Letter: Riot at Welling race march was provoked by the police

Geoff Sawers
Sunday 24 October 1993 00:02
Comments

I AM writing in response to the coverage of the anti-British National Party march in Welling. The story of extremist demonstrators bent on trouble repeated across all the papers bears no relation to the events as I saw them, and it should be pointed out that police tactics that day seemed calculated to provoke reaction.

To begin with, the street to the BNP bookshop (the original route of the march) was not blocked off at the turning but several hundred yards further back up the hill. The march was thus allowed some way on to the original route, where it met a wall of police. More policemen then closed in from a side street making it very hard to turn and follow the re-directed route. The mounted and foot charges then made by the riot police seemed designed to break the marchers into small groups crushed tightly together with nowhere to go.

At this point I was in the front of the group at the top of the hill, unable to turn back because of the press of marchers behind me. A line of riot police was trying to force us down the hill but we couldn't move, and said so. One of the policemen tipped a marcher's cap off his head with a truncheon. As the man put it back on, he shouted at him, and the policemen started striking at us with their truncheons. My friend and I put our hands to our heads and both received blows on the hand. The attack lasted only a few seconds but was completely unprovoked. People were screaming 'What are you doing?' at the policemen, who grinned back.

We saw several incidents of this kind, and countless others where police goaded protesters into violence and then replied with greater violence. I have never seen the police behave so badly. I have also never been on a march so comprehensively photographed and filmed. There were banks of cameramen everywhere (who clearly also anticipated trouble at this spot). Surely some of these incidents must be on film? Is there a reason why the media is reluctant to expose the conduct of the police towards our citizens?

I am not a violent person; I threw nothing and struck nobody. I was on the march to express my opposition to the increasing activity and burgeoning respectability of the British National Party. Your Review feature describing neo-Nazism as a fad was singularly ill-timed and offensive.

If the cost of the police operation on Saturday had been spent making the streets of London safe then the march might never have needed to take place. I hope Paul Condon, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, heard the chant that went through the crowd of 'what a waste of money'. It is time the Metropolitan Police Force thought about just who it is protecting.

Geoff Sawers

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