students to provide us with the
resources and help that we need to facilitate those demonstrations.
Unfortunately, the NUS chose not to back the demonstration from
the University of London union down to Parliament Square, and
instead focused on something on Victoria Embankment, which as
far as I'm aware was much less popularly attended. Those are the
issues that we have in trying to organise those demonstrations.
I want to be absolutely clear that the reactions of the students
since 24 November, particularly on the demonstrations on 30 November
and 9 December, are a direct response and reaction to what the
police did to us on 24 November.
Q10 Mr Raab:
I think people might have greater understanding that in the heat
of the moment certain students reacted to certain specific tactics,
but to suggest that the disorder or violence on one protest is
a legitimate response to actions by the police on a previous one
sounds as though you were coming back for revenge. Can I ask you
to clarify that point?
Simon Hardy: It
is absolutely not revenge. If anyone was carrying out any kind
of revenge, it was the police on 24 November, in revenge for what
happened at Millbank.
Q11 Mr Raab:
I am asking you about the attitude of the students in your movement.
Simon Hardy: The
attitude of the students coming on 9 December was that they wanted
to protest. They felt it was their right to go to Parliament Square.
They knew that the police would be violent and had been violent
on previous demonstrations. That is why students started to turn
up, for instance, in hard hats. Some students even made shields
in the shape of books to protect themselves from baton blows and
The Committee has to ask itself why. Students weren't
doing that at the initial demonstrations but they have started
to do it at subsequent demonstrations. There is a cause and effect
chain here. We have to understand and appreciate that it is a
response to how people view what is happening in Parliament and
how people view the actions of the police in particular on 24
Q12 Mr Sharma:
Everybody who saw the demonstration had mixed views. Do you take
any form of responsibility for the disorder that took place? And
what lessons have you learnt from 9 December to see that it is
not repeated in future?
Simon Hardy: The
responsibility lies with those people in power for the feelings
of students and people who are organising these demonstrations.
As far as I'm concerned, students have the right to demonstrate
and to protest without fear and without having collective punishment
imposed on them, which is what a kettle is; it is indiscriminate
in who it traps in a particular area. They have the right not
to be charged by horses or to be punched and kicked by men and
women in uniform, who in the end have the full weight of the law
behind them, whereas 14, 15 or 16-year-old students turning up
on demonstrations have violence inflicted upon them by the police,
and increasingly so. I gather from an article in the Telegraph
today that the police want to have an even harder line on the
student demonstrations in the future.
Our responsibility is to facilitate protest, to make
sure that it happens and to defend demonstrations from police
violence and media witch hunts. That is what people are concerned
about today, because the response of British society and the establishment
to these demonstrations has not been very conducive to dialogue.
Q13 Mr Raab:
I wanted to ask Mr Porter the same question that was put to Mr
Hardy about what level of responsibility you felt that you, as
one of the organisers, had for the violence that we have seen
on some of these protests.
Aaron Porter: Clearly,
there is a dual responsibility here. Clearly there is a responsibility
of the organisers of protests to ensure that there is a mutually
agreed route. In the run-up to the 10 November demonstration that
we organised, we met three times with the police and agreed a
route. We outsourced the required health and safety arrangements
and risk assessments to a professional organisation that had dealt
with other events previouslyAlex Burrow Events Ltd.
The organisers of a demonstration have a responsibility
to try to ensure that those on the protest stick to the agreed
route and act in a responsible fashion. I believe that we met
all those requirements in the organisation of 10 November. I do
believe that some people who came intent on causing violence had
infiltrated our march on 10 November. It created scenes that were
beyond our control, although we had met everything that we needed
to do. I agree with Simon in so far as protesters should have
an expectation that they are treated in a fashion that maintains
and protects their human rights. I believe that there have been
some infringements on subsequent actions, as I have already alluded
to, but on the NUS protests we have worked sufficiently closely
with the police and had a constructive relationship with them
to ensure that we have discharged our responsibilities.
Q14 Lord Bowness:
We are talking about responsibility. Mr Porter has just indicated
a very reasonable sense of responsibility on the part of the organisers.
To use words similar to the ones that you have used, given that
people have infiltrated these demonstrations intent on violence,
leaving aside for a moment the theory about Mr Hardy's reference
to 14 and 15-year-olds and their democratic right, do you think
it would be responsible to suggest that parents should not bring
young children or permit them to participate in something that
even you as the organiser acknowledge is likely to be infiltrated
by people intent on trouble?
Aaron Porter: In
truth, we have an unprecedented level of anger about the Government's
proposals on tuition fees. Those of school and college age feel
most uncomfortable about the proposals. There would equally be
something irresponsible about the National Union of Students trying
to prevent those people from legitimately voicing their concerns.
The responsible thing to do is to have a constructive and honest
relationship between the organisers of protests and the police
to facilitate the overwhelming majority of people who want to
protest peacefully. But I also believe that there needs to be
sufficient intelligence to ensure that those who are intent on
violence are not allowed on to the protest if, as some did, they
come armed with snooker balls, smoke bombs and other things that
make the policing for the majority of people incredibly difficult.
Simon Hardy: It
is wrong to say that we should even consider putting aside democratic
rights to protest for school students
Q15 Lord Bowness:
Forgive me for interrupting, but I didn't say put it aside.
Simon Hardy: You
said in theory we should put it aside.
Lord Bowness: Mr Hardy,
I said just put it to one side for a minute for the purpose of
my question. I accept the democratic right. I asked you whether
you thought that it might be a responsible thing to do, given
that all sorts of people acknowledge that on these demonstrations
there are people intent on trouble. I said it was just for the
purpose of answering that question. Please don't try and misinterpret
my question in a political fashion.
Simon Hardy: I
reject utterly this narrative that demonstrations are being hijacked
by minority organisations. This is a mass movement. It is democratic,
it is legitimate and it is increasingly radicalised by what it
sees going on in the Houses of Parliament and with the policing
of demonstrations on the streets. It is right that school students,
college students and university students should come on the protest.
They should be joined by their parents if they want to come. We
have already been joined by trade unionists and pensioners and
others. It is an absolute democratic right in this country that
we can protest and make our voice heard against injustice that
we feel is going on in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
The police need to ask themselves a question. If
they want to make the demonstrations more violent and increase
the police repression, it is only a matter of time before we get
another Ian Tomlinson or another Blair Peach on the demonstrations.
On 9 December, thankfully Alfie Meadows didn't die, but someone
in his situation could be hit by a policeman's truncheon or knocked
over by a horse and could be killed on these demonstrations. The
responsibility lies in what is going on in Parliament to redress
how people feel, how angry they are and why they are demonstrating.
It is the responsibility of the police not to criminalise these
demonstrations and violently attack them.
Q16 The Chairman:
Thank you very much. I thank you once again for coming today.
I apologise for the short session. If you feel that there are
issues that we have not covered, we'd be very happy to receive
a memorandum from both of you.