How to make a citizen's arrest

The latest attempt to make a citizen's arrest on Tony Blair is saluted by campaigner Peter Tatchell, who was beaten unconscious in his attempt to apprehend President Mugabe

Related Topics

The attempt by Twiggy Garcia, a London bar worker, to arrest Tony Blair last week for crimes against peace in Iraq was a brave effort to bring to justice a former Prime Minister who many people regard as having got away with waging an illegal war.

This is the value of citizen's arrest powers: they grant ordinary people the right to arrest the bad guys when the forces of law and order fail to do so. Too often the rich and powerful use their influence to evade justice. The right of citizen's arrest gives the unrich and unpowerful the means to make sure they don't get away with it.

The citizen's arrest statute dates back to medieval England and common law. It is today enshrined in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Every citizen has the right to perform an arrest if they have evidence that a person has committed a crime.

I used this power in my two attempted citizen's arrests of the Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe. I had evidence from Amnesty International that he had authorised the torture of Ray Choto and Mark Chavunduka, two journalists, in Harare. Torture is illegal under the UN Convention Against Torture and under Section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

My first attempt was in London in 1999. Together with three colleagues from OutRage!, the queer rights group, I ran in front of Mugabe's limousine, forcing it to halt. I opened the rear door (amazingly it was unlocked) and physically arrested Mugabe on charges of torture. When the police arrived, they ignored the evidence of Mugabe's criminal acts. We were arrested, while he was given police escort to go Christmas shopping at Harrods.

Presumably, the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner and Attorney General were informed and they decided to allow Mugabe to return to Zimbabwe without facing any charges. In effect, they facilitated the continuation of his reign of terror and torture. On the opening day of our trial, all charges were dropped. I suspect because we had acted lawfully and the authorities did not want it tested in court. They feared that our possible acquittal might popularise citizen's arrests and give encouragement to others.

My second citizen's arrest bid was in 2001 in Brussels. When the Belgian government ignored my formal request to arrest Mugabe for torture, I ambushed him in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel. This time, I was beaten unconscious by his body guards in full view of the Belgian police and secret service agents.

Neither of my attempts to bring Mugabe to justice succeeded. But the worldwide media coverage did draw attention to his human-rights abuses and gave a moral boost to the people of Zimbabwe who thought, at the time, that the outside world neither knew nor cared about their suffering.

This is one of the great virtues of an attempted citizen's arrest. Even if it doesn't succeed, it can help publicise an injustice. It's a way of raising awareness.

Since the Mugabe bid, I've plotted similar attempts on George W Bush, Ariel Sharon and Tony Blair. Alas, the security ring was too tight. But others have had a go. In 2008, journalist George Monbiot tried to arrest John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN. Two years later, in Canada, there was an attempted citizen's arrest of George W Bush. Also in 2010, Ed Balls MP faced an arrest bid by Democracy Village peace protesters for his support of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Citizen's arrests are about citizen's power. They are an essential element of a democratic judicial system. Long may they continue.

Peter Tatchell is director of the human rights lobby the Peter Tatchell Foundation:

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine