Skip navigation

Indymedia UK is a network of individuals, independent and alternative media activists and organisations, offering grassroots, non-corporate, non-commercial coverage of important social and political issues

Police mar peaceful anti-deportation protest in Solihull

IMC Birmingham | 14.04.2007 20:29 | Migration | Repression | Birmingham

Over 200 people protested on Thursday, 12 April, at the immigration reporting centre in Solihull, near Birmingham, against deportations to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The protest was part of a UK-wide coordinated day of action to mark a Directions Hearing for the Country Guidance Tribunal regarding DRC asylum seekers.

The peaceful protest was marred by a large police presence and was penned, twice, into Sandford House's car park. Protesters, however, broke off after a while and blockaded the road for about 2 hours. Two people were arrested, one also assaulted by an aggressive cop. They were released later on but only because their fellow protesters, in an empowering show of solidarity, refused to leave the site before they were released.

Report | Photo report | Report & photos | Video

No Deportation to DRC!

Organised by the Congo Support Project and supported by many other groups, including NCADC and No Borders, the protest was part of a UK-wide coordinated day of action to mark a Directions Hearing for the Country Guidance Tribunal regarding DRC asylum seekers. This is a meeting between the judge, the barristers bringing the case and the Home Office to ensure that all parties have been served with the needed information and paperwork. After this, a date for the Full Hearing will be set. The date of the directions hearing had been previously postponed more than once.

Since the DRC elections last year, described by most Western media as "democratic", more than 150 people have been gunned down by the security services in Bas-Congo for peacefully protesting against the election results. Hundreds more have been killed in Kinshasa in violent clashes between president Joseph Kabila's guards and forces loyal to his contender in the presidential elections, Jean-Pierre Bemba. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced by conflict in the eastern part of the country. Massacres, extra-judicial killings, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture and rape are endemic, while thousands continue to die each week as a result of starvation and disease.

Since 1998, the country has suffered greatly from the devastating Second Congo War (sometimes referred to as the African World War), the world's deadliest conflict since World War II, thanks to Western corporations and governments racing for the country's rich resources and supplying the fighting parties with deadly weapons. More than 3 million people have died since and, according to the United Nations, some 1000 people still die every day as a result of the conflict.

The Foreign Office is advising British nationals "not to travel at all" to eastern and north-eastern DRC and against "all but essential travel" to the rest of the country, as it is deemed "too unstable". Yet, the Home Office continues to 'remove' Congolese asylum seekers, including children born here to Congolese parents, to a place where they risk losing their lives.

Penned in

Unwisely, perhaps, the organisers of the demo had contacted the police about the demo the night before. So the police, unsurprisingly, imposed their repressive conditions and designated a tiny area for protesters on the grounds of Sandford House, behind a hedge so that it was not really visible from the street. As more and more people arrived (apparently much more than police had expected), it was obvious that they wouldn't even fit in the cordoned-off designated site. So protesters were moved from the public footpath to the entrance of Sandford House's car park, with a line of cops penning them in.

For about an hour, people kept chanting and shouting anti-Kabila and anti-deportation slogans. At one point, a car wanted to leave Sandford House (it presumably belonged to one of the staff) and the only way was through the mass. People, however, refused to give way and a couple of women sat down spontaneously, blockading the way out. The cops, of course, were quick to move them aside and clear the way for the expensive car. The same scene was repeated a while later with another car.

At one point, with people becoming more and more frustrated at not being able to move in and out of the pen, some pushing against the cops line started. More reinforcements were immediately brought in as police feared protesters would break off and move into the road. Well, they did that anyway.


Luckily for the protesters, there was a gap in the dense hedge by the car park, which the police hadn't probably noticed. So, all of a sudden, a couple of frustrated protesters escaped the pen through that gap and went and sat down in the middle of the road. In no time everyone else followed them, amid the cops' initial bewilderment.

Thus, Homer Road was blocked for about 2 hours, allegedly affecting the magistrates court and police station, across the road from Sandford House, going about their 'daily business'. All asylum interviews at Sandford House had been reportedly cancelled by the management for that day. Police only edged one side of the blockade, leaving the other end open for protesters to march and dance up and down the road.


Soon after the road blockade started, one of those who initially sat down in the middle of the road was suddenly nicked by a cop, allegedly for "obstructing the highway". Officer P. Dutton (3792) was reportedly seen by other people "punching the guy in the face". Officer Dutton had been aggressive throughout the demo and that was not his only violent encounter with protesters. For example, he repeatedly threatened to arrest two Indymedia and No Borders activists as they challenged his unlawful acts.

Another protester was arrested at the same time, for a Public Order offence, as he went to ask what was happening with the first guy being arrested. They were both taken to Solihull police station nearby. Police became more and more aggressive as people were shouting "Libérez, libérez!" (free the arrestees). They even brought a police dog, whose foaming barking was probably worse than its bite.

Activists managed to contact a good solicitor in Birmingham at once and the Super Attendant, quite surprisingly, agreed to help with passing over the solicitors' number to the arrestees so that they could instruct them when they are offered that service.


It was obvious by now that people were not going anywhere until the two men were freed. So more reinforcements were brought in and surrounded the protest in what is known as a "kettle". They soon managed to push people back into the car park and penned them in again, but the road remained blocked by police cars.

Around 3pm, the coach that had brought many protesters arrived to collected them, but protesters unanimously refused to leave without the two guys held at the police station. Another sit-down was was formed spontaneously in front of the coach. After some bargaining with the demo organisers, police agreed to release the two men if people started to get on the coach.

At about 3:15, one was released and it looked like the police, according to some protesters, were trying to back off their deal. Police said they needed to complete some paperwork. People still refused to leave or get on the coach until they see the other guy, too, as many of them said they did not trust the police. About 15 minutes later, the other was released and put on the coach and everyone went home.

The man arrested for "obstructing the highway" was released without charge, while the other was issued with a "penalty notice" for a Public Order offence.

Police, lies and mainstream media

The police version of the protest was quite funny. A statement by the West Midlands Police press office said "The protest was by and large well behaved and passed off peacefully." The statement is full of factual errors (or misinformation?) such as "The demonstration was carried out by between 100 to 150 people" and "[they] did move to block Homer Road to heighten the profile of their protest for around 30 minutes." Well, that's hardly surprising when they didn't even get the name of the country right: "protesting against the deportation of individuals to the Republic of Congo." (the Republic of Congo (ROC) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are two different countries!)

Likewise, most of mainstream media coverage of the protest was full of inaccurate or misleading information. Under the title "Asylum fears spark demo", Chris Philpotts wrote in Solihull News:

"Solihull was brought to a standstill yesterday and two people were arrested as a crowd of angry protesters staged a demonstration outside the immigration building on Homer Road."

Solihull was "brought to a standstill"?! A crowd of "angry protesters"?! And bear in mind that was the opening paragraph.

The piece then goes on with such 'inaccurate' information as: "Police had to close the road for over 20 minutes as they struggled to maintain order in the face of the crowd which numbered over 200." Perhaps because their reporter left early on so they didn't get to see the rest?

As with the arrests, there is, of course, no mention of how and (really) why the two protesters were arrested and then released: "The arrests occurred as the protest spilled out of the agreed location of the car park of the immigration building and onto Homer Road." [...] "Both men taken in by the police were later released, one was without charge and the other was issued a penalty notice for a public order offence."

The BBC didn't say much more (see their online report and video report). Again, nothing about how and why, and even bits of what were missing, which makes you wonder how "professional" their reporters and editors are. But, of course, they never forget to give the final say to the Police or Home Office: "A Home Office spokesman said: 'We only return those who the asylum decision making and independent appeals processes have found do not need international protection and who can therefore return safely'."

Quite surprisingly, the best mainstream coverage was perhaps the Birmingham Mail's. Under the title "Scuffles as deportation demo blocks road", Leda Reynolds wrote on 13 April, 2007:

Around 150 protesters brought traffic to a standstill during a demonstration outside the Home Office's immigration centre in Solihull yesterday. Police had to close Homer Road for more than two hours during the protest by the Congolese community about the deportation of families back to the war-torn country. Babies were among the group which waved placards and sang songs during the lunchtime protest. Police had cordoned off an area in front of Sandford House immigration centre but as the number of protesters grew, they were shepherded into the car park.

Yet, inventing stories to give the impression that you know everything is a bad habit for journalists: "A skirmish between police and a protester then prompted the crowd to spill onto the road." Or was it just another editorial twist? And although the piece did quote a protester saying "they should have been allowed to march in protest instead of being kept back away from the road," there was nothing about the disproportionate and heavy-handed policing or the aggressive cops assaulting protesters.

IMC Birmingham


Display the following comment

  1. “The War The World Ignores” — one of brum noborders