Policing of the RTS, Brighton, Aug ’96
A report on the policing of the `Reclaim the Streets’ demonstration in Brighton on 24 August 1996
Brighton Legal Defence and Monitoring Group
On 24th August 1996 Sussex Police mounted a major police operation to stop a `Reclaim the Streets’ demonstration in Brighton. Eighty people were arrested, and the operation is said to have cost £100,000. About 46 people were charged with offences arising from the event. Brighton Legal Defence and Monitoring Group (BLDMG) has published this report to highlight a widely felt concern at the policing of this event. We believe that on the day the police often acted in an aggressive, unreasonable, violent, and illegal manner.
We list a number of issues of concern that we feel arise from the policing of this event. We also include a chronology of events in which we document some of the incidents on the day as recorded by our Legal Observers and other eye witnesses. We have omitted the names of those being arrested and the numbers of the police officers involved, although we have these details in most cases.
BLDMG was formed in April 1995 to monitor policing of protests in Brighton and to offer legal information and defence to those attending. Our Legal Observers, some of whom work in the legal profession, are given a legal briefing before events and wear bright orange tabards identifying them as Legal Observers. We have monitored a number of events in Brighton since we were founded, and have, until the arrest of some of our Legal Observers at this event, had a good relationship with the police who have recognised our independent role. Legal Observers do not take part in demonstrations and are independent both of the police and demonstrators.
We hope this report will be useful in initiating a real debate over the policing of this event, and over the policy decisions of Sussex Police that led them to act in the way they did. We do not believe the people of Brighton want their police force to act in the way they did on that day and that the Chief Constable of Sussex Police, and the officers involved, should be held accountable for the actions they have either sanctioned or carried out.
Brighton Legal Defence and Monitoring Group – 7 October 1996
Issues of concern
1. The arrest of Legal Observers. We are extremely concerned by the decision to arrest two Legal Observers, clearly identified by orange tabards with LEGAL OBSERVER written on the front and back, at the beginning of the demonstration. Nine hundred legal information leaflets detailing the rights of an individual on arrest were seized. At the police station, one of the Legal Observers was told he would be held until the demonstration was over. There appears to be remarkable inconsistency in the police approach here, as Sergeant Delacourt informed Legal Observers after the two arrests that the police would not arrest Legal Observers as long as they did not take an active part in the demonstration. Why, then, were the two arrested Legal Observers not released at this time? Why, instead, were both Legal Observers held until late that night, refused access to solicitors, and eventually bailed on the extremely serious charge of conspiracy, a charge much more serious than the one they were arrested on?
Both Legal Observers who were arrested have subsequently been told they will not be charged. They intend to sue Sussex Police in connection with their arrests.
2. Unprovoked police violence against protesters and the public Early in the day police officers in riot gear with police dogs arrived on the streets. This deployment, we believe, was provocative and inappropriate, given that the mood of the demonstrators which was good humoured and peaceful until the police themselves became violent.
Police movements in West Street between 2pm and 3pm appear to have been co-ordinated to block all exits to the area and then to squeeze the crowd into a smaller and smaller space. One Legal Observer, crushed between police lines and demonstrators, repeatedly and clearly asked for permission to leave the area peacefully. The Legal Observer received no reply. He was then hit in the chest by a police baton and was physically unable to leave the area for 25 minutes. It is difficult to find a possible justification for this decision by police officers to refuse to let people leave the protest.
We have received written and verbal reports, photographs, and video footage of police acting in what appears to be a completely unjustified manner. This includes:
batoning a reporter for standing on a wall use of neck-locks and other physical restraint against people offering no resistance attacks on disabled people the use of batons in an aggressive and illegal manner.
The widespread nature of these incidents suggest that they were part of a planned operation during which the police seriously overreacted to a peaceful demonstration.
3. Unjustified arrests of protesters and members of the public Many of the arrests on the day seem to have been motivated by an attempt to intimidate the crowd rather than being related to the actions of the individuals arrested. We observed, or received reports, of people being arrested for:
reading out poetry
carrying a papier-mâché sea horse
reading aloud an article about pollution
tripping over a kerb
handing out legal information leaflets
standing on the pavement
We are extremely concerned that the police decided to make widespread, spurious arrests of this nature and that they seem to believe that they were justified in doing so.
4. The attempt to stop a public meeting to discuss the demonstration
The police attempted to prevent a public meeting called by the group called Justice? on 2nd September to discuss the policing of the demonstration by threatening the landlord of the pub where the meeting was planned to take place. We can think of no possible justification for this political use of police officers, which was clearly aimed at stifling public debate about the actions of their colleagues.
5. The lack of accountability of the police for their actions
According to our observers on the day, the police acted violently towards peaceful members of the public, including Legal Observers and journalists. They also arrested many people, including Legal Observers, for no apparent reason. We believe that such police actions raise legitimate grounds for public concern. We are concerned that there seems to be no effective mechanism for making the police publicly accountable for such actions.
Individuals can, if they feel they have been unfairly or illegally treated by the police, take individual action against the police. This can be in the form of a complaint to the Police Complaints Authority or civil action against the police. We believe, however, that in a democratic society the police should be accountable to elected representatives for their operations. This does not seem to be the case.
Sussex Police are nominally accountable to Sussex Police Authority. It seems, however, that the Police Authority are not allowed to question `operational’ decisions by the police. We understand that Sussex Police Authority have not even asked for a report on the events of 24 August from the police. The police have said the matter is sub judice – something that has not stopped them writing to the local press to seek to justify their policing of the event.
We believe that Sussex Police Authority have a duty to the people of Brighton to make Brighton’s police accountable for their actions at this event. If they fail to do so adequately we do not think politicians should be surprised if increasing numbers of people come to see the police as, quite literally, out of control.
Chronology Of Events
This chronology is largely based on the contemporaneous notes of independent Legal Observers at the event. Police numbers and the names of those arrested or assaulted by the police have been omitted, although we have these details in most cases.
12.45 Our Legal Observers arrive in Churchill Square. A small crowd has begun to gather. The first Legal Observer is arrested at this time. Another Legal Observer is unable to obtain a reason for this arrest.
12.50 A second Legal Observer is arrested as he begins to hand out legal information leaflets. Three officers grab him from behind without warning or explanation and frog-march him to a police van where he is arrested “to prevent a breach of the peace”.
12.55 One of the remaining Legal Observers tries to find out the basis for the arrest of the two Legal Observers but is givens no explanation by several officers. Sergeant Delacourt says he does not know why they have been arrested.
Pete West, a local Green Party councillor, introduces himself to Chief Inspector Streeter as the Reclaim the Streets police liaison officer. C.I. Streeter says he is too busy and asks another officer to tell Councillor West that he should communicate with John Street Police Station. Councillor West comments:
“I told the officer I had no way of communicating with the police station, but the police were very unsympathetic and I had to find a pay phone. The march started moving off while I was waiting for the police station to phone me back and I had to abandon the phone box to keep up with the crowd. I eventually got hold of a mobile phone and repeatedly rang the police station to report unnecessary arrests; violent arrests; a woman being separated from her child; officers hiding their numbers; various other concerns about the police’s actions provoking a worsening of the situation. All this was noted but not acted upon.
“While I was witnessing one arrest C.I. Streeter threatened me with arrest. I immediately stepped back onto the pavement as requested. C.I. Streeter then pointed me out to six officers and told them that if I stepped off the pavement again I should be arrested immediately. C.I. Streeter was aware I was a councillor and liaison officer for the demonstrators but, despite earlier police complaints that the organisers of the demonstration would not communicate with the police, he refused to liaise with me.”
13.00 A female inspector on duty tells a Legal Observer that the two arrested Legal Observers are to be charged with incitement.
13.05 Two other Legal Observers are approached by Sergeant Delacourt and two colleagues. They tell the Legal Observers that this is an illegal demonstration, and ask them for their names and addresses, whether they are part of any organisation and what they are doing there. Sergeant Delacourt is told that Legal Observers are there only to observe. Seargeant Delacourt gives an assurance that Legal Observers will not be arrested if they do not take an active part in the demonstration.
Meanwhile a man is seen being arrested for handing out leaflets in Churchill Square.
13.15 By now a large crowd has gathered in Churchill Square. There is a heavy police presence forming lines around the edges of the Square with police vans along the Western Road side. Police are dressed in ordinary uniforms with the addition of bright yellow vests. The media is present and proceedings are being recorded by an elevated CCTV camera set up next to the taxi rank across the road near the Clocktower. A police Evidence Gathering Team with video and still cameras is present. The general atmosphere is calm.
Police are addressing the crowd with a megaphone but are drowned out by shouting from the crowd. There is no visible presence of a team of demonstration organisers, so police appear to be targeting anyone who stands out from the crowd and arresting them.
13.22 A man is arrested in Churchill Square for reading out an article about pollution from the SchNEWS newsletter. One witness says at the time, “He was reading aloud from the SchNEWS. He was not causing any trouble and he went without resistance.”
Legal Observers are by now finding it difficult to monitor arrests as they are themselves being threatened with arrest for `obstruction’ if they get too close to an arrest.
13.30 The crowd is still in Churchill Square and arrests are still being made of anyone standing out from the crowd in any way. A Times journalist sees a man being arrested for “walking around and singing” in Churchill Square. The number of police in Churchill Square is increasing and the police are becoming more intimidating. A Legal Observer sees a police officer push a woman and jab a passer-by in the ribs with his truncheon.
13.38 A man is arrested in Western Road for assault. He says at the time, “But I didn’t touch anybody!”
13.40 A man is arrested in Churchill Square for reading poetry. Two men are arrested for `obstruction of the highway’, while walking along the pavement towards Churchill Square with a papier-mâché seahorse. The seahorse is confiscated by police as an item that might “cause a breach of the peace”.
13.43 A man is arrested by two officers.
13.46 A man in Churchill Square is arrested for addressing the public.
13.50 The atmosphere in Churchill Square is tense, but fairly good-natured and quiet. There is no trouble from the crowd. At this time people start moving from Churchill Square towards the Clocktower. The police do not try to stop them. People are dancing.
14.00 By now most of the crowd have moved away from Churchill Square towards the Clocktower. West Street has been cordoned off and police lines begin to hem people in on all sides of the Clocktower except North Street. The police have effectively stopped the demonstration around the Clocktower. There is a heavy police presence at the bottom of West Street and police in Cranbourne Street are putting on riot gear. Amongst the protesters, drumming starts and a shower of beachballs are thrown in the air and start bouncing around the crowd.
14.06 Police begin pushing protesters from Queens Road into West Street. Police advance up West Street towards the Clocktower. North Street is now being cordoned off and demonstrators begin to move into West Street. There is a party atmosphere amongst the crowd. Police dogs are seen arriving at this time around the Clocktower.
14.10 Police move across the Clocktower end of West Street and begin to push people down West Street towards the seafront. The crowd is now being packed into West Street between police at the top of the street and more police and police vehicles at the bottom. The police are now pushing the protesters into the section of West Street between the Clocktower and Duke Street. Three officers are seen, without provocation, to be pushing demonstrators particularly aggressively at this point. Demonstrators near the Clocktower are not happy with the treatment they are receiving, but the atmosphere remains fairly calm. Riot vans are now present behind police lines.
14.15 Police start deflating any beachballs that drift their way. A police helicopter arrives.
14.25 The police make an announcement but there is so much noise in the crowd that no one can hear it. The atmosphere is still peaceful among the demonstrators. Police dogs have now arrived. The police lines start moving down from the Clocktower and up from the sea, squeezing the crowd in West Street. Police with dogs clear Duke Street.
14.30 Duke Street is cordoned off. Police charge north up West Street towards the Clocktower and there are several arrests. Those arrested are forcibly photographed and put in vans. A young woman is seen being arrested by two officers in West Street. A witness to the arrest says the woman was doing nothing at the time. The woman is very distressed about her young baby which needs feeding. One of the arresting officers is seen to bundle the young woman away from her baby.
14.40 Police near the Clocktower start putting on riot gear. Police dogs appear in the middle of the road. Riot police arrive and are overheard receiving orders to “Charge gently up West Street”.
14.50 The police line is pushing up Cranbourne Street as police vans move down West Street. Police are hemming the crowd into an increasingly confined space. A Legal Observer tells a police officer that he wants to leave but the officer just stares at him. Another officer jabs the Legal Observer hard in the chest with his baton. At the same time a pedestrian walking down West Street is violently arrested on the pavement outside the TSB bank.
15.00 Most of the crowd leave West Street into Cranbourne Street. They cross Churchill Square and move down to the seafront.
15.10 The demonstration is now moving east along the seafront towards the Palace Pier. The atmosphere is generally good. A man with a child on his shoulders walking along the pavement is threatened with being charged for `breach of the peace’. Traffic has stopped and drivers are being offered leaflets by protesters.
15.15 West Street has now been cleared and the police are pushing people up Cranbourne Street.
15.25 Some of the protesters start heading north from the seafront towards the Old Steine. Meanwhile in Cranbourne Street the police are pushing people between a van and a large plate glass window, squashing people against the glass. A man appears to be knocked unconscious against a wall by the police.
15.30 A black man with dreadlocks cycling down West Street is told by a police officer, “You swear one more time and I’ll arrest you”. The officer grabs the man off his bike by his waist and he is rammed head-first into the back of a police van. The man collapses into the van. A qualified first-aider, seeing that the man is unconscious, offers to help but is refused access by police. The police refuse to confirm if an ambulance has been called. The unconscious man is handcuffed in the van.
Meanwhile the protesters in the Old Steine start moving towards North Street. North Street is blocked by police and protesters start chanting, “We want a party!”.
Around this time a young man is assaulted on the seafront by a police officer. He asks for the officer’s number and when asked if he intends to make a statement about the assault replies “Yes” and is arrested. Shortly afterwards another police officer approaches the arrested man’s friend and tells him he will be prepared to be a witness to the assault by his colleague and gives his details. The arrested man is charged with `obstructing the highway’ and `causing intentional alarm, harassment and distress’.
15.45 An ambulance arrives and the black cyclist is carried into it on a stretcher accompanied by a police officer.
15.55 People start chanting “Scum, scum, scum!” as police make further arrests.
16.00 Some protesters are now moving along grand Parade towards St Peter’s Church. Police in riot gear carrying batons are walking behind the protesters treading on peoples’ heels and telling people to move faster. The atmosphere is now very tense.
16.10 The demonstration reaches Preston Circus. An arrest is made for obstruction. An ambulance with its siren on appears and the crowd clears to allow it to pass. The protesters start to move up New England Road.
16.20 A Rolls Royce drives at speed through the demonstration in New England Road, hitting two people.
16.25 By now people are moving across Trafalgar Street and into Sydney Street. The protesters are then herded into North Road and left towards Grand Parade and the Old Steine.
16.35 The protesters arrive in the Old Steine again. The police clear the road and protesters start heading to the roundabout by the Palace Pier.
16.48 A man is violently arrested, apparently for drumming. He is grabbed around the neck and forced to the ground by a police officer who headbutts him with a crash helmet giving him a bloody nose. Outrage starts to spread amongst the protesters.
17.00 Protesters are now on the seafront west of the Palace Pier. The atmosphere is good-natured until there are a mass of arrests.
17.02 Police are hitting people inside a police van.
17.20 A man is deliberately hit in the face with a baton by a police officer at the seafront. The event is captured on video.