Police officer who 'left student protester needing brain surgery' faces misconduct proceedings nine years after incident

City of London Police originally said Detective Constable Mark Alston had 'no case to answer'

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 04 December 2019 20:45 GMT
Alfie Meadows required emergency brain surgery after the incident
Alfie Meadows required emergency brain surgery after the incident

A police officer who allegedly struck a student protester in the head with his baton is facing disciplinary action more than nine years after the incident.

Alfie Meadows, then 20, was among thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets of central London to march against increased tuition fees in December 2010.

During an outbreak of violent disorder near Parliament Square, he was struck in the head and suffered a brain bleed requiring emergency surgery.

Mr Meadows alleged he had been hit in the head by a police officer, which the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) identified as Detective Constable Mark Alston.

The first day of his misconduct hearing that he denies the allegation, and his representatives may dispute whether Mr Meadows was struck by a baton or hit by metal fences being used by protesters to batter police officers.

The watchdog’s investigation was suspended in 2011 because Mr Meadows was charged with violent disorder – an accusation he was acquitted of following three attempted trials.

The IOPC resumed its investigation in 2013 but did not identify DC Alston until the following year, when a journalist provided new footage.

The police watchdog drew up a report and issued a report, but City of London Police “determined that DC Alston had no case to answer over misconduct”, the hearing was told on Wednesday.

In further discussions, the police force “did not accept” the IOPC’s recommendation that the officer should be subjected to a misconduct hearing for potential gross misconduct.

When the IOPC directed that proceedings must be held, City of London Police attempted to launch a judicial review on the basis that the decision was “irrational”.

But High Court judges threw out the application in October 2018.

Then, in a final bid to stop proceedings, DC Alston made an application to the misconduct panel claiming a hearing would be “unfair” because of the passage of time since the incident and procedural complaints against the IOPC.

The panel, made up of two senior police officers and an independent member, rejected his application and said a fair hearing was possible.

“The police, as public servants, are accountable to the public and it is this point that necessitates the wider public interest is served by ensuring the full evidential facts are heard at a formal misconduct hearing,” they concluded.

DC Alston stands accused of the unreasonable use of a baton, and causing serious injury to Mr Meadows.

Standing guard: Police in riot gear man crowd control barriers lining the route

Then studying philosophy at Middlesex University, he was among more than 10,000 people demonstrating against student fees in London on 9 December 2010.

DC Alston, then of constable rank, was deployed to police the demonstration, which turned violent in and around Parliament Square.

It followed outbreaks of disorder at previous student protests, which saw the Metropolitan Police “kettle” teenagers after officers were criticised for their response to vandalism at the Conservative Campaign Headquarters at Millbank.

The court heard that the demonstration started peacefully but “deteriorated” in the afternoon, with violence breaking out.

Footage played to the hearing showed factions of protesters wearing hoods and face coverings while shouting abuse at police officers and throwing missiles.

After breaking through barriers around Parliament Square, some demonstrators used metal fences to batter riot police officers, in an attempt to force through their lines.

The hearing was told senior officers were concerned about the safety of their colleagues and feared of a threat to their lives, amid widespread disorder and scuffles.

In a recording of radio communications shortly before Mr Meadows was injured, an officer was heard calling for backup and saying: “Use all reasonable force...they are coming under severe violence and I do fear for their lives, so please do it urgently.”

The hearing was told that Mr Meadows was near the police line but “not doing anything in particular”, and was seen “backing away from the obvious danger in front of him” at points in the footage.

In statements, Mr Meadows described seeing an officer “thrashing about” before feeling a sharp strike to his head after he turned his back.

He needed more than 100 staples in his head and was left with a large scar.

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DC Alston is said to have used his “baton in a violent, uncontrolled and dangerous manner when he used it to deliver a number of downward strikes at head height towards a group of demonstrators”.

The officer is also accused of using unreasonable force when he “hit Alfie Meadows on the head, causing a serious head injury”.

A statement submitted on DC Alston's behalf said: “The officer accepts he wielded his baton, but denies that it was in a violent, uncontrolled and dangerous manner or was in any way disproportionate in light of the circumstances in which he was operating.

”The officer denies hitting Mr Meadows, or anyone, on the head with it.“

Mr Meadows, now 29, was not present in the hearing room in central London as he is due to give evidence on Monday.

He said: "After nearly dying at the hands of the police on a protest against tuition fees and austerity in 2010 I have had to wait almost a decade for accountability.

"This delay to justice is an experience shared by many who have suffered state violence, and raises serious questions about police accountability.

"I hope that this hearing will finally provide accountability and acknowledgement of the truth."

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