A POLICE Commander has described his officers as ‘superbly restrained’ after watching video footage of them striking down at protesters’ heads with batons during a student demonstration.
Bronze Commander Woods, who was giving evidence at the trial of Alfie Meadows and Zak King for violent disorder at Woolwich Crown Court, had earlier said that ‘batons should only be used as an absolute last resort’ and that officers are made ‘aware of the potential for injury or death from a strike to the head’.
Woods was responsible for policing in Parliament Square during the student protests on December 9, 2010, that left Meadows with a life-threatening head injury following a baton strike to the head.
After watching a video of officers striking out at protesters, some with bandanas around their faces, as they slowly jostled past, Woods said: “I believe the officers were incredibly restrained. Superbly restrained. I’m with them all the way. You have protesters masked up.”
When the defence suggested being masked-up did not justify the use of batons, Woods said: “No but they didn’t want their identity revealed. We’ve had officers dragged into the crowd and that’s the fear.”
The footage was filmed by police evidence gatherers as thousands of students demonstrated against a rise in tuition fees that was to be voted on in Parliament later that day.
After watching a four second video clip of a protester being struck on the head with a baton as he appears to raise his hands to protect himself, Woods said: “[The officer] may have been spat at. I would prefer to see [the officer] hit [the protester] on the collar bone. [But] spitting is an assault in my view.”
A third video showed an officer reaching over colleagues to land a baton strike on a protester’s head or collar bone.
Woods said: “He hit him on the collar bone, but without knowing the background I can’t put it into context. You don’t know what [the officer] can see. He’s going to say it’s justified. He’s gone for it, he’s gone for a full blooded blow, but I can’t explain that one. He knows he’s on film. If his actions are over the top he can be prosecuted. People don’t do it [baton strikes] lightly.”
Another clip showed protesters attempting to ram a metal fence at police and their shields prompting raised baton strikes in return. Woods said: “I totally support what they’re doing. I’m very pleased to see it.”
Woods previously told the court of his wish to avoid ‘toe-to-toe’ confrontation between protesters and officers. He said his recommendation to use a Wapping Box, two barriers fixed together in parallel a metre apart, was ignored by ‘the gods above’. He said the distance stopped officers’ baton strikes reaching protesters unless they climbed over the first section of barrier.
He said: “If you have police and protesters going toe-to-toe you’re going to have conflict. I wanted to have a Wapping Box … it’s easier to push protesters back without having to hit them with batons.”
He said: “By not having a Wapping Box, using an asp (a thin metal cosh) can potentially kill somebody. I don’t want that to happen.”
A fifth video clip showed a line of officers in riot gear hitting out at protesters from behind a single barrier.
Referring to Woods’ earlier comments on avoiding ‘toe-to-toe’ confrontation, King’s counsel said: “The baton strikes we see taking place … is that the type of scene you want to avoid?”
Woods responded: “Yes. But these officers, we don’t know what else they are facing [out of shot], so I don’t know what the threat was. If [the protesters] were just standing there or shouting it would be wrong.”
Referring to Woods’ description of shows of force being gradually escalated starting with shouting at protesters, putting on helmets, deploying shields, withdrawing batons and so on, the defence said : “Would you say these baton strikes are an absolute last resort?”
“The absolute last resort is getting a machine gun out but in this instance, yes, a baton strike or horses,” Woods responded.
After watching the videos, King’s counsel suggested to Woods that there was an ‘excessive use of force on the demonstration’ that day.
Woods said: “I totally disagree. From seeing the footage I’m very proud of what the officers have done. Apart from giving them flowers I don’t know what else they could have done.”
Meadows and King deny charges of violent disorder.
The trial continues on Monday 18 at 10.15am.