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

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
Jeremy Corbyn addresses over a thousand supporters at Middlesbrough Town Hall on August 18, 2015  

Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be

Mark Steel
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

Berlusconi's world of sleaze

The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

Could gaming arcades be revived?

The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

Heard the one about menstruation?

Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage