On Saturday 17th December, two protesters were arrested during a demonstration held by Notts Uncut. A supporter was arrested at Bridewell Police Station later that evening.
Almost as soon as demonstrators arrived at the meeting point outside Boots, police were confrontational, asking people for their names, addresses and dates of birth (which they are not obliged to give).
The police then sought to impose conditions on the protest under Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986. Protesters were told that they could not go within 20 yards of specified stores. When one demonstrator, unfamiliar with imperial measurements asked what this was in metric she was arrested for refusing to comply with the s.14 directions.
Her husband then tried to remonstrate with the police and was arrested under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. He was then manhandled into the back of a police van.
A call-out was made for supporters to go to Bridewell Police Station where they were taken. A local vicar and the 11 year old son of the arrestees were denied entry to enquire about their wellbeing.
Some supporters stayed at the police station to wait for the arrestees, while others went back to continue protesting. Additional supporters turned up throughout the afternoon and early-evening response to the call-out.
The first arrestee was released shortly after 4pm, but there was an extended delay before the second was let out. The group went into the reception (which they were no longer prevented from doing) to warm up while they waited.
After some time Inspector D. Sharp appeared with a number of other officers and demanded that people leave. He alleged that they were “intimidating” people going about their lawful business (presumably implying that waiting in a reception does not constitute “lawful business”).
Sharp was asked by a number of people present what the legal basis of his demands was, however he refused to give one and arrested one of the supporters.
All of the protesters had been released by about 9pm. The two arrested at the protest have been bailed to return in the new year, but not charged. Their bail conditions include legally dubious restrictions on their right to protest.
This is a major escalation of Nottinghamshire Police’s handling of protesters. Notts Uncut demonstrations have become a semi-regular occurence in Nottingham. Traditionally police locally have had a very hands-off approach to the protest.
The attempt to criminalise solidarity, arresting those waiting for their friends, is a particularly worrying development.
The protest was coordinated nationally with others, as part of the UK Uncut “Christmas Special” timed to coincide with the busiest shopping day of the year. There were also six arrests in London, where Topshop was protected by riot police.
Regular Uncut participants noted that the police officers assigned to the protest did not include any of the familiar faces from previous demonstrations.
It is possible, that this ridiculously heavy-handed response was a one-off, driven centrally. However, yesterday’s policing should viewed in the context of the arrest of the ‘Atos Two’, which catalysed the formation of the Nottingham Defence Campaign. In that case, one of the arresting officers admitted, “There’s been too much of this sort of thing going on and we’ve been told to crackdown.”
We should not be surprised by any of this. We live in a class society in which the police’s primary function is, and always has been, to protect the interests of the bosses. As the imposition of “austerity” heightens class conflict, we can only expect this bias to become more explicit.
In short, we should assume yesterday’s policing is typical of what we can expect from Nottinghamshire Police in the future and plan accordingly. To this end Nottingham Defence Campaign, along with others, will be organising a meeting early in the new year to plan a coordinated response.