Police told to change crowd tactics after new complaint

By Mark Hughes,Crime Correspondent
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:40

The police has been told to immediately change the way it controls public protests after it emerged that a young woman may have suffered a miscarriage after being manhandled by officers at the G20 protests.

The incident was highlighted by the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission. In a report they said that a 23-year-old woman was at the Climate Camp in Bishopsgate in central London during the protests on 1 April when, it is alleged, she was kicked and pushed by officers with shields and batons.

This left her with a bruising on her arms and legs and heavy bleeding which doctors later said could have been indicative of a miscarriage although the woman says she was not aware whether she was pregnant or not and it has never been medically confirmed if this was the case.

Yet despite bleeding heavily the woman was not allowed to leave the area of Bishopsgate for five hours. The IPCC report, released following an investigation into claims made by the woman, condemned this and the fact that the woman pushed back by an officer using a "short shield" – a tactic which was developed by the Metropolitan Police, but has never been approved nationally.

In an interview on BBC Radio 4, the alleged victim, who has not been named, said she feared for her life during the incident.

She said: "I was being struck very violently with shields and pushed very violently ... I was being shouted at and screamed at continuously to get back. I remember thinking ‘oh God, this is how people die in crowds, you get crushed'.

"At some point there was a real surge of aggression and at that point ... there were about three different police officers who I was being attacked by to the head, the arms. I was being kicked repeatedly in the shins over and over again."

The woman said she saw people with "their heads split" and "their noses broken" during the violence.

"One of the most traumatic visual moments for me was that a female police officer in front of me had blood spattered on the outside of her visor.

"I was so lost in fear and shock by this point that I said 'do you know you have blood on your visor?'.

"That really upset her and I really got laid into and I got knocked on to the floor and all the people trying to help me ... were also being hit.

"Eventually I was righted and I asked to go."

IPCC Commissioner for London, Deborah Glass, said: "While this young woman's alleged injuries were more serious than most, her experience appears to have been typical of many peaceful protestors on 1 April. She was caught up in what appears to have been a frightening experience over which she had little or no control.

"Like many others that day, she says she had no prior warning of the police intention to use force in containing the crowd, and no prior warning of a containment tactic that prevented her leaving."

The report recommends that the police should operate a ‘no surprises' policy, meaning that the protestors and public should be made aware of the likely police actions in advance of their commission; that they should have a ‘release plan' in place so that vulnerable or distressed people or those caught up in the protest inadvertently can be allowed to leave. And it recommends a review of the public order training currently given to officers.

The IPCC said police should consider using large, portable information boards to help them communicate with protesters.

The recommendations which will almost certainly see the end of the controversial ‘kettling' tactic employed by the Metropolitan Police on that day – a tactic which essentially means penning protestors into a certain area for prolonged periods of time.

Though it is unlikely that any individual Met officer will be disciplined over the incident involving the woman since she made clear that her complaint was about the force as a whole and not any individual officers. She said that she did not want any officer "singled out" by the investigation.

A statement released by Scotland Yard said: "It is only right and proper that public complaints are investigated thoroughly, and where appropriate, independently. Though we note that the medical opinion was that there was a low probability of the complainant being pregnant, there is a real opportunity for lessons to be learnt here.

"We are committed to ongoing organisational learning and we are currently examining the Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary recommendations – reiterated as recommendations in this report – following the Commissioner's request for a review of public order tactics. A senior Metropolitan Police Service officer has offered to meet with the complainant to discuss the potential learning from this incident and apologise for distress caused."

The report comes in the same week that a file of evidence on the death of Ian Tomlinson was passed from IPCC investigators to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). They must now decide if a Metropolitan Police constable caught on camera hitting the newspaper seller and pushing him to the ground should be prosecuted.

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