Metro: All dressed up and having a riot: Last Sunday the police, press and protesters acted out time-honoured roles. Simon Bebbington interprets

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The Independent Culture
ONCE again London has witnessed a riot and the resurgence of riot etiquette. As at the anti-BNP riot in Welling, south London, a year ago, the fighters, police and journalists at Hyde Park on Sunday performed their usual rituals.

Most of the fighting was done by only one or two hundred of the 2,000 or more who were at the scene at the eastern edge of Hyde Park and on Park Lane. Usually disenfranchised, sartorially challenged and in need of a haircut, this crusty minority traditionally throws most of the sticks, stones, punches and (empty) cans of Special Brew while suffering most of the arrests and beatings. Scarves and hoods to hide faces are de rigueur.

Behind them about ten times as many front-line voyeurs mill about. This bunch get the buzz of the violence without usually facing arrest. On occasion they throw a stone or two. Their attention lapses as they do not feel as threatened as the front-liners, and so tend to get run over when the police horses charge.

Farther back are the long-range artillery, who chuck stones and placard sticks from the anonymity of the mass of the crowd. Many appear to be social-worker types with expensive woolly jumpers. Often 10 yards or more back from the front line, their missiles often fall short, on to the front-liners.

A Class War flyer distributed on Sunday's march urged this type of protester to 'move up front'. Entitled 'Keep It Spikey', the leaflet said: 'Don't stand so far back that you are unable to reach your target and your brick ends up cracking the back of someones (sic) head.'

Short-falling rocks are the bane of journalists' lives. Photographers often suffer a crack on the nut. Wounds are usually treated as trophies, to be discussed during lulls in the fighting when the photographers slouch around in groups, looking cool and catching up on the gossip since they last saw one another in Beirut, Sarajevo or a wine bar somewhere.

Print journalists can sculk behind police vans or observe at a safe distance. Those filing copy into mobile phones keep up their City slicker image by wearing suits to riots. Their less fortunate colleagues have to find a phone box.

Since the police used press photographs as evidence against poll- tax rioters, Class War hasn't taken kindly to the press being present: 'The pigs and their friends in the media are always keen to try and get your mug on film . . . they are our enemy.'

The police also conform to behaviour patterns during riots. At the beginning they usually look bored while sweating away in their padded blue noddy suits and body armour. The fashion-conscious in their ranks know they look distinctly unglamorous with bulging kneecap protectors and heavy black gauntlets, despite their gladiatorially macho round shields and the night sticks swinging from their belts. At the beginning the police usually have a smile and a joke for the press and more friendly protesters. But after half an hour of light-to-moderate stoning the police tend to lose their cool and swing the baton with gusto when they charge in.

Time is always on the police's side during a confrontation. The average riot lasts two to three hours from build-up to the height of the violence, but then peters out as the less die-hard get tired and go home for something to eat. Those protesters bussed in from outside London will have to leave to catch their transport home, as happened around 6pm on Sunday. This leaves the dedicated London- based rioters to fight running skirmishes with the police until the police clear the area two or three hours later.

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