This week I attended the trial of Alfie Meadows, a student charged with violent disorder on the infamous night he almost died in the Parliament Kettle during the £9k fees vote in Westminster.
While Alfie is being charged with violent disorder, I have yet to hear of any charges being made against the officer accused of violence towards him. Whatever your view of the debate about ‘peaceful’ protest, the right to protest is under attack and the use of total policing that day was in my view disproportionate.
Alfie’s trial will I think be a defining moment for the fight for our right to protest. We should see it as a political move by the Justice system to use Alfie as some kind of example. When hundreds of students received letters before 9 December demo last year, warning them of the possible use of rubber bullets on the day, and urging them to ‘stay at home’ it has become clear that all avenues are being used to silence us.
It was rather strange for me to sit in the courtroom this week and hear from the Commander who was responsible for establishing the two police cordons set up on Whitehall that dark day on 9 December 2010.
I can’t for obvious reasons, comment on the Commander’s cross-examination in the courtroom, but it was interesting for me to hear his reasons for creating the two police cordons on that day, as I ended up getting stuck in the middle of them!
I had just been in the House of Commons meeting with my MP to lobby him on how he was going to vote that day. He’s a Tory so you could argue it was a bit of a wasted trip. In all fairness though, any excuse to pass through Westminster Hall, site of many happenings, including King Charles I’s sentencing to death.
We exited through the back passage through Portcullis House to find a bit of drama outside with a massive kettle on parliament square. There was a police cordon blocking off parliament square so we decided to walk down Whitehall towards Trafalgar to escape. We were too late. Before we knew it a police cordon was pushing its way from Trafalgar Square up Whitehall, thus creating another kettle (or ‘containment’ as the Met call it) on top of the one already on Parliament square. This time however the police were on horseback and were coming right at us.
We were gradually pushed (alongside a few tourists outside Downing Street) towards Parliament square and eventually kettled for over 5 hours in sub-zero temperatures. And all because I left Parliament through the back entrance!
I then had a photo taken of me when exiting the square, which was clearly absolutely necessary. Even the IPCC believe kettles are a breach of our human right, and we will continue our work to try get them banned. But more importantly right now, think about all the students recently sent down for protesting. Take Frank Fernie from Sheffield Hallam who dreamed of being a social worker since he was young, and has been told, now he’s been charged with violent disorder (for throwing a bit of plywood), that he can no longer be a social worker. Whether he should have thrown that light piece of wood is not really the debate here, it’s the fact that he has had his aspirations stamped upon for it.
Let’s hope there’s a different outcome for Alfie.