Dale Farm Evictions: policing protest and public order

The legal battles finally ended for the Dale Farm residents earlier this week when their application for an appeal against the High Court decision that Basildon Council could clear the site was rejected. The eviction was then only a matter of time, and residents accurately predicted that it would start today, 19th October.

However, whilst the residents expected the eviction, it is unlikely the expected the level of violence that is being reported from the site this morning. The reports and images coming from Dale Farm are, however, sadly predictable and reminiscent of brutal policing operations seen at anti-road protests and even “the Battle of Beanfield” in 1985.

Reports in the guardian describe the scene as “carnage” with violence being inflicted on residents and supporters. However, the reports also include particularly disturbing images and reports in of police using tasers on protesters.

The use of tasers in this context is entirely inappropriate, and has been stated as so by senior figures in the UK police and government. At the end of 2010 Christian Papaleontiou of the Home Office’s policing directorate told the Commons home affairs select committee that tasers should not be used “as a crowd control measure”. This has in recent times also been stressed in the ACPO guidance on taser use. In fact, there has been a “self-imposed ban” on the use of tasers in public protest situations. This was noted and supported by the Government in a response to the report on policing the G20 protests by the Home Affairs Select Committee which stated:

We recommend that the police continue their self-imposed ban on the use of Taser in public protest situations. More generally we urge the police to reject the use of “distance weapons” in policing demonstrations. Instead of investment in expensive equipment to give the police “distance” while policing large scale protests, we suggest that the money could be better spent on training for front-line officers and in the planning of operations, removing the need for such “distance weapons”. (Paragraph 75)   

Four days ago this rejection of taser use was again restated by Sir Hugh Orde, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers in the United Kingdom in an interview with the BBC when he said “[Tyasers are not used in public order situations in this country. They’re entirely inappropriate.” He went on to say that whilst taser’s “are present in policing in this country. We use them with a heavy heart quite frankly…. You need static crowds and extreme violence….”

Whilst the protesters at Dale Farm might well be static, it would be hard to describe them as “a crowd” given reports are in the tens rather than the hundreds and whilst the police may have been anticipating violence, the images of the use of tasers clearly show that they were being used as “distance weapons” to subdue protesters, and not in response to actual extreme violence.

The use of violence and tasers by the police in the UK is a sign that lessons from previous policing (G20, Battle of Orgreave, Battle of the Beanfield, and May Day protests) disasters have not been learned. Or perhaps it is that some groups are not entitled to receive the “Human Rights approach to policing protest” (the subtitle and focus of the Human Rights Joint Committee seventh report published in 2009 following the G20 protests).