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Viewpoint: the Braverman betrayal

Chris Hobbs, who has been following a significant number of protests by different groups in London for Police Oracle since the pandemic, challenges the Home Secretary's narrative of 'police bias'.

Viewpoint: the Braverman betrayal

Date - 10th November 2023
By - Chris Hobbs
6 Comments 6 Comments}

In Trafalgar Square on a pleasant afternoon my curiosity was aroused by the presence of several thousand individuals, many waving Cross of St. George and Union flags. I quickly gleaned that they were gathering for a short march down Whitehall where there would be a Tommy Robinson rally.

Curious, I walked down Whitehall and paused by the gates of Downing Street. Almost adjacent to those gates was a stage in the exact position of ‘that stage’ which caused controversy recently because of its proximity to the Cenotaph.

Suddenly the crowd could be seen coming down Whitehall. To my surprise those at the head of the march ignored the stage and made straight for the steel barriers in front of those Downing Street gates. Surprise turned to astonishment as they pulled at barriers and attacked the bewildered half a dozen officers who were standing there.

Luckily further officers were close-by and rushed to assist, while, in fairness, appeals came from the stage by an individual who was regarded as Tommy Robinson’s deputy. The mob did desist but spent the rest of the rally leaning over the barriers hurling abuse at officers.

At the end of the rally, there was disorder around Trafalgar Square where officers were pelted with missiles.

This was my first direct experience of the ‘new’ far-right although I’d previously seen the EDL ‘in action,’ on television news programmes. These are the groups that the Home Secretary claims are treated less favourably and more robustly than the Palestinian protesters.

Over more recent years, the far-right have faded from the political scene. Recent protests in respect of those arriving by boat and a ‘protect the statues’ gathering at the start of the Palestinian/Israeli attracted meagre support.

The call, in respect of this weekend, from those described as far-right, is for dignified protests. Again, in fairness, it should be said that the first protest of the Football Lads Alliance, against terrorism and extremism, was extremely dignified and peaceful. However, the FLA become subsumed by the DFLA (stick Democratic in front of the FLA) which became synonymous with attacks on police to the extent that even its officials seemed frustrated by the perpetual resort to violence.

In any event, the crisis and the proposal to stage a massive march on the 11th of November has, at a stroke, revitalised the far-right and indeed angered many others who share the Prime Minister’s view that the timing of such a protest is ‘disrespectful.’

Stinging criticism of the Met’s public order policing.

Suella Braverman appears to briefly criticise the far-right in her article written for the Times newspaper this week but then accuses police of being too tough on football fans; a claim backed up by the football ‘lads,’ who, of course are identical to those being ‘called up,’ for the weekend and identical to those who were active during violent Democratic Football Lads protests. EDL protests also attracted a significant number of ‘football lads.’ One feature of EDL and DFLA protests was that they almost invariably attracted a counter-protest from the anti-racist left.

As, at football, police invariably stood between the two sides it seemed that the EDL/DFLA felt almost honour bound to break through those police lines to attack their ANTIFA linked rivals. That isn’t to say ANTIFA are totally blameless.’ On one occasion in Parliament Square, hooded and masked, they attacked a couple of ‘football lads,’ who’d wandered away from the main protest. That was a serious error as also in Parliament were other groups of football lads and Antifa, somewhat sheepishly, ended up sheltering behind a police cordon (below).

It seems lost on the Home Secretary that police performing duty at football matches are there because one group of hooligans frequently seek to attack hooligans and indeed decent supporters from rival teams. The higher risk the game, the more officers are deployed. Is she so out of touch that she cannot see the dangers of ‘light touch’ policing when it comes to certain fixtures?

Covid protests

Her comments in respect of protests which took place during the Covid pandemic appear to ignore the fact that police had to deal with a complex, ever changing web of new laws and rules.  Like other 999 services, they not only had to crew with potential colleague Covid carriers, but were spat at, coughed on and bitten on numerous occasions: 

As for the treatment of anti-Lockdown protesters, she has clearly relied on the usual social media distortions of reality. During the height of the anti-Lockdown protests, most participating were genuine decent participants but this controversial issue also attracted a significant number of violent individuals who now had a cause; some were from the far-right. On several occasions, the decent protesters actually formed a protective line in front of officers to prevent attacks (see below). During one incident, again in front of the Downing Street gates, officers behind the steel barriers were attacked by anti-Lockdown thugs. Other anti-lockdown protesters tried to form a protective line in front of the barriers but were quite savagely attacked. A couple of individuals went down and dangerous kicks were aimed their heads.

On another occasion, after a protest and as darkness fell in Hyde Park, an illegal sound system was set up thus precipitating a rave. Again, police moved in, not with any undue force, to shut it down. Those officers were attacked with several suffering injuries. The Home Secretary made no mention of this or other intimidatory actions such as the ‘storming’ of Westfield in Shepherds Bush which terrified shoppers especially those with children.

One tactic used early by anti-Lockdown protesters, on seeing any sort of cordon or police line being established, was to swarm it and get into the faces of officers by hurling abuse and threats. This, unsurprisingly, occasionally provoked a reaction.

Soft on BLM

The Home Secretary also suggested that the Met was ‘soft,’ on BLM protests and mentioned that usual far right chestnut of officers ‘taking the knee.’ Whilst obeying the lockdown rules during this period, I monitored this brief phenomenon and estimate that after the death of George Floyd, there were between 30 and 40 officers out of some 120,000 who made that gesture. It soon stopped after that violent protest in Whitehall.

While most George Floyd-linked protests were peaceful, the one in Whitehall was not with 17 officers injured including a female mounted PC who came off her horse in the most horrific circumstances during the violence. No mention by the Home Secretary either of the horrendous abuse suffered by black officers on that and subsequent days.

Of course, no police commanders wanted a repeat of 2011 and that this was avoided during an emotive period, shoul evoke praise rather than criticism.

Meeting the threshold

The placing of the Commissioner on the naughty step by the Prime Minister and Home Secretary for not finding an excuse to ban tomorrow’s protest has attracted comment and criticism even from those not normally supportive of police.

As was pointed out to me by a former officer who spent many years in the public order branch, the threshold for such a ban was not reached simply because of chanted slogans or perceived support for a terror organisation. The threshold would involve the real possibility that, based on evidence and intelligence, the level of violence would involve issues such as petrol bombs, looting, burning vehicles and buildings and a real threat to life; in other words, similar scenarios to Brixton, Tottenham and the subsequent riots of 2011 or the poll tax riot.

Thus far, pro-Palestinian protests have seen some scuffles with police together with arrests and chanting some of which is controversial and a potential ‘gravy train,’ for sections of the legal profession. I personally, having observed most of the London protests, have heard a ‘jihad’ chant once during a damp mid-week rally in Whitehall. The ‘From the river to the sea,’ frequently heard mantra is open to numerous interpretations which would not have a chance of getting beyond the CPS and into a court with a jury.

Whilst there is an argument, that to protest and distract from Remembrance events is, to quote the Prime Minister, disrespectful, as has been pointed out, this still doesn’t meet the threshold of banning the march.

The debate has unquestionably promoted the revival of the previously moribund far-right. The ‘protection,’ of the Cenotaph during the past two protests has attracted no more than 30 self-styled patriots on each occasion. Those tiny numbers are unlikely to be replicated at the weekend and a massively increased far- right presence does increase the possibility of disorder.

Even if the Commissioner can justify a ban at this late stage, what effect would it have? Thousands would still probably attend the Palestinian protest in a way that would be both unstructured, chaotic and potentially dangerous. Equally it’s unlikely that those on the right would simply shrug their shoulders and conclude that the Cenotaph didn’t need protecting after all. One key aspect of any policing operation in whatever circumstances, will be to keep the rival factions apart; rather like policing ‘football lads!’

There is palpable anger amongst the overwhelming majority of the police community at all levels, If there is major disorder this weekend, and I serioulsy hope not, the fact that the Home Secretary has been fanning the flames with her rhetoric and was prepared to compromise the safety of officers will be regarded as a betrayal not to be forgiven.

Chris Hobbs is a former Special Branch officer 

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paul webb - Mon, 13 November 2023

Looking forward to the report on the day's proceedings.
On the face of it the right wing lunatics got dealt with in a very firm and robust manner.
Not so sure how the other lot were policed, be interesting to see it from Mr Hobbs view