Examination of Witnesses (Questions 17-28)|
CHRIS ALLISON AND SUE SIM
14 DECEMBER 2010
Q17 The Chairman:
Welcome. For the record could you introduce yourselves, please?
Thank you. My name is Chris Allison. I'm an Assistant Commissioner
in the Metropolitan Police Service. I'm responsible for Central
Operations, the Olympics and Paralympics, which means that part
of my remit is the policing of public order demonstrations in
Sue Sim: Good afternoon.
I am Sue Sim. I'm the temporary Chief Constable of Northumbria
Police and I'm the head of ACPO public order.
Q18 The Chairman:
Both these sessions will be focusing clearly on the issue of containment,
or kettling. This was used by the police on 24 and 30 November
and on 9 December. We have evidence that water and toilets were
made available to the demonstrators, but would you acknowledge
that all the guidelines were not always applied and used? We are
aware of the ACPO guidelines in relation to necessity, communication,
timescales, differentiation, welfare and release. Notwithstanding
the very difficult circumstances, could you give your views on
whether those guidelines were always applied?
Thank you. Yes, I will give my views. It is important to stress
that this is a Metropolitan Police operation. My colleague from
ACPO can talk about the policy side, but I can talk about the
specifics of the demonstrations.
I have listened to some of the evidence that I have
heard before. You will understand that I may have slightly different
views about what has been said. If you will forgive me, can I
pay tribute to the men and women who were out on the front line
at some of these demonstrations, and those who commanded them,
for the way in which they dealt with very challenging and difficult
protests? Some of the levels of violence they had to deal with,
aimed at them, were some of the worst I have seen in the last
10 years of public order policing. I have been in the service
for 27 years.
At the event on 24th we used a policy of containment.
That was only put in place after officers at the junction with
Parliament Street and Parliament Square came under attack. A number
of protesters there started to dig up or remove all the railings
that were around the gasworks at the bottom and started to attack
police lines with a view to coming through. Those in command took
the view that at that time, if the demonstration was allowed to
move on unfettered, given the view that it was going to try to
get to the Liberal Democrat headquarters in Cowley Street, we
would have seen widespread damage and disorder. As a result they
put in place a containment and then, having ensured that it was
both necessary and proportionate in the first place, tried to
ensure that all the learning that has come out of G20 was put
into place. A containment officer, a superintendent, was appointed
very soon. As you say, toilets and water were provided. I have
an email that came in from a journalist that talks about what
he saw on that day. An individual who has been very critical of
us in the past says that all the learning was put in place. Access
for journalists was given to and through the lines. Vulnerable
people were allowed out wherever possible.
I spoke to the superintendent again this morning.
He and his staff officer, or his runner as they are called, went
into the crowd themselves on a number of occasions to look for
young and vulnerable people. A significant number of people were
let out of the cordon lines. We appreciate that it took some time
to release everybody out of it. They were trying their level best
to do it, but the worry was about the disorder that would take
Communication with protestors is a key part of this.
We fully accept that. As you may recall, having seen the pictures
from the first demonstration, the officers in the initial stages
were not wearing NATO helmets; they were wearing normal beat duty
helmets. Only when disorder took place did they put the NATO helmets
on, but as quickly as he possibly could, the superintendent running
the containment took the helmets off and put the flat caps back
on so they could start communicating with people one-to-one. They
tried to use loudhailersmounted officers with loudhailers
and the loudhailers on the tannoy systems on our vehicles. There
were some challenges with that, because every time the tannoy
on the vehicle was used, it was shouted down by large numbers
of people in the crowd, but they did try.
In summary, we have learnt a lot since G20. We understand
people's right to peaceful protest. We have learnt from all the
recommendations from this Committee and from the HMIC report.
We were keen to ensure that we put them all into place, and we
did on that day.
I shall make a couple of comments about the events
on the 9th, which was a very different situation. As you have
heard, we were keen to ensure that protesters had their democratic
right and came to Parliament. It was an important part of that
day. There was a vote taking place in Parliament. We accepted
that protestors would want to get to Parliament Square and we
wanted to do everything we could to get them here. Equally, we
wanted to do everything we could to ensure that Parliament could
operate without any interruption and the democratic process could
When the protesters got to Parliament Square, as
you have heard there was an incident where the crowd decided that
they were going to take over the Green area. As a result, a number
of them pushed down the Harris fencing. Then we saw very ugly
and violent scenes at the south-east corner, where a significant
number of peoplethis is no longer a minoritytried
to force their way through police lines. This was a double-barrier
system set up so that we didn't have toe-to-toe police officers
and demonstrators. We had double barriers to ensure there was
distance between the two so that there could be no allegation
or suggestion of police violence, which I entirely refute. They
came under attack at that place. Yes, there were people who brought
with them snooker balls, golf balls and paint; yes, people used
the Harris fencing and various bits to try and force their way
through. The pressure was such that they buckled the double fencing
so it became a single line and police officers had to hold that
for a considerable time.
The crowd then turned their attention to the south-west
corner, where they tried to move out down Victoria. The worry
for those in command was that they would try and come round the
back and attack Parliament down Millbank, again trying to stop
the democratic process. While we fully accept people's right to
peaceful protest, we do have to ensure that the democratic process
can carry on.
At that time people could still leave down Whitehall.
There were no cordons down Whitehall at all during those first
two pieces of disorder. After a period of the second piece of
disorder at Victoria Street, those in command put cordons across
all five entrances, but we were still allowing people to leave
down Whitehall provided that we were happy that they were non-violent
and in small groups, and when it was practicable. If there was
a large build-up, we wouldn't allow people to go until that large
build-up had gone, because we didn't want, in effect, two demonstrations
on two sides of a line of police officers, which became violent.
On that occasion toilets were brought up, but given
that there was violence from within the crowd and they were setting
light to anything that was inside the crowd, it was felt not safe
to do so. We estimate that at the start 15,000 protesters came
into Parliament Square. When we did the final move of protestors
at 9pm on to Westminster Bridge to conclude the demonstration,
there were only 4,000 there. To us, that shows that this wasn't
a containment in the traditional sense. We were allowing people
to leave provided that they were peaceful. We weren't holding
large numbers of people. Sorry that is a long answer, but I hope
it gives you what you are looking for.
Q19 Lord Dubs:
I wonder if I could pursue the point about the kettling or containment.
We have the difficulty that we are talking about four different
demonstrations, but was it the case for the last two demonstrations
that kettling was planned as a first resort, or was it always
a last resort?
Let me give you some reassurance. There were four different demonstrations.
The times when it is suggested that we have used containment are
the 24th and the 9th. There was a demonstration on the 30th, in
the middle of those. On the 30th, right at the end of the demonstration
we ended up putting an arrest bubble around something in the region
of 200 people and 153 of them got arrested. That's an entirely
On both occasions, on the 24th and the 9th, when
we put cordons around them it was a last resort. When the disorder
broke out at the south-east corner of Parliament Square, we left
Whitehall open for a good hour and a half to allow anybody who
didn't want to be part of that protest and who wanted to be peaceful
to leave without any challenge. We allowed that to happen. On
no occasion was it a first resort; it was a last resort. We would
far rather have people turn up, protest peacefully, have their
say and leave the area.
Q20 Lord Dubs:
What sort of communications were you able to have with the people
who were being contained? Did the people being contained know
that there was a way out through Whitehall? You say that part
of the time they were able to go out that way and part of the
time they weren't.
On 9 December, we brought one of our very large warning and informing
pieces of equipment up, which has been provided as one of our
contingency plans. You can hear in the background, over a very
large tannoy system, those in the crowd being encouraged to leave
via Whitehall. When the march stopped there and we started seeing
the scenes of disorder, you can hear officers on the tannoy system
encouraging people to leave the area and make their way down Whitehall
to go to where the protest should have ended, on the Embankment.
Q21 Lord Dubs:
Thank you. What's your response to the comments we have heard
earlier today, and on television, that people, including children,
weren't allowed to leave and that they were held there in a pretty
I would say on both that wherever practicable we allowed people
to leave. On the containment on the 24th, one of the key things
for Bronze Containment, the superintendent in charge of that,
was to try to identify young and vulnerable people and get them
out. I know he had Jenny Jones, a member of the GLA, watching
a whole load of his activity during that time. She witnessed him
doing that sort of thing. He was keen to do it. He was making
sure that all the officers on the lines were looking for those
vulnerable people. Exactly the same is true of the 9th. There
may have been occasions when individuals came to the cordon line
and said they wanted to go out and were told they couldn't go
out at that moment because the area further up the road was not
clear, so there were worries about the crowd getting out. But
I go back to my earlier comment: over the time that the cordons
were in place, somehow about 11,000 people left Parliament Square,
which shows that we had a porous cordon in place and we were allowing
those who were vulnerable out of that area.
Q22 Lord Dubs:
In the light of what happened, would you do things differently
We recognise that people have a right to peaceful protest. There
are those who would say that maybe we shouldn't have allowed the
protest to come to Parliament Square, maybe we should have used
different tactics, maybe we should have identified all the people
who came intent on causing violence. The challenge for us is that
if we had done anything to prevent that protest getting to Parliament
Square on the 9th, there would have been those who would rightly
have said that we had stopped people having their right to protest
peacefully and to be part of the democratic process. Our view
was that it was very important that they were able to get here.
So no, I think we would still try to do whatever
we could to allow those who want to protest peacefully to do so.
I have heard comments in a number of places about our challenge
of identifying those who are clearly violent and want to come
on these protests to commit violence. It is slightly difficult.
There is a big investigation going on in relation to all four
protests. While I am sure there are individuals who are at the
extreme end of radicalisation and there are people who come with
the intention of committing acts of disorder, the sad fact is
that the majority of the people we have arrested for some very
serious offences until now have been students. If they end up
being charged with those serious offences, this will change the
rest of their lives. These are people who we probably wouldn't
have identified at the start of the protest as being likely to
get involved in acts of disorder, but for one reason or another
they have done and as a result of that they will probably pay
the price for the rest of their lives. Our view is that that is
very sad. We want people to come and protest peacefully, but I
will not and cannot accept that in some way the tactics that we
have used justify violence by any person. They do not justify
violence against property or against police officers. We are there
to facilitate peaceful protest. We have not been attacking protesters.
We have been defending lines wherever we've had to do it.
Q23 Lord Bowness:
You will be aware that there has been criticism of the decision
to contain or kettle the demonstrators despite their relatively
young age and the presence of many children. It must be difficult,
but do you have an option of tactics? Does the age of the demonstrators
affect the tactics that you choose when policing a protest? Is
there a different strategy when a large number of children are
present? Part of the same question is how did officers on the
cordon deal with parents who arrived asking for their children
to be released from the containment? I won't ask you to comment
on why they had their children in the containment when they were
on the outside.
On all these things, we look at who we are dealing with. We have
to in any event. Once disorder has broken out, irrespective of
the age of the crowd, we have a duty to ensure that we manage
it as best we can. Then we have a duty to try to protect the vulnerable
as quickly as we possibly can. That was in the minds of the Bronze
Commander and the Bronze Containment on the 24th, when there was
talk of there being a significant number of younger people there.
We brought large numbers out because they were encouraging them
to come out. We acted wherever possible when parents came up or
reported stuff to us. I dealt with one individual who rang me
for advice about some 15-year-olds who were caught inside a containment.
They were in school uniform. I told that person to tell them to
go to the front line, where the police officers were, identify
who they were and they would be allowed out. That is exactly what
It is a challenge, because sadly, some of these people,
even at 16 or 17, became involved in disorder. Not all of them
did; in fact the vast majority won't have done. Unfortunately,
violence and disorder doesn't just kick in at the age of 18; for
some people it kicks in a bit younger. Our job is to try to manage
these protests for the benefit of everybody, while recognising
that we need to protect the vulnerable during that time.
I sat at the debrief on the night of the 24th, in
the early hours of the morning of the 25th. I looked in the eyes
of the officer who had run that containment. He had worked his
socks off that evening to try to do it as quickly as he possibly
could, having made sure that all the lessons from G20 were included
and trying to make sure that he got vulnerable people out of there.
I could see the passion in his eyes.
Q24 Lord Bowness:
Can I go on to the use of horses? You will know that there are
conflicting reports of whether horses were used to charge demonstrators
on 24 November. There is some video evidence that confirms the
use of horses. Can you comment on the use of horses on that day?
If the horses were charged at protestors, how does that fit with
the need for policing tactics to be proportionate to the protests?
Was the use of horses part of the strategy for dispersing the
protesters at the end of the containment? Could I ask you to comment
generally on the use of horses? Charging is a remarkably emotive
word. If you use it in an old-fashioned military sense, it is
people with drawn arms advancing to and into the enemy, or the
crowd, or whatever the scenario isthe enemy in a military
scenario, but the crowd in a police scenario. Horses, even trotting,
in terms of moving people back, is a different situation. It would
be useful if we understood the language that we are using when
we talk about charging.
We certainly don't use that language at all. What you are talking
about is an active advance. I shall talk you through how we use
horses in public order. They are a very valuable commodity, not
just in public order but in general policing. They are out there
and visible and people see them. We use them regularly at football
matches to manage crowds. We use them in a number of ways. At
football matches you will regularly see them mingling with crowds
as the crowds build up on the approach to a game. You'll see them
occasionally being used to block roads. If you've ever been to
Wembley and gone down Wembley Way, we manage the crowds going
into the tube station by having six horses that are parallel to
the crowd, and then they turn across the crowd. That is a non-threatening
way to hold the crowd back to allow us to clear the platform until
the next lot go up.
We'll also use the horses in more challenging situations
to hold lines. That's what you saw on 9 December in Victoria Street.
When the first line of officers came under attack, they were reinforced
by a mounted group who came up to that junction and in effect
took the front line. On occasions, they would walk their horses
into the crowd. Am I going to say that a horse is always perfectly
under control? Sometimes when people throw some of the missiles
and flares that we saw being thrown at them, the horses will rear
up and then go back, which is a danger for the police officers
who are in and around the area. That's where the horses were holding
that particular line.
The active advance took place on 24th. We had a containment
at the bottom end of Whitehall. Those managing it were trying
their best to get rid of people and release them out of the cordons
as quickly as they possibly could. North of that cordon was another
group of protesters. I heard Mr Hardy talk about them as people
who had come down and were being very supportive. A significant
number of those people were being exceptionally violent. They
were the very violent ones. A superintendent was responsible for
moving that cordon up to the top of Trafalgar Square to enable
us to release people from the cordons within the containment.
But we can't release them when they've got nowhere to go, so we
needed to clear that particular area. He moved them forward and
after a while the violence was such on the level 2 officers that
he had to bring the horses through, round the side of the line
and the horses would walk through the crowd and would then come
back the other side. The officers would take up and move it forward
When they came to the junction with Horseguards Avenue,
there were concerns that a number of demonstrators who had been
very violent went round the corner. There were roadworks there
and they were picking up missiles. The officers at this time were
not in possession of shields; they were just in public order equipment.
He took the view that at the appropriate time, to get them past
that junction so that they crowd couldn't arm themselves with
missiles, it was right to use an active advance. An active advance
is a line of horses some considerable distance behind the police
line. They make their way up to the police line, at a trot. The
police commander shouts "split", the police line splits
and the horses go through the line. As they go through the line,
they stop trotting and they slow down. It is very rare that we
do this. We only do it when the crowd have somewhere to go to
and the horses are not going to cause serious injury to individuals.
By what I have seen and heard in the reports, they didn't, but
we managed to achieve our end, because the protesters, seeing
the horses, didn't want to be there any more, so they moved significantly
faster northwards up Whitehall. As a result, we were able to take
that junction and prevent them getting hold of the missiles. That
is the one occasion that I am aware of when we used it. It is
not a charge; it is an active advance. It is an ACPO-approved
tactic that thankfully we rarely have to use, but it was used
on that day because of the violence that the officers were dealing
Q25 Mr Raab:
On 9 December, in relation to the planning you put in place and
the communication you had with the organisers, did you discuss
and think through a sliding scale of response measures? I am wondering
what the concrete alternatives are to containment, given the situation
that arose and what the risks were of not putting that in place.
You have talked a bit about Cowley Street and the intention of
the protesters to head down there. I wonder whether you could
give us a clearer indication on both of those points.
The alternative to containment is dispersal. Our sincere hope
on the 9th was to get the protesters into Parliament Square so
that they could say that they had been a part of that democratic
process and they had their right to protest peacefully. We allowed
them to go there. As I have mentioned earlier, our lines came
under attack as a result of them deciding that they were not happy
with where they were and they wanted to get into Parliament. I
have no doubt that if those officers hadn't bravely defended the
line, people would have tried to force their way into Parliament
We put the cordons across the top of Victoria Street
to stop a similar group going down Victoria Street and either
coming round the back and returning via Millbank, which again
would have seen significant challenges for us and significant
disorder, or potentially even worse, as we have seen in other
protests going back to 1993, 94 or 95, when you disperse people
who have already become disorderly through an area of shops and
high value property, they are willing to commit more acts of disorder,
even if they break into smaller and smaller groups. Once that
violence has boiled over, people feel empowered to do it. Those
in command were concerned that you would have ended up with widespread
disorder taking place, with shops being smashed and potentially
people having a go at the glass on the BIS building, No. 1 Victoria
When disorder has broken out, the alternative to
containment is dispersal. The history of when you do dispersal
in an area that is full of shops and property that doesn't belong
to the people involved shows that they are quite willing to commit
acts of disorder and damage it. That is very different from some
of the challenges my colleagues face when they are dealing with
disorder from people who are living in their own environment.
You can disperse groups of people who are in their own environment,
because generally they don't damage their own environment. My
colleagues in Northern Ireland, who had to deal with this for
a number of years, found that people don't generally burn down
their own houses, but if there is a shop there that doesn't belong
to them and disorder has already happened, they are more willing
to do it. I am not saying this is everybody, but sadly, we have
seen over these protests that it is no longer a small minority
but a significant number of people being willing to commit those
acts of disorder.
Q26 Mr Raab:
On the 9th, the route was agreed and much of the problems seemed
to arise when, rather than travelling along the route, the protest
remained in Parliament Square. I wondered who you felt was responsible
for the breach of the route. Was it isolated individuals or was
there a concerted effort to remain there? Do you think the organisers
bore responsibility? Related to that, once that happened, what
contingency planning had you put in place? Is that when, in the
commander's mind, containment comes into play? Do you have any
other contingency planning for breaches of route?
On the day, we sincerely hoped that everybody would follow the
agreed route. I am not into the blame game. It has been said in
this Committee and other Committees I have been to before. This
is about the police service and the organisers working together.
That's why, at that particular point, we ensured there was a PA
system that we could use to encourage the crowds to make their
way down the agreed route. That was used on a number of occasions.
It is the responsibility of the organisers to ensure that they
follow the agreement and that they put in place the necessary
resource on their side by way of stewards and others to try and
encourage people to follow it.
I have to pay tribute. On 10 November, the very first
protest, which was a challenging day for a number of people, some
of the stewards who were employed were absolutely magnificent.
They tried their best to step in and to encourage people not to
commit acts of disorder around Millbank. Stewards can work. I
have seen it happen on a number of protests. There is an onus
on the police service and the organisers to make sure that we
fulfil what we have agreed. Sadly, on that day the protesters
didn't. Sadly, they stayed. Our job then was to manage it.
Obviously, our contingency plan was that they were
not going to leave Parliament Square, they may not go down Whitehall
and they may not go to the Embankment. As far as we were concerned,
our contingency plan was that if they went to Parliament Square
and stayed there, provided that there were no acts of disorder,
that was fine, because they would be peacefully protesting and
we can manage that. We have to manage the traffic around and manage
Parliament to ensure that it can still operate, but the contingency
plan is that we have to manage it and then try to encourage them
to go. We only ended up putting in the cordons after we came under
attack. It is important that I say this. Police officers were
standing behind double layers of barriers. They came under attack.
They had to defend those lines. It was not any form of aggression
from the police service.
Q27 Mr Sharma:
You answered the question on the kettling procedures adopted.
Surely many organisations that work with young people are very
concerned that under-18s, who were exercising their right to freedom,
were seriously subject to kettling procedures. What steps were
taken and how can you explain that you have fulfilled your duty
under Section 11 of the Children Act 2004?
I talked about the passion that I saw in the eyes of the Containment
Bronze officer who had looked after it. He worked very hard to
ensure that every officer on every one of those cordon lines understood
their responsibilities in those circumstances. We didn't want
to put containment in, but we had to as a result of the disorder
and our fear of what would happen. Because we put that containment
in, we had to ensure that we were looking for vulnerable people.
They could have included people of all ages, but certainly children.
He encouraged them to talk to people by taking their NATO riot
helmets off and putting their caps back on to explain to people.
He personally walked into the crowd on a number of occasions,
despite there having been severe violence. He had de-escalated
it by taking the NATO helmets off when the violence stopped to
ensure that we were able to communicate better. The fact that
he and his runner walked into the crowd themselves looking for
vulnerable people gives a good example of extent that we were
going to to try to ensure that we were doing everything that we
As I have said to this Committee before, the policing
of public order is not an exact science; it is very challenging.
We will look at every event and see if we can get it better. Our
desire in all of this is to have a peaceful protest where people
come, they say their piece and then they go home. That is what
we would like on every occasion.
Q28 The Chairman:
Thank you very much for your evidence today. We haven't covered
everything. There are particular issues that we would like to
have covered, but time is against us. However, we will write to
you specifically on four issues: police intelligence; use of batons;
treatment of disabled protesters; and the covering of police numbers.
As we said to our earlier witnesses, if there are other issues
that you would like to raise with us, we would be very pleased
to receive a memorandum from you.
I will certainly write back to you on all of those. Can I just
make one point about covering up numbers, because this is an important
issue of confidence? As soon as that matter was brought to our
attention, it was given to the Directorate of Professional Standards,
who are still looking into it. There is an explanation that sits
behind it. We are working our way through it. It came out as a
recommendation from this Committee, from the Home Affairs Select
Committee and from HMIC and we have been at pains to ensure that
every officer out there is wearing the numerals. We must have
deployed something in the region of 8,000 officers on the streets
during these recent demonstrations. I am aware of only one incident.
The officer had been wearing her yellow tabard over the top of
her protective equipment. That was not flame-retardant. As flares
were being thrown at police officers, they were advised very quickly
to take them off, because if they caught fire it could have caused
them serious injury. As a result, because of the pressure of time
she did not remember or get time enough to move her epaulettes
on to her flame-retardant clothing. She is the only one that we
are aware of. That is still being investigated by the Directorate
of Professional Standards in the organisation. The commissioner
and I have made it quite clear that officers will wear identification
at all these demonstrations. I am not making an excuse about this
episode, but the fact that there are no other reports at this
time shows the extent to which intrusive supervision has been
put in place by the service. We are determined to ensure that
officers are accountable. They accept that they are accountable
and therefore they will wear identification.
The Chairman: Thank you
very much. In closing this session, I convey the good wishes of
the Joint Committee on Human Rights to everyone who was injured,
both protesters and police officers. Our very good wishes go to
them for a speedy recovery.