A YOUNG women on one of her first demonstrations told a court how she was left in ‘complete shock’ after mounted officers rode their horses at the crowd she was in and assaulted her.
Eleanor McGriffiths, who was a student at Queen Mary University, in London, at the time of the anti-tuition fee demo on December 9, 2010, said up until then she had been ‘very naïve and unaware’ that ‘the police could hit you’ on a protest.
The former student, who was giving evidence at Woolwich Crown Court at the trial of Zak King and Alfie Meadows for violent disorder, said the problems began after exits from Parliament Square were blocked and crowds had nowhere to go as people streamed into the square.
In an attempt to leave or at least find out what was happening, McGriffiths went to Broad Sanctuary, near Westminster Abbey, only to be met by a police cordon and a wall of silence.
As she stood around unsure of what to do she was attacked, she said.
“I personally got assaulted by a police officer when the crowd wasn’t even there. I was pushed to the floor and he pulled out some of my hair. I got severely injured without showing any aggression, in fact I was passive. I just stood there and let him push me over and pull my hair out. I didn’t know I could defend myself against the police.”
McGriffiths said as the crowd built up at Broad Sanctuary it became more compact and the police began pushing protesters back while they pushed forward as more people arrived.
She said: “I was at the front of the crowd so I was against the police. The police were using their batons. The people at the front were the people who were hit, but the people around me weren’t doing anything aggressive. They were hit because they were there.”
McGriffiths said mounted officers then rode their horses into the crowd.
She said: “They just drove them into the people and the crowd and I was almost knocked over. I knew people were frustrated … [but] it didn’t help driving the horses into the crowd. I’m not used to the police being so aggressive to peaceful people. I was in complete shock.”
Referring to the shin pads and goalie gloves Zak King wore to the demonstration, the prosecution asked if she took any protective clothing with her.
She said: “My coat is quite thick [although] it doesn’t really help if you’re hit with a baton.
“I was personally very naive and unaware that going to a protest the police could hit you. The police gave permission beforehand and gave a route, but why they blocked it off on the way I don’t know. I believed I was going on a peaceful demonstration.”
McGriffiths also denied it was the protesters who were violent when asked.
She said: “From what I saw the police were the aggressors. I know paint was thrown because I saw it on the floor. I just remember seeing the police being aggressive. It was just really shocking.
“In that situation when the police are hitting you, it’s going to create a reaction. There’s a conflict here and tension. On my part, if I had been aggressive and hit the police after being pushed to the floor, hit and my hair pulled out I think that would be appropriate behaviour.”
When pushed that she must have seen some violence by the protesters she said: “There were a lot of people with head injuries bleeding. My focus was on them. I’ve seen subsequent footage, but my personal experience where I was I saw a lot of aggression from the police and didn’t see a lot from the protesters.”
Alfie Meadows and Zak King deny charges of violent disorder.
The trial is expected to last until the end of next week.