Q: What’s disgusting and invisible?
A: No maggots
Here’s an article I did not imagine I would ever have to write, but apparently it needs addressing.
Sky reports that Activists who ‘wanted to throw maggots’ at royal couple lose case in ECHR (sic).
A growing number of smaller places have repeated the line. I first heard anything about maggot-throwing long after I had been arrested for a breach of the peace …for being dressed like a zombie, queueing in a Starbucks, on the day of the royal wedding. (Background here.)
Thrown maggots are a gripping image, but it’s never been true.
NB: The royal wedding case was about much more than ‘zombies’
For starters – the maggot line is something cops made up about the zombie demo, but the court case was about the police abusing their powers towards many more groups than just those dressed as zombies. In the Judicial Review alone there were three individuals and four groups with complaints about unlawful behaviour from the police on the weekend of the 2011 royal wedding.
People across London and beyond were arrested, pre-emptively, in a deliberate attempt to stop them protesting – because of their presumed political beliefs.
That is of huge importance for your right to free speech, freedom of assembly, right to protest, right to liberty, and much, much more. This is the thin end of an extremely sinister wedge. This BBC article on our court case is a really good background on the civil liberties issues, and the implications from this ECtHR decision.
Also for context: when this happened, London was preparing for the 2012 Olympics the next year. It’s widely considered that the police were using the 2011 royal wedding as a test-run for what they could get away with. (While they were all on bank holiday overtime pay.)
Pathetic police excuses 101
The police’s excuses for the arrests they made on the day were often farcical. Let’s run through some highlights:
- The Charing Cross 10 – arrested on their way to a republican street party because royalists might have been so offended that there ‘could have been a breach of the peace’.
- A man with biscuits – a ‘known protestor’ was stopped by cops who claimed the bulge in his pocket might have been a spray paint can. It was a packet of biscuits. They arrested him anyway.
- A teenager with pens – a teenager, carrying a megaphone, on his way to Soho Square was stopped and searched. Police found two permanent markers in his backpack and decided ‘he might have gone on to commit criminal damage’ with the pens. He was arrested.
- A man with a credit card – a man filming my arrest was stopped and searched himself. He refused to give his name (as he had every right to). Police decided that the credit card in his own wallet ‘could be stolen property’. He was arrested.
You get the picture.
On to the maggots
Ok, so there were a lot of bizarre police accusations based on free-association and the situation at hand. But the throwing maggots thing seems a leap. Where did this line come from?
What’s up with the maggots?
Why make up maggots?
For starters, there were two slightly different zombie events planned for the same time, same place, in Soho Square. One was organised by Queer Resistance, who were planning on a gay zombie wedding and protesting about cuts to LGBTQ+ healthcare (at the same time that so much was being spent on the royal wedding). This is the one I knew about and was going to report on for a friend’s zombie blog.
Another group was a street theatre/radical anthropology (?) outfit, organised mainly by a two academics: Chris Knight and Camilla Powers who definitely were approaching it more explicitly as a republican alternative. Chris Knight and Camilla Powers were arrested pre-emptively the day before the royal wedding. As far as I can tell, there was one flyer for the zombie event, produced by their radical anthropology group, which included the words ‘don’t forget the maggot confetti’.
I didn’t know anything about this at the time, but I’ve spoken to a lot of people involved since. I haven’t spoken to a single person who thought this throwaway line was a literal or credible threat. But police decided this line on the flyer was a serious and stated aim and used it as an excuse to arrest anyone who looked like they were anything to do with any zombie protest.
Maybe someone in high command is shit scared of zombies. I dunno.
A side-note on the unlikelihood of maggot throwing
I realise this isn’t the point, but I’ve got to say: the density of vegans in left-wing politics means it’s very unlikely anyone would choose throwing animals as a demo tactic.
Also: Soho Square is nowhere near where the royal wedding procession or official celebrations were being held. Anyone capable of hitting the royal wedding from Soho Square must be able to throw maggots for miles. Literally.
Or they’re suggesting ‘zombies’ were going to easily break through the thousands upon thousands of people lining the royal wedding procession route to then throw things. Those bits of town were absolutely packed – some people camped out to get a good spot. The idea that people dressed for halloween had any chance of pushing through to… anyway.
Imaginary maggots made a good excuse
By repeating this line about anti-royalist protestors planning to throw maggots at the happy couple, the police (and their delightful barrister) painted a flashmob/demo/alternative street party miles away from the wedding as a physical threat towards Kate and Wills’ on their happy day.
The royal wedding was already a licence for the Metropolitan police to do whatever they liked, with as many cops as they liked, while on extra pay. The maggots were a nice touch to make sure anyone who might question the police overreach didn’t forget how gross and mean and nasty all these troublemakers were.
I have been told some of the radical anthropology people had their homes raided by police who claimed to be looking for maggots. The cops couldn’t find any, but eventually they found some empty tupperware boxes which they argued could be used to hold maggots.
While this is technically true, the tupperware boxes could also be used to hold cupcakes, glitter or kittens. Meanwhile maggots could be held in a teacup, a top hat or any other number of…. look, the point is that the crucial missing element in all of this is any actual maggots.
However, the imaginary maggots line made a lot of people clutch their pearls – and the dirt stuck. I still occasionally get crappy comments on this blog (they don’t get approved, obvs) telling me I owe William and Kate a personal apology for being so mean and nasty on their wedding day.
I can’t believe the maggots line is still actually a thing. I can’t believe it’s the headline on Sky News. It’s so surreal that this bizarre lie is now formalised in ECtHR paperwork, in a court case with my name on it.
But basically: don’t believe everything you read. Especially if it’s something the police said while trying to cover their arses.
Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.