With only ten days to go before the massive protests against the G20 summit taking place in London, the Parliament's Joint Select Committee on Human Rights accused British police of being heavy-handed, misusing counter-terrorism laws and anti-social behavior legislation when dealing with demonstrators.
"The right to protest is a fundamental democratic right and one that the state and police have a duty to protect and facilitate," said Andrew Dismore, Labour MP for Hendon and chair of the committee.
After a year of inquiry, the seventy-page report raised serious concerns about the police forces ability to distinguish appropriate use of the powers they are given. The committee complained that police have been routinely using "legal powers not designed to deal with protests such as anti-social behaviour legislation and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997."
The report was particularly damning regarding the police's abuse of stop-and-search powers to intimidate, unjustifiable seizures of personal property, and improper detention and containment of protesters. The committee's chairman said: "The state must not impose restrictions unless it is necessary, and proportionate, to do so. That is a high threshold. The presumption is in favour of protest without state interference."
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Police display a warning before attacking protesters (Photo: Tash [alan lodge])
Mike Schwartz, a partner at London law firm Bindmans, said: "The police have adopted mission creep. One of the symptoms is their misuse of the power of stop and search under the Terrorism Act. It is being misused because the police have the power to impose a blanket area, where any police officer can search anyone without reason for suspicion on the basis that a senior police officer has thought that there might be terrorist activity or terrorists operating in the area."
Also under the spotlight was Police intimidation and monitoring of journalists, refusal to recognizing press cards, and accusations of obstruction and assault. The committee said it was unacceptable that journalists had to resort to taking court action against officers interfering with their work.
London's Metropolitan Police Service excused their wide-ranging misuse of power by saying, "We will always facilitate lawful protest and are committed to doing so but do have to minimize the disruption caused to others going about their lawful business".
The criticism follows a report was made to parliament last week into the abuse of police powers during the climate camp protests at Kingsnorth in 2008. The report and accompanying video documented systemic abuses of power including blanket stop and searches, arbitrary seizure of property, and a campaign of psychological intimidation which included sleep deprivation through helicopter overflying late into the night, mock night and dawn raids by tooled up riot police, and the infamous 'Flight of the Valkyries' incident.
David Howarth, Liberal Democrat Shadow Justice Secretary said, “What happened at the Climate Camp was deeply disturbing and part of what seems to be a disturbing national trend. Political agendas have no place in policing."
Defending Kent police's handling of the Kingsnorth protest, Home Office minister Vernon Croaker had claimed that seventy officers had sustained injuries in clashes with protestors. However a Freedom of Information act request proved that the police chiefs had misled parliament as no officers had really been injured in clashes at all.
Lib Dem MP David Taylor told the Commons: "We were told that [the police behavior] was justified because dozens of injuries were incurred. We have now found that those injuries were of a more prosaic origin—they were due to things such as insect stings and sunstroke. Unless the protesters are to be held responsible for wasps and the weather, are we not to conclude that the justification used at the time was wholly bogus and vacuous?"
Attempting some damage control after the damning report, the Kent Police chiefs have now voluntarily referred complaints about the actions of it's officers to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Even before the these two reports in Parliament, the extent of political policing had been further exposed by the Guardian article revealing that the police have been building up a database of thousands of political activists as well as harassing sympathetic journalists.
Meanwhile however, the police propaganda department has launched it's annual offensive against mass protester. They've flooded the mainstream media with pieces on the much hyped 'summer of rage' in which they began to lay the foundations to justify heavy handed suppression over the coming months.