Police faced criticism tonight after it emerged that they had contacted any protesters arrested at recent demonstrations, warning them to stay away from any trouble at tomorrow’s march, despite many never having been charged with or convicted of any offence.
The Metropolitan Police Service said it contacted 450 people (click here to read the letter) who had been arrested at related demonstrations in the last 12 months, in a bid to prevent a return to the disturbances seen at last Winter’s fees and anti-cuts marches.
One of them, 17-year-old Tyler Perkin, attacked the move as “disgusting” and pointed out that he had never been convicted of any crime. He insisted he would attend the protest today but said: “I definitely feel like I am being watched. I had two police officers knock on my door during the riots and it is scary to think that you are on some police database somewhere on the basis of having been arrested.”
Mr Perkin was arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass by officers for his involvement in the Fortnum and Mason protest in March. But the case against him was dropped after the Crown Prosecution Service decided there would be no public interest in bringing charges.
Another 17-year-old, David Walmsley, accused police of victimisation. He said: “It is not what the letter says, it is the fact that they felt the need to send a letter to people who have not committed any crime.” No charges were ever brought against him.
He added that he would definitely still attend tomorrow’s demonstration, which will begin at the University of London Union building, before making its way through the West End to Trafalgar Square and on to St Paul’s – the scene of the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest – and ending at Moorgate in the City.
Both 17-year-olds said they would not seek to hide their identity today in response to the letters but Mr Walmsely said he thought they would provoke others into doing so.
One Fortnum and Mason protester, who asked not to be named, said: “If you are innocent, you are innocent. If you are not convicted of a crime, you are innocent and you should not be treat like a criminal. Anyone could be arrested on suspicion of something, it does not make you a criminal.”
Police sources said that the move was aimed at “preventing people getting into trouble”, adding that they hoped it would be a peaceful day.
The letter reminds recipients not involve themselves in “any type of criminal or anti-social behaviour” during the protest and adds: “Should you do so we will at the earliest opportunity arrest and place you before the court.”
It continues: “A criminal conviction could impact on employment and educational opportunities, your ability to travel abroad and applications for insurance cover.
“If you are near an outbreak of violence move away and create distance between yourself and those taking part. Do not stand and watch as it may not be safe to do so.”
A Met Police spokesman confirmed that letters had been sent to people arrested at “anti-austerity demonstrations” and said: “We know the overwhelming majority of students are law abiding and we hope this will be a peaceful event. We certainly don’t see it as inevitable that we will witness a repeat of last year’s scenes of violence and criminal damage.
"However, it would be negligent if we did not plan a response to the small minority who may be intent on disruption and may not intend to be peaceful." The spokesman added: "We have a responsibility to protect the demonstrators on tomorrow’s march but also residents, tourists and businesses in the area and to keep the city moving.
"The letter does not ask people not to attend but against getting involved in any type of criminal or anti social behaviour.”