TWO officers told a court how they feared for their safety after being surrounded by ‘thousands of protesters’ during a demonstration against tuition fees in December 2010 that left philosophy student Alfie Meadows fighting for his life following a baton strike to the head.
The officers were the first witnesses to give evidence at the retrial of Meadows and Zac King, who are both charged with violent disorder, at Woolwich Crown Court after the jury spent the previous day (Tuesday) watching video footage of the protest on December 9.
The two PCs, who were part of a cordon on Parliament Street to stop protesters moving from Parliament Square towards Whitehall, painted a picture of a calm and good natured protest until a crowd of several thousand people unexpectedly came from Trafalgar Square at around 5pm splitting a small group of officers from their colleagues.
PC Bartlet, a foot officer from Haringey, said: “I was facing Parliament Square so I had no idea what was happening behind me … the sergeant told us to break the cordon and form against the wall.
“We didn’t know what to do. The atmosphere was highly charged and people were excited. They were shouting ‘who’s kettled now’ and ‘if you throw down your weapons you can leave peacefully’.
At this stage there had been no violence, he later said under cross-examination, but admitted officers withdrew their batons.
Mr Wainright, for the defence, said: “Your training tells you that withdrawing batons is an escalation.”
PC Bartlett responded: “I was getting tired and frustrated, scared and wanted to be relieved … colleagues took out their batons and I followed suit.”
Bartlett said one of the protesters hit him over the head with a stick (from a placard) while another ‘jabbed’ one towards his face.
However, after shouting at the crowd to get back, it allowed the isolated group of officers to join their colleagues two or three metres away, he said.
Bartlett said: “There were about 2,000 people and about 40 officers. The mood started to get ugly and missiles were being thrown at us; coins, rocks, the odd bottle. It was very intimidating. We were completely surrounded, there were people shouting at us. We were hemmed in with nowhere to go. There were no instructions [from our superiors], so we just stuck with our colleagues for safety.”
“I’ve never experienced such hatred against the police. I was scared. I didn’t know when back-up was coming. I just wanted to be relieved.”
Video footage showed protesters pushing thin six by eight foot metal fencing, used to protect the grass on Parliament Green, at officers who fended them off with their shields between 5.50 and 6.10pm that day.
Bartlett said: “We were trying to fend off the attack. It was very disorientating. There was lots of flashing from photographers’ cameras, lots of noise … there was no time to think.”
Giving context to the events, the defence barristers described uncertainty and confusion amongst the police that day even before trouble had begun.
Mr Wainright said that despite being part of an absolute cordon, Bartlett and his colleagues let people through and that despite knowing there was an exit point on the other side of the square for protesters to get out he did not inform them.
However, Bartlett said he believed only families, the vulnerable and the press were being allowed through as instructed and that he was never asked by protesters how they could exit the square.
PC Bartlett also said that he had not been aware of a cordon at the Trafalgar Square end of Whitehall despite referring to it in the statement he made that day saying he must have discussed it with colleagues after his shift.
“What else did you write in your statement that that came from that discussion,” Wainright asked.
“I can’t remember every specific detail,” Bartlett said.
Meadows and King deny the charges.
The trial is expected to continue for another three to four weeks.