Public Disorder! – Getting Ready

man making placards

In this section….

  • Get Organised!
  • Expect Arrests and Kettles
  • What to Bring
  • Checklist

Get Organised!

First things first, find some friends. Make sure they’re friends you trust, preferably some you know well, but most importantly agree on what you want to get out of the demonstration and tactics you are willing to use. This is called an affinity group. Smaller affinity groups work much better for quick movement and decision making, but it can be bigger if you choose. We recommend a group of 4-8, always even numbers because within these groups you need to buddy-up. This may be starting to sound a bit like a year 8 school trip, but it can be very important and holding hands isn’t essential (but sometimes useful)! Basically, choose one person within your group who you will be sticking together with through the whole thing, making sure each other are OK, working together, and keeping track of if one of you gets nicked. It is a lot easier to look out for one person than a whole group – without the buddy system people end up getting left behind.

Now you’ve got your affinity group and buddies, you go on the demo and get split up (it happens), do you really want to shout names across a crowd of 1000+ people, where the police can hear and there’s probably several other people with the same name? Nah, didn’t think so. Choose a code word, possibly an irregular name like Gertrude, something professional sounding like “Foxtrot” or something silly like “Knickers”. In our experience two syllable words work best, because its short but not so short you may miss the call. Words not to use include: bomb, gun, or medic etc. A hand signal in the air helps too, because this shows your location above the crowd. This can be anything, but we suggest it’s not a middle finger or two fingers because if the cops are feeling like it they could probably attempt an arrest for ‘section 5’ (see part 5 of this guide for information on this law).

People might be using fake names in case of arrest or hospitalisation (recommended, legal issues will be looked at in part 5 of this guide), so find out what names people in your affinity group are using. Not knowing could mean they’re in hospital but you can’t get to them or check up on them, or find out which police station they are at. Then not only could they find themselves coming out of another police station miles away with no one waiting for them, but the dedicated solidarity demo crew could be sat outside the wrong police station cradling a bottle of whiskey and pack of biscuits for days!

The more time your group spends together going over things and practising, the better you will work as a team. If you’re intending to make a point against certain companies – tax dodgers for example – we suggest you choose your targets beforehand and scout them out earlier on in the day to see how protected they are. Possibly create a backup list of targets in case the police/security ruin your attempts on one. Keep this list in your head – a written list on your person is a bad idea because if the police find it before or after you may be looking at a conspiracy charge.

Let people know if you have first aid training, it can be beneficial to have a first aid kit with you either way; you never know when the police are going to decide they’re bored and smash you round the head with a big heavy stick! (be careful to check if your medkit has scissors or bladed articles in it – this can bring trouble from the police if you get searched) Even better, get training! If you can get together with a few other groups, there are activists and organisations about who are up for giving training in things like first aid and staying safe in ‘public disorder’ situations. At the very least, consider reading up on basic first-aid concepts (eg what is concussion, shock, etc).

Finally, try to have a chat with your buddy before the demo about exactly what you are up for, what your fears/worries are, etc. If horse charges or dogs may give you panic attacks, then this is something your buddy needs to know!

Expect Arrests and Kettles

With your affinity group, talk over what you’ll do if one or more of you is arrested, what solicitor you’ll ask for, and anything else you might think of. Even if you “aren’t going to do anything illegal”, that doesn’t mean you won’t get arrested! The job of the cops is to uphold “public order” and make sure that our protests don’t threaten the rich, not to follow the law. If you all agree beforehand which solicitor you are going to use, that means that you know you won’t end up with a crap duty solicitor, and it makes it much easier to find out where people have been taken (see later on). Network for Police Monitoring has a good list of firms in a number of cities – see their table of ‘criminal solicitors. Make sure everyone in your affinity group knows the name of the solicitor you’ll be using and has the number written on their arm/leg. It is the name of the firm that is most important though, and that’s all you should have to give the cops for them to be able to make contact.

There are several groups in the UK who do arrestee support at protests. You may see them giving out bust cards – small cards containing legal advice about your rights and information about what to if you get arrested. These groups are experienced in making sure you get your rights respected while in custody, and helping you to get the best defence possible if you are charged and taken to court. Really big demonstrations sometimes have their own dedicated group set up just to do legal support. So, try to get the phone number of your local arrestee support group and have that written on your arm too. If in doubt, just use ‘Green and Black Cross’ as they are one of the biggest and most experienced. If you are arrested, you can have one person other than your solicitor informed of your arrest – make this the arrest support group (let your friends know that this is who they should ring to find out where you are).

If arrest support is being given by protest organisers, check that their advice is right and that they know what they’re doing. There will be plenty of advice later on in this guide to compare it to. The National Union of Students once tried to do arrest support and handed out a bust card full of really bad advice, which would definitely have got people in trouble if they had followed it. If you have any doubts, ask the Green and Black Cross or Network for Police Monitoring – these are established groups who work with experienced solicitors, and can be trusted.

The other thing arrestee support groups do, is finding witnesses of arrests and police brutality for future court cases – sometimes to defend arrestees, sometimes to sue the police for breaking their own rules. If you saw the cops doing anything that looked illegal, or you saw the lead-up to anyone getting arrested, you should contact the arrestee support group to let them know, as soon as you get home. It isn’t always obvious at the time, but it could well be that you witnessed something that could save someone from going to jail!

So that’s arrests, but there are other things that can mean you get stuck at a protest, for example if you get kettled (where police ‘contain’ the protest and refuse to let anyone leave, even to catch the bus home). So, if you’ve travelled a long way to the protest, try to sort crash space with someone local, and work out emergency travel arrangements. As a rough guide, kettles don’t normally last past the late evening, and arrestees are usually out within 24 hours. They may get held and then taken into court on next working day, but this only happens VERY rarely, so long as they give details like name and address. If getting stuck seems likely, then have people ready to call in sick to work for you, let housemates know, sort childcare, clear your room, etc. If you are arrested, then police may raid and search the address that you give them, especially if it is in the same city that you were arrested in.

So far we’ve talked about preparing for if you get stuck somewhere. But what if you and your affinity group get split up? You may not all have phones, and it might not be wise to say where you are over them even if you have one. So – plan a regrouping point that you can all go to if necessary.

All this preparation probably sounds like a lot of effort. But the point is that if you aren’t prepared for things like arrests and kettles, then you will end up spending the whole day holding back and worrying about whether you will get home on time rather than getting stuck in and being effective. If you know you’re well prepared then you can relax and focus on what you’re there for.

What to Bring

First things first, write the arrest support number and details of a decent solicitor on you arm. “Oh but I’m not going to…” JUST FUCKING DO IT!!! Too many peoples famous last words have been, “Oh but I’m not going to do anything that will get me arrested”. So just do it ok?

Wear warm clothes and dark colours with no identifying features like logos or bright colours. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t planning on doing anything illegal, nobody plans these things, right? It’s a sign of unity and protects the anonymity of all. Plus, you don’t want to make it easy for the police to put you on their database of protesters and “extremists”, do you? Check your pockets, bag and wallet, empty them of ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING! All you need is about one litre of water, enough food to sustain you (remember you may be running around so burning calories), your house key and enough cash to get the bus/train home (if you get kettled/carried away/nicked/start the revolution, you may miss your planned lift home). Credit cards are a bad idea, as they have your name on them. Optional extras we recommend are a baseball cap, and a dark scarf or other face covering (an old t-shirt sleeve is ideal). Avoid wearing things that can be easily grabbed (for example dangly earrings or loose hair)

A change of clothes is good too – you could get wet and need to change, or you could get cold in a kettle and need extra layers. Lots of thin layers are better than a think jumper, as it’s both warmer and more flexible. It also makes it easier to change for security reasons or if you get hit with CS gas. As a word of advice, make sure the change of clothes are good for blending in to a crowd (blue jeans, t-shirt, grey hoody, something like that!).

Mobile phones are useful for communication yes, but remember if they get taken by the cops they now have a list of your friends, access to your text messages and call log, and they can keep it for months as “evidence”. By law all phone’s have to have gps installed which can be used to locate them, and many smart phones even keep a log of where you are – police have used this as evidence to convict people in the past! If you need a phone, invest in a cheap bog standard one (I think they are called Nokias) and pay for it in cash.

If it’s hot/sunny weather, don’t forget suncream and a good hat. Try to use water or alcohol based suncream (same goes for lotions, insect repellent and make up). Many suncreams are fat based, and tear gas is soluble in fat and may cause burns. Check the weather forecast – unless it’s sunny all day bring waterproofs just in case and wear fabrics that dry quickly. Fabrics like cotton and denim stay wet for a long time and could make you very cold and uncomfortable.

If you wear glasses or contact lenses, bring spares. Spare contact lenses are especially important as you will need to change them if you get hit with CS. On the other hand, glasses make CS spray hurt less. Consider wearing different glasses to your normal ones, to avoid identification. If you have any medical issues such as asthma, epilepsy, diabetes, pregnancy, heart problems, then make sure your mates know about them, and you have anything that you might need – for example insulin, or an inhaler. Do this EVEN IF you have not had a problem in a long time. If you need prescription medication, you’ll need a copy of your prescription if you want to be allowed to take it when arrested. Medication or painkillers should be carried in their original packaging. If you’re a smoker – there’s pretty much no chance you’ll be allowed to smoke on arrest. So if 24 hours without nicotine is going to drive you crazy then you should definitely have some nicotine patches on you just in case.

There’s a real chance that you’ll get searched on your way to or on the demo, so be careful what you keep in your bag. ‘Defensive’ items like shin-pads or masks might get you nicked if you’re really unlucky, but it’s unlikely that you would be taken to court for something like that. Anything that could be used ‘offensively’ is a totally different matter. If you have anything bladed or that looks like it could be used for criminal damage then that will be confiscated and you will probably be arrested. What kind of thing counts as risky is hard to say, because it depends on how evil the cops are feeling that day. A student from Bristol once got arrested for carrying a water-based marker pen, so the bar can be very low indeed! (He didn’t get charged or taken to court though. If stuff like this happens to you – you may be able to sue the police for wrongful arrest. So it’s not all bad). Take especial care to make sure you don’t leave any tools (eg from work) in the bottom of your bag, for example Stanley knives. That kind of thing looks really bad!


  • Find a buddy and an ‘affinity group’
  • Learn your rights, be prepared for arrests and kettles
  • Be prepared for getting searched by the cops – don’t have anything on you that you don’t want them to see, or that has your name on it
  • Consider getting a ‘clean’ phone, or at least turn off gps and pin-lock your current one
  • Bring spare clothes, wear things that make it harder to identify you
  • Prepare for the weather! Don’t forget warm clothes and waterproofs
  • Bring food and water – enough for you and some to spare for others
  • Bring enough cash to get you home and get food, in case the unexpected happens
  • If the protest isn’t near where you’re from, then make a plan for if you get stuck overnight and miss your transport back
  • Bring medication, written prescriptions, spare contact lenses, inhalers, insulin, and nicotine patches, if you need them

The basic message is prepare for everything, have plans and backup plans and back up plans for your backup plans. Make sure you all know what you’re doing and ensure you’re never caught off guard. Organise, resist!