The Park Lane Riot: How Park Lane was turned into a battlefield

Danny Penman
Monday 10 October 1994 23:02 BST

AS SHOPKEEPERS in Oxford Street swept away the debris from Sunday's rioting following the demonstration against the Criminal Justice Bill, the Metropolitan Police ruled out an investigation of tactics used during the march.

Chief Superintendent Richard Cullen, who was in charge of policing during the demonstration, also rejected criticism of his handling of the situation. He blamed anarchist groups for starting the rioting after a peaceful demonstration and rally in Hyde Park, which attracted more than 35,000 people.

Assistant Commissioner Tony Speed said the disorder was 'in no way provoked' by police, who responded to the 'despicable behaviour of the minority'. He added: 'I am proud of the way my officers reacted in the face of extreme violence.'

Their assertions were given weight by flyers distributed to marchers by Class War urging them to 'Keep It Spikey' and gave some tips for riot etiquette, including resisting arrest and wearing a mask. It gave hints on throwing missiles. 'When throwing - throw well. It takes a bit of guts. But if you have your hands on some ammo move up to the front. Don't stand so far back that you are unable to reach your target . . .'

Mary-Ann Stephenson, a legal observer for the civil rights group Liberty, described the policing of the event as a 'shambles' and said she had seen several unprovoked attacks on demonstrators by the police. The conflicts, the most serious outbreak of violence on Britain's streets since the poll tax riots, began at 5pm.

5:00pm The first confrontation between police and demonstrators came when two mobile sound systems tried to enter Hyde Park near Speakers' Corner with about 2,000 people. Riot police formed a line but rapidly backed off. The revellers danced into the park to join about 10,000 others remaining after the demonstration.

The violence began, according to Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, when police sealed off exits on the eastern side of Hyde Park - as a result demonstrators could not reach their coaches to return home.

Ch Supt Cullen denied Mr Corbyn's allegation. The buses, he said, could not be let through because of the violence against officers.

5:30pm A series of minor confrontations between police and demonstrators escalated until about 30 mounted riot police charged the crowd.

Members of the crowd began chanting: 'Kill the Bill, kill the Bill' - the slogan used in reference to the Criminal Justice Bill - and began hurling stones and bottles.

Mr Corbyn said police deliberately charged demonstrators when everyone was leaving, and a number of people, including children, were seriously hurt. 'Police tactics were monumentally ill-conceived,' he said.

But Ch Supt Cullen accused Mr Corbyn of getting his facts wrong and 'relying on the political rhetoric of the moment'. He said: 'My officers acted with admirable restraint. I dare say some officers retaliated. You can't expect police officers to come under such violent attacks and not retaliate.' Weapons used against officers included sharpened staves, scaffolding, bricks, bottles, cans, gravel and 'almost anything you can think of', he said.

5:35pm Police reinforcements began to enter the park from the south. Several thousand demonstrators, who had previously been dancing near another sound system further into the park, began to run towards the police, who launched a series of baton charges against them.

5:49pm Riot police turned and charged again, trampling at least two underfoot. The Independent's reporter, Danny Penman, was attacked by three officers, who hit him across the head, legs and stomach with their truncheons. Clashes continued for another 15 minutes before police once again retreated. Most of the demonstrators drifted away, leaving a hard core of about 1,500 people.

8:45pm The final battles of the evening began when two lines of about 500 officers in body armour marched across Hyde Park from the north and south. Police had previously been forcing the marchers off Park Lane and into the park, apparently to keep them out of the West End. Panic broke out as people were trapped by two advancing police lines and the steel fence on the edge of the park. They tried to clamber over the fences only to meet a police line advancing along Park Lane. Sporadic battles broke out as the police lines mingled with the demonstrators.

Fifteen people appeared before magistrates in London yesterday accused of charges ranging from violent disorder to assault after rioting at the end of Sunday's demonstration and rally in Hyde Park against the Criminal Justice Bill. One man was remanded in custody. The rest of the defendants were granted bail.

Having a riot, page 21

(Photographs and graphics omitted)

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