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Many people will have noticed that prior to the damaging of McDonalds on Whitehall the police were very conspicuous by their absence outside the branch itself (though two stood outside the nearby pub). A question which I think needs answering is whether the inevitable attack on the branch was actually a deliberate part of the police plans.
The Evening Standard falsely stated that "12 police officers [were] stationed outside" McDonalds - perhaps referring to the surveillance team on the opposite side of the road, and certainly not protecting it in any way.
"The confrontation had to happen," wrote John Vidal in the Guardian (2/5)."The first 400 people went past McDonald's barely believing it was there, unboarded and unguarded. The second 300 gathered round it..." and we all know what happened next.
For such an obvious flashpoint to be left like this as a relatively angry crowd slowly moved up Whitehall - to me - reeks of a potential set-up, entrapment, provocation to discredit the whole day's actions (and ban future RTS actions, it now seems). Can the police really think that an unprotected McDonalds that they seem to have planned for the demonstrators to walk past would just be ignored by the crowd?
Other people I know of who were at the top of Whitehall were already suspicious at the absence of police outside the McDonalds before anything at all had happened.
As everyone knows, McDonalds branches under normal circumstances are protected by police whenever such a crowd is set to pass by. This isn't particulary heavy-handed or provocative - it's just what everyone expects, to prevent them being attacked. ITN's late night bulletin reported that police had been chased away from McDonalds leaving the 'rioters' a clear run at their target, using police film of fleeing police to back up the narrative. It would be interesting to know whether the police gave ITN all the relevant film - in other words the film showing that demonstrators had had an enticingly clear run at McDonalds at the outset, with only a slight hiccup when a few non-riot police turned up to make a late, failed, foray to get to the McDonalds well after it had been attacked. Basically ITN have reversed the order of events, and probably left the impression that the McDonalds was initially protected by police.
The fact that the police had soaked Parliament Square through, trying to make it so boggy it would be an impossible location to enjoy a (Shepherds Bush-style) party till late at night only adds to my suspicions that they planned exactly what was going to happen. They seemingly wanted people out of Parliament Square and up to McDonalds and Trafalgar Square (which was surrounded by police).
Predictably the police have said that their decision to allow open season on McDonalds was due to a new 'softly, softly' cautious approach. This could, of course, be true - and perhaps the police felt they had already lost control and nothing short of their belated full deployment of riot squads would protect McDonalds.
There is certainly no question that the police didn't know that McDonalds would be a flashpont: a small-ish group of non-riot police were videoing from a hand-held camera beforehand, as well as from a fixed camera high on a building opposite (as well as the helicopter). According to the Evening Standard (2/5) "intelligence reports" had warned that McDonalds was going to be a target!
Twenty or thirty police were in the vicinity of the McDonalds in the Strand early in the morning at the London Animal Action event. Why no softly, softly (invisible!) approach with that much smaller crowd handing out veggieburgers?
Apparently the police were even warned in advance to board up the, later "defaced", monuments - but chose not to, as the wood could have been used as weaponry (though another version of this story has it that the police did ask for them to be covered but the order was not carried out). The Met police spokesman said (according to BBC online) that "if police had tried to protect specific monuments the crowd might have moved off and attacked other monuments in the area."
English Heritage were apparently promised that extra police would protect the Cenotaph, but none were provided. (Guardian 3/5).
Maybe the McDonalds falls under the same logic - with the police deciding to 'sacrifice' that particular branch of McDonalds to keep the anarchists occupied, amused and contained? Like some kind of anarchist take on Roman bread and circuses.
My speculation over police motive could certainly be totally wrong. Perhaps it would really have taken legions of riot police to protect McDonalds? (I doubt it as 400 people had already walked past without trouble).
If the McDonalds trashing was part of the police's plan, then we might also ask whether perhaps the van left by the police to be attacked at November's Euston (N30) was a set-up too.
My understanding of Euston was that the pretty small number of people who wanted to attack the police on that day were slowly moved by the police from the eastern side of the station forecourt/bus station back to the vicinity of where the police had helpfully left an old (unmarked) police van, complete with scaffholding poles (a la J18) on its roof. Though during much of this time the van could easily have been driven away by its driver (allegedly nearby videoing the crowd) it was left there, until finally it became a target and was set on fire. In a precision operation, that was widely praised in the mainstream media, could police really have forgotten one van as they drove away their other 20 (or however many it was) out of harms way?
Twenty or thirty photographers had waited together diligently for this eventual picture of 'anarchist vandals' burning the van and the image went round the world. Part of me believes this was such a blatant example of provocation/entrapment it was almost theatrical - you could almost imagine a prompter at the front of the crowd, ready to interject in case anyone forgot their lines or choreographed location. Part of me knows all this evidence is purely circumstantial and could amount to nothing (though home news journos on a least one national paper privately said the van was a set-up - but they, naturally, didn't risk upsetting their readers' tender sensibilities by actually writing of this possibility.)
Images of beaten and bloodied protesters, the innocent-looking schoolboy with blood running down his face for instance, or the story of journalist Danny Penman - viciously attacked by the police, and hospitalised where his smashed arm was fixed with five metal pins - lost the prominence they might have had.
With all these facts in mind I hope that the many amongst us who, understandably, enjoy the sight of a McDonalds being destroyed, will in future ask themselves who it is that is really leading the actions at these events: the police or the anarchists?
Are many of us just puppets playing to the police's tune?
There ends my paranoid speculation, thanks for listening.
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