Police powers – police tactic of ‘kettling’

Police tactic of ‘kettling’ appropriate and proportionate response?

Any discussion and debate about police powers and whether they strike the right balance between the rights of individuals and society as a whole is not likely to be complete following the events of the G20 demonstration in the City of London.

What is kettling?

Kettling is the  term used  when referring to the Metropolitan’s tactic of containing and controlling large and potentially violent groups of protesters.  A former senior policeman Andy Hayman says of kettling “The tactics are to herd the crowd into a pen, known as ‘the kettle’… the police will not want groups splintering away from the main crowd.”

This results in groups of protesters being steered towards designated areas that suit the police where they are effectively ‘penned’ by circles of police specially trained to deal with possible public disorder.

‘Appropriate and proportionate response?’

Specific concerns centre around two incidents made public by the media including Youtube, one being the death of newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson following his push to the ground by a police officer.  

This incident is to be investigated as will the subsequent complaints concerning a woman who appeared to be slapped on the face by a police officer with his glove. This was then followed by the use of a police baton to her legs.

‘Right to protest and freedom of movement?’

The police strategy does raise the very real issue of whether the tactic infringes individual freedoms.  This includes the right to protest and the freedom of movement.  These are important individual rights, which have deep roots in our democracy.  

It also remains to be seen whether the matter will be successfully raised by human rights lawyers under the provisions of the widely drawn Human Rights Act 1998.  

The police defend the tactic by arguing that it is far better than the alternative of dispersement with the possibility that there would be a real danger of protesters reeking havoc over a wider area.

The other issue is whether it is right to defend police tactics where there appears to be an inherent risk of harm or injury to individuals and exposes individual officers to allegations of assault or worse?  It has now been announced that the first police officer to be charged following the demonstrations has now been identified. 

Some of you will recall that demonstrators posted Youtube footage of a police officer appearing to strike Brighton woman Nicola Fisher.

The Crown Prosecution service have now announced: "The Crown Prosecution Service has decided that there is sufficient evidence to charge Police Sergeant Delroy (Tony) Smellie with the offence of assault by beating of Nicola Fisher on 2 April 2009 at a demonstration in the City of London." 

We must wait and see how this case proceeds.




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