Liberty: Too much focus on kettling
Senior officers focused too much on the potential use of the controversial kettling tactic as hundreds of thousands of protesters marched against the Government's public spending cuts, human rights campaigners said.
Liberty, which had 120 legal observers - including two inside Scotland Yard's special operations room (SOR) - for the TUC march through central London on March 26, said the tactic was "under near constant consideration" as soon as any potential trouble spots emerged.
The report comes after the Metropolitan Police said it would appeal against last week's High Court decision declaring the kettling tactics used against demonstrators during G20 protests in central London two years ago unlawful.
"We are concerned that the tactic has become too great a focus of police attention," the Liberty report on the policing of the demonstration said. "In the SOR there seemed to be a continual expectation that a containment would be imposed at some point. The question seemed to be more 'when' than 'if'.
"It was clear from our observation of senior officers that containment was a tactic under near constant consideration as soon as it became apparent that a breakaway group were committing damage to property and behaving violently towards police."
The human rights group added that the focus on kettling "does appear seriously to undermine the relationship of trust and confidence between peaceful protesters and the police".
Protesters also "obviously widely anticipated" the use of kettling, which police used to their advantage, Liberty said. Officers "used a feigned, or threatened, containment to their advantage at times (for example to disperse a group)", the report found. The observers also said that messages from the special operations room were "at times confusing and mixed".
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "The preoccupation with kettling and political pressure for knee-jerk public order powers continue to threaten the right to peaceful dissent in the oldest unbroken democracy."
But Liberty's report and legal observers' role was restricted to the policing of the official TUC march and did not cover the violence and occupations at famous London venues like Fortnum & Mason and the Ritz Hotel.
Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens, of the Met, said: "We were faced with the difficult task of striking the right balance between ensuring the vast majority of people were able to peacefully protest whilst managing the small number of criminals intent on disorder. In what was a significant and challenging policing operation we welcome Liberty's overall conclusion that the policing was proportionate."