Committee report on policing of G20 protests

29 June 2009

Home Affairs Committee report into policing of G20 identifies failings that marred otherwise successful police operation.

In a report released today the Commons Home Affairs Committee says the police relied too heavily on untrained, inexperienced officers in the operation to police the G20 protests.

On the whole the Committee says the police should be congratulated for the operation which was in many ways a success. The protests involved more than 35,000 protesters in the centre of London with a police presence of several thousand, yet there was a minimum of disruption to the City. However, the Committee warns that "this success should not distract from the failings in the operation which were also on show and we feel that an element of luck must be attributed to the success". The Committee says it "cannot condone the use of untrained, inexperienced officers on the front-line of a public protest under any circumstances" and the police must not run this risk again.

The Committee notes that there were particular problems with communications around the event, both with protesters and the media. It says some officers were apparently inadequately briefed and that "some members of the media experienced a broken chain of command and ignorance on the part of the police which impaired their ability to do their jobs". The Committee says "we cannot understand why experienced officers on the ground were not granted a degree of discretion in how the police strategies were enacted ....we are yet to be convinced of the absolute necessity of why a relatively simple message like "please let them out if they are bona fide press" needed to be sent from the Gold Commander" and recommends that as far as possible power should be devolved to authorised officers on the ground. Equally, the Committee noted that not every protest group present at the event made every effort needed to improve communications with the police. Both sides must put every effort into improving communication in future.

The Committee says the police should also be aware that, as a matter of course, their actions will be filmed whether or not journalists are present and must amend their attitude and tactics accordingly. The use of tactics such as containment (detaining people in a confined area for a sustained period of time), and distraction tactics (the controlled use of force against those who appear hostile) may be completely within police rules but they shocked the public and the Committee says the police must clarify the circumstances in which they consider their use appropriate and hold wide ranging public discussions on whether they should continue to be used at all.

The Committee also says that senior officers must take personal responsibility for ensuring that all officers are displaying their identification numbers and individual officers must make every effort to be identifiable at all times.

The Committee supports the police’s self imposed ban on the use of Tasers in public protest situations and urges the police to reject the use of "distance weapons" generally in policing demonstrations. "Instead of investment in expensive equipment to give the police "distance" while policing large scale protests, we suggest that the money could be better spent on training for front-line officers and in the planning of operations, removing the need for such "distance weapons"".

Chairman of the Committee Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP said:

"The basic principle that the police must remember is that protesters are not criminals - the police’s doctrine must remain focused on allowing protest to happen peacefully. In many ways this was a large protest which passed off remarkably well. But it is clear that concerns about the policing of the G20 Protests have damaged the public’s confidence in the police, and that is a great shame.

"The ability of the public and the media to monitor every single action of the police through CCTV, mobile phones and video equipment should mean they take even greater care to ensure that all their actions are justifiable. It is unacceptable for officers not to wear identification numbers at such events, and any officers found to be deliberately removing their identification should face the strongest possible disciplinary measures."

"We urge the police seriously consider whether it should continue with some operational tactics, such as 'kettling', without consulting the public, and to take decisive action based on the problems we have identified in our inquiry to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. There must be not be a repetition of this - never again must untrained officers be placed on the front-line of public protest."

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