A MOTHER has described how concerns over three missed calls from her 20-year-old son at a student demonstration proved founded after discovering he had been struck by a baton to the head.
Susan Matthews, the mother of Alfie Meadows who is charged with violent disorder following the anti-tuition fee demonstration in December 9, 2010, told a jury at Woolwich Crown Court how she found her son bleeding from the head in the Mall, near Buckingham Palace, before struggling to find an ambulance to get him to hospital.
She said Alfie described the strike ‘like a grenade going off in his head’ and ‘the hardest blow he has ever felt’.
After surgery Mrs Meadows was informed Alfie could die or become paralysed due to the severity of the strike as she sat by his side waiting for him to recover, she said.
Mrs Meadows, an English lecturer at Roehampton University, had earlier told the court how she feared another Hillsborough after the mood changed and the crowd erupted.
She said: “It was extraordinary how something so boring suddenly changed. There was a sudden surge of people who pushed towards me. It was a very frightening experience. I thought we were going to be crushed. I had thoughts of Hillsborough. I knew something had happened down the road.”
The mother of four said she stood on a small plinth to see what was happening and to avoid the rush of people before a policeman ‘screamed at’ her to get down as he ran towards her.
“The nature of the experience completely changed,” she said.
After the vote at around 5.30pm Mrs Meadows said she tried to leave via Parliament Street, with her teenage son Frankie, by queuing up at a police cordon in a packed crowd before realising they weren’t moving.
She said: “People were getting very, very distressed. I thought one woman was having an anxiety or panic attack. Her friends were trying to get the police to let her out, but they wouldn’t. The crowd was very dense indeed. The police couldn’t tell me anything about what was happening.”
It was only by good fortune, she said, that she had moved away onto an island moments before ‘the police suddenly charged towards us and then the police went straight past us’.
She said: “[They were] screaming get back, get back. I was very frightened and thought I was going to get hit. Frankie went rigid and wouldn’t move. I thought this isn’t the country I live in.”
Mrs Meadows also told the court that Alfie had spoken of his concerns of being filmed by the police that prompted his decision to take a balaclava that she had bought him to the demonstration when questioned on it by the prosecution, but said she felt covering her face was ‘something for the young people’ to do.
She also spoke of Alfie’s strong ethical bent, his belief that it was their right to protest in Parliament Square and how he had encouraged people to attend the demonstration that day.
She said: “He had told me it was important we were there after the Lib Dems had lied to us [on tuition fees]. He has a strong sense of what’s right. He cares about other people.”
Earlier Dr Jill Austin, a nurse who travelled to the demonstration from Scotland, also told the court of the danger she felt was created by the police after mounted officers charged at a dense crowd of protesters who had nowhere to go.
She said exits from the square seemed blocked and a densely packed crowd was congregating near the Houses of Parliament.
Austin said after rumours of a containment and no police announcement she was told by an officer at Great George Street to exit at St Margaret’s Church corner.
She said: “We were not close enough to speak to the officers but it was very clear that we couldn’t get out there. There was a line of police with shields that weren’t letting anyone out and the crowd was getting denser. It was about 40 deep but within ten minutes it was about 100 deep because it was like a funnel in that corner.
“We were about four or five from the front and things were starting to get quite unpleasant. One legal observer left. People at the front were getting pushed from behind and the police were telling them to get back but they couldn’t so the police withdrew their batons and started striking the protesters who had been told to get back but couldn’t.”
She said after that she could see mounted police lining up before they ‘charged’ at the crowd who had nowhere to go.
Austin said: “There were probably about 20 mounted police officers. They rode their horses forward into the crowd. They couldn’t go anywhere, they were stuck. There was total panic. People were fearful they would be trampled by the horses. At that point we were afraid. People were getting injured in front of us but we couldn’t do anything and we felt we were in personal danger, so we went back to the centre of Parliament Square.”
There she helped out at a makeshift medical tent, she said, treating people with reported baton injuries and speaking to protesters traumatised by what they had seen before leaving at 8pm to queue up and exit the square.
“I eventually exited from the kettle on Westminster Bridge at midnight,” she said.
Under cross-examination by the prosecution, Dr Austin said she wore no protective clothing that day, in reference to Zak King’s shin pads and goalie gloves, but did take a first aid kit.
She also said that empty bottles, cans and bits of placard stick had been thrown at police but not until after the horse charge and pointed out that the placard sticks were ‘so light they never reached their destination’.
Alfie Meadows and Zak King deny charges of violent disorder.
The trial is expected to finish by Thursday.