ALFIE Meadows, the philosophy student who was almost killed following a baton strike to the head, has told a court how a good natured demonstration with family and friends descended into a confused kettle of chaos and violence.
The philosophy undergraduate had joined thousands of people to protest over government plans to allow the tripling of tuition fees on December 9, 2010.
He said shortly after arriving in Parliament Square police began striking out at protesters with batons as crowds gathered around police lines to protest or escape.
Meadows, who headed to the front of a crowd protesting near the Houses of Parliament, said police began filming and striking out with batons telling people to get back.
After warnings of police attempts to gather information on and criminalise protesters he donned a mask, he said.
He said: “I didn’t see anyone doing anything wrong so it seemed like they were gathering intelligence on people. Police were saying get back, but the crowd was fairly dense at this point and pushing from behind. It was quite scary being hit by police batons … but there wasn’t much you could do about it.
“Protesters were saying ‘we’re crushed, we can’t move, we can’t breathe here’ because people were still coming in from behind because they didn’t know what was happening at the front.”
After leaving the area Meadows met up with friends at 3.19pm, he said, and began speculating whether they had been kettled – four minutes before it was enforced.
Around 4pm he met up with his brother and mother, who recounted her shock of witnessing violent scenes on Broad Sanctuary, he said.
Meadows’ philosophy lecturer Peter Halward, who was with him, said he believed they could exit via Whitehall, he said, and at around 4.30pm left with his mother and friends to see if they could.
Meanwhile Meadows met up with university friends and attempted to leave via Whitehall too, but found the way blocked by a line of police.
He said: “We walked quite far up Whitehall but didn’t get as far as the cenotaph. There were hundreds of protesters milling around. They looked like they were queuing trying to get out. They weren’t making a lot of noise or being aggressive, just standing there. I saw there was a line of police. I think it may have been a cordon.”
He said as he got closer, at around 5.26pm when he called a friend, it became clear the police were moving towards him and Parliament Square before they broke into a ‘charge’.
He said: “I looked behind and people … started to run back away from them and behind some railings as I did.”
Video evidence played to the court showed officers removing the barriers so the protesters were exposed as police began hitting out with shields and batons.
Meadows said the attention of a police camera man prompted him to put his mask on again.
He said police and horses started pushing them back slowly and occasionally ramming shields into protesters faces.
He said: “It seemed like they were trying to push us back. I didn’t feel it was justified what they were doing. We were already in a kettle. People just wanted to leave, that’s why we went up there. We weren’t attacking or doing anything offensive. It went on for about ten minutes.”
At 5.35pm a video showed an officer ram his shield into a protester’s face and Meadows sticking his foot out ‘to try and stop him’.
He said the crowd were then funnelled past police vans parked on Parliament Street as the crowd became more dense and compacted.
Meadows moved onto the pavement, he said, where he bumped into some friends and recounted his experience: “I felt shaken up by what had happened and felt the police were unjustified in what they were doing.
“People were very confused and didn’t know what was happening. I still just wanted to go home.”
Meadows said he moved back towards Parliament Square when he noticed a group of riot police inside the kettle.
“I was horrified to see them because they’re usually on the edge, but were right in the middle. They looked like they had a lot of weapons; long shields, short shields and batons,” he said.
Meadows said he moved to the front of the crowd to see what was happening worried the police were going to attack the protesters.
He said protesters unsuccessfully attempted to keep the police at bay with a piece of metal fencing.
He said: “The crowd moved forward and I moved with them. The police weren’t moving but they were hitting out with batons and shields I think. They were using the ends of their long shields. The fencing fell on the ground and some protesters picked it up again and started pushing it backwards and forwards along the ground. I was just behind the people holding the fence being rocked about. Then the crowd moved forward again as they pushed forward with the fence.
Meadows said he believed the fence was being used to hold the police back, rather than to attack them.
“The fencing was up against the police line and their shields and then they rammed against the fence and struck out with batons and shields. They hit quite a lot of people. The police were coming around the side of the fence and striking people. I tried to push the fence forward to try and keep the police back. At first the police were pushing on it and it wasn’t moving, but then they moved back. I kicked out at the fence. I was frustrated at the police hitting people then I helped push the fence forward.
He said the police then moved back and a gap opened up between them and the protesters.
“That was the first point since I got to the front that there was any calm. I moved back a bit to see what was happening. Then another piece of Heras fencing came over and at that point I went up to the people with the fencing and put my hands up and said put it down. Now there were two next to each other equivalent to the line of shields.”
Meadows will continue his defence today (Friday).
He and Zak King deny charges of violent disorder.