Somerset and Avon police and the Metropolitan police have been heavily criticised by an group of MPs for their handling of ‘Kill the Bill’ demonstrations in Bristol in late March and the Sarah Everard vigil in south London on 13 March.
The all-party parliamentary group on democracy and the constitution also condemned the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill, the focus of the ‘Kill the Bill’ campaign.
In a report published on 1 July, the group of MPs found that ‘the police use of coercive powers appears to have exacerbated tensions and increased the risk of violence’ in Bristol and London.
Blading seated protesters
They also judged that ‘blading’ against ‘seated or prone individuals’ by police officers in Bristol ‘may amount to criminal offences against the person’.
‘Blading’ is the ‘use of strikes with the thin edge of square riot shields’. The MPs noted that ‘the balance of evidence suggests that those seated or prone did not present any threat to officers’.
The report also argues that fundamental rights were breached by the ‘failure’ of the police to provide ‘transparency and clarity’ about how lockdown rules would be enforced in relation to peaceful protest.
Both the Metropolitan police and the Somerset and Avon police had ‘failed to understand their legal duties in respect of protest’.
Labour MP Geraint Davies, who chaired the inquiry, commented: ‘The police must not become the enforcement agency of the state against those who choose to publicly and collectively call for change – political, economic, social or environmental.’ He added that the right to peaceful protest ‘must be supported not suppressed by the law’.
Kill the Bill
In relation to the new police bill, the report finds that the new powers it gives to police over peace protest are ‘a recipe for the arbitrary use of power’. The MPs recommended ‘the wholesale removal of the clauses in the Bill which give the police or government coercive powers over peaceful protest.’
Parliament did not make these changes.
- Serving police officer Wayne Couzens pleaded guilty to the murder of Sarah Everard on 9 July, having previously pleaded guilty to her kidnapping and rape. Sentencing was postponed till 29 September.