Police twisting facts over EDL & BNP in Bolton?
I’m guessing mostly people reading this will have heard about the English Defence League/Unite Against Fascism confrontation that broke out in Bolton on Saturday. Above and beyond what happened on the street, a curious war of stories seems to be raging about the way the demonstration occurred, with very different tales being told by all 3 sides.
I say three sides, because its important to remember that the police, the EDL and UAF all have their own agendas in this situation, even if its tempting to conflate the EDL and Police – they may have areas of overlap, but they also have areas of wide variance in what they want out of any given situation (seeing as the police only want tokenistic violence they can control and manipulate, and the EDL want violence that results in Muslims leaving the country).
There were several interesting revelations during the hours after most of the news outlets had written up their stories. First, there was a BBC report saying “most taxi firms pulled their drivers off the roads for fear of violence” – true to an extent, but quite the whole truth: anti-Fascists had lobbied taxi drivers not to work in the town centre to prevent fascists taking advantage of their services. This is quite a common tactic: appeals are made to London cab drivers every DSEi arms fair to not carry war-mongers, and in Seattle in 1999, protesters successfully secured a taxi strike against the WTO conference. Its a good tactic. Yes, the drivers weren’t working, but this was prearranged with one of the sides, not an act of fear.
Another quote from the same article is well worth examining:
Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan said earlier: "The number of arrests already made is a clear indication that this is not a peaceful protest and some demonstrators are determined to cause trouble.
Lets just pick through this in isolation for a moment. A situation can occur in which a large number of arrests are made which has nothing to do with violence. For instance, a large number of people might be arrested for possession of Cannabis. Its a slight caricature, but its not unreasonable to think this might happen on a protest, and they’re unlikely to be violent, especially if they’ve already consumed some of the substance. Number of arrests does not equal nor necessarily correlate with amount of violence. Besides, the police have been known to arrest 250 people, 3 times Saturday’s number, for sitting in the road at Aldermaston or Faslane. It just doesn’t follow. An indication maybe, but not a very clear one.
Then there’s the actual situation. The police had arranged themselves into formations including snatch squads. A snatch squad ideally needs to have practiced their trade together beforehand, so they can undertake the process in a coordinated and successful manner. That the police produced snatch squads here does suggest they were planning to make arrests regardless of the outcome of the demonstration. The police officer above has effectively admitted that the unrest came after the arrests (it may have come before as well, but he uses present tense when talking about violence and past tense for the arrests).
Then there is the question of arrests, charges and convictions. A police officer can arrest someone just because they don’t like the look of them. Its actually enshrined in various bits of law. What they can’t do without reasonable evidence to pass to the CPS is charge that person with an offence. As at Monday 22nd, 4 people had been charged with public order offences. Police made 73 arrests, but have only managed to attach firm allegations to 4 of them?
Now, you might point out that 13 were issued fixed penalty notices. Being issued such a notice is not a sign of guilt. Paying it, however, is a sign of guilt, and furthermore is bloody stupid. No one is advised to pay such a penalty. The police should find the evidence and charge you, not announce your crime and expect you to nod along. Its poormans justice. But, you have to accept the notice, then return to the police station and lodge a challenge. If these people had actually committed indictable offences, why weren’t they charged with them?
The more you prod this situation, the more the whole thing unravels. Where are the tales of bricks and bottles being thrown? Where are the stories of officers being punched in the face? Why is the overwhelming majority of the evidence being offered for the protesters being unruly in the form of the police’ own actions?
Whether or not there was a riot does not seem to be being discussed here. The police are far more interested in their own operation than they are in the actions of the protesters. They seem to be using their own actions to justify their claims about the protesters, rather than the actions of the protesters to justify the actions they have responded with.
Its also interesting that various people have tried to claim to myself that 50 UAF and “only 1 or 2” EDL demonstrators were arrested. This appears to have been the story put out by the media at the time. 54 to 17 is roughly 3:1, but UAF claims to have outnumbered EDL protesters by 3:1 or more. The numbers are pretty even when you factor the sizes of the two crowds.
The only thing we can be certain of is the need to counter the police interpretation of what is going on during EDL-UAF confrontations. The EDL must be confronted with non-violent mass action to prevent them taking root in our communities. Thus far, the police are showing only an antagonistic approach to this being carried out.