MPA defend peaceful protest

Posted by Helen on Fri 1 May 2009 at 00:12

Today (or yesterday, as it's now gone midnight) Denny and I attended the MPA meeting to discuss policing of the G20 protests. Jennette Arnold (Denny's London Assembly Member) had advised us to get there at 9am to be sure of a seat, as she predicted it would be packed. We were some of the first to arrive, and even though half of the activists arrived late, by the time the meeting was underway less than half the gallery seats were occupied.

Sir Paul Stephenson wasn't present; he was recovering from surgery for appendicitis. Deputy Commissioner Tim Godwin and Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison were present in his place. Both are both filling their posts temporarily; there seems to be a disruptively high rate of turnover among top brass at the Met right now.

We'd bumped into Boris Johnson while enjoying a council-subsidised bargain English Breakfast in the cafe downstairs before the meeting. He looked like he'd been up all night drinking, but he brushed up well enough and opened the meeting as Chair, opening with two grave condolencences about police officers killed in the line of duty (not in the G20). After some remarks about their bravery and "ultimate sacrifice" which left me feeling like their deaths were being (rather transparently) exploited to set a pro-police tone, he thanked the departing Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick for his hard work and welcomed his successor, before moving on to his first substantive remarks: as far as Boris is concerned, the majority of police officers in London are professional and responsible. This prompted the first heckle from the audience, a cry of "Bollocks!"

The temporary Met Chiefs were, unsurprisingly, also apologists for the police, but with an added layer of cautious defensiveness which Boris's blustering lacked. While neatly dodging any actual personal culpability, Godwin and Allison carefully fielded criticisms and admitted that there were "lessons to be learned".

Jenny Jones made a point of ensuring that a full transcript would be available of the meeting (Boris' snide remark that she could, if she wanted, watch the webcast over and over again notwithstanding). We'll link to the transcript when it becomes available, but until then here are some of the highlights which caught our attention through the course of the meeting.

Tim Godwin and Chris Allison accepted responsibility in vague terms for events, while denying any specific culpability, and persistently washed their hands of the actions of "individuals". They couldn't give detailed answers on the subjects of any pending investigations. But they were also reasonably conciliatory, and accepted the need for a review of police strategy, to "learn lessons for the future".

Jenny Jones, Dee Doocey, Caroline Pidgeon, Chris Boothman, Valerie Brasse, Reshard Auladin, Toby Harris, Clive Lawton all impressed me with their clear-sightedness and integrity. Joanne McCartney, Jennette Arnold and Kristen Hearn were all very sympathetic and made points I agreed with, but were (I felt) slightly less practised politicians and less incisive under pressure. Still, I smiled when McCartney mentioned the concern of her constituents (that's me, that is!) and I feel better represented than I did before this morning. John Biggs, the Labour Whip, seemed basically sound despite some political posturing. Kit Malthouse was the smoothest diplomat in the room, but nonetheless listened to the others' concerns and proposed the Amendment which was passed by consensus. I am very glad that these people are on the overseeing committee for the Met; whether they're dispassionately ethical like Valerie Brasse or passionately invested like Jenny Jones, I trust that they will try to do the right thing.

After the Met Commissioners defensively refusing to confront the truth or accept culpability, and Boris self-righteously siding with them, a fog seemed to clear from everyone's heads as Dee Doocey stood up and proposed a motion stating that "the strategy and tactics adopted by the Metropolitan Police were fundamentally wrong". After so much bluster and jargon it was refreshing to see that none of the Members had been convinced either. Joanne McCartney proposed a second motion, to set up a body within the MPA to investigate these and ongoing issues. Kit Malthouse neatly combined the two by suggesting an amendment in which the Civil Liberties Panel, proposed three months ago in a "prescient" MPA meeting, address these concerns; it was passed unanimously.

I would be interested to discover why this Civil Liberties Panel was proposed in February, how its members will be chosen, and what powers it will have. However, I'm cautiously optimistic that if the Members of the MPA have anything to do with it, the investigation will be sympathetic and conscientious.

However unstable the Met may be at present, the MPA seem to be a more solid body to place some trust in - judging by today's meeting at least.


Other posts about the MPA meeting:

Sketch: Boris takes on the hecklers - Alex Stevenson, 30 Apr 2009.

Boris establishes G20 civil liberty review - Ian Dunt, 30 Apr 2009

G20 policing: today at the MPA - Dave Hill, 30 April 2009

Boris Johnson threatens to halt G20 policing meeting as protesters heckle officers - The Guardian, 30 April 2009

Change is coming to London's police - Jenny Jones, April 30 2009

G20 protests: Met police accused of misleading watchdog - The Guardian, 1 May 2009

The Met must stop spinning its actions - by Guy Aitchison and Andy May, May 1 2009

Me Watchdog criticises G20 tactics -Anna Bragga, 1 May 2009

Mordor versus the Met - Guy Aitchison, May 1 2009


1. It is true that many of the photos show a mixture of identifiable and non-identifiable officers, and the ones with their badges removed tend to be the ones with their faces covered.

2. Are we remembering correctly that one of the videos of Tomlinson shows the officer who pushed him talking to his supervisor afterwards? If so, that would suggest that there should be a corresponding report...

3. Jenny called him on the fact that the report given at the informal briefing last week claimed that the cordon was originally established to keep these violent elements out of the camp; now they were claiming that the violent protesters were already inside the camp, which is why it was kettled. Allison blankly stated that today's version was the true one. One can't help wondering how many more times it's going to change.

4. This is the one Andy May referred to when he insisted on the review taking evidence from protesters, and involving protest groups in discussions going forward.

5. He didn't mention the equally disturbing video, showing a police medic wearing a green shoulder patch hitting protesters at 2:09 onwards.

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This article is copyright 2009 Helen - please ask for permission to republish or translate.