During the long and bitter dispute with News International at Wapping, following their dismissal of something like 6,000 workers, one of the blackest nights was Saturday 24th January 1987 which saw Police actions that must have caused deep concern to every person in the country.
Following the events of that evening, the Unions called for a Public Enquiry. That cry, following this Report, must be reinforced.
We as Trade Unionists have nothing to hide - a full Public Enquiry would establish exactly what went on and the role the Police played that night.
Secretary, London Machine Branch, SOGAT '82
- 2. Map of the Area
- 3. A Summary of Events
- 4. Police Identification
- 5. Chemical Dye
- 6. Police Use of Violence
- 6.(1) Truncheons
- 6.(2) Unauthorised Weapons
- 6.(3) Mounted Police
- 6.(4) Shields
- 6.(5) Attacks on Photographers
- 6.(6) Damage to First Aid Vehicles
- 7. Surveillance
- 8. Raids on Public Houses
- 9. Conclusion
THE DISPUTE ITSELF
On 24th January 4986, some 6,000 members of SOGAT '82, the NGA and the AUEW went on strike after months of negotiation with their employers, News International and Times Group Newspapers. The company management was seeking to impose a legally binding five year agreement at the new Wapping plant which incorporated flexible working, a no-strike clause, new technology and the abandonment of the closed shop.
Immediately after the strike was announced, dismissal notices were served on those taking part in the industrial action. The company replaced the workforce with members of the electrician's union, the EETPU, and transferred its four major titles (the Times, the. Sunday Times, the Sun and the News of the World) to the Wapping plant.
In support of their dismissed members, the two major print unions organised regular marches and demonstrations and a six person picket of the company's premises. They also called for a consumer boycott of the four newspapers. Demonstrations were usually held on Wednesday and Saturday evenings and at first involved no more than 150 people. By mid-February, there were as many as 3,000 marchers regularly present and the police began to use riot equipment and horses for the first time in the dispute.
THE POLICE OPERATION
As the dispute gathered momentum a large scale police operation was mounted involving a permanent presence around the area of the plant. On larger demonstrations the police numbers ran into the thousands. By the time of the first anniversary demonstration on the 24th January 1987, 1.2 million extra police hours had been worked at Wapping at an estimated cost of £5.3 million.
Quite apart from the regular marches, the whole area was heavily policed throughout the week, and a number of roads in the area were sealed off by semi-permanent police road blocks. In April 1986 the National Council for Civil Liberties published the results of an enquiry which found that local residents were regularly stopped and asked for proof of their identity before being allowed to pass.
Up until 24th January 1987, 1,370 arrests had been made, of which 1,238 people had been charged with the following offences:
Obstruction of the highway
Obstruction of police
Assault occasioning actual bodily harm
Possession of an offensive weapon
Assault occasioning grievous bodily harm
(Figures from Police Review 23.1.87)
It is estimated that over half of these charges were dismissed upon the Defendant agreeing to be bound over to keep the peace.
THE WAPPING LEGAL OBSERVERS
In response to requests from the unions involved, lawyers attended the demonstrations during the dispute to monitor police activity. They formed an independent group called the 'Wapping Legal Observers' which was supported by the Haldane Society and other concerned organisations. Observers were trained to make detailed notes of arrests and police activity. They were clearly identifiable since they wore tabards with the words 'Legal Observer' printed on them in bold relief.
JANUARY 24th 1987
At the anniversary demonstration on 24th January 1987 there were clashes between police and demonstrators which were so violent that they shocked the nation. Members of Parliament and the General Secretaries of the NGA, NUJ and SOGAT '82, immediately called for a public enquiry. By 30th January, both the Labour Party National Executive Committee and the General Council of the TUC had made demands for such an enquiry. The Wapping Legal Observers issued a press statement in which they condemned police tactics as 'provocative, unlawful and unnecessarily violent' and called for a public enquiry as the only way to avoid a recurrence of the night's events.
At the request of the print unions, the Haldane Society gathered and collated evidence relating to the events of the night of January 24th in order to submit the material to a public enquiry. The project was funded by donations from national unions and their branches. The Society received over 120 statements from individuals who had been at the demonstration and saw over 200 photographs. In addition, the Society had reports from 25 Legal Observers who attended the anniversary demonstration. The statements varied widely in quality and content from detailed accounts of particular incidents or arrests to impressionistic descriptions of panic and chaos. Almost all the statements contained serious complaints about the behaviour of the police. It was clear that a significant proportion of the observations had been made at a time when the people concerned were frightened or running away which inevitably placed a constraint on the level of detail which they were able to provide. However, most of the reports contained some measure of detail with times and locations recorded.
Despite widespread concern, the Government has consistently refused to set up an enquiry. Such an enquiry could have provided an authoritative account of the events of the night of 24th January, after considering oral or written evidence from all the witnesses. We regret that the Government has not taken the opportunity to investigate the facts fully in that way. It is against this background that the Haldane Society has decided to publish a summary of the evidence which it received, in the form of a report. We wish to emphasise that this report does not purport to be any substitute for an independent or a public enquiry.
The report is primarily concerned with the policing of the demonstration because this was the issue which dominated the statements and reports submitted to the Society. As the title implies, it does not set out to answer all the questions raised by the policing of the demonstration. We hope, however, that the report will illustrate the need for a thorough and open public investigation into this and future public disturbances where grave allegations of police misconduct have been made.
Under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority, officers of the Northamptonshire Police have been appointed "to investigate all allegations and complaints against police officers and about police officers' actions arising from the disturbance at the Wapping demonstration . . ." It is not part of the investigation's terms of reference to investigate issues of policing strategy. Its statutory function is to determine whether criminal or disciplinary proceedings should be brought against any individual officers. At the time of writing this report, the results of this investigation were not known.
Map of the Area
The assembly point for the anniversary demonstration was Arundel Street, London WC2. People began to arrive at about 2.30 pm, and the first marchers moved off at about 5.00 pm. The route was agreed with police in advance and the march progressed first along Fleet Street, and then along Lower Thames Street towards London Bridge. From there the march continued to Tower Hill, ending up in Wellclose Square opposite the entrance to the News International plant. Estimates of the numbers of people taking part varied from 15,000 to 25,000 but perhaps the most accurate impression is to be gained from the length of the march and the space that it occupied. Originally both Arundel Street and all the surrounding side streets were tightly packed with people, and when the march got under way it filled both sides of Fleet Street and Blackfriars. It is estimated that the tail end of the march left the assembly point at about the time that the first marchers reached London Bridge. The march was led throughout by a jazz band and the atmosphere was generally friendly and light-hearted, with a significant number of children taking part. It was accompanied for most of the route by two lines of police, but there were no disturbances and only one arrest was recorded.
Press Association Picture
The entrances to several roads in the area of the plant were cordoned off by police. The Highway itself was blocked by three lines of uniformed officers, behind which mounted police were visible, The effect of this was to direct the march into Wel!close Square which by 7.30 pm had become densely packed. Stewards and Legal Observers noted that in the entrance to Virginia Street opposite police officers seemed already prepared to move into The Highway at short notice. On previous marches this entrance had been blocked by heavy interlinked steel 'crowd control' barriers which were difficult to move from either side. On this occasion, however, the barriers used were light and portable and there were considerably more than the usual single line of officers behind. As the march arrived more and more officers took up position behind these barriers, an increasing number of them dressed in riot gear.
By the time the speeches began in the green adjacent to Wellclose Street, it wasas becoming obvious that there would be a substantial overspill who would be unable to enter the Square. As The Highway was cordoned off, these people were obliged to remain on the road opposite the entrance to Virginia Street. The Highway itself was soon densely crowded with the main body of the march still arriving. As the crush increased, so did the number of officers present. There was no attempt to remove the police cordon across The Highway or to enable the crowd to spread out. A number of light missiles, including empty beer cans, light sticks and a firework, were thrown from The Highway over the police lines across Virginia Street and into the empty News International car park behind.
The first clash between demonstrators and police occurred at abut 7.40 pm when a group of about 12 people began to rock a lorry which had been abandoned in front of the entrance to Virginia Street. After several pushes the lorry was finally turned on to its side and an unsuccessful attempt was made to ignite its fuel tank.
Press Association Picture
By this time all the officers in the entrance to Virginia Street were equipped with riot shields. A second shower of light missiles were thrown towards the police and almost simultaneously the crash barriers were withdrawn and a group of about eight officers advanced into the crowd with their truncheons drawn. The individuals responsible for the incident were not arrested and the manoeuvre did not appear to have a clear direction. Witnesses state that the officers were simply truncheoning individuals at random. The crowd was so closely packed at this point that there was no question of dispersal, and when a second group of officers attempted to advance the level of panic increased.
Once the officers had retreated the crown began to calm and over a period of five to ten minutes managed to retreat so that a clear space of about 20 yards around the lorry emerged. Police officers with riot shields formed a wall across Virginia Street leaving a space to enable further charges to be made.
John Sturrock Picture
An announcement was made that the lorry was to be removed and a JCB vehicle swiftly emerged and pulled it behind police lines.
Andrew Ward Picture
By this time the crowd had managed to retreat further, but was still too dense to disperse freely. After a short lull bright spotlights were turned on and large numbers of officers ran into the crowd. These charges continued in waves for approximately forty-five minutes and by 8.15 pm there were considerably fewer demonstrators left in The Highway. Many of them had retreated into Wellclose Street or the Square. This area was 'closed in' by fencing and soon became so overcrowded that it was extremely difficult for those who wished to leave to make their way clear of the area. Police then moved forward to 'occupy' The Highway and a line was drawn up across the entrance to Wellclose Street.
David Hoffman Picture
At 8.45 pm a group of about 50 officers in riot gear charged up Wellclose Street itself with their truncheons drawn. The crowd of between two to three hundred people parted, as the officers carved a path through the middle. Witnesses describe how people who were standing at either edge of the street were crushed against the railings in the surge, and stated that in carrying out this manoeuvre the officers again hit out apparently at random and made no arrests. The officers then made their way back down Wellclose Street towards The Highway, and many of the people who had been occupying the street attempted to force their way into the ever more tightly packed green immediately to the east.
John Sturrock Picture
At 9.10 pm without any clear warning 35 mounted officers left the entrance to Virginia Street and galloped across The Highway and up Wellclose Street towards the union buses. At this point there were still a significant number of demonstrators in the road, two of whom were knocked down and seriously injured. Witnesses reported wide-scale panic as there was no obvious avenue of escape. The horses circled the union buses for a time and then retreated. Shortly afterwards a second charge was made along The Highway with similar effect.
John Sturrock Picture
During the course of the next 40 minutes, a number f further charges were made by the officers on foot. Wellclose Street was cleared of demonstrators and a group of about 40 foot officers were stationed around the union buses, opposite the entrance to the green. On the green itself the congestion had eased slightly, but shortly after 10.00pm instructions were issued over a loudhailer for the area to be cleared entirely. Almost immediately a large contingent of riot officers ran onto the green through the narrow entrance in the north west corner. Witnesses described their behaviour as gratuitously violent, stating that stools were overturned and individuals knocked over as they were waiting in line to buy cups of tea and coffee. Some people attempted to seek refuge on the stage which had been specially erected for the speeches earlier in the evening. However, they were followed on to the stage and witnesses state they were pulled and punched by police officers who then pushed them out of the square towards a block of flats behind. A group of officers entered one of these blocks of flats and arrested a number of individuals who were taking refuge there.
David Hoffman Picture
At one point a wire was stretched across Wellclose Street apparently to prevent the horse charges. Throughout the period from 8.30 pm to 10.30 pm some individuals were undoubtedly throwing missiles at the police. At first they were light objects, but as the evening wore on bricks, stones and some heavier objects were thrown. From the statements we received there seems to be no doubt that it was only a small minority of people who were carrying out this missile throwing, and that in many cases those responsible were standing well away from the body of the demonstration. Moreover, there is some controversy about how the police came about the 'spear' which was dis-played by Deputy Commissioner Wyn Jones in a press conference the following day.
Press Association Picture
One witness described how she saw a group of officers on the green start to rip apart a number of Trade Union banners which were discarded behind a fence. She states she saw the officers remove the banner poles and retreat to the police lines across Virginia Street. On seeing this photograph in the newspaper she was certain that the 'spear' displayed was one of the poles which she had seen the officers remove.
In all 162 police officers reported injuries, 39 of whom were treated in hospital. No central record was kept of the numbers of casualties amongst demonstrators, as many of those injured did not report treatment. However stewards estimated that over 200 demonstrators received some form of injury, and 34 civilian casualties were treated at St Bartholomew's Hospital. Sixty seven people were arrested, 13 of them print workers. Other occupations included a teacher, a youth worker, a miner, a civil servant, a scaffolder, an archaeologist, and a butcher.
David Hoffman Picture
At 9.00 pm, 500 local residents set off from Glamys Road, to the east of Virginia Street. The march was to proceed south of The Highway and to make its way back along to Wellclose Square. It was escorted by a single Detective sergeant, and had no other police escort. As the march entered wapping lane, the stewards found the road blocked by two lines of uniformed police. The officer escorting the march turned around and announced it could not continue any further. For approximately 20 minutes the stewards attempted to negotiate with the officer in charge, during which time the numbers on the march shrank to about 250. There was intermittent pushing and shoving until, at 9.35, three vans containing officers in riot gear pulled up at the rear of the march thus hemming it in. Tension rose as the officers left their vans and stood in the road. After twenty minutes these vehicles withdrew, but during the time that the march had been hemmed into this small space, considerable pressure had built up at the front. By this time there were three lines of officers across the road with arms interlinked, but shortly after 10.00 pm the police lines broke and a major scuffle took place. No batons or truncheons were used by police officers but demonstrators were pulled and punched and their banner poles were forcibly removed. One officer was observed jabbing a demonstrator with a banner pole. Mounted police were in attendance but were not used. When the police finally closed ranks, there were five serious injuries to demonstrators and one arrest. No police were injured. After 20 minutes the march returned the way it had come and the stewards attempted to lead the march to Wellclose Square via Thomas Moore Street. Again its path was blocked and several arrests were made.
Adrian Franklin Picture
Andrew Wiard Picture
When the march arrived at the gates of the News International plant the visible police presence was low. Precise estimates vary but what is clear is that large numbers of reinforcements were visible by about 7.30 pm, and most of the police who had been in ordinary uniform were being replaced by officers in riot gear (fireproof protective overalls and 'NATO style' helmets).
According to reports, many of these officers could not be identified as their overalls bore no numbers. Whilst all the helmets were clearly marked, it was apparent to observers that the same two numbers (5 and 25) were repeated on the helmet of every officer in riot gear. One witness counted a total of 17 unidentifiable police officers.
The 1986 Metropolitan Police Public Order Review goes some way towards explaining this. The report reveals that overalls and helmets "are often not personal issue equipment" and that they are distributed at random to ordinary uniformed officers during public order operations. This would make it difficult to ensure that equipment is marked with each officer's personal number.
But there has been no explanation for the apparent reluctance on the part of those officers whose uniforms were numbered to allow their identity to be known to the public. It is clear from the evidence received that some officers covered up or unfastened their epaulettes with the result that their rank and number were obscured.
Demonstrators who enquired about officers' identification say they met with a consistently hostile and obstructive response from police. This attitude caused considerable anxiety and was the subject of a number of complaints:
- Four separate witnesses complained that when they asked officers for their numbers they were verbally abused. One couple were threatened with arrest if they persisted in trying to ascertain the numbers of the two officers who had arrested their companion.
- A Legal Observer who challenged a group of officers without epaulette identification was told that all their numbers had been ripped off in a scuffle. She was adamant that there was no visible evidence of this.
- When Councillor John Bloom challenged a number of officers as to why they were collecting stones, he was assaulted by an officer whose number 'appeared to be blacked out'. This was corroborated by a solicitor present.
Complaints of this nature had become a feature of the dispute soon after the demonstrations first began. As long ago as May 1986 the South East Region of the TUC wrote to the Home Office pointing out the difficulty of making a complaint against an unidentifiable police officer.
The Home Office reply was clear:
"You have suggested that some officers at Wapping have not displayed identification numbers on their uniform. The Met Police Force General Orders require that personal identification should be worn by uniformed officers whenever they are on duty, including public order duty. Not to do so would be disobedience to orders which is a specific offence under the Police Discipline Regulations 1985 . . . The Commissioner has arranged for all Met Police officers to be reminded of the Force Order concerned. Any officer who wilfully neglects to wear personal identification or removes such identification will he dealt with in accordance with the disciplinary regulations."
Allegations have been made by many people present, including Legal Observers, stewards and MPs that police officers carrying canisters were spraying demonstrators with a red substance. On the continent police have used this technique of spraying coloured dye on demonstrators in order to identify and arrest them at a later stage, but this technique has not been sanctioned in Britain.
Two demonstrators described how they had been standing together for about an hour against a fence on the north side of The Highway opposite Virginia Street. As they turned to leave, their companions pointed out red marks on their clothing. On closer examination they realised there was a fine powdery spray covering one side of their clothing which later proved impossible to remove. They were unable to say exactly how it got there, but in the words of o ne of the statements, "we had spent the last hour facing police lines so I can only assume the dye was administered by the police".
Another demonstrator sent in a jacket he had been wearing "at the time when it was said the police were spraying people in Wellclose Street". Although he did not notice it until he had left the area, the jacket clearly shows a diffuse spray across the front and down one arm.
And in the course of an incident in 'Ivories Piano Bar', an attempt was made by an officer in riot gear to arrest two people at the bar for no apparent reason. The attempt failed but shortly afterwards one of them noticed a red mark down one leg of his jeans.
Newspaper reports originally confirmed the allegation that red dye had been sprayed by officers with green canisters on their backs:
"The police came well-equipped for trouble. They had the full panoply of anti-riot gear available and seemed inclined to se whatever was necessary. Several officers appeared to be spraying red dye on demonstrators in an effort to make them readily identifiable later".
SUNDAY TELEGRAPH, JANUARY 25th
Associated Press Picture
It is interesting to note that the last mniute correction to the caption which accompanied the above photograph when it was issued by the Press Association on Sunday 25th. It reads:
"CORRECTION: Please delete the phrase 'with a paint spray-gun attached to his back'... Police have denied that the canister on the officer's back was a painted spray-gun".
Confusion arose first as to what purpose these canisters served and secondly as to how so many demonstrators had found their clothes stained with dye. Depury Assistant commissioner Wyn Jones dismissed the allegations that police were spraying dye as "absolute rubbish". The official explanation came finally in the House of Commons. In response to a question by Jeremy Corbyn MP who was present at the demonstration, Douglas Hurd replied:"I hope that the Honourable Gentleman will let me have his evidence for the suggestion that the police used red dye... I understand that a tin of red paint was thrown by a demonstrator."
And later, when Tony benn MP who was laso present asked what chemical substances had been used by police, Douglas Hurd replied:
"The Commissioner informs me that when demonstrators attempted to set fire to a lorry some police officers used halon fire extinguishers. No other chemical substances were carried or used by his officers."
Written question number 121, HANSARD, 26/2/87.
According to the evidence we have received, there can be no doubt that a fire extinguisher was used shortly after the lorry was turned over.
Andew Wiard picture
However, witnesses state that this was a small hand-held item quite different from the back pack canisters for which there has so far been no explanation and which bear a striking resemblance to the new teargas spray gun shown below.
David Hoffman picture
The Haldane Society received a number of statements from people who say they witnessed individuals being sprayed with dye from 'cylinder guns' on the backs of uniformed police. Stephen John Molloy was taken to the SOGAT first aid bus with red spray all over his face. Two Legal Observers saw Mr Molloy immediately after he had been sprayed and attempted to assist in wiping his face. A large section of the crowd confirmed to them that the paint had come from a police officer on the north side of The Highway where there could have been no justification for the use of fire fighting equipment. Another witness was standing close to a scuffle when she saw an officer spray an 'X' on the back of one of the people involved. Some of the spray caught her glove which she sent in along with her statement. She described it as having a luminous quality and smelling of paraffin. In all we received four items of clothing from individuals who clearly had no connection with each other. The quality of the red markings on these garments appears to be quite inconsistent with the throwing of a tin of red paint. The colouring is diffuse and evenly distributed over comparatively large areas. Moreover, the individuals who submitted their clothing for inspection had been standing in different areas of the demonstration. None of their statements mentioned paint being thrown. An expert forensic report was finally requested by a solicitor acting for a client who claimed to have been sprayed prior to his arrest. The scientific analysis confirmed that the red markings on his shirt were not the result of stray drops of red paint, but were a form of dye containing a solvent.
Seven major complaints about police use of violence have emerged from our evidence. They are:
- That the police used their truncheons in an unnecessarily violent way, assaulting demonstrators at random and without warning;
- That horse charges were made without adequate warnings and at speed into an enclosed space in which demonstrators were taking shelter;
- That despite Home Office denials, officers on horseback did strike demonstrators with their batons during charges into the crowd;
- That riot police assaulted demonstrators with their shields;
- That journalists and press photographers were singled out for attack;
- That first aid vehicles containing injured demonstrators had their windows smashed by police.
We examine each of these allegations in turn.
Between 7.40 and 10.40 pm officers on foot made several charges into the crowd using a number of different formations. Most of those present concur in the view that few arrests were made, and that the aim of the charges seemed to be to cause panic which would encourage people to disperse. This appears to be borne out by the fact that out of at least 15,000 demonstrators, there were only 67 arrests.
Many of the statements describe how officers were hitting out indiscriminately at people who were either too slow to get out of the way or found their path blocked by other fleeing demonstrators.
Following the disturbances in Bristol, Brixton and Toxteth in 1981, the Association of Chief Police Officers issued the Public Tactical Options Manual, an internal document laying down guidelines for acceptable public order policing. Its overriding principle is that police officers should use no more force than is reasonable. The manual makes three major points in relation to truncheons:
- "Truncheons are supplied to police officers to protect themselves if violently attacked... [their use] is only to be resorted to in extreme cases when all other attempts to arrest have failed
- Where the truncheon is deemed unavoidable, its use must be reported to the officer in charge and the truncheon submitted for inspection.
- Truncheon blows, where necessary, "should be aimed at the arms, legs, and torso rather than at the head, "as these parts of the body are least likely to suffer serious injury."
Of the 28 injuries requiring treatment at one first aid post (the SOGAT bus), 19 were head injuries apparently attributable to truncheoning. A nurse from the Maudsley Hospital who was asked to assist on the bus described it as being "just head injury after head injury".
The following eye witness account describes the attack on a young woman who had been standing among a group of people on the pavement of Wellclose Street:
"I witnessed the riot squad charging across the road for what seemed no apparent reason. They charged the people who had the misfortune to be on the wrong side of the railings . . . they were hitting people over the head with their truncheons. I helped a girl who had been hit over the head twice one side then once the other. I and another girl managed to drag her across the railings and took her up to the bus for medical treatment. She was in a terrible state, bleeding from both sides of her head. I left her in the bus. I did not get the girl's name, she was unfortunately in no fit state to tell me."
As soon as the first aid assistants were able to ascertain her identity she was sent to St. Bartholomew's Hospital where the casualty department had been given over to injured demonstrators. The incident book from the first aid post records that she was bleeding from her left ear - the sign of a fractured skull.
Jason Gold Picture
Morning Star Picture
Solicitor John Bowden was seriously injured by a truncheon blow. He writes:
"I just had time to see a riot policeman raising his truncheon and the next thing I knew was that I had lost my glasses and that liquid was coming down my face... I was in pain... I realised that blood was pouring down my face and that something was wrong with my right eye area."
Mr Bowden had five stitches in the lacerations at the top of his nose. His face was swollen and painful for several weeks and he is still suffering from attacks of dizziness six months after the event.
John Sturrock Picture
In response to a parliamentary question by Tony Benn MP calling for the full dimensions and specifications of all authorised weapons, Douglas Hurd replied on behalf of the Home Office:
"1 understand from the Commissioner that normal truncheons were carried by foot officers... The truncheon is 15.5" long and weighs about 10 ounces".
Although the ACPO guidelines state quite categorically that "the unauthorised carrying of weapons other than the regulation issue truncheon is strictly forbidden", witnesses state that a number of different officers were carrying non-regulation lengths of rough wood. This is confirmed by a number of photographs.
John Sturrock Picture
Andrew Wiard Picture
Two statements describe an incident involving Mr David Driver who was arrested in The Highway when he tried to point out to nearby journalists an officer who was carrying a wooden stake. He was released without charge later on in the evening.
Forty seven horses and riders were assembled outside the plant and at 9.10 pm a charge of 35 mounted officers galloped from the entrance to Virginia Street, across The Highway and up into Wellclose Street. Shortly afterwards a second charge was made, this time along The Highway itself. Witnesses to these manoeuvres made a number of allegations which if correct, would amount to serious departures from the guidelines set out in the ACPO manual.
David Hoffman Picture
The first point which emerged from nearly all the statements we reviewed was that the charges took the demonstration by surprise. It is not clear whether any attempt was made to issue a prior warning, but any warning which was issued was not audible to the great majority of the demonstrators. Moreover, several witnesses reported that the powerful police spotlamps which had been shining into the crowd were switched off immediately before the first charge, leaving many people disoriented. If true, this would be contrary to both the spirit and the letter of the ACPO guidelines which stress the importance of giving demonstrators an opportunity to disperse, and specifically state that:
"A warning to the crowd should always be given before adopting mounted dispersal tactics."
The second and perhaps more serious criticism is the speed with which the horses entered the crowd. By 9.10 pm the bulk of the demonstration had already retreated and had been condensed into the Wellclose Square area. Instead of following the course recommended in the guidelines (that mounted officers should halt at a predetermined point before reaching the crowd) the horses galloped through the people assembled in Wellclose Street, without stopping until they reached the union buses.
Superintendent Peter Hayward, the senior mounted officer present explained the horses' speed in a press statement by saying that "in some circumstances where there is a tremendous amount of resistance, you won't achieve anything by moving slowly".
This explanation is not supported by the descriptions we received which stressed that by the time of the first mounted charge the crowd were posing no serious threat to police. And in view of the fact that the demonstration had become concentrated into a small enclosed area, it would seem to have been particularly dangerous to enter Wellclose Street at anything more than walking pace. In the words of the ACPO manual itself:
A generalisation can be made about all dispersal tactics of this nature; that they are only a viable option when the hostile crowd has somewhere to disperse to rapidly. It would be quite inappropriate to use such a manoeuvre against a densely packed crowd."
Some confusion has arisen over the authorisation of the use of batons by mounted police. The position of the Home Office was made clear by Douglas Hurd in answer to written question number 17 in Hansard Friday 13th February:
"Mounted officers carry two truncheons. One is three feet long and weighs 11b; the other is 12 inches long and weighs nine ounces... Some foot officers drew and used their truncheons but no mounted officers did so."
This statement was repeated on the 20th March in response to a letter of complaint from a Mrs P. Boatman who attended the demonstration. Replying on behalf of the Home Office, Mrs R. Smith wrote:
"The mounted officers entered the crowd at a canter. They did not draw or use their truncheons."
In direct contradiction to this the Haldane Society has received a number of statements from witnesses describing the horse charges and specifically referring to the use by mounted officers of truncheons and batons:
"The riot squad officers that had been standing in Wellclose Street moved out of the way and mounted police came charging out of Virginia Street. Their truncheons were drawn and demonstrators scattered."
Press Association Picture
The ACPO guidelines clearly state that both long and short shields are intended to be used only as protection against missiles. They go on to prescribe the use of short shields (when missiles are being thrown) in order to achieve one or more of three possible objectives. These objectives are:
- To provide protection for supervising officers in charge of long shield units:
- To provide protection for fast-moving arrests squads;
- To provide protection for fast-moving dispersal squads.
A number of reports were received which describe demonstrators on the anniversary demonstration being subjected to assaults in the course of which police officers used both types of shield as offensive weapons. One report described the activities of a particular officer who was observed to strike several stationary demonstrators on The Highway using the edge as well as the centre portion of his round shield.
Photographer Andrew Moore was hit about the head with a shield. Another demonstrator was treated for severe cuts to her right cheek, having had a short shield pushed into her face. But perhaps the clearest illustration comes from NUJ member David Hoffman:
"While standing in The Highway, I saw a line of long shield police drawn up in the road parallel to a line of demonstrators. At this time there were no missiles being thrown and no other attacks on the police taking place. Without apparent warning or reason I saw a police officer in the line suddenly bring down his shield hard on the heads of demonstrators standing in front of him. Other officers near him stepped forward and attacked the demonstrators with their truncheons. I took a photograph showing this."
David Hoffman Picture
The role of the press as recorders and reporters of public demonstrations has often meant that journalists and photographers are particularly at risk when tension rises. Photographers in particular are easily identified and often attract hostility from both demonstrators and police. The film they shoot is all the more important as it is sometimes the only indisputable record of events.
Award-winning BBC reporter Kate Adie was hit by a truncheon whilst she was surrounded by her film crew. The BBC lodged an official complaint and the incident straight away drew public attention to police violence and the possibility that in some cases it was deliberately aimed at particular individuals. This view was reinforced by the disproportionate number of press photographers who complained of intimidation and assault by the police.
By the end of the evening nine photographers had received hospital treatment; at least two others were treated at first aid posts. Among the most seriously injured were photographers Ernie Greenwood and Derek Hudson. Mr Hudson, who was working for a French news agency, was knocked unconscious by police. Mr Greenwood, resident photographer at the Morning Star, was knocked over during a mounted charge; his arm was broken when he was caught under the back legs of a police horse.
Adrian Franklin Picture
Complaints alleged that:
- Photographers were continually harassed and physically assaulted when attempting to take pictures of police activity.
- Equipment was knocked from their hands and in some cases deliberately damaged. Lights and flashguns were broken by truncheon blows.
- Attempts were made to prevent photographers from taking pictures by shining bright lights directly at them and spraying liquids onto their camera lenses.
Photographer attempts to protect himself against a police officer - Adrian Franklin Picture
The Haldane Society received statements from 13 press photographers each one complaining of police attacks on themselves or their colleagues. The following are some extracts:
"Shortly after the lorry was turned over a real charge took place and I noticed that a number of officers headed straight for photographers and set about them. The photographer standing next to me was attacked and his camera smashed by a single accurately-aimed truncheon blow... On at least three occasions I and other photographers were chased by the police with truncheons who were deliberately preventing us from photographing other officers indiscriminately truncheoning demonstrators."
JOHN STURROCK, NUJ FREELANCE BRANCH
"I saw a number of attempts by police to prevent photographers and TV crews working. In the first charge I saw a film cameraman arrested. An officer... repeatedly shone a bright spotlamp on me whenever I attempted to take pictures of his unit; twice he shouted 'Fuck Off!' at me. An officer with the shield serial sprayed his fire extinguisher directly at a female photographer in an attempt to blind the camera."
JEREMY NICHOLL, THE INDEPENDENT
Independent photographer Jeremy Nicholl - Andrew Wiard photograph
"I carried on working and at about 9 pm I was bundled by a snatch squad against the fence on the north side of The Highway and had, with considerable force, a short (round) shield thrust into my face. This resulted in abrasions to my nose and forehead. Again no attempt was made to arrest me. This and the previous incident seemed designed to prevent me or discourage me from taking pictures. .. It seems the Metropolitan Police force will no longer tolerate photographers being present when their members are at work."
ANDREW MOORE, NUJ FREELANCE BRANCH
During the year-long dispute mounting concern was expressed over reports such as these. The BBC and ITN lodged official complaints with the Police Complaints Authority and immediately after the 24th January the Independent turned down a request to hand unpublished pictures to the Home Office on the grounds that "it would make the lives of photographers even more dangerous". Then on the 4th February the newspaper carried an article entitled "Pictures that tell a story", alleging that press photographers and film crews had been "singled out for
Freelance photographer Andrew Moore under a police officer - Frame photographers
attack by the police during a year of demonstrations at Wapping". The article went on, "Television crews say they are treated with hostility... photographers say it is standard police practice to grab flash guns."
The NUJ received a number of complaints from their members and on the 6th February issued the following press statement:
"The suppression of press freedom in Britain is no longer a threat but a reality. Police attacks on working journalists have reached a level where journalists are being prevented from doing their job. Within the past month our members have been physically assaulted by Metropolitan Police Officers. We believe these assaults were a calculated attempt to prevent journalists from recording how demonstrators at Wapping were beaten by police when exercising their lawful right to demonstrate . . . We repeat our demand for a public enquiry to be held into the policing of the demonstration at Wapping on the 24th January.
At the press conference on the 25th January, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Wyn Jones strenuously denied that there was any concerted effort to put cameras out of action. He said there could be "no justification- if attacks on press photographers had taken place. In his own words:
"I would not condone it and I would actively condemn it."
From the beginning of the evening an ambulance was stationed at Wellclose Square Gardens but when it proved inadequate to cope with the numbers of injured demonstrators, stewards arranged for the SOGAT double decker bus to be converted into a temporary first aid post to cope with the overspill. People with injuries were brought to the bus where their wounds were dressed by volunteers with first aid training. They were then transferred to the ambulance which ferried them to St. Bartholomew's Hospital.
According to our evidence there can be no doubt that during the baton and horse charges into the Wellclose Square area, both these vehicles were subjected to violent attacks.
Patients, nurses and bystanders described how mounted police sin-rounded the bus and smashed the rear and front windows with batons. These witnesses state that shortly afterwards a further charge, this time by foot officers, cleared the area of demonstrators and created a 'siege' around the bus. Injured people and stewards were allegedly prevented from entering or leaving for a period of about forty minutes, between 9.20 and 10 pm.
During the time that the bus was surrounded by foot police, the nearside windows were struck from ground level causing the glass to splinter inwards. In all £480 worth of damage was caused. The final entry in the incident book kept on the bus was made during the course of this 'siege':
"The time is now approaching 10 pm I am on the top deck of the bus and can see the police charging up Wellclose Street hitting anyone and everyone in sight. They are now smashing the windows of the bus. The children are screaming andI find it all rather terrifying. I do not think I am going to be able to stay in here much longer because it feels like the bus is closing in on me. The ambulance men are unable to reach the bus to take our injured away because of the police presence all around the bus."
One of the first aid assistants told us that when he leant out of the bus in an attempt to persuade the nearest mounted officer to clear a passage, the officer concerned slammed the door shut, trapping his shoulder. And a nurse from the Maudsley Hospital described the inside of the bus as "absolute chaos". She went on:
"I was looking after one woman with a gaping wound in her skull who was already extremely distressed. Suddenly the windows were being smashed in. I just flung myself over her and hoped."
SOGAT NEC member Bill Freeman witnessed these events from the outside. He described the scene in the following way:
"The police were battering the bus, the NGA caravan, and dragging people out of the Portacabin toilets. On the bus I could hear screaming almost all of the time that the police were swirling around it, beating on the windows with their truncheons. . . Later, when I went onto the bus I found children cowering under the tables and seats on the bus, still sobbing and in a state of fear and panic."
In a separate incident, in Ensign Street, the ambulance itself was surrounded by police. At the time it was apparently full and was about to depart. One of the patients described what happened:
"The two ambulance attendants were alarmed and shouted to each other 'secure the doors'. The doors were then secured from the inside and locked while all around us a load of riot police, from what I could gather inside the ambulance, appeared to be buffeting the vehicle. It was senseless and pointless. They milled around the ambulance for some time."
On the 11th February, in reply to a written question from Tony Banks MP, Douglas Hurd stated that there were four plain clothes police officers on duty in the vicinity of the demonstration. The Haldane Society is not in a position to comment on this, although a number of largely unconfirmed reports were received from demonstrators who noticed that some of the people mingling with the crowd were assisting police in arresting their fellow demonstrators.
Two legal observers noted a white police van parked in a side street containing eight men in jeans and anoraks who were clearly not under arrest. The doors of the vehicle were open and no uniformed officers were in attendance.
In addition to plain clothes officers, video cameras were mounted on nearby buildings and used in conjunction with powerful spotlamps. The Home Office have stated that three such cameras were used and that two premises adjacent to the News International plant were made available to the police for the purpose.
David Hoffman Picture
On the 3rd February the following written question and answer appeared in Hansard under the heading Wapping (Public Houses):
"Mr Leighton asked the Secretary of State for the Horne Department if he will call for a report from the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis as to why public houses in Wapping were raided by the police on the evening of 24th January. Mr Douglas Hurd: The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis tells me that there were no such raids."
From the reports we received it seems to he beyond question that between 10 pm and 11 pm police officers wearing riot gear entered four local public houses: 'The Brown Bear', 'The Prospect of Whitby', 'Ivories Piano Bar' and 'The Artful Dodger'. It may well be that the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police do not classify these incidents as 'raids' but there is certainly evidence to suggest that having entered the premises some officers assaulted customers and made arrests. To this extent at least the reply is misleading. At 11.04 a sizeable group of officers in riot gear entered 'The Brown Bear', and stood at one end of the crowded bar. They apparently began pushing a group of customers and then forcibly arrested four of them. Two of those arrested made statements which they sent to the Haldane Society describ-ing how they were pushed outside and bundled into a waiting police van. One of these men described how he was pinned down in the back of the van with his neck forcibly stretched backwards whilst a police officer pulled at his hair. Another man arrested at the same time was apparently thrown against the outside of the stationary van. In a separate incident a young man described how his companion had been chased by a police officer through 'Ivories Piano Bar'. The Bar was crowded and in the course of the chase a table was overturned and glasses were broken. The officer left when he was unable to effect arrest, but returned shortly afterwards with two other officers and proceeded *.o point out a number of people whose clothing had been stained red.
This has been a shocking report. The testimony from which it is drawn came from the victims of, and witnesses to, a concerted police action at the end of an entirely peaceful march. It presents a picture of squads of riot police, backed by mounted officers, charging indiscriminately into a penned-in crowd, striking out with truncheons and causing many injuries, especially to the head.
The witnesses included legal observers, first aid assistants and journalists. Many features of their testimony are confirmed by photographs: the use of special overalls which carry no identifying number; the targeting of photographers for attack; and the smashing of the windows of a first aid bus.
The contemporaneous record of a first aid worker reads like a diary of the Red Cross in wartime.
"They are now smashing the windows of the bus. The children are screaming. . The ambulance men are unable to reach the bus to take our injured because of the police presence all around the bus."
The irresistible suspicion which has to be voiced on reading the whole report is that the police commanders who planned the strategy used on January 24th 1987 saw it as a military operation against an enemy, not as a public order exercise in which the civil right to assemble peacefully had to be balanced against the need to deal with violence.
There was, as the report does not seek to avoid, an initial show of violence from a small number of people who threw missiles and overturned a lorry. We know not who they were. Were they elements of the ultra-left? Or agents provocateurs? Given the evident preparations of the police to crush the demonstration, I do not rule out the possibility of deliberate provocation. The infiltration of agents provocateurs is almost impossible to prove. Protest organisers in future will have to make plans to deal with disruption of this sort, if necessary, by having stewards make citizens' arrests. If the disrupters are supporters of the demonstration, they must be controlled. If they are agents of the authorities, they must be exposed.
Faced with these acts of violence, the response of the police was apparently not to try and arrest those responsible, but to treat the whole crowd as a hostile force to be attacked and dispersed. That is the hallmark of a military, as opposed to a policing, operation. For in a military operation, civil liberties and the rights of the innocent are swept aside. In a policing operation, the judgements to be made must as far as possible protect the rights of all concerned, protestors as well as police, SOGAT and NGA as well as Murdoch.
This is the menacing implication of this report. When one matches the methods used at Wapping with the Orgreave operation in 1984, and recalls Mrs Thatcher's call to defeat 'the enemy within', the aim of the authorities seems to be clear: to defeat industrial protest at all costs, and thereby to give employers the licence to act as they please.
There is certainly a case to answer. It is not just a case of individual acts of police lawlessness. Those were serious enough, and we await the outcome of the investigations of 35 individual complaints, being carried out by the Northamptonshire Police under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority. These will once again be test cases for the credibility of the PCA. In the Broadwater Farm Report we concluded that the PCA, in its report on the death of Mrs Jarrett, had totally failed to uphold the standards of police conduct which reasonable member of the public expect. I have little confidence in the capacity of the present PCA members to improve their so far dismal record.
The case is rather against the leadership of the Metropolitan Police, that they have decided to use the tactics of war against any who may exercise the right to protest against the injustices of our present society.
It may be said that this conclusion is based on a 'one-sided' report. Inevitably that is so, because the other 'side' refuse to subject themselves to any form of public scrutiny. All concerned in the march of January 24th have called for a public inquiry in which all parties can appear and be questioned. The Home Secretary, although he has the power, has refused to set up such an inquiry.
I feel a sense of deep anger on reading the bland responses of Mr Douglas Hurd to complaints made by MP's about the Wapping events. He acted not as police authority but as police mouthpiece. He showed not a hint of concern to inquire impartially into the truth of such serious allegations.
Yet police actions of this kind are loaded with danger, both to individuals and to our society. Individuals can be killed by truncheon blows to the head. We remember with sadness Blair Peach, killed by a Special Patrol Group squad in another protest-crushing operation in Southall in April 1979.
In the filed of social services, where there is the death of a child, the elected authority at once takes on responsibility to hold an independent inquiry, to probe the reasons for the tragedy, and to see what lessons can be learned.
But no-one takes responsibility for investigating the misconduct of the Metropolitan Police. The PCA deals only with particular complaints. MP's complaints meet a Home Office brick wall. Above all there is no authority elected by Londoners through which the police can be called to account.
So until a change in the law takes place, there is no alternative to the holding of citizens' inquiries. They have a valuable role in putting the truth on record and providing a channel for the exposure of grievances. The NCCL inquiry 'Southall 1979', the Broadwater Farm Inquiry, and many other similar reports, have served to keep the conscience of the country alive to the menace of over-weening police power.
This report by the Haldane Society, although necessarily on a smaller scale, stands in the same tradition. The case which it presents is supported by powerful testimony. It must be answered, one day, by those who have authority over the police. Meanwhile it must be answered by the determination of us all to defend our damaged civil liberties from such an attack as occurred on 24th January 1987 in the streets of Wapping.
Tony Gifford QC