[Understandably, the barristers and the judge in the case are getting very anxious about contempt: anyone writing about the trial has been strongly advised to stick to a brief outline of the facts. The judge is a lot more worried about print publications than he is about the internet, though, but nevertheless reminded the jury of the recent prison sentence for a juror who researched the defendant online and told of her research to the rest of the jury. So he’s basically working with the idea that newspapers are “ambient” (i.e. you could come across coverage of the story by accident) whereas the internet is off-limits, based on the integrity of the jurors (and the threat of jail, presumably). I’m not sure how TV news coverage comes into this – also ambient I suppose. There is much to say about what’s been said in court of course, but we’re going to have to wait until the trial is over to go into detail].
The trial has now been adjourned until Monday. Yesterday (Thurs) saw Silver Commander Michael (or Mick) Johnson take the stand. Silver Commander oversees the tactical plan and decisions made on the day of an event (whereas Gold deals with the strategic intentions and Bronze units are on the ground (operational)). Lofthouse, prosecuting, began by reading through a long list of the events Johnson has overseen at different levels since he joined the force in 1980. These included: the unrest in Brixton and Southall in 1981, Broadwater Farm in 1985, every year of Notting Hill Carnival, the Poll Tax riots in 1990, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act demos in 1994, Kurdish protests in Haringey 1994-99, protests over the death of Roger Sylvester in 1999, J18 in ’99, Arms Fair protests in ’97 and ’99, several May Day protests from 2000 onwards (including, it was noted, the containment at Oxford Circus in 2001), the Bush visit in 2003, an Orange Order March, demos outside the Israeli embassy, Tamil demos, G20 in 2009 and many football games in Tottenham, Arsenal and Wembley.
The court heard that Johnson had taken Silver Command over the student protests of 2010 after “considerable disorder” at Millbank on the 10th Nov 2010. It was noted that there had been arrests made at protests on the 24th and 30th Nov protests where there had been a “degree of disorder”, and also on the 8th Dec ahead of the protest the next day. It was noted that the containment put in place on Nov 24th in Whitehall was carried out following information received.
The route of the 9th Dec protests had been arranged with organisers in advance. Johnson stated that no rally could take place at Parliament Square on the 9th Dec as it was ‘not open for use’. He said he had expected similar numbers on this protest as had been there on the earlier protests against fees and cuts. Sections 60 (commonly known as ‘stop and search’) and 60AA had been put in place after intelligence had been received that people were carrying weapons/shields/concealed weapons (‘Section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, gives police the right to search people in a defined area at a specific time when they believe, with good reason, that: there is the possibility of serious violence; or that a person is carrying a dangerous object or offensive weapon; or that an incident involving serious violence has taken place and a dangerous instrument or offensive weapon used in the incident is being carried in the locality. This law has to be authorised by a senior officer and is used mainly to tackle football hooliganism and gang fights’. From the Met Police website). Section 60AA concerns face coverings: ‘(a) to remove any item which the officer reasonably believes is used wholly or mainly for the purpose of concealing his identity and (b) to seize any item which the officer reasonably believes any person intends to wear wholly or mainly for that purpose.’). Johnsonn noted that police had also received reports of robberies “in the area”.
Johnson then proceeded to run through some of the tactical decisions made as the day proceeded. He described the protest as ‘fairly volatile’ and ‘hostile’ at various points, and noted those times when police were commanded to don “NATO” helmets (these ones), though he stated that these were seen as a “last resort” as they hinder communication with the crowd. Johnson noted when containment of Parliament Square was put in, that this involved around “4-5000” protesters, and how protesters were moved on to Westminster Bridge later in the evening and held there until after midnight. He noted “ferocious violence” and the “intensity of the violence” and stated that the violence on the 9th Dec was the worst he’d seen “since the Poll Tax riots”. Johnson mentioned his concern for officers and for the Treasury which he feared may be “set on fire”, as well as outlining his concern that violence was taking place in the West End on the same day. Vulnerable people in the crowd were said to be allowed out of the containment, though Johnson noted that this involved “small numbers”. Johnson stated that his “primary objective” before the vote on fees that day had been to ensure that protesters did not interrupt “the democratic process” by preventing MPs from entering Parliament to vote.
The trial continues.