Police riot shields criticised

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The legality of police using riot shields to land blows on protesters during street demonstrations was called into question at the High Court today.

A QC argued so-called shield strikes were "not a recognised form of reasonable force at all", or an approved police defensive technique, to be found in police manuals.

The accusation was made as protesters who complained of beatings and being unlawfully restrained by police during G20 demonstrations in April 2009 applied for judicial review.

The applicants - student Hannah McClure and Josh Moos, a campaigner for Plane Stupid - were at the Camp for Climate Action outside the Carbon Exchange in London's Bishopsgate.

They are seeking a High Court declaration that the Metropolitan Police decision to "kettle" them - preventing them from leaving the area - with the use of violent force was unlawful.

Michael Fordham QC, appearing for the protesters, said the police had acted using common law powers to prevent a breach of the peace.

But he argued the climate camp was relatively peaceful and there was no reason for the police to think that violence was imminent there.

He said the police had acted because of a separate G20 demonstration taking place nearby in the City, outside the Royal Exchange, where there had been violence.

The kettle was imposed at 7pm as the police carried out a controlled dispersal of the Royal Exchange demonstrators and did not want any "mixing" of the two sets of protesters. The kettle action continued until around 11.30pm.

Mr Fordham argued that, even if it was necessary to keep the two groups apart, "advancing towards the climate camp in riot gear, wielding batons and using shields offensively was a totally inappropriate response".

He said the extensive use of so-called "shield strikes" by the police throughout the containment operation was "particularly objectionable".

Police officers had described in their notebooks using shield strikes "both flat and angled" and using the shield edge.

The tactics were apparently deployed on the instructions of senior officers.

But they formed no part of the tactics set out in the 2004 Acpo Public Order Standards, Tactics and Training Manual, argued Mr Fordham.

Nor were they an approved police defensive technique explained in the Met's Officer Safety Manual.

Chief Superintendent Michael Johnson, of the Met's Territorial Support Group, who was in command during the G20 protests, defended his decision to use the kettling tactics.

He told High Court judges Sir Anthony May, who is president of the Queen's Bench Division, and Mr Justice Sweeney, that the Royal Exchange protesters had been involved in serious disturbances throughout the day.

"I was concerned to keep them from mixing with the demonstrators at the climate camp, which had during the day become increasingly volatile."

Chief Supt Johnson said it was that increasing volatility which had led him to apprehend that there could be a breach of the peace at the camp and led him to impose the kettle.

Mr Fordham suggested to him in cross-examination that the camp had been "relatively peaceful".

Chief Supt Johnson said there had been incidents, including the damaging of police carriers and the throwing of bottles and coins and other items at the police lines.

He said: "People in the climate camp had been engaged in disorder throughout the day."

Responding to the criticism of shield strikes, Chief Supt Johnson said in written submissions the fact that they had not been described in the manuals referred to did not affect their legality.

A shield was part of an officer's protective equipment, and, if an officer was deployed with a shield, could use it to the extent "that use of force is reasonable and proportionate".

A new Met guide, the Public Order Officers Safety Manual, did cover shield techniques, and the tactical use of shields was covered by the Public Order Trainers Manual.

Chief Supt Johnson also suggested under cross examination that violence could have broken out in the streets of London if demonstrators at the climate camp had been allowed to leave the camp and join up with the Royal Exchange demonstrators.

But Mr Fordham told the court the nature of the camp was "not hostile" and it had had "a party atmosphere" before the kettling began.

The hearing continues tomorrow.