Letter: Eyewitness accounts of how a rally against the Criminal Justice Bill turned into a riot

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The Independent Online
Sir: I went on Sunday's march because I object to some of the clauses of the Criminal Justice Bill. This is a bad bill which attacks traditional liberties. I am 17 years old and at school. Perhaps your readers would be interested in an account of the experience of one non-violent demonstrator.

I was late for the march and only caught up with the demonstrators after they had been in Hyde Park some time. Once I was with them, I noticed vast numbers of riot policemen, mounted police and vans all around us. At about 6pm, the mood became worse. Both ends of the street had been blocked off by a row of riot police, then a line of horses and then numerous riot vans.

People began to react against the police presence by shouting 'Kill the Bill' and so on. Soon there was conflict between the demonstrators and the police. I refused to leave the area out of principle - I was not going to be intimidated by physical force.

Soon a small number of people began to throw bottles at the line of police; one man next to me who threw a bottle was screamed at by people to stop. The majority of the people around me did not want violence. We were merely standing up for the right to demonstrate peacefully.

Suddenly the police charged and everyone fled in panic. Once the police saw us running, they stopped and formed a line. At this point three people sat down in front of them and crossed their arms. I joined them and did the same.

A moment later there were 20 of us sitting down, as well as many journalists taking photos. The police at this point were not threatened in any way. But they suddenly advanced, trampling over everyone sitting down. Outraged by this, I sat in front of the advancing riot vans with a couple of other people. Before I knew it, we were being dragged off violently by the police.

Each time I and others went back, we were treated more and more violently. At one point I was dragged along the road with a truncheon around my neck and thrown over the street barrier to land on my back and neck. The police were insulting as well as hurting me. I insulted them back - it was my only defence.

I truly believe that police misbehaviour was the reason this demonstration degenerated into a riot. They introduced the conflict, fear and intimidation. The fact that the people were brave enough to stand up to them is heartening.

Yours sincerely,

CONRAD SHAWCROSS

London, NW5

11 October

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