a peaceful protest to save the nhs yesterday became a blockade of whitehall and then a march through the streets of london. as TSG officers were deployed, there were some incidents and injuries, as well as a controversial incident with some gun-wielding diplomatic protection police.
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the protest began at about 2.30 outside the department of health near the cenotaph in whitehall. quite soon, a couple of hundred people spilled out across both sides of the road and formed a peaceful blockade. police redirected traffic and allowed the blockade to continue for some time, and there was a sound system, some chanting, and a generally positive atmosphere. the protestors included quite a wide demographic, with health workers, doctors and nurses, students, pensioners, a few children, alongside contingents from the occupy movement and ukuncut.
one of the groups involved had provided prior socpa notification and so it was not an 'unauthorised' protest under socpa legislation (which is due to be finally repealed at the end of this month, replaced by camping criminalisation under the police reform and social responsibility act).
the protest was scheduled to run until 4.30 with an attempt at a direct action agaisnt a primary health care provider to follow it. however, at shortly before 4pm a group of people led the crowd north along whitehall. as they set off, suddenly dozens of TSG officers ran out from where they had been lurking down the side alley next to the defence dept.
in their light-blue baseball caps, the TSG surged across the road and attempted to contain the breakaway crowd with a cordon. other police tried to seal off the pavements, but one side was weak and people soon ran through there forming a crowd behind the police line. realising the futility of the operation, the police gave up the cordon, and a jubilant crowd marched up towards trafalgar square with a large 'occupy' banner leading the front.
at the south side of trafalgar square, by the charles statue, some protestors sat in the road. unfortunately, one of the first vehicles delayed by the action was a red police van with several armed diplomatic protection police in it. there is no reason to believe they had been called to the protest - it was just bad timing that there were travelling past at that moment.
however, their reaction to the stoppage was extraordinary, especially officer D762 who lept out of the van waving his gun dramatically in the faces of the blockers and screaming at them to 'move now'. this sad bully was clearly enjoying himself, and after scaring many of the sitters out of the road, he beamed as though he'd just had a little orgasm. that such disturbed and needy boys should be in charge of guns is a concern, but some twitter reports that armed officers were purposely deployed against the nhs protestors were rather dramatic and exaggerated, and the proposal that there is an official media black-out on the story is, i think, unlikely.
at least three more vans-worth of TSG joined the group of police who were running behind and alongside the protestors as they continued east along the strand. the target for direct action appeared to be a virgin active health club on the strand, (as virgin are one of the providers set to benefit from the health bill), but police formed a line infront of it, and with more TSG vans (in what was turning into a remarkably large police operation for quite a small demo) approaching from the east, a double cordon soon surrounded a hundred or so protestors.
obviously this level of operation was completely blocking the strand, and it appeared that a command went out that it would be better to allow the march to continue as by now there were a hundred or fewer people involved, including a large proportion of harmless looking health workers, mums, and even a few quick-footed pensioners. so the kettle dispersed and the group set off along the road east round aldwych and towards the city.
there was no longer a clear destination, and a couple of dozen police ran alongside as the chanting crowd walked east past the high court. some people were calling for a visit to the occupy site recently evicted at st paul's, but others decided to walk north up chancery lane. this turned out to be a bad move as a TSG cordon appeared at the north end, and turning into a side street, soon around 50 protestors were soon kettled in a little back street called southampton buildings.
various reasons were given for this kettle. an inspector explained to me that everyone was being held while the route of the march was inspected for any signs of criminal damage, and to give time for any reports to come in of criminal activity along the route. he was unwilling to repeat this justification on film - i can't imagine why he was suddenly so shy about it.
a chief inspector came up with a slightly more feasible excuse - that the group had been involved in obstructing the highway and therefore were liable to cause a breach of the peace, so were being held to prevent any potential breach.
either way, after about 30 minutes, people started to be allowed to leave, each interviewed and asked for details by police - some complied, others refused. those refusing were perhaps held a little longer but were soon allowed to disperse. a small group, about 20 or so, did go to st paul's for awhile.
at the southampton buildings kettle one woman was injured after being pushed over by police. there are also reports of police violence at the north side of the kettle, on high holborn, with one person assaulted from behind. i didn't witness this incident, but there is a report and a call-out for witnesses on indymedia.
there were 23 NHS protests around the country yesterday.
there is another protest at parliament square right now with around 50 people attending (sunday afternoon),
tomorrow as the lords are voting on the bill there will be a protest at noon, with a vigil later.