In this Report we make available the evidence we have taken on the policing of recent protests and preparations for the imminent Trades Union Congress (TUC) March, 'the March for the Alternative', on 26 March. The Committee took evidence from representatives of student bodies, the Metropolitan Police (on two occasions), Her Majesty's Inspectorate of the Constabulary (HMIC) and the TUC at two meetings in December 2010 and March 2011.
In our Report we consider and make recommendations on the role of the police, the role of HMIC and the role of protest organisers in the context of how to ensure that the policing of protest respects human rights and in particular facilitates the right to peaceful protest.
The TUC March for the Alternative, 26 March 2011
We welcome the high level of cooperation we saw between the Metropolitan Police and the TUC in planning for the demonstration of 26 March, as well as the planned involvement of independent human rights advisers in the control room during the demonstration itself. We hope this example of good practice will become general practice in the future.
We heard from our witnesses that effective and proactive communication between the organisers of protests and the police was critical for the 'no surprises' approach to policing of protest. Good organisation between police and protestors should be established at the planning stage and carry through to the protest itself.
We welcome the Metropolitan Police's communication with protestors through both social media and leaflets tailored for the demonstration in question. We recommend that organisers of protests have arrangements in place to communicate with protestors, including about changes to the route of a march. They should make appropriate use of social media in order to communicate these messages effectively. We also welcome plans for the police to be in radio contact with stewards at the forthcoming march on 26 March.
We heard much evidence about the use of containment or "kettling" as a tactic during the policing of the student demonstrations in November and December last year. We found that there was a lack of clarity about what level of violence must occur before containment or "kettling" is resorted to. In our Report, we express concerns about the lack of opportunity for the peaceful and vulnerable to leave the containment and the lack of information provided about how to leave. There remains considerable room for improving understanding of front line officers of the ACPO guidelines on the use of the tactic and we look forward to hearing practical proposals for how to ensure the guidance is translated into action on the ground.
Some concerns were raised by HMIC about police training on the use of force and we were pleased to hear that the Metropolitan Police have changed their training on the use of force. We were, however, surprised to find that no specific guidance setting out circumstances in which the use of the baton against the head might be justifiable and recommend that such detailed guidance about the use of batons be drawn up, and that in the meantime training reflects this concern.
We agree with HMIC that the lessons to be learned from events must be extracted very quickly and assimilated by those on the ground. The system for doing this needs to be more nimble than the current system of policy reviews.