As arms dealers had dinner at the hotel, people, together with the samba band, called them terrorists, while penned between barriers along the pavemnet oposite.
The critical mass never made it to the hotel. At 8.15pm it was on its way up to Park Lane while the first 30 people had made it, some scorted by police, to the designated area of protest right next to Hyde Park.
At 8.30, some bikers were cordonned at the north end of Park Lane, while opposite the Hotel there were about 100 people by then (and more arriving). Some people passed by, were given a leaflet, and when questioned by the police whether to join the pen or go away, they decided to join in.
There were two arrests although the reason remains unclear. At least one person got stopped and searched by police, then dutifully escorted to the barriers where the demonstrators were allowed to stay.
A FIT team of 3 kept trying to photograph and video every one between the designated barriers, various legal observers gave very useful leaflets about citizens rights and the Samba Band kept spirits high all the way.
Authors of this report left the scene at about 10pm and the chanting still continued.
Given that the police had several hundred officers there I'm sure protest could have been accommodated on the south side of Park Lane by Stanhope Gardens where i have demonstrated before (about 1999/2000).
The strange thing was the way officers on the ground used `safety' as a justification for their actions. When pulling me out of the road i was told it was unsafe to cycle on a busy red route! In the pen i was told that if we demonstrated closer to the Dorchester a terrorist might infiltrate us and it might be unsafe for us!
The cycle convoy continued around surrounding streets, passing by many bars, spreading the message of denouncing the Arms Fairs, with facts that make it of direct relevant to ordinary Joe-Public such as the fact that taxpayers subsidise the arms industry by up to £12 million a year. After over about an hour, we reached Piccadilly Circus where we stopped in the middle of the street to deliberate what to do next, with our 2 MC's on the tandem with the soundsystem continuing to deliver much biting polemic. Unfortunately, one of the number got arrested for not moving into the pavement quick enough after the cops insisted we make way out of the road. He was charged, along with 7 others who were arrested for minor offences at the Dorchester.
While at the nick, a man came in claiming his car had been nicked outside the Dorchester Hotel, where 200 cops were in attendance (an indictment of proper policing you might reason!) He wasn't an arms dealer - to a few of us, he had a familiar face and we think he was a tv actor!!!!
What distorted and lunatic thinking is this? Welcome to an evening of `freedom to protest’:
First, the critical mass is banged up in a side street before even getting within sight or sound of the Dorchester, where no arms dealer would have even the slightest whiff of them being there. The only protest they were free to do was shout at the cars streaming one a second down Park Lane (not a bad idea if they had done, but not what they were there for).
Second, threatened with arrest for attempting to cycle down Park Lane. Real freedom there!
Third, pulled over at least 200 metres from the Dorchester (my apologies to those innocent individuals I called “Murderers!”, but I hadn’t realized I had been stopped so far short of the target!), again out of sight and mind of the diners on death.
Fourth, stopped and searched under Section 44 `for the purpose of preventing terrorism’. Terrorism? What, in case I throw my flapjack at a besuited arms dealer, cause him to stumble on the steps, drop his briefcase and explode the Exocet missile he has just purchased? Ah, now I get it!
Fifth, under Section 14, Public Order Act 1986 (which gives police authority to restrict the place of a public assembly) two others and myself told we can protest in the pen or get arrested – our choice. A fine choice given the right to freely protest.
Sixth, I witness a woman arrested with over-the-top aggressive force whilst trying to climb into the pen – yes, the pen which police had designated as the only area we could `legally’ protest in! What?! A sergeant said to me later, “She was arrested for an earlier offence. If you knew what she had done you wouldn’t think she was being treated roughly”. No sergeant, that doesn’t wash! The woman was acting peacefully at the time of her arrest, and was suddenly grabbed forcibly, taken over to the railings by five strapping male officers who forced her head down and bent her in half, then dragged her off up the street. Even if someone had just murdered their granny, such violence would not have been warranted if they had been acting as peaceably as this woman at the time of arrest.
And meanwhile, the people who commit the heinous crimes of manufacturing, buying and selling the weapons used worldwide to slaughter millions, are caressed within the confines of the Dorchester Hotel, wined and dined, protected from the embarrassment of seeing or hearing a hundred or so protestors.
I went through a whole gamut of emotions last night: from rage, to broken-heartedness at how upside down the situation is, to despair, powerlessness, but then finally emerged at the end of the night with energy and determination quadrupled. If they think that penning us in, undermining our effectiveness, threatening arrest for exercising an age-old right, is going to weaken us, think again! Such tactics will only make us more determined to succeed.