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RTS submit complaint about Sunday Times arms allegation

21st October 1999 / Squall Download 2, Dec-1999-Jan-2000, pg. 22.

Reclaim the Streets (RTS) have submitted acomplaint to the Press Complaints’ Commission following claims made in the Sunday Times that the campaign group areamassing weapons.

Under the headline ‘City anarchists stockpile arms’ (17/10/99), The Sunday Times stated that RTS are “stockpiling illegal weapons including tear gas and stun guns fora planned riot in the City of London on November 30”. The allegations were repeated both in the Evening Standard (20/10/99) and in the Daily Telegraph (21/10/99).

The premise of Reclaim the Streets’ complaint is two fold. Firstly that allegations of arms stockpiling are a deliberate media fiction motivated by political mal-intent and secondly that there is no planned demonstration for November 30th. City of London Police have said there is no evidence or intelligence to support allegations of arms purchases by RTS or indeed that the group have any intention of organising a demonstration in the UK on November 30th.

Despite being unable to offer the police any evidence, The Sunday Times claimed that “In two separate transactions in the past six weeks, at least 34 containers of CS gas and four stun guns capable of delivering a 50,000 volt electric shock were purchased by Reclaim the Streets.” According to Det Chief Inspector Kieron Sharp: “June 18 was organised with all the fliers, things on the Internet, information about who was going to be there and what different groups were planning. But there is nothing out there at all for Nov 30”.

However, despite Det Chief Insp Sharp’s refutation of the existence of any evidence or intelligence to back up the Sunday Times’ allegations, he still offered the Daily Telegraph an extraordinary prognosis: “I would think if such stockpiling is going on, it would be for a much larger event on a date as yet unknown in the future.” It is highly unusual for a senior policeman to make such projections without the backing of either evidence or intelligence.

Media coverage of the June 18th demonstration - particularly that presented in the Sunday Times - has brought British journalism into serious disrepute. On the two Sunday’s following the event the Sunday Times ‘Insight’ team ran full page articles which they referred to as ‘Investigative’. One article was based round the subject of demonstrators smearing themselves with tomato ketchup to exacerbate claims of police brutality. The other article claimed that demonstrators had been paid both a wage and travelling expenses to attend the event. Examination of both articles reveals the only sources for the ‘investigations’ were anonymous city traders. Hardly reliable sources for such high profile ‘investigative’ journalism.

The bylines for this profuse spate of Sunday Times articles about Reclaim the Streets and J18 have always included Mark Macaskill, a new boy at the paper. Insiders at the Sunday Times have told SQUALL that Macaskill has been given a brief to “dig the dirt”. During the course of his brief journalistic career at newspaper, Macaskill has intimated in his articles that he is party to anonymously sourced information from MI5.

Comment from RTS

The allegation that Reclaim the Streets are 'stockpiling illegal weapons worth thousands of pounds' in preparation for 'a planned riot in the City of London on November 30th' is so ridiculous that it is hard to decide whether to laugh hysterically or weep at yet another example of the press - and particularly the Sunday Times - refusing to let ethics get in the way of a good story. Not to mention facts.

One might think that it would not be possible for the media to drag itself further into disrepute, but your paper has managed, against the odds and some pretty stiff opposition in the rag trade and elsewhere, to do just that. All that really remains a mystery is whether this was a clever wheeze dreamt up by a few bored hacks hoping to milk the June 18th day of action for a lot more than it's worth, or whether we can detect the not-so-well concealed hand of the City of London police and their oft-touted 'war of attrition' against groups like Reclaim the Streets.

There were, after all, plenty of red faces in the City after June 18th, from the Lord Mayor down through the ranks of the City Police, who are as a result now fighting for their survival against a Metropolitan Police corporate takeover. And who knows, maybe our old friend 'Jumpin' Jack Straw has had a hand in things too, especially now he's reinvented the role of Labour Home Secretary as the undisputed king of no frills, no mercy law'n'order with a hefty side order of anti-refugee xenophobia.

Reclaim the Streets in London, (it's important to distinguish since there are RTS groups all over the country and the world), has spent plenty of time since the planet-wide J18 action of which it was just a part discussing the best way forward for itself. We have seen the efforts of papers such as the Sunday Times to paint RTS and the direct action movement from which is has sprung as mindlessly violent.

It also looks on the political front that direct action of all kinds may well be classed as terrorist activity in the soon-to-be-updated Prevention of Terrorism Act. Partly as a result of this 'war of attrition', (and partly because it happens to be a good idea), the group has decided that the best tactic for the moment is to take every opportunity to be visible on streets and in communities, and to carry on the process of communicating our ideas in an accessible way. (This is not to forget that J18 was awash with information about what we are for and against; it was perhaps unsurprising though that the media decided not to disseminate information about shocking concepts such as 'social justice', 'ecological protection' and 'mutual aid'.)

So in the knowledge that there was to be a global day of action to coincide with the meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle on November 30th, we decided that the best course of action was a campaign of 'information as action', comprising leaflets, stickers and posters laying out our case for the dismantlement of the WTO and, indeed, global capitalism itself. So in the light of this approach, one might think it somewhat contradictory to be out on the street buying various verminous forms of weaponry from equally verminous people. Which is why no one involved with RTS has done such a thing. All we have been stockpiling is text for leaflets. Oh yes, and paintbrushes and wallpaper paste.

Now RTS is just one loose gathering of fairly like-minded people that believes in taking imaginative, challenging direct action for its beliefs. There could be a few insane people somewhere in the south of England who might consider blasting their way into the City of London with CS gas and stun guns on November 30th, but fortunately we don't know anyone with such a plan. (And incidentally, on June 18th wooden posts were brought in for the hanging of banners, and breezeblocks to 'brick up' the Futures Exchange.)

We challenge the Funday Times, with the overpowering might of its tireless team of investigative journalists to rise early from their lunches and produce the evidence of their absurd assertions. Because what they are doing here is really very serious: RTS is a group that for many reasons has provided a focus for the huge dissent felt in the country at the way wealth is distributed, about the way the planet is being slaughtered for the sake of a fast buck etc. So by sidelining us as terrorists with nothing on our minds but violence, the establishment is seeking to drive us underground and so strangle part of the UK leg of what is beginning to be a very real worldwide movement of resistance to exploitation and greed. But it won't work, as we won't be driven underground in order to become useless martyrs and provide catchy, melodramatic headlines.

We'll carry on taking direct action, but we'll also carry on talking to people about what we believe in passionately. Our leaflet on the WTO will be everywhere, as will the stickers and the posters on November 30th, and we'll continue to reinvent our resistance so as to keep a few steps ahead of the plodding boot of the powers-that-be and their yapping lapdogs the media, so brilliantly personified by the Sunday Times and its crew of disillusioned, desperate hacks. Long live the revolution.

Signed: another London RTS person (not speaking for the group!)

Relevant Links
For more info, including the text of the offending Sunday Times article, see