Give us your details – the NHS demo

22 Mar

photo: Cai Wingfield

The use of police ‘kettles’ on demonstrations is now so completely routine and expected, that scarcely an eyebrow was raised at the kettling of yet another march last Saturday. According to the Law Lords and now the European Court of Human Rights, kettling (or containment in police-speak) is supposed to be a tactic used only ‘in extremis’, where police have no other options for ‘the prevention of serious public disorder and violence’.

There was never likely to be ‘serious public disorder and violence’ at the save the NHS demo on Saturday. There was, however, a very real threat that protesters may not be entirely obedient to the wishes of the Metropolitan police. They moved into and sat down on the road, and then set off on a spontaneous march with the intention of taking their protest to Virgin, one of the companies seen as most likely to profit from NHS privatisation.

This was enough for the Met to deploy large numbers (relatively speaking) of police to stop and kettle the protest. Some quick movement by protesters scuppered their first attempt, but the police persevered and eventually succeeded. The kettle was relatively short in duration, with people kept only for half an hour or so. But it succeeded in disrupting and dispersing the protest. And it enabled the police to demand a name and address from everyone detained within it.

The now commonplace practice of lining people up for searches, and demanding names and addresses from each of them, is an intimidating and thoroughly uncomfortable experience even for those who have become used to it. For people not used to being in contact with the police it can be downright frightening. Many people end up complying with police demands and giving their details even though they have every right to refuse, especially if they are told – and they frequently are – that they won’t be able to leave the kettle otherwise.

This is coercion, plain and simple. Sometimes it gets even worse – on a number of recent demonstrations Netpol have observed police making blanket threats to arrest people for ‘anti-social behaviour’ under s50 of the Police Reform Act if they refused to give their details. This is a measure that needs suspicion that an individual has caused harassment alarm or distress – something the police are unlikely to have had on the demonstations we have observed.

Given all this, it’s encouraging to come across what appears to be a growing army of people who have become wonderfully obstinate in the face of this sort of police bullying. The following account of an exchange at the NHS kettle was posted on the ‘Another Angry Woman’ blog by contributor PiercePenniless:

Just a note on the data-gathering. Police were ‘dispersing’ the kettle by escorting people out of it one-by-one. I believe a few of the people first leaving were told they ‘had’ to give details in order to leave. Those of us still inside had more-or-less the following conversation with the officers offering to escort us out:
Us: ‘Are you telling us we have to give our details in order to leave? If so, under what section of what law are we compelled to do so?’
TSG: ‘Er, I think there might be a section 12 in place.’
Us: ‘OK, well we’d like to know that for sure before we leave. Again: do we have to give our details in order to leave?’
TSG: ‘Look, you can either stay here, or be escorted out and asked for your details.’
Us: ‘Are these the two options we have, then? Either staying here or leaving and giving our details? No other choice?’
TSG: ‘Look, do you want to leave or not?’
Us: ‘That’s not an answer to our question.’
And rolling on and on etc, until I think they realised we were all pretty unlikely to give them any details, so most of us then left without giving any. But certainly police trying it on like this is a regular feature of demonstrations.

Organisations such as LDMG (Legal Defence and Monitoring Group) and GBC (Green and Black Cross) have done fantastic work in getting the word out on this. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO GIVE YOUR NAME AND ADDRESS UNDER ANY SEARCH POWER has, along with NO COMMENT been drummed into the heads of hundreds of thousands of protesters over the last few years.

It is almost always a very good idea for anyone to keep their name and address to themselves when dealing with police at demonstrations – building up a police file merely for being at protests can carry all sorts of unlooked for consequences, even for people who have never even thought of committing a criminal act. But the collective act of non-compliance is perhaps even more important. The more people resist it, the less workable the tactic becomes, and that has to be a good thing.

Netpol actively monitor the use of S50 Police Reform Act (anti-social behaviour) and similar intimidating tactics for obtaining the names and addresses of people attending demonstrations. If you have been pressured or intimidated into giving your name and address to the police, please let us know about it.

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