This independent report by the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) is based on testimony gathered between 28 October and 3 November 2019 from protesters who took part in Extinction Rebellion protests in October 2019. It also draws on additional information shared primarily by XR Legal Support and by independent legal observers. In total, Netpol assessed 521 reported incidents concerning potential abuses of police powers and 150 individual statements.
A sample of 29 incidents illustrating the range of concerns we received are included in Appendix 1 of this report.
The key findings of the report are as follows:
The use of Section 14 powers was not just unlawful in the way they were imposed, but also disproportionate and unreasonable
The misuse of powers intended to limit protests gave the impression to officers on the ground that all protests were banned, providing the justification for the misuse of other powers to “prevent crime”. It is likely to have had a “chilling effect” on rights to freedom of expression and assembly, by making some individuals fearful of arrest simply for associating with the movement they supported.
The police were far more interested in preventing protest than in facilitating it
There appeared a minimal intention of balancing the right to freedom of assembly with any disruption of the community and the barrage of negative commentary from the most senior levels of the Metropolitan Police is likely to have influenced the alleged misconduct that is documented in this report.
Aggression and violence in making arrests was wholly unjustifiable
All too often, far more than a minimum level of force was used to make arrests of protesters who had made a very public commitment to non-violence and to complying with arrests.
By failing to meet the needs of disabled protesters, the police systematically discriminated against them
The number of complaints from disabled protesters and condemnation of the Metropolitan Police’s own disability advisors demand an urgent review of how the police facilitate disabled people’s right to protest and how disabled people are treated on arrest.
By criminalising all XR protesters, the police delegitimised them as citizens with rights
The zero tolerance of any disruptive protest adopted by the police led to the perception of all XR supporters as “criminals”, who were judged not by their individual actions, but by their association with an “illegal” movement. This delegitimisation included the abuse of stop and search powers and confiscation and destruction of protesters’ property
“No surprises policing” seems to have been largely abandoned
Rather than avoiding surprises, the policing operation caused confusion and alarm amongst protesters and despite XR’s commitment to regular liaison with the police, it often found itself trying to engage in dialogue that was largely one-way, with officers who were not acting in good faith.