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Police misused powers during royal wedding, protesters claim

A court challenge by anti-monarchists could hit police operations ahead of the Olympics
  • @peachey_paul

Scotland Yard will today be accused of misusing powers to prevent disruption to last year's royal wedding in a court case that could have major implications for police operations in the run-up to the Olympic Games.

A group of 20 anti-monarchist protesters, campaigners and environmentalists will claim at the High Court that police made a political decision to clear "undesirable" groups from London's streets while the world watched Prince William marry Kate Middleton.

More than 50 people were arrested on 29 April last year – some under powers introduced initially to combat football hooliganism – and more than 20 others were held during raids on squats on the eve of the ceremony.

Those taking legal action today include members of the "Charing Cross 10", a group arrested near the station as they prepared to join a day of anti-monarchist protest. Protester Daniel Randall, 25, said they were held for more than five hours at a police station on suspicion of a possible breach of the peace. The group was not released until the wedding ceremony had ended.

Mr Randall claimed that there was a policy to arrest anyone who might criticise the monarchy. "Police should not be allowed to act politically... to stifle the raising of voices which dissent from the official politics," he said.

Protesters dressed as zombies were arrested as they planned to stage some mock-executions of the Royal Family.

Two environmentalists lived in a camp near Heathrow airport which was raided on the eve of the wedding. They had no plans to travel to central London for the wedding, documents show. No-one was arrested but police obtained their search warrants for the Sipson camp based on claims that "left-wing extremists" were based there who might want to disrupt the wedding.

One environmentalist taking part in the action, Theodora Middleton, accused the police of harassment based on "crude political profiling".

"In this case it appears the police were determined to restrict or remove the sight of protest from central London during the royal wedding," said solicitor Sophie Priestley, who is acting for camp members. "The real strength of our heritage and tradition lies not in the spectacle and pageantry of events ... but rather in the rich history of our hard-won democratic freedoms which we should be showcasing to the world rather than threatening to suspend."

At the time of the protest, it was said officers reserved the right to take action "where there is a real perceived threat of public disorder taking place". The officer in charge of the operation, Lynne Owens – now head of the Surrey force – said it had been an "amazing success".

No decision in the judicial review is expected before the Bank Holiday next weekend to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Lawyers hope for a ruling before the Olympics. Police plan a huge security operation during the Games, with 12,500 officers on duty at peak periods.

A police spokesman told organisers of planned protests to contact them but said there is no ban on dissent. He declined to make any comment on the court case before the hearing, which is due to last for four to five days.

Case study: 'It's almost Orwellian'

Theodora Middleton, 26, was with about 15 environmentalists at their campsite in Sipson, near Heathrow.

On the eve of the royal wedding, some 40 officers searched their makeshift homes looking for evidence of plans to disrupt the royal wedding based on intelligence reports. No one was arrested, but at least one member of the camp was handcuffed.

"It's completely inappropriate to have a situation where police can break into people's homes without evidence of any crime being committed. It's almost Orwellian," Ms Middleton said.