Lib Dem MP David Howarth has been highlighting the disturbing treatment of peaceful protestors by police at a climate camp in August last year.
"Government justified the heavy-handed approach by revealing that 70 police officers had been injured policing the protest; but a freedom of information request revealed that these 'injuries to police' included such things as heatstroke, toothache and insect bites. Vernon Coaker, the Home Office minister who had made the claim about police injuries, was later forced to apolgise to the House and admit that "there were no recorded injuries to police officers sustained as a result of direct contact with the protestors".Sadly if you prime a large body of police to expect trouble and send them into an area where people are gathering for some event, you can't be surprised with the predictable results. The resultant inevitable conflict does a disservice to dedicated police officers and the general public, stoking up tension, suspicion and lack of trust, when a stable democracy requires mutual respect between the two.
Here are the links to the report and appendices:
Maybe if the headline chasing politicians, wanting to claim they are cracking down on criminality and terrorism, were charged with reckless disregard for public safety, every time they engineered this kind of clash, there would be more responsible decision making in the higher echelons of government and the police service? I wonder if the attempts by the government to smear the protestors after the event would be actionable under the UK's defamation laws (assuming some of these claims were specific enough and made outside the cloak of parliamentary privilege)?
Ironically even the minister's attempt to backpedal was not entirely accurate - he said in his letter to David Howarth:
"Kent police have informed the Home Office that there were no recorded injuries to police officers sustained as a result of direct contact with the protestors."Yet Appendix 1 of the report lists 4 incidences of police officers' bruising as a result of "Assault by another person".