First this, from F for Philistine:
UK Uncut protested today [January 30] at Boots, who avoided a £87m tax bill last year by relocating their head offices to Switzerland. Protesters were today handing out leaflets, and occupying the store since the news of Boots’ tax-dodging comes at the same time as we hear of massive cuts (sorry, restructuring) to the NHS.
The protest was peaceful, and good-natured. Several shoppers joined the demonstration, and once we left the store to hand out leaflets on the street, passers-by were wishing us well and cheering us on. One woman marched up to the manager of Boots and asked “Is this true?” waving a leaflet in his face. He shrugged and told her, unfortunately, it was, but it wasn’t a decision he was involved in. I chatted to a Community Support Officer about his bike (it’s far superior to mine), and we spoke to the manager of Boots as well: there wasn’t any ill-will about.
Then, as I was stood next to the locked automatic doors, I noticed that a police officer was asking a woman to remove a number of leaflets she’d placed in the gap between the door. The woman asked why she was being asked to do so. The policewoman initially said “Littering” then claimed it was criminal damage. At this point the woman objected to being touched on the arm by the policewoman. A number of people started taking photos of the exchange, then she was arrested by two officers who led her towards a thoroughfare next to Boots.
A number of protesters followed to keep an eye on the situation, chanting “Shame On You”. At this point, one of the officers, CW2440, used CS gas on a number of protesters nearby. I decided to film from a distance, rather than follow, as can be seen in the footage below:
I saw at least 7 people who had been sprayed in the eyes including a journalist, with three men particularly badly affected. One protesters had contact lenses in, which reacted with the spray. If you’ve never been tear-gassed before, it’s horrific. You can’t see, you’re in extreme amounts of pain, and massively panicked by the fact that you have no clue where you are, or who is around you. I called an ambulance, who confirmed they’d be there as soon as possible. At this point, three police officers with slightly different uniforms arrived at the scene: Legal Observers later told me they were Diplomatic Police, and definitely had tasers, though may also have been armed. Boots staff were shocked by the scenes, and an optician and first aid team inside offered to help those injured. The ambulance arrived soon afterwards, and took the three worst affected inside, initially thinking they could treat them in the ambulance. After 15 minutes, they confirmed they’d be taking them to hospital. A police officer then started speaking to us, informing us of how to make a complaint, asked us if we had the contact details of those injured then told us the number of the officer who’d used CS gas. Another officer later came over to a legal observer I was talking to and confirmed that Officer CW2440 had been the one to use gas on the protesters. I’ve never seen police officers offer up this type of information before, though am happy to be corrected.
It was a hugely jarring thing to witness, and I wasn’t affected. The policing was initially calm, and hands-off then suddenly became massively over zealous. That CS gas was used on one of the busiest streets in London in response to people simply chanting is terrifying. I’ve often thought criticism of the police can be a little unproductive, but today has made me think otherwise.
Well, that is all very nice, but what does it mean? Fortunately, the UK, like any other largish country with a proud tradition of democracy, has lots of experts on hand to defog our brains when nasty people try to hand us leaflets in high street shops. Like this blue-ribbon panel of well-spoken chaps in suits, who reveal that it is the Trotskyists who are to blame and make helpful suggestions on how to crush the current Red Menace:
Here is how the think thank responsible for convening this panel in its “Ideas Space” described it and the distinguished panelists:
There are increasing signs that significant sections of the extreme left have little intention of confining their opposition to Coalition policies to peaceful, democratic protest. In recent weeks we have seen riots over student tuition fees, the forcible closure of high street stores by flashmobs and also growing demands for industrial action to undermine the Coalition administration, including from the leader of Britain’s biggest trade union.
Do these actions portend a dangerous new trend towards the use of physical force? If so, what can and should be done to prevent this phenomenon becoming a regular feature of the national landscape?
Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM – former Head of the Counter Terrorism Command and former Borough Commander in Brixton during the 1995 riots
Rt Hon David Maclean – former Minister of State at the Home Office and Parliamentary Adviser to the Police Superintendents Association
Paul Mercer – UK’s pre-eminent expert on extremist groups and author, Longman’s Directory of British Political Organisations
Henry Robinson – Anti Terrorist community and street activist and former Irish republican prisoner
Editor’s Note. Thanks to Comrade E. and Sons of Malcolm for the heads-up.