The Trafalgar Square kettle: these are the facts, I was there

Kevin Rawlinson

In the coming days, various media and political commentators who have not done so already will have their say on the the violence seen at Trafalgar Square as night fell on the largest demonstration since the anti-Iraq war marches. It will be worth asking how many of them actually saw any of it for themselves.

These are the bare facts from inside the kettle, written neither in condemnation nor in support of any faction.

Music had been playing, protesters dancing and, in many cases, drinks flowing for hours by the time three police officers attempted to arrest one demonstrator, later said to have been caught trying to place a sticker on the Olympic countdown clock. He struggled to escape the clutches of the leading police officer, who was soon backed up by two colleagues.

The commotion attracted the attention of more and more people milling around nearby who, following a recently adopted tactic, “de-arrested” their comrade by dragging him free of the police officers and spiriting him away into the crowds.

Before the incident, there had been little or no violence in Trafalgar Square, where protesters had lit fires and were having a party. One of their number had brought along an amplifier, another had provided a microphone and, earlier in the evening, an MC had used the plinth at the base of Nelson’s Column as a stage.

After the scuffle, though, things escalated quickly. The officers, now isolated and the subject of the attentions of an increasing number of protesters, retreated to form a loose ring around the Olympic clock, where they were quickly  joined by more police.

Within around two minutes, riot police in full gear and wielding batons and shields, began filing into the square, bolstering the police line at the bottom of the stairs and pushing back protesters towards the Column. The entry of riot police to a Square full of at least 2,000 demonstrators – many of whom had been drinking – lit the blue touch paper and major scuffles began to break out between police and protesters.

At least twice, police were ordered forward, surging into the mass of protesters, batons waving. Protesters hurled glass bottles and coins in the officers’ direction and lengths of fencing were used as battering rams to crash into police lines. One officer, whose visor was down, was hit full in the face by bottle, another had to be taken away with blood pouring from a wound on his forehead. One protester could also be heard calling out for a medic, quickly provided by police.

As protesters began chanting “shame on you”, officers forcibly cleared the steps to the north and began pushing their line deeper into the Square, apparently to retrieve lengths of fencing which some demonstrators were still desperately trying to cut free to use against them.

As the net closed and more police arrived to the south side of the Square, many demonstrators realised they were about to be trapped in a kettle and slipped away, others stayed and sat in defiance in front of the lines of riot police.

The situation gradually calmed and fireworks were let off as the protesters were split into those who wanted to melt away before the kettle could form and those who wanted to occupy Nelson’s Column.

By 11pm, the remaining protesters – hugely diminished in number – were huddled on the graffiti-stained plinth of the Column, from which police had failed to eject them. More clashes had taken place round the corner at Charing Cross, where police lines were soon set up.

As officers formed up, one girl – trying to ride her bike down towards Whitehall was hit in the back by a police officer with a shield. Officers manning the kettle said that everyone was being detained because a significant number of crimes had been committed on the Square. “Vandalism has been committed and officers have come under sustained attack. We are holding everyone here until the situation calms down and we determine who is responsible,” he said.

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  • Ho Mo Economicomical

    This is a very fair and balanced article. It is not pretending that
    the police job is easy
    or that their clearing of trafalgar square was warranted
    or that the demonstrators were biscuit eating children (nice one pennyred!!??)
    or that reckless policing or/and protesting doesn’t effect innocent bystanders

    Ian Tomlinson is dead (and the officer won’t be charged!!??)
    Some protesters want to and do smash things
    Policing these events are not easy
    Kettling CAN make the situation worse
    Police cannot control everything (and should not try)

    Also aside from the blatant political arrest of UKuncut and the needless clearing of trafalgar square the police did a VERY GOOD job. I was hoping to see picadilly circus in flames but alas their tactics were very effective and they calmed down a situation that could have been much worse.

    and my final point, unless you have been at one of these protests and seen police tactics or the angry protesters first hand shut the @*%$ up

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