The heavy iron door slammed behind me. Something about the situation seemed familiar. A woman police constable turned and faced me: “I’m arresting you for breaching your bail conditions. You’ll be held here overnight and taken to Hemel Hempstead in the morning.” I was in shock.
I started to explain how I had to attend the High Court on the same day as my plea hearing for the Afghan die-in arrest, and I had written to inform the magistrates court of the clash. I started waving around documentation.
The desk sergeant didn’t even pause: “There’s a warrant out for your arrest. It’s nothing to do with us. Tell it to the court tomorrow.” I wouldn’t be home for dinner.
After a few minutes of denial, shock, anger and frustration, I tried to think positively and practically. How was I going to rearrange my work in just one phone call? After all other numbers failed to yield a response I had no other option: “Hi Mum. It’s really no big deal but I’ve kinda been arrested.…”
I was led to the end of the corridor and into a small prison cell which contained a toilet and a thin blue mattress. I sat on the bed and stared blankly at the wall, hating every second of the experience. After a while I pressed the buzzer on the intercom to request another phone call to sort out my work situation. “No.” I was beginning to feel enraged and trapped as time seemed to slow down.
Around an hour later a guy was brought in who I assume was coming off drugs. I’ve never heard such screams of pain. My mind turned to Baha Mousa, the Iraqi hotel receptionist who was arrested, imprisoned and tortured to death over a period of 43 hours by British troops in Basra.
I had recently been to a memorial lecture for Baha which went into a lot of depth about his last hours of life; how he had endured 94 wounds to his body, how he had screamed for his life and begged for the hood covering his head to be removed as he could feel himself dying.
When I woke it was early morning. My cell door was unlocked and Jan, a pleasant middle-aged Serco security guard with black frizzy hair, greeted me. After a physical search my wrists were handcuffed and then handcuffed to hers as she led me out to the van.
I felt jubilant to be on my way, I was almost buzzing with excitement as I climbed into the van. Jan turned to me: “We call this the sweat box”. It was a cubicle with a fitted plastic seat and a small window. Jan went on to explain that bags were available if I needed the loo or felt sick and that there was also air conditioning if I wanted.
I’d been in custody for nearly 22 hours. I’d hardly eaten. I stood in the dock in Hemel Hempstead looking really grumpy. The clerk was threatening to keep me in police custody until I gave my date of birth.
I explained how being forced to give personal details which were not a legal requirement was an erosion of civil liberties and a reversal of the relationship between the state and the individual, but the thought of further imprisonment made me tell all.
I then pleaded not guilty to breaking the law by lying in the road. The duty solicitor came over: “Were you at the event? Did you break the police cordon? Well, then you’re guilty”.
I was taken back downstairs. I was the last person left and the guards were in a hurry. I was given a rail pass and expelled into a suburban motorway maze.
I wandered along in a daze with my transparent plastic bag of belongings. It started to rain as I trundled down a busy road that I hoped led to a train station. Tears poured down my cheeks uncontrollably and I felt dehydrated from crying so much. I sat on the train in a state of shock.