23 Oct 2014

Parliament square arrests for feeding protest (literally)

Two people are arrested for obstructing police after giving food and water to a fellow protester who is occupying a site outside the Houses of Parliament.

(Footage courtesy of Occupy London)

Video has emerged of police officers refusing the man – who they were preparing to arrest – access to supplies, and saying that anyone trying to hand any to him would be arrested themselves.

The protester, who was sitting on the plinth of the statue of Winston Churchill on Parliament Square and refusing to come down, was later arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and causing harassment, alarm or distress.

The Metropolitan Police said its priority was to get the man down from the plinth as soon as possible, meaning that anyone throwing him food was causing an obstruction to its officers.

‘Political policing’

But a civil liberties group attacked the force, accusing it of “political policing” and an attempt to “criminalise protest”.

Hannah Dee of Defend the Right to Protest said the arrests were “about associating protest with the threat of criminalisation and, by extension, anyone who wants to show support”.

She said: “It is about creating the fear around protest now and for the future.”

And she said that the incident “exposes the legal framework that gives an enormous amount of discretion to the police that is largely outside of the judicial process”.

New legislation was introduced in 2011 banning the use of tents and other sleeping paraphernalia and loudhailers in Parliament Square, outside the Palace of Westminster. The rules were originally supposed to be used to clear the area of occupying protesters in the run-up to the Royal wedding but were introduced too late.

The new law replaced a 2005 ban on unauthorised protests in the area.

(Footage courtesy of Occupy London)

The man began occupying the plinth after police cleared the square on Tuesday, citing the 2011 Act. Police said the Greater London Authority, which owns the square, then erected fences – aided by police officers.

“He was there in the first place because they had fenced off the square. Presumably, they weren’t planning on starving him, so the notion that it was obstruction is ridiculous,” said Ms Dee.

“They are trying to create a fear and a criminalisation of protest, I don’t know how else to explain the general response to what has been a good-natured occupation of the square.”

‘Criminal acts’

A Metropolitan Police spokesman confirmed that two people were arrested for throwing food and water to the man, who police have not named.

The spokesman said: “Our policing objective was to bring the man on the plinth down safely. He had committed criminal acts whilst on the plinth and had already been up there for over 24 hours in cold weather conditions.

“Police were concerned that, as time passed, the risk of him falling and causing himself injury increased. By providing him with food, water or nappies they were obstructing officers by helping him remain on the plinth. At any point he was free to come down to have something to eat or drink.

“Police at the scene made repeated attempts to warn demonstrators at the scene that to provide the man with food or drink amounted to obstruction and police would take action against them.”

The Met Police said that, since the beginning of the occupation protest on Friday 17 October, there have been 39 arrests.

“Of those, 28 have been charged for offences including obstructing police, byelaw offences, criminal damage and aggravated trespass, seven have been bailed to return, three will be dealt with by way of summons and one received a caution.”

The Green peer Jenny Jones was also arrested, then dearrested for as she tried to help a friend who was also being arrested on Tuesday. She subsequently called for laws restricting protest outside the Houses of Parliament to be scrapped.