However, Thames Valley police caught even these experienced protesters by surprise with their latest pronouncements. At yesterday's regular weekly demo outside the notorious half-built lab, as permitted by the High Court injunction in a designated protest area, the police declared chanting on megaphones illegal.
The handed out notices to some of the protesters saying that the use of megaphones, whistles, etc were harassing and that the only thing allowed was speaches on megaphones.
Later in the day they arrested two people for chanting on the megaphone, despite other peopletdoing it and the rest of the 40 strong crowd chanting as well.
The two were taken to St Aldgates police station and released by 11pm. They have not been charged or bailed away, but ordered to return in two weeks. Their megaphones have been confiscated.
Chanting has been taking place at the weekly protests at the laboratory for almost two years now, so the question is, why the arrests now? Various theories are
that it is to justify the massive police presence there (four police horses and dozens of coppers on thursday for a demo that is well known for it lawfulness);
that the police have to be seen to make arrests to give encouragement to the university and contractors - after all only last week Tony Blair was personally in Oxford meeting with the contractors to reassure them of his support;
or that the police are deliberatly trying to make the demonstrations ineffective - something the committed activists who have been going there for two years are not going to let happen - by seizing/banning the megaphones and other tools of protest precisely because they are being too effective.
Previous arrests for using the megaphone have lead to all charges being dropped and the megaphones being returned. Plus the High Court Injunction taken out by Oxford University against the protesters specificially allows the use of the megaphone in the designated protest area opposite the lab, so the police know they have an uphill task showing that it's use is a crime.
The police and Oxford University are attempting to stifle protest because it is effective. The use of the megaphone at these demos has nothing to do with all the scare stories in the press recently, but with interferring with the right to protest. The protestors in Oxford will not give up so easy, but it will be interesting to see what new and novel attacks on traditional forms of protest Thames Valley Police will come up with in the future.
For more information see www.speakcampaigns.org.uk