olympic critical mass - report and picsTagged as: beckham bicycles critical_mass olympics repression
for more than a year, the critical mass bicycle ride has had minimal or no policing. that all changed on friday, with a massive police operation in place and draconian conditions imposed to try and prevent riders from entering any part of north london. despite the deployment of police from several forces alongside the met, and even a fly-by from a lynx armed forces helicopter, hundreds of cyclists defied the ban, out-witted the police, and cycled as far as the olympic village, causing far less disruption than that caused by police trying to enforce their potentially unlawful ban.
click on image for larger version. 'some rights reserved' - free for credited non-commercial use, otherwise contact author for permission
as the mass assembled from around 6pm on the south bank under waterloo bridge, there was already a FIT team, several 'police liaison officers' including chief inspector sonia davis from hackney's counter-terrorist operations office, a dozen or more cycle cops, and a couple of dozen uniformed police including a contingent from south yorkshire police.
numbers at first seemed lower than normal, but by 7 had built up to several hundred.
as an armed forces lynx helicopter hovered overhead, the police drove a large range rover vehicle into the crowd to make indecipherable announcements over a poor loudspeaker system, while officers mingled with the cyclists handing out their section 12 warning letters.
soon after 7, with some chants of "whose streets, our streets", the cyclists set off, and began their customary loop around the imax cinema and onto waterloo bridge. there, police ran across the road, blocking the procession, and a large police van parked across the carriageway.
arguments ensued, including the fact that police were overstepping their own conditions by not allowing bikes onto the bridge, considering that it was actually south of the river!
after several minutes, with the bridge closure creating far more "disruption to the life of the community" than the critical mass would normally cause, much of the mass moved on east. however, some remained, continuing their pressure on police, and eventually the bridge was reopened to traffic, and a few cyclists did get across.
there were more serious confrontations at blackfriars bridge, including an altercation with a transport officer (4125) who so lost control that a police medic had to restrain him at one point! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuHWYW6Bx4g AND http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rz1HNoK6UBs AND http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfftgb4KOlE&feature=youtu.be).
several hundred cyclists waited at london bridge, while police deployed vans and TSG officers at the south side of the bridge. there, there were more serious confrontations, and some TSG officers appeared intent on violence. suddenly, police were trying to clear a path for a large black 4x4 with tinted reflective windows designed to prevent photography. peering in, people realised the driver (with a minder) was none other than david beckham, on his way to the olympic opening ceremony.
police became quite violent towards cyclists in the path of the vehicle, but with so many cycles in such little road space it was actually hard to move even for those who felt they wanted to comply. after several minutes of inching forward, some of the front cyclists moved away and the car slowly set off down tooley street. as police ran to catch up, the front bikes stopped again, slowing beckham's progress, but seeing an opportunity, in a rather dangerous move he accelerated, skidding off to the right, narrowly missing a pedestrian and a cyclist, then sped through a red light and drove on east.
by now, the mass had split somewhat, with some having set off back west, and another group heading to try tower bridge. there, police once again blocked the route with vehicles and bodies, causing massive traffic disruption once more, and further disruption to the life of the community. however, as numbers in the cycle group had diminished here, some were allowed across the bridge in ones and twos on foot.
by now, with small numbers making it over at various points, a sizeable group began riding north of the river in defiance of the police orders, by the time it was heading east along bethnal green road (without causing anything more than the usual fleeting traffic jam), it numbered at least a couple of hundred.
despite the thousands of troops and combined uk police forces along with helicopters and undercover surveillance deployed in london, this group of cyclists continued east, apparently followed by one sole police van containing three officers, which was having difficulty overtaking the mass.
more police started appearing along roman road, and the mass turned south by mile end park, and then east again towards the bow fly-over and to within a stone's throw of the olympic stadium. just before the fly-over, the police attempted a cordon forcing the cyclists north past bow quarter, but concerned they were heading into a possible police kettle they decided to ride around and through the cordon and continue east. numbers were dwindling, but still around one hundred.
it was close to 9pm and the authorities were finally mobilising and closing in. i counted 30 police vans, with many TSG, sirens blazing, bringing up the rear of the cyclists, and a group of sixty or seventy were finally cordoned at the junction with warton road, a further couple of dozen making it on towards stratford station, where they too were held.
outside the cordons, other arrests took place. one young muslim man was rear-handcuffed, and despite telling police he'd been fasting all day, was made to sit in the road for nearly half an hour without any water. he kept explaining his predicament, and was also physically sick in the road. clearly in great discomfort, he was still refused help, and when someone tried to give him some liquid an officer violently intervened, spilling the juice on the ground. another girl tried to take details and enquire after his condition and police then arrested her, also using rear cuffs.
within the kettle, no food, drink or toilet arrangements were provided, and people sat or stood around on the concrete for around 90 minutes before a slow process began of handcuffing or cable-tieing each person, photographing them, and escorting them on to one of three single decker buses that had arrived. as the first bus filled with police and arrestees, the second was used for bicycles, pretty much thrown in on top of each other, and the third bus for the rest of the detainees.
meanwhile, the group held at stratford had been loaded into some vans, with others escorted in handcuffs on foot, and they passed by the kettle west towards the fly-over. they'd been told they were being taken to charing cross police station, but presumably some more transport was on its way, although i'm not sure how long they were walked for.
it has emerged that in all, 182 people were arrested that night, the majority under suspicion of having knowingly breached the section 12 conditions imposed on critical mass, but some for other public order offences and alleged assaults elsewhere along the route. some were taken to charing cross, but many found themselves in edmonton or in croydon. there were no toilet facilities provided on the buses and the arrestees were aboard these in handcuffs for hours, then made to sit on concrete for a further three hours, before finally being given something to drink.
none were allowed to leave with their bicycles, instead being told the bikes were in charlton and that they'd have to phone to arrange retrieval. the first bikes have been returned today.
it seems that all were given bail conditions which ban them from cycling in newham, or going near any olympic venues or routes, and of attempting to interfere with the passage of olympic paricipants.
last year, in may, the metropolitan police lost an appeal in the high court which finally established that the mass is a 'commonly or customarily held procession' as described in the public order act, and so, exempt from prior notification as required by section 11 of that act. however, this does not exempt it from possible use of section 12 or (theoretically) 13.
section 13 allows the possibility of a ban (signed by the secretary of state) where police can show a real risk of serious disorder - highly improbable for CM.
however, section 12, allowing the imposition of conditions, has a lower threshold, including the slightly open "risk of serious disruption to the life of the community", and this is what was used on friday.
in order to comply with human rights legislation, it is important that any conditions applied are proportionate and necessary.
since the police have shown themselves keen to control the critical mass previously, the fact that they haven't used section 12 before would suggest they were not over-optimistic about its likelihood of being upheld in the courts.
however, with the "special circumstances" of the olympics, they might have a stronger case for this particular ride. but conditions banning the ride from the whole of north london and beyond would seem to be quite an excessive interpretation of "proportionate or necessary" and might form the basis of a legal challenge for the cyclists detained on friday if they face court or later decide to challenge the police via compensation claims or judicial reviews later on.
also, given that the ride always takes place on the last friday of the month means that the police had five years to plan for this, and yet the letter handed out to cyclists gave no detail on how the police had arrived at the belief there would be serious disruption.
when the law was drafted, there were concerns and warnings that the new extension of power should be used carefully and that the police should weigh up whether by imposing conditions based on avoiding serious disruption, they might be causing a more serious problem of serious disorder in response to their actions. this may well have been the case on friday, both because the police caused far more disruption to the community themselves by closing off london bridges to all traffic for significant periods of time, and also because their actions significantly increased the incidents of scuffles and other disorder throughout the evening (unlikely to have occured had the mass gone ahead as normal).
the kettling of cyclists without food or water, their prolonged detention in handcuffs aboard the buses without toilet facilities, and further detention on concrete floors with little or no food or water, were all serious contraventions of the authorities' duty of care.
section 12 of the public order act used to be a 'non-arrestable' offence, only requiring a verified name and address for delivery of a fine. in 2005, the SOCPA act made most offences arrestable under certain prescribed conditions, and the one given to suspects on friday/saturday was "in order to allow the prompt and efficient investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the person in question". however, no-one has reported being interviewed, so it is very hard to see what "investigation" the police carried out before releasing people, and this alone may be grounds for challenge and compensation.
as of sunday night, only three people have actually been charged with offences.
Contact email: rikkiindymedia(At)gmail[d0t]com