HOLY COW I GOT AN ARTICLE IN THE MUTHA-LOVIN’ GUARDIAN! Getting an article published in the Guardian has been on my bucket list since my early teens and holy hell I’ve done it. I wish it were about something more positive than having the Judicial Review claims dismissed – which was gutting on many, many levels – but this article was my silver lining.
Even if I did get Comment is Free trolls aplenty (a new one on me) I also got this Guardian Byline. BOOM.
Arrest without crime – the truth of a royal wedding overreaction
The high court has ruled that 15 pre-emptive arrests were not unlawful, as the criminalisation of protest continues
On the day of the royal wedding I was arrested for a fictional breach of the peace. This week the high court has ruled that there was nothing unlawful about the police’s actions.
I was in fancy dress on the day. That was it. One minute I was in a Starbucks near Soho Square with four other people who’d come for a zombie flashmob. Four hours later I emerged from a police cell with handcuff marks still visible on my wrists. If it can happen to a boring, middle-class, speccy girl like me, it can happen to anyone.
The Metropolitan police decided the gathering (an alternative celebration organised by Queer Resistance) was a demonstration against the royal family – therefore we were arrested. I had come to Soho Square to report on the flashmob for a friend’s zombie blog. I had no political aims whatsoever – but it seems the police’s assumptions about my politics were grounds enough to arrest and detain me until the public celebrations were over.
Fifteen of those arrested on the day for fictional breaches of the peace brought a judicial review over the police’s tactics. We believe their actions were illegal and the result of an unlawful policy. Our judicial review was rolled together with three others – two about raids on squats the day before and one about a minor arrested pre-emptively for criminal damage. (Evidence: two pens in his backpack. He was initially stopped because he had a megaphone.)
The evidence we heard over the five-day hearing swung from the absurd to the sinister: the Met’s barrister, Sam Grodzinski, used an article from the Sun as evidence. He admitted that the raids carried out on squats had an ulterior purpose – to search for Operation Brontide suspects – but argued this did not void the warrants. Commander Bob Broadhurst, then head of public order policing for the Met, stated that the “sole reason for the timing” of the raids was related to the royal wedding, but the Met insisted this did not make the warrants unlawful. In the case of the Ratstar squat they came with a warrant for stolen bike parts yet seized no bikes. They did, however, take all the toothbrushes in an apparent sweep for DNA. In the case of Grow Heathrow the police came with a warrant for paint bombs. They found none, but seemed more interested in ascertaining the identities of everyone on the site.
The raids were overseen by the same officers who oversaw the royal wedding policing, and seem to come from the crudest political profiling which assumed environmentalists must want to throw paint at Kate Middleton.
It wasn’t until I was sat in the court that I learned the definition of breach of the peace used in my judicial review was not that the police anticipated we would breach the peace, but that we would provoke “not wholly unreasonable acts of violence” from royalists. It was all for my own good apparently.
The police deny they had a policy of pre-emptive arrest and argue that every (almost identical) arrest was the only practical response to such threats as “a known activist” in the vicinity of Trafalgar Square, 10 republicans at Charing Cross about to go to the republican street party, Starbucks customers dressed like zombies and one woman near Soho Square whose friend had a flyer about the flashmob in his pocket.
Our barrister argued that the Met acted with an “impermissibly low threshold of tolerance” on the day which had the effect of “the suppression of a dissenting voice”. It is important for a free and functioning democracy to clarify that this was unlawful.
If we had won the case the result could have helped stop the increasing de facto criminalisation of protest. As it stands, the judges chose to believe all these arrests and riot police raids on people’s homes were lawful and proportionate responses to the “threat” posed. The high court’s decision to dismiss all four judicial reviews gives tacit approval for the police to use these oppressive tactics time and time again at the Olympics and beyond. Apparently the smooth running of state pageantry is more important than citizens’ rights to free speech and free assembly.
I am sorely disappointed by the result and I am worried for the future. The behaviour of the police over the royal wedding was draconian, clumsy, and seemed aimed at harassing those viewed as subversive.
We are looking into appealing the decision. Our court case was made up from a patchwork of legal precedents, and accepting Lord Justice Richards’ verdict would allow the police to add our experiences to their arsenal. What I experienced was wrong and I cannot let this judgment stand. In its current form it will almost certainly be used as a stick to beat other protestors and suspected-protestors with.
But for now, according to the high court, you no longer need to break the law to be arrested. Have a happy Olympics.