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Genoa 2001
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London protest: lawyer's eye witness account
ralph@blagged.freeserve.co.uk 23 July 2001

Eye witness report from a lawyer held in the cordon and then searched by police at the demonstration outside the Italian Embassy in London on Sunday night. Also includes comment on the fact it seems police are automatically using this tactic when a demo includes anti-capitalists.

Murder in Genoa, detention in London Hours after the murder in Genoa, fliers announcing a demonstration outside the Italian Embassy at 6pm on Sunday 22 July started circulating I picked one up at the Respect anti-racism festival.

Turning up expecting a handful of people, I was well impressed to find a lot more. By 6.30pm there are well over a hundred gathered at the back entrance (Three Kings Yard, W1 see http://www.streetmap.co.uk map & aerial photo) to the Embassy.

Crowd control barriers have been placed to enclose the demonstration and these were used to hang posters with anti-G8 slogans on. There is a lively mix of people, including a number of Italians and Spanish.

Chants, though there weren't that many, included "Death in Italy, death to the state!" and some things in Italian. There are about five police vans but all the police are good humoured.

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At around 7pm, people move round to the Grosvenor Square side of the embassy. While there are some on the pavement next to the entrance, most people gathered in the road to shout "Berlusconi, assessini" etc. By this time there are about 200 protesters.

At 7.10pm people move onto Grovesnor Street on the South side of the square. Some started running and were chased by the police. A window pane in the Canadian Embassy is smashed apparently.

The police try to move people along, pushing and jostling violently without warning those who they consider are not fast enough. Despite everything being entirely good-natured the police then form a cordon round most of the protesters.

There is no effort to try to separate the peaceful protesters from the 'others', indeed it would be hard as it is a peaceful demonstration, full of peaceful people shocked at the brutality of the Italian police.

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At 7.23pm I observe two constables with their extendable batons drawn, for no apparent reason, and indeed they do not retract them for a few minutes.

At 7.27pm I overhear a Superintendent telling other officers that a Section 60 (Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994) order was now in force.

This means everyone being held could be searched for offensive weapons. I ask a sergeant why I am being held and he informs me it's to prevent a breach of the peace.

He mentions the broken window pane as a reason when I ask in relation to which property or persons the breach of the peace feared to be committed. By this time three police vans are parked across the west side of the road, and six more are parked on the North side behind them.

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At 7.36pm, police on the East side start putting flack jackets on despite no noticeable change in the mellow vibe of the crowd: people seem a bit annoyed, almost incredulous at what was going on, but continue chatting with each other.

One person does a Jedi impression using a tooth brush as a light sabre, to jeers of it being one of the infamous samurai swords that masked anarchists were supposed to bring along to Mayday.

I see a box of eggs and other food being taken away by police in case they are used as weapons: earlier a pen knife was removed from someone. Reinforcements arrive and move down behind the cordon on the south side of the street there are no police on the north side.

On the other side of the cordon on the south side there are a couple of protesters and local residents standing next to the wall. Police form a funnel and start to let people out slowly.

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I make an announcement about everyone's legal rights, some of which is translated into Italian and Spanish: not only is this the fifth time I've been detained in this way, I am a barrister (advocate lawyer).

A police photographer is pointed to someone who he photographs. Meanwhile police 'video down', i.e. point a video camera up then and down, a woman being searched.

I get photographed five times in rapid succession when I turn round. No one is allowed to leave without being searched extremely thoroughly.

However, most of the police who are not making up the cordon are standing around chatting and laughing so meaning only two people are being searched at any time.

Reminds me of the one Spanish official checking passports of those trying to get into Gibraltar.

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The first announcement comes at 8.03pm on a loudspeaker. "You are being held to prevent a breach of the peace. Every effort is being made to release you as quickly as possible. You will be searched and then escorted out."

Despite there being five police vans on the east side now, no doubt many more down back streets, there are still only two people being searched so much for 'every effort'.

Some people want to refuse to move unless everyone is released at once. However most others want to leave and come back another day.

At 8.08 a relaxed Chief Superintendent arrives and another announcement is made at 8.10. One person queuing to get out told some Spanish who were trying to get past that despite the situation, they were in England and would still have to queue, which raised a few smiles among the police.

Actually the Spanish were having their squat raided by the police co-ordinated action? so it was understandable they want to return home.

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Shortly after I proceed through the funnel and am searched by four members of the Territorial Support Group (TSG - riot police but not in full riot gear today).

I give them a special warning under the s6 Human Rights Act 1998 saying they are breaching my right (Article 8) to privacy. They search in my pockets taking everything out, including my wallet.

When they start looking at all my cards, I object and am then put in an arm lock by a sergeant and not allowed to see them search my wallet. All the contents are dropped on the floor.

One of my hands is removed from my pocket despite my pockets already having been searched. They're searched again them to show who's in charge.

A constable searches in my socks and between my belt and my underwear. I complain but he claims he can search under my clothes as long as they are not totally removed in public.

My bike pannier is searched thoroughly, and my bike even under the saddle. Fortunately they don't decide to strip it down to look for semtex inside the tubes.

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I am then escorted out to Berkley Square. One of the TSG tells me to "Get a fucking life." and then "If I ever see you again, I'll give you a right treat".

I then run into a journalist from The Guardian [biggest left- 'leaning' broadsheet newspaper) who has just been called out from the office and to whom I try to tell all let's hope they put something good in tomorrow.

I was a bit stressed and decide to go home and write this up rather than stay around and see what happened to the others.

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Comment / rant

Like many I was shocked by the murder in Genoa. While I feel the 20 year old military policeman was somewhat to blame, I'm worried his being charged for manslaughter will distract the attention from those higher up.

Putting live ammunition into the hands of young conscripts barely through basic training in such a situation is clearly gross negligence and should be charged as such.

Not only should heads roll, senior members of the Caribinieri should be sent to prison. As if.

What really made me go to this demonstration, what aroused my sense of responsibility was the City Ordnance denying all detainees in Genoa the right to a lawyer for the first 48 hours and the trashing of the volunteer lawyers' area of the Genoa Social Forum.

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Even under the UK's new Terrorism Act, the police have to offer reasons in individual cases, however easy that may be, to deny access to lawyers.

And having acted as a legal observer and adviser at many UK actions I felt I should show solidarity with those who had lost their notes and been attacked for merely trying to uphold the law.

The events in Genoa, and now London, show that the forces of the G8 prefer there to be no evidence or reports to contradict theirs; the scales of justice have been fixed firmly in their favour.

It really does seem that breach of the peace cordon combined with a s60 search order is automatic where there is an anti-capitalist demonstration. The police got so much favourable publicity after their performance at Mayday that they feel they can use these tactics freely.

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While in the 80s, miners were stopped going to secondary pickets hundreds of miles from collieries, the breach of the peace power has now been reinterpreted to create an incredibly draconian power.

In other countries this would have to go through Parliament and be subject to democratic scrutiny. However, here the indeterminacy of the common law, and this part dates back to the fourteenth century, combined with the hassle of and time taken to sue the police.

Clearly, through media hype, the words 'anti-capitalist', 'rioter' and 'anarchist' have become synonymous for the police so they can safely presume anyone at an anti-capitalist is a trouble maker and can be dealt with as such.

What matters now is how much the courts follow this view when they examine the legality of the police tactics at Mayday.

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The police attitude is that they can interpret the law as they feel is reasonable until there is a court case interpreting the law differently.

The police I spoke to could not see why I was unhappy with being searched. Despite me telling I should have nothing to fear. Police saying they're just following the law on their interpretation can't see why it's unreasonable.

Who would like their wallet/purse opened onto the pavement by strangers? Let alone being held for an hour by riot police.

While I totally understand why people are angry given the last few days, it does seem stupid to let them smash a window.

What is gained from random, unplanned damage apart from the venting of people's anger? So Canada is a member of the G8 and I only need mention Quebec to comment on their police but is it really worth giving the police the excuse to detain, harass and take down the details of everyone else there?

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A lot of those detained were angry that the police had been able to cordon everyone in. Certainly, and particularly in the narrow streets of central London, we need to be far more careful if we are not to be shut in again and again.

N.B. I have a fuller version of these notes including police numbers. If you are issuing a claim against the Metropolitan Police I can send it to you. I am finally going to get round to doing one...

More info: www.blagged.freeserve.co.uk/

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Update from the bulletin boards (by Paul Marsh 23 July 2001 10:11 AM)

A big hand to everyone who made it down there last night. At such short notice a magnificent turn out!

To add to the lawyers report after he left the section 60 area about 50-60 people were left who refused to leave individually.

We told the cops we would only leave as a group, they insisted we were free to go, but this freedom meant going through their searches, photographic teams and their TSG heavies individually.

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Eventually they got tired of this and started pulling us out one by one. Under Section 60 they can search you but they cannot photograph you and you don't have to give your name and address.

Most people I know refused to do so, but obviously they take details from your cards (for no discernible reason a cop noted down my credit card details, so much for my right to privacy)

At least one arrest was made, I suspect of the kiddie who they were unable to get earlier on. The group I was with retired to Oxford Circus for a well earned pint or two, with 2 cops and a photographer pressing their noses to the pub window. That beer tasted pretty good!

More seriously we can undermine Section 60 by not co-operating with it, and secondly we must up the campaigh against Italian government and corporate business property in the UK.

They cannot be allowed to get away with 2 murders.

What's your opinion on the protest?
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