'Stop the warmongers' called a protest on Wednesday to provide a platform for all those who wished to show their anger at the policies of the New Labour government. About 60 people including a number with young children, turned up to hear speakers and release gas-filled balloons with labels with comments along the lines of 'I am angry with New Labour because…' close to the conference.
Instead over 150 police, including some on horses, surrounded the protestors holding them against their will for over an hour. At one point a loudspeaker van announced 'This is an illegal gathering' calling on the meeting to disperse by 2.30 or face arrest. At the same time, protestors were prevented from leaving, except for a few in ones and twos. Standing just outside the circle, I was told by a policeman to leave as 'there may be a public order incident'.
John, acting as a legal observer, reports:
"The brutal over-reaction of the police seemed to take a lot of people by surprise - even in the New Labour orwellian new britain that we now live in. There was a large number of journalists there (mostly after 2pm, when the protest had already informed the police that it was willing to disperse, but the police wouldn't let it). They were visibly shocked, especially the ones that the police wouldn't let in or out of their cordons (bleu)…
"The police wanted the protest to take place in the confines of the "peace gardens" (an undefined area that they had decided extended to a point about 10 feet nearer the statue than we were gathered). Without any notification to us, they then blocked the way to this space, so it was no longer possible for the protest to move there.
"Then they surrounded the protest (at the point when those with small children had left, there were at least 150 police officers and 46 protestors contained by them). The protest made the offer of dispersing at 2pm was relayed to the chief inspector, Stuart Barton. He immediately refused this offer and insisted that the protest remain there till 2.30. He also then had the legal observer removed from his presence (who had until then been virtually instructed by the police to talk to him on a regular basis).
"They appear to have arrested two people - one elderly, disabled woman, who was carrying a placard and may have been goaded by a woman police officer as she left, and another young man who was not part of the protest at all but had been shopping with a friend and walking through the square and may have been arrested for swearing at a police officer. There were a couple more incidents where people thought other police officers were trying to take their details or detain them further but these appear to have been by police not part of containing the protest (eg the "regular" presence on the trams etc)."
The protest had the title 'Peterloo 2'. Though we weren't attacked with swords, it looks like the police were determined not to let the traditions of the Lancashire Yeomanry be forgotten.
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