Student fee protests – kettle cops ‘had flawed intelligence’

Friday, 8th July 2011

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FLAWED intelligence meant police chiefs were unaware that hundreds of children would walk out of Westminster schools and join large-scale student fees protests in central London, a court has heard.

Due to the information officers received, youngsters taking part in  November’s action – some as young as 11 – were treated like adults and “kettled” for up to 10 hours on Whitehall with no food or water in freezing temperatures.

The use of the police containment tactic has been challenged at the High Court in a potentially landmark legal action brought by three school pupils.

They are demanding rules are put in place to ensure under-18s are released from closed kettles. 

Met Police barrister Ivan Hare told the court this week that police had no idea that so many schoolchildren would  join the protest against cuts to support grants and increasing tuition fees.

“There was no specific intelligence that any school would take part in the protest,” he said. “There was no notification from any school that pupils would attend.”

Mr Hare said school liaison officers had been asked to “feed intelligence” to the Met about whether pupils were leaving Westminster schools but that “no specific information emerg­ed from this”. 

He added: “It can only be right that the welfare of children can be taken into account if there is a trigger. We had no intelligence. There was no trigger.”

The court heard that Pimlico Academy had informed police that pupils would not attend the protest.

But many did go and join in as hundreds flooded out of Westminster schools in a massive upsurge of teenage rebellion against government proposals to treble university fees.

The action had been widely publicised on Facebook and Twitter and parents had written letters to headteachers requesting permission for their children to leave school that day.

Adam Castle and his friend Sam Eaton, both 16-year-old pupils at Acland Burghley School in Camden, and Adam’s sister Rosie, 14, from Camden School for Girls, are taking the legal action after they took part in the protest. They say they were restrained in a police kettle for nine hours on Whitehall.

The High Court heard details from police officers’ log books that “a large group of school kids” were in the kettle, but there were problems identifying them because they had no uniforms on.

The teenagers’ barrister, Martin Westgate QC, said the kettle was unlawful because the Met had no release plan for children.

He added: “They had not thought about it at all.”

Mr Westgate told the court it was not necessary to keep children in containment but it was necessary to have a rule on procedures.

In response Mr Hare said that the protests had descended into “serious criminality” with fires blazing, a police carrier “destroyed” and scaffolding clips “thrown at the heads of police officers”. He said that, if released, teenagers were likely to double back and cause trouble elsewhere. Police did not need a special plan for kettling children, he added, as all officers were already properly trained in containing “vulnerable” people and child protection.

Mr Hare added: “Police know that containment captures people who are going about their business entirely lawfully. Some are exercising their right to protest and some may be children. Unless it is found that containment is unlawful, then we must accept that it may follow that it is indiscriminate who is captured.”

Lord Justice Christopher Pitchford said he would reserve his judgement until early September at the earliest.

Published: 08 July 2011
by TOM FOOT

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