imc london | 24.03.2003 19:40
The Fairford Legal Support Team are concerned of the over policing of 2000 to 3000 peaceful protesters at the United States Air Force (USAF) base in Fairford[ report]. They have major concerns over the scale of stop and search incidents by officers drafted from as far away as Greater Manchester and West Midlands. 4 coaches are so far reported as being stopped before reaching Fairford.
Legal Restrictions and Police Presence at Fairford Demonstration.
Sections 12 & 14 of 1986 Public Order Act were imposed with police forbidding alternative routes or variations from demonstration times they had designated. The demo was only allowed to go from the village to the USAF main gate. Any assembly of more than 20 people was banned elsewhere, and people could only move outside on the designated protest area if they were on their own. 1000 police, including and officers in riot gear were on duty. Police carried out around 4 arrests under the 1994 Criminal Justice Public Order Act (CJPOA) – 2 allegedly for failing to remove masks. There are also calls for an explanation from the House of Commons about notices posted at Fairford stating "The use of deadly force is authorised" (more info on recent protests http://www.gwi.org.uk) after officers have been armed.
Police Stop and Search Coaches 10 Miles From Fairford
3 Coaches from London and 1 from Swindon were stopped and searched at the village of Lechlade, approx 10 miles away from Fairford. The Legal Support Team from London monitored vehicle and people searches for "offensive weapons" considered likely to cause "damage at the base" or "injury to" airforce staff". These were the severest restrictions in place following multiple stop-and-searches in the vicinity of the base under Section 44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act over the last few weeks.
10 miles from the demonstration, 3 coaches from London were stopped, searched, then turned and escorted back to London by a relay of regional police forces. Under a CJPOA section 60, coaches were surrounded by police then people were systematically searched, videoed from head to foot and photographed. People were mostly searched 3 at a time, each individual search took about six minutes. It was clear from the outset that searching hundreds of people in this manner would take hours. When the search began, the demo had already started. For many people on the coach, this looked like a deliberate attempt to delay people’s arrival at the protest.
During the search process items that were confiscated included white boiler suits with hoods, paper face masks, scarves (red, black and tartan), and people’s coats with hoods – the police said these could be used to conceal people’s identity. Police also confiscated two motorcycle crash helmets, saying they could be used as offensive weapons, however and importantly they allowed people to keep builders hard hats, accepting that they were for self-defence protection. There were inconsistencies in that Police allowed some people to keep some padding, while seizing other padding. They did not provide a list of the items seized and while people would be able to remember what had been taken from them personally, no one saw what they police seized when they searched the inside of the coaches after everyone had been taken off.
Between 12.30 and 15.00, about 180 people were left in uncertainty about their chances to participate in the demonstration, given the length of time the searches were taking – even some police agreed it was “unfortunate” that more officers had not been tasked to conduct the searches thus speeding up whole process.
After the arrest of one person in connection with a previous protest a few people who had been processed crossed the road and started walking behind the arresting officers towards the nearby village. At that point, one officer was heard requesting more surveillance units and backup saying something along the lines of "it looks as if its going go off here now - they're all running now"! The main part of the group realised that every attempt to get to the Fairford protest would be defined illegal under Section 12 and 14, since under these restrictions they could only walk there on their own and using different routes to anyone else!
After the coaches had been thoroughly searched inside and underneath, the remaining protesters got back onto the coaches under friendly encouragement from police. When the coaches were boarded, a police officer stuck his head in and informed the few people in the front seats in a low voice that the coach was going to be escorted back to London. He did not provide any information under which powers the action would be taken and as he left more officers blocked the door and refused to answer questions or requests to repeat the announcement. The drivers had already been informed individually that they were going to drive back to London.
A volunteer from the Legal Support Team opened the coach door and demanded to speak to the officer in charge, to whom he had talked before, saying he thought this was illegal and that not everyone was back on his coach. The request was denied as police pushed the door against him, throwing their weight against it and forcing it shut, holding it closed as the coach began to accelerate off. Requests from journalists with press cards to be allowed off were also denied with no legal reasons given.
Police Force Coaches Back to London Under Large Escort
The return journey was led by police cars and vans and accompanied by motorbike escorts on either side of the coach. Two police landrovers also accompanied and 3 police vans followed. Traffic was blocked by police vans at every motorway junction (exit and entrance slip roads) to keep the "convoy" together. The driver of one coach was informed that if he stopped or tried to deviate from the escort he would be arrested and replaced with a police driver. The number of escort vehicles varied as police from different constabularies came and went.
People from some of the coaches called 999 to report they had been kidnapped by police, but they were informed that because this was a police action they could do nothing to help. Others made signs to put up in the coach windows saying things like “Help we are peace protestors” – “we have been illegally detained” – “help call the media” and so on. One placed at the back of the convoy facing the police escort read “all coppers are bastards” (and apparently produced much laughter in the police van immediately behind). Many passing motorists read the signs, many gave peace signs back or tooted support – someone posted a report about seeing the convoy onto the Indymedia website. Police travelling alongside the coach filmed both people inside and the signs in the windows. Soon however and the police completely blocked the motorway behind the convoy so nothing could overtake, thus ensuring that no one else would see the signs in the windows.
Toilet stops were refused despite pleas from senior citizens taking part in the action. At one point the police did say that a toilet stop would be permitted, but this never materialised. In the end women were forced to use makeshift toilet provisions on the moving coaches (luckily, people had thought to bring their lunchboxes) in view of police driving alongside. However, travelling at only around 35-40 miles an hour and with traffic now severely tailing back, the Fairford London coaches were in effect blocking the M4!
By this time many people had called legal numbers and spoke to lawyers. People were informed that the police would have been within the law if they had arrested everyone when they detained and searched for weapons, but in imprisoning people on the coaches for around 3 hours while forcing them back to london they were in fact acting illegally. Several discussions were had about taking legal action on this matter. Some people both on the coach and in support teams called the media about what was happening. The BBC newsdesk initially said they did not believe the story and then said they do not take stories from members of the public anyway! The other channels also said they were not interested in the story.
Illegally Detained Protestors Escape!
The coaches were meant to take everybody to Euston, where ten vans of riot police were waiting, which led many to believe that they would again be detained upon arrival there, probably for several hours until the London demonstrations were over. As the coaches entered the outskirts of London more and more people were reading the signs in the windows and giving support. At around 5pm as the coaches stopped in traffic near Holland Park at Shephard’s Bush, the emergency doors were flung open and people jumped out and split running in different directions.
Some police gave chase, pushing people onto the pavement. One protestor was repeatedly pushed hard along the pavement something like 15 times. A much smaller group of protestors regrouped and began marching down Holland Park Avenue, blocking one lane with traffic following behind. At this point there were only three police officers following them. Soon however three vans arrived and police jumped out running down the road to the protestors. As a more senior officer shouted get out of the road or you will be arrested the others began pushing people quite heavily towards the path. Some protestors sprinted ahead while the majority got onto the path and continued walking into central london.
At one point a policeman pushed a protestor really violently when he walked the wrong side of a tree lining the road, despite the fact that the protestor was still on the path / curb. The protestor shouted loudly at the police at which point he was grabbed around the neck and pushed into the side of a bus stop by two officers. As people shouted for them to chill out and release him the other police came running over and began pushing people back – in the next few seconds people were punched and one was dragged into the small space between a telephone box and some railings and beaten. With police now shouting orders to isolate and detain everyone people again ran ahead trying to get away from the police. Many boarded buses as they thought this would be a safer war of continuing the journey into central london.
Soon and people arrived in central London near Hyde park in time to catch the end of the days demonstrations, finally, almost 8 hours after setting out, allowed to protest. ends.