The politicisation of the police

Most people, myself included, would say that in most respects, the police in Brighton and Hove, led by the dedicated and impressive Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett, do a fine job. They are engaged with the community and responses to individual cases are good.

However, there is a growing unease about an aspect of policing that runs counter to that – the policing of political protest. Here there appears to be a different approach, and different leadership.

The policing of the Topshop / Topman protest, that led to the arrest and subsequent prosecution of nine protesters, is a case in point. The protesters were acquitted on most changes although five were found guilty of recklessly damaging two mannequins which had been knocked over as the protesters had entered a window display where they glued their hands to the window. All were cleared of damaging the windows.

Those found guilty were given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay £200 towards prosecution costs. The total cost, excluding the policing of the demonstration, is estimated to have been £100,000.

The protest, which was held on December 4th last year, was aimed at drawing attention to tax avoidance by the owners of Topshop / Topman and To cuts to public expenditure. The defence given was that of ‘lawful excuse’, the same defence used by Smash EDO demonstrators at a trial last year. They had been arrested for causing £187,000 damage at the EDO MBM factory in Brighton last year. The jury decided that they had acted, with an honest and reasonable belief, to prevent war crimes being committed in Gaza.

Caroline Lucas MP (Brighton Pavilion) gave evidence in support of the defendants. Hove MP Mike Weatherley condemned Ms Lucas for giving this evidence, as well as condemning the protesters. He told the Brighton Argus: “I don’t consider the prosecution was a waste of public money and condemn their actions. It is not helpful when protesters are sending a message to the world that people can take action such as this and get away with it on a technicality. They were there to cause trouble and disruption to the retail environment.”

It is important to remember that they were all found not guilty on the main charge of causing damage to the window. Their defence was accepted. And picking up on a technicality of Mr Weatherley’s own protest, much tax avoidance (not illegal itself as opposed to tax avoidance) is often based on a technicality identified by highly paid tax lawyers and accountants.

But going back to policing, Sussex Police seem to have no problem in heavy-handed policing of demonstrations including the ‘kettling’ of young teenagers on student fees and EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) demonstrations, and on anti-EDL (English Defence League) counter-demonstrations. The contrast between day to day policing and the policing of demonstrations are so contrasting one has to ask whether Graham Bartlett, a very decent man in every way, is removed from authority on these occasions.

Policing has always been politicised, but rarely more so than when policing political demonstrations. I conclude with an anecdote told to me by a prominent member of the Brighton and Hove community who was in Brighton Station during one of the EDL demonstrations. He and a row of police officers saw an EDL member giving nazi salutes and shouting abuse at what appeared to be a couple of Japanese tourists who were apparently showing fear and distress. When challenged why the EDL member had not been arrested or even spoken to, one police officer, who had witnessed the incident, said of the EDL group: “They’ve been as good as gold. It’s the other ones who cause the trouble.” I suspect the Japanese couple might disagree and it is unlikely that they will return to Brighton.

As with most things, your reputation is often only as strong as your weakest link.

13 Responses

  1. The most incredible thing about Sussex Police is that they literally escort the EDL from pub to pub when they hold their marches and rallies. Contrast that with how left-wing demonstrations are policed…

  2. The court decided most of the uncut protestors did nothing wrong – if Weatherly wants them punished anyway it just shows he is rather phoney and struggling to find a base to campaign on for re-election.

    Lucas supporting people protesting against tax dodgers? The councils sell off of council houses is based on a business plan that is based on tax avoidance – will she be protesting against our green council?

    “EDL demonstration in Brighton” – when was that then? Isn’t that the spin put on ‘March for England’ by the loony left?

    EDL and UAF are just the modern equivalent of 80’s football hooligans – just out for a fight – any excuse will do – shame on anyone who gets sucked in by either side.

    MfE, ANL, UAF, UKUncut, Spanish Revolution and even EDL- are all entitled to march/demonstrate/protest etc – but if any deliberately set out to cause violence in Brighton they should face the full weight of the law.

    ps. you have a typo in the original post – its tax evasion that is illegal, not tax avoidance. But the Greens supporting/relying on avoidance is hypocritical.

    • The council’s sell off of some of its houses isn’t based on any kind of council plan, business or otherwise. Rather it’s council tenants exercising their “Right to Buy”, which is a central government scheme that the council is obliged to implement. I believe that it’s Green Party policy to end the automatic Right to Buy scheme, but that can only be achieved at national level.

      There have been EDL marches in Brighton distinct from from the “March for England”. For example this one last summer:

  3. Get a grip BPB. We usually enjoy reading your views but it now seems you are joining the loony left. We used to think that you were a liberal who would applaud the separation of different functions and would not have expected you to confuse, conflate and muddy up:

    (i) the operational role of the police force
    (ii) the decisions of the Criminal Prosecution Service
    (iii) the outcomes of the judicial system.

    Unless of course you have become a victim of the loonies view that they are all just the same and merely different faces of an oppressive capitalist state.

    As we said, get a grip BPB – and on the other matter Brighton could not invent a better senior copper than Bartlett who will, because he is both liberal and efficient, always be the target for the loonies.

  4. Very strange how ‘the dipper, above uses ‘we.’ I’m guessing her counterpart is young George III (he was a very typical Tory boy).

    • I know you Green people don”t have much enthusiasm for history or facts but just for the record my dipping was done with George IV rather than his father who wasn’t much of a beach boy. And most of the colleagues and allies of Brighton George were radical Whigs and not conservative Tories.

      • On the colleagues and allies front, only up to point, Martha. Once he became Regent and didn’t need to strike radical postures Fat George dumped all his whig chums and appointed Lord Liverpool as PM, ushering in 18 years of very Tory rule. And he opposed Catholic emancipation, which was a bit rich since he’d married one.

  5. Top shop claimed it would cost £3,500 to replace the four mannequins!

    Very fair post from the blogger. Martha Gunn: the three separate functions you mention are necessarily closely related, however you might like to paint it. The fact that the blogger chooses to touch on all three hardly detracts from his main point about a lack of even-handedness in policing of demonstrations, which I suspect many people will agree with.

    And it is not ‘liberal’ to call your opponents ‘loonies’.

    Mike Weatherley comments that the protesters ‘were there to cause trouble and disruption to the retail environment’. Well of course they were dear – there isn’t much point to a protest if nobody notices it – but the worrying implication is that he must think that peaceful protest ought to be an indictable offence.

    PP may be right that this is pure opportunism, but how much worse if Weatherley actually believes it.

    Luke, and fact fans everywhere: Martha Gunn bathed George IV, not III

  6. This all seems to centre on Politics and Ms Lucas who clearly has no regard for her voters.

    How can she possibly defend anarchists where her defence lawyers already warned her she was defending criminals? MP’s surely cannot do this? Why are they sitting in Parliament passing laws and then defending criminal action at the next whim?

    Has she ever bothered to do the most obvious thing in our FREE society – arrange a meeting with Sir Philip Green to talk about his (private) tax affairs? The anwer is NO.

    An perhaps the worst of all – on the busiest shopping weekend in her own constituency failed to provide a peaceful day but provided thousands of her so-called (minority) supporting party, with harassment, a threatening atmosphere so grave that children were crying and parents tugging at them to get them away from the scenes of violence – not just at Top Shop.

    Where was she? – My sister and I didn’t see her in all these scenes of violence?

    How about the staff at Top Shop – think they were happy to be working in these conditions caused indirectly by her?

    AND the loss of trade to all the shops that heavily relied upon much needed turnover which Ms Lucas has now directly made herself responsible for by going to court defending these anarchist actions.

    YES £100,000 was a tiny price to pay when you think about the £1,000,000 pounds plus she lost for all the retailers in Brighton … and Hove in a few hours.

    And what did we do – go shopping elsewhere spending hundreds of pounds in Southampton to get away from the violence. Brighton & Hove ending up loosing.

    And where is she now? Have we heard from her – NO!
    We expect she’s palnning the next (unlawful) Christmas attack!

    Bartlett – everyone knows where his loyalties lie. It’s well documented.

    • A couple of questions, Julie: where did that figure of £1,000,000 retail loss come from? (Same place as the figure of £3.5k for replacing four plastic showroom dummies, I would imagine…)

      And where is it ‘well documented’ where the chief cop’s loyalties lie?

      As to Caroline Lucas ‘defending criminals’, since the case was dismissed against them, and the libel laws being what they are, I would advise you to watch what you write. Mind you, you’re probably safe enough – you need money to sue, and none of the defendants have that – unlike your chum Sir Philip.

      As to Lucas being somehow ‘responsible’ for all this: by this logic, if that’s the right word for it, if I witness a car accident and go and give my version of events in court, do I then become become the guilty party?

  7. A minor historical slip up. Good to see the discipline self-regulating itself, via Martha and Clive.

    Still a nutty post from Martha. She’s a good few hundred years old, so I shouldn’t judge too harshly.

  8. Having seen footage of crystal palace/brighton fans on the streets of Brighton, I withdraw my “80’s football hooligan” reference to be replaced simply with “football hooligan” – clearly its not purely an historic trait…

  9. I am afraid you are massively wrong on the ‘right to buy’ idea. 70% of all Council tenants voted to retain brighton and hove council as their landlord. Had the council decided to sell off 500 or more properties another referendum would have been required (and almost certainly lost) – hence the weird number of 499 properties being sold off. Not only sold off (to a private company), but with a specific restriction that they *cannot* be sold by the new landlord to tenants…

    I blogged a little bit about it here

    UAF and many (dangerous) councillors and some candidates signed up to call for a counter demonstration to MfE in April 2010 – the dispute was covered here: – and a simple google will show many, many ‘lefties’ condemning UAF for their idiotic response…

    If EDL hooligans came to Brighton it would be because the UAF hooligans had ‘called them out’ back in April.

    Muppets the lot of them (including the supporting councillors and westminster candidates).

    The councillors/PPC’s statement seems to have gone form the net – so I have just published it on my blog, so it is back ‘on the record’.

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