Kettling of G20 protesters by police was illegal, high court rules
Aggressive tactics used by Met against climate camp activists in 2009 were unlawful, says judgment
In a landmark judgment on Thursday, high court judges found for protesters who had claimed police treated them unfairly. It also criticised the use of force by officers.
In the case, the high court heard that officers used punches to the face, slaps and shields against demonstrators who police chiefs accept had nothing to do with violence. The judgment does not strike down the police tactic of kettling or mass detention, but it will be seen as a rebuff to the Met.
The judgment places limits on the use of kettling. It says: "The police may only take such preventive action as a last resort catering for situations about to descend into violence."
The case concerned the G20 protests in London on 1 April 2009 during which Ian Tomlinson, a bystander, died after being struck by an officer. Police in charge of the protest ordered a climate camp to be kettled and then cleared, but officers were left to decide how much force they should use.
Video shot on the day showed demonstrators trying to avoid being beaten by raising their hands in the air and chanting "this is not a riot" at police clad in helmets and riot gear. Officers on the videos are seen to strike demonstrators, who cannot be seen to be engaged in any violence.
On 1 April 2009, there were several demonstrations in the area, but the court case deals with a climate camp in Bishopsgate. A police chief accepts it was peaceful but decided it should be contained to avoid potentially violent people joining it.
In the judgment, the high court said an operation by police to push back climate camp protesters just after 7pm was "not necessary or proportionate".
The judgment continues: "There never was a reasonable apprehension of imminent breaches of the peace at the climate camp.
"Mr Fordham [the protesters' barrister] submits that the defendants' contention that there were groups within the Climate Camp who were intent on disorder or criminal damage is largely unsupported by the evidence. We think this is correct."
The case was brought by Josh Moos and Hannah McClure, who were among a crowd of up to 5,000 held for five hours by police. A police decision to disperse to avoid it remaining overnight was lawful, Sir Anthony May, president of the Queens Bench Division, and Mr Justice Sweeney ruled.
The judgment also criticised police for using their shields to strike demonstrators: "The policy and training about the use of shields as it came over to us in the evidence appeared to be insufficient for individual circumstances. There needed to be clear cut instructions as to whether shield strikes were ever justified, and, if so, when."
Officers were told they were containing or detaining those in the climate camp to prevent a breach of the peace. Protesters would be held for hours. Notebooks secured from some officers contain admissions they used violence, but officers said this was to protect themselves or colleagues.
The high court concluded: "In the result, the claimants succeed in establishing that (a) the containment of the climate camp, and (b) the pushing operation to move the crowd 30 metres to the north at the southern end of the climate camp were not lawful police operations."
The Metropolitan police say kettling, or detaining a mass of people, is a necessary tactic to tackle the potential for violence at demonstrations. The force and its lawyers will appeal against the judgment.
John Halford, solicitor for the protesters, said: "Kettling and the police aggression that accompanies it has become a common feature of demonstrations. This was a lawful assembly by people committed to highlighting the grave dangers of climate change.
"The court has roundly condemned the unlawful and oppressive police response, exposing it as unacceptable in a democratic society. To date, there have been few signs of a change in police attitudes and tactics since G20. This judgment could not give a clearer signal that must happen immediately."