Police Issue Warning Over Anti-Cuts Protest

Police chiefs have told protesters bent on trouble to stay away from Saturday’s mass demonstration in London against government spending cuts, as union bosses predicted a peaceful “family friendly” event.

Police officers hold back demonstrators trying to gain entry to 30 Millbank, the headquarters of Britain's Conservative Party, during a protest in central London.
Carl Court | AFP | Getty Images
Police officers hold back demonstrators trying to gain entry to 30 Millbank, the headquarters of Britain's Conservative Party, during a protest in central London.

Scotland Yard said it would be “naive to ignore the chatter on some public forums” from various groups about their willingness to engage in violence. But Lynne Owens, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner, stressed that it was also “important that we set an appropriate mood for the day”.

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, predicted that more than 100,000 people would attend the march in the biggest union-organised demonstration for decades and the biggest protest since the 1m-strong march in 2003 against the Iraq war.

He knew of 600 coaches bringing people to the capital and at least nine trains. However, he called on protesters to avoid so-called “feeder marches” organised by splinter protest groups.

“Any violence would detract from the central message of the march,” Mr Barber said.

Police struggled to control December’s student protests in Westminster after demonstrators chose not to keep to the official routes.

The event descended into pitched battles between some protesters and the police and the containment – or “kettling” – of demonstrators in Whitehall.

Scotland Yard said 4,500 officers would be on duty for Saturday’s march, made up of officers from the Met and home county forces, while the TUC will provide about 1,000 stewards.

Met commanders have warned that a recent surge in protests against government spending cuts will have an impact on their ability to provide “business-as-usual” services, such as neighbourhood policing.

The Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge universities will also take place on Saturday afternoon, which requires a significant policing presence.

Ms Owens declined to provide a forecast of how much the policing operation would cost for Saturday’s anti-cuts march but she said it “will have an impact on our budget”.

Police leaders are already struggling with a 20 percent cut in central government law enforcement budgets.

The G20 protests that took place on April 1 2009 cost £7.4 million ($12.1 million) to police, according to figures from the Metropolitan Police Authority.

Liberty, the human rights campaign group, has been drafted in by the Met and the TUC to provide 100 independent observers on the day, after accusations of heavy-handedness by officers dealing with previous large-scale protests.

An official from Liberty said he had been “impressed by the co-operation” between the police and the TUC.

Ms Owens said she was “not planning for violence” but would not “hesitate to crack down” if needed. She said the controversial tactic of kettling, where large groups of people are penned in by police in a small area, would only be used in the “last resort”.

Police are also using a team of Twitter specialists, who will send out messages to protesters, in part to counter any disinformation or rumours about their tactics.

However, she admitted that the use of social networking by police was in its infancy and still a case of “sucking it and seeing”. She said officers were still trying to engage with groups planning splinter marches.

“All I can do is offer reassurance that we have the resources to deal with whatever is needed,” Ms Owens said.