15 Apr 2013

Fears over police security build-up for Thatcher funeral

Protesters at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral could face arrest for causing offence to mourners but human rights groups are warning against heavy-handed policing.

Police are preparing a major security operation for Baroness Thatcher’s funeral on Wednesday, but protest groups and human rights organisations have raised fears over interference with the right to freedom of speech.

Specialist forces will be brought in from across the UK as foreign dignitaries descend on London, but despite initially calling for protesters to make contact with them the police have warned that dissenters could risk arrest.

Protester Rebecca Lush (see video, above) wanted a peaceful protest at the funeral but feared the police reaction; she has now agreed with the Metropolitan police to hold a “dignified” protest with a group of 200 people turning their back on Baroness Thatcher’s coffin.

She explained to Channel 4 News that she believes the police have prevented legitimate protests in recent years, claiming that having to seek permission to protest is not a sign of a democratic society.

“I’m not confrontational, that’s not my style but I was determined to do something to protest the funeral. I contacted the police and agreed the protest with them, we will be away from mourners and don’t want to upset anyone.”

Ms Lush explained that she feared arrest if she did not contact the police beforehand and believes they have not always facilitated peaceful events in recent years. Despite being involved in organising protests for over a decade she says this is the first time she felt the need to seek permission after police called for protesters to make contact last week.

Loud, even boisterous behaviour, is not a breach of the peace, unless violence is likely to be imminently provoked as a result
Network for Police Monitoring

“We have the right to protest, it’s a fundamental right so long as it is peaceful. I don’t like the idea of pre-emptive arrests.”

The Metropolitan police are not prepared to discuss how many protests they are currently aware of or to go into detail of what is “acceptable” protest. Commander Christine Jones has said anyone planning a protest should make contact.

The Network for Police Monitoring, a group of lawyers who specialise in representing activists, has issued a warning to police saying the funeral should not be used as a chance to round up “the usual suspects”.

They warn that pre-emptive arrests to prevent a breach of the peace, such as those seen before the Royal Wedding, can only be made in exceptional circumstances and highlighted that there is no requirement to notify police beforehand.

A statement from the group explains: “Loud, even boisterous behaviour, is not a breach of the peace, unless violence is likely to be imminently provoked as a result.”

The Metropolitan police warned at the weekend that demonstrators should stay away as mourners are vulnerable to suffering distress citing section five of the Public Order Act.

‘Insulting behaviour’

Human rights lawyer Jules Carey explained his concerns about the possibility that the police could arrest protesters for “insulting” behaviour using the controversial legislation highlighting recent debates over the wording in parliament.

“It would clearly be wrong to arrest a person for an offence that parliament considers is inconsistent with the rights of people in a democratic society and should be dropped from the statute merely because it has not yet been formally repealed,” Mr Carey explained.

Protestor Trenton Oldfield, who made headlines when he disrupted the Oxford Cambridge boat race last year, has said he believes protesters should use “guerrilla tactics”.

Speaking to Channel 4 News today he claimed London’s preparation for the funeral appears to be planning to prevent “any acts of dissent and protest”, comparing the situation to major police operations for the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics.

“It’s no surprise that once again London is being flooded with war-primed militias to try to prevent any acts of dissent. Campaigners should consider employing guerrilla tactics and avoiding the trap of liaising with police.”

David Cameron has condemned celebrations of Baroness Thatcher’s death as “disgraceful”.

Respect MP George Galloway plans to block a proposal to suspend parliament during the funeral and has slammed what he called a “tidal wave of guff” since her death.

Speaking to BBC 2’s Daily Politics he said: “We’ve already had the recall of parliament with MPs being paid up to £3,700 to fly back from the Caribbean holiday that they were on and then fly back to start their holiday again.”