News And Other Busyness
Activists at Kingston and Brewery Fields protest sites recount their experience of police and bailiff eviction techniques. Report by Susie Fenn.
Squall 16, Summer 1998, pg. 6.
VETERAN ANTI-ROADS campaigners say evictions from this year's tree protests have been increasingly heavyhanded. Protestors have been removed from their lock-ons using 'physical persuasion', similar to techniques employed at Newbury, and 'torture tactics', instead of being cut out.
The four-month Kingston protest over the felling of 56 poplar trees in a public park to allow for a better view of the river for a luxury housing development, was heavily supported by local people, some of whom were apparently disgusted at the severity of the eviction which one protestor described as "commando style". As Kingston is a Royal borough there was a fair amount of media attention to the eviction and it appears that the police were at pains to protect their public image. One protestor told Squall: "The police seemed to be much more aware of the cameras than they usually are... and how to avoid them."
Another protestor, usually known for her ability to hold on for at least 40 minutes, only managed 10 due to excessive pain and police applying pressure-point tactics.
Similarly, reports from the Brewery Fields protest in North Wales, where a campaign to stop building on common land is in its fifth year, indicate a growing tendency of police and bailiffs to use increasing force.
Brewery Fields is a "local haven for both wildlife and people. The fields are bordered by ancient woodland," says Jim Bomford, who has been camped at the site with other protestors for around eight weeks: "The violence used on protestors was appalling, inexcusable and unnecessary. Local residents who have been trying to register the land as a town green were shocked as they watched North Wales police and bailiffs remove people."
At 8am on the day of the eviction Jenny was read the eviction notice and refused to leave, she later wrote in a statement: "They pressured me behind the ears, hurting me badly. My hearing slackened out as if voices were from a distance, though they were shouting in my ear to unlock. I tucked my left hand by the neck to keep it safe. Then they kneeled on my calf muscles forcefully, pressing hard. Then they knelt on my back thigh muscles, shooting unbearable pain up my leg, meanwhile still pushing my pressure points. Then they got my left arm out and twisted it behind my back, bending my wrist."
Jenny says this took place whilst the police "stood around the lock-ons blocking any public view".
Her statement goes on: "The torture continued, they put a handcuff on my left wrist, locking it, this was their last resort. Bending, tightening, twisting my wrist, I had to give in, the pain was excruciating. I unlocked screaming with pain."
Later at the police station, in order to search Jenny's pockets the police tried to remove the cuffs: "The cuffs were jammed from the pressure put on my wrists. After several tries they got them off. My wrist is swollen now, with marks from the cuffs, shooting pains to my elbow, my left wrist is jittering. As I am writing my head is spinning with a headache creeping in! I have to support my wrist. There are welts, bruising where they pressure pointed me."
Kath, another Brewery Fields protestor, said in her statement, after two hours in a police cell and still in pain and shock: "The bulldozer driver was asked to place his bulldozer as a screen between the public and me. Police were ordered to stand in a tight semicircle between the public and me. They were told to shut their legs to prevent the public from seeing the following events. Two officers (I think sergeants - one named Crow) told me I had two choices - either to unlock or to face 'reasonable force'."
The rest of Kath's statement is just as harrowing as Jenny's and, that day, eight people needed hospital treatment.
Although some of these incidents were reported in the press, no mention was made of protestors apparently being informed that their use of force conformed to Home Office guidelines.
Brewery Fields protestors may have prevented another nasty eviction two weeks later by telling police that if they repeated their tactics they would be reported in the national media and that the torture of activists had caused outrage among local people. Apparently the police withdrew. The protestors eventually climbed off the digger they were on when the driver went home and no arrests were made.
Undefeated, the Brewery Fields protestors have moved to another area of the meadow, destined, if the town council have their way, for road construction.
There are obvious implications for all protests if the police get away with using this style of eviction. Evidence of police tactics from Brewery Fields is now in the hands of solicitors. One protestor told Squall: "The case hinges on two main issues; firstly the police are able to use these levels of force but not in this context. These are techniques for specific life-threatening situations, not for torturing women and men locked onto the ground. Secondly the other possibility is that the police are sanctioned to do what the fuck they like, in which case this will have to be taken to the European court of human rights."
Contact: Save Brewery Fields Campaign Office, 01248 351 541. Site mobile, 0836 563 980.
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