A MOUNTED officer has insisted a crowd of protesters were in a ‘violent mood’ before he and up to eight colleagues ‘charged’ into them on horseback during a student demonstration in 2010 after watching police video evidence to the contrary.
Inspector Graham French, who was on duty on December 9 when the vote on tuition fees took place, said he saw missiles and a flare thrown at a police cordon on Broad Sanctuary, near the junction of Parliament Square, before going to help his colleagues over fears the police line could be breached.
Insp. French was giving evidence at Woolwich Crown Court on Monday during the retrial of Alfie Meadows and Zac King who are both charged with violent disorder.
French said: “Protesters were attacking police lines and missiles were being thrown at the police cordon. At one stage I saw what appeared to be a red flare thrown at police lines. I was concerned that the police line was coming under pressure … and I believed the police line could give way soon.”
However, video footage taken by police evidence gatherers on the ground showed no missiles being thrown and an apparently calm crowd until police horses entered the crowd in a bid to push the protesters back.
The defence suggested it was the police who aggravated the crowd provoking an angry response and missiles being thrown.
A crowd between ’50 or even 100 deep’ could be seen up against the police cordon on Broad Sanctuary in footage shown in court with the police line wavering under the weight of the crowd.
Tom Wainright, for the defence, told the court that ‘the police were completely overwhelmed’ and that ‘had that crowd wanted to breach the police line they could have done’.
French admitted officers were overwhelmed, but questioned whether the line could have been breached.
The Inspector, who wrongly believed protesters could have exited Parliament Square via Whitehall unaware that a containment was in place, said mounted officers attempted to push the protesters back towards Parliament Square first with a ‘passive push’ and then an ‘active push’ to help alleviate the pressure on the foot officers.
After the passive push, where officers on horseback move slowly into the edge of the crowd, failed to work, an active push, where the horses enter the crowd at a pace, was implemented.
French said: “The foot sergeant requested support. I agreed, so I moved our horses (six to eight) slowly into the crowd shouting at the crowd hoping they would move back. The horses were reluctant to move into the crowd and we were struggling to move forward.”
“We were getting verbal abuse and more missiles thrown. A large firework landed in my lap. Two of my officers were hit with glass Christmas decorations that were filled with paint.”
During an ‘active push’, the police line splits to allow the horses, that are already moving at pace, through and into the crowd.
Wainright said: “On an active push you want to be sure the crowd have somewhere to go. Someone could fall over and risk being trampled on by the horses or the crowd.”
“Yes it’s possible,” French replied.
“Not everyone can move as quickly as they might like to,” Wainright said.
“If they are 40 or 50 deep, people at the front may have nowhere to move?”
Again, French agreed.
“There’s a danger they may get injured,” Wainright suggested.
“That’s why we use a show of strength and use a passive push and shout at them to move back,” French said.
Wainright said: “Was any verbal warning given to the crowd [before the active push]?”
French replied: “No. Not by me and I didn’t hear one.”
Wainright asked: “So you relied on the protesters seeing you coming?”
French agreed: “They wouldn’t know until they saw us coming.”
Wainright said: “People can panic if they saw [the horses] coming in that way.”
Again, French agreed: “Yes they could.”
Video evidence filmed at 15.38 was then played to the court showing an seemingly calm crowd before the police lines melted away and the horses moved at pace into the protesters who quickly retreated appearing panicked, shocked and then angry.
When asked if he acknowledged the footage showed ‘no missiles’ and a ‘peaceful crowd’ before the ‘active push’, French said: “I saw missiles and someone fighting with an officer. That crowd was violent all afternoon.”
“You disagree there was a change of mood in the crowd after the charge?”
“The mood of the crowd was violent,” French said.
Another video filmed between 15.40 and 15.45 showed officers with batons entering the angry crowd as the horses retreated to chants of ‘shame on you’.
Wainright said to French: “Your push provokes an angry response.”
“I don’t see how they could be anymore angry, they had already been throwing bottles, rocks, sticks, anything they could get their hands on,” he replied.
French also suggested that a metal fence protesters could be seen carrying towards the police line was stored in advance to use against the police.
“But they waited for you to advance into them with the horses [before using it]?” Wainright asked.
“Yes,” he said.
Video footage showed officers quickly confiscating the fence.
Insp. French believed the crowd of around a thousand people could exit through Parliament Street and Whitehall if they chose unaware a containment was in place.
“I wasn’t aware that Whitehall had been closed at that point,” he said.
Wainright suggested the crowd congregated at the police line on Broad Sanctuary under the belief they could exit from Parliament Square there.
Wainright said: “At 15.10 there appears to be a turning point that protesters outside Parliament turn round and back up towards Broad Sanctuary. Do you know why that happened? Were you aware that officers were telling protesters where the exit point might be.”
French said he did not.
Wainright asked French if it was his responsibility to inform the crowd they were being contained.
French said: “No, I wasn’t in charge of my unit.”
“Was anyone telling the crowd about the containment?” Wainright asked.
“The crowd were in no mood to be told anything,” French said.
Intervening, Judge Moore said: “Answer the question.”
“No [the crowd were not told],” French said.
“When did you become aware of the full containment?” the judge asked.
French said: “It was before I left. I didn’t know what [the crowd] were doing, all I cared about was that they were moving away.”
Meadows and King deny charges of violent disorder.
The trial is expected to continue for another two to three weeks.