AS Alfie Meadows prepares for his third trial for violent disorder at the 2010 student protests despite being nearly killed by a police baton strike, campaigning solicitor Gareth Peirce has criticised police over its history of cover-ups and immunity from prosecution after acting unlawfully during protests.
Peirce, who has acted in some of the country’s highest profile cases including the Birmingham Six, Jean Charles De Menzes, Moazzam Begg and Julian Assange, highlighted a recent UN report that described the way the British government has dealt with the right to protest as ‘shocking’.
The report described having to ask permission to demonstrate outside parliament as ‘wrong’, called for a judge-led inquiry into the embedding of undercover police officers into non-violent protest groups and warned of another Hillsborough like tragedy if the current police tactics, including kettling, continue.
Peirce said the state used demonstrations as an opportunity to assert its power and to experiment in ways to assert that power while committing crimes itself.
Instead of protesters focusing on their campaigns, they now have to fight an ongoing battle against the state to enjoy that right, she said.
At a recent meeting to commemorate Bloody Sunday speakers highlighted ‘cover-ups’ and ‘acting with impunity’ as a repetitive feature of state intervention at demonstrations, she said.
She said: “If the state comes in to assert its power, to crush the protest, it can’t do it lawfully, it does it unlawfully, and it goes to extreme ends to assert its power yet it enjoys absolute immunity from the consequences.”
After hearing from a friend of Blair Peach, a miner at Orgreave, a football fan at Hillsborough, Alfie Meadows and Carole Duggan’s aunt at a meeting, organised by Defend The Right To Protest called Justice Denied, Peirce tied the cases together with the thread of state violence, cover-up and impunity.
The solicitor said in Southall, when protesters marched against fascists in 1979 the police formed themselves into an army and cavalry and rode into crowds smashing people on the head.
Blair Peach was killed by a baton strike to the head.
The police then went onto a commune and again hit everyone over the head before arresting and prosecuting them with false charges sapping the energy and resources of the community, she said.
The tactics the police learnt from Southall, she said, were put into effect at Orgreave five years later in 1984. By then the police had formed themselves into standing armies with chief constables of each county giving themselves ‘absolute exceptional powers’ over tactics.
Peirce said: “At Orgreave they lured the miners in. As one miner said ‘we were like the Belgrano waiting to be sunk’. [Then] the [police] ranks opened and in charged police horses followed by [police with] short shields. It was like a medieval army with shields and cavalry smashing the miners over the heads and then arresting them. But not being an army they have to justify [the arrests].
“It was certainly intended to smash the miners strike and in many ways it did. It sapped the strength of the union. It had to. After one day at Orgreave they had 95 of their members facing potential life imprisonment. It was intended to destroy them.
“Come the trial these officers had no idea who they had arrested. So they sat in a classroom and were told what happened that day and they wrote it all down. So when the trial came, two-by-two, officers said who they had arrested. But because on that sunny day the nation’s photographers were there every police officer was in shot. So 48 days into the trial the prosecution gives up, they don’t even get to the defence. It was a pack of lies, but what happened; immunity.
A few years later at Hillsborough, she said, the same chief constables ‘behaving like dictators’ sat down the same officers in a classroom and dictated a ‘pack of lies’ as they did at Orgreave, and that is what the Hillsborough families have exposed after so many years.
“But like Bloody Sunday shows, Southall shows, Orgreave shows and Hillsborough shows it’s state criminality for a purpose. To assert power and to use any means necessary.”