The high court ruled last week that the police kettling of protesters during the G20 demonstrations at the Bishopsgate Climate Camp in 2009 was illegal, potentially paving the way for further lawsuits against the Met for false imprisonment. The ongoing inquest into the death of Ian Tomlinson, who died after apparently being pushed by police as he tried to find a way through the cordons further throws the spotlight onto policing of protests.
For the uninitiated, the tactic of kettling involves cordons of police officers containing a crowd in a limited area, denying them freedom, food and water and toilet facilities, often for hours at a time. The aim is to prevent violent disorder and limit the moment of potential troublemakers, but kettling has been heavily criticised by protesters and by Liberty as being provocative and used as a first resort rather than a last.
Today's report published by the human rights organisation on the policing of the anti-cuts demonstration in March while offering praise to the restraint shown by police under provocation also said that;
‘Overall it is understandable that protesters have become so wary of the possibility of being kettled and the tactic does appear seriously to undermine the relationship of trust and confidence between peaceful protesters and the police. The possibility of mass containment of peaceful protesters has undoubtedly had a chilling effect on many people’s rights to freedom of expression and assembly.’
Unsurprisingly, the fear of containment has led to protesters adopting counter-kettling measures, such as the app developed by sukey, an organisation dedicated to corralling tweets, messages and pictures from the ground rather than the protesters themselves to provide real-time guidance on how to avoid being kettled. One enterprising Londonist reader even produced a hand-drawn map of a police kettle during the student marches.
Given the fact that barely a day goes by when kettling isn’t in the news, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a new strategy dreamed up by the police to cope with the increase in demonstrations over the last year or two, but no. Back in 2001, the Met used it to contain in a seemingly indiscriminate fashion protesters and bystanders at Oxford Circus during the May Day riots. Blogger Rachel bagelmouse gives an opinion on what it’s like inside a kettle and the effect it has on protesters and the OurKingdom blog echoes the sentiment.
This latest ruling on the use of kettling as a matter of course during demonstrations will doubtless be a relief for Lois Austin and Geoffrey Saxby, whose lawsuit and subsequent appeal against the Met for wrongful detention failed and highlights that the courts are questioning the effectiveness and the application of containment.
Have you been kettled? Tell us about it in the comments.