12 thoughts on “Breaking News: Student protests – Police to employ Snowmen to break up student protesters

  1. I’m glad to see you are no longer calling this a charge. I think those who have made a case against the tactic of using horses in this way haven’t done their credibility any good. There is a history of police using their horses in what that mode (such as the miner’s strike) and that can be very dangerous.

    Frankly, without being there, it’s difficult to say. I’m not sure what was being attempted – it may have been intimidation, it might have been to establish a presence, there may have been things going on out of shot.

    The coverage is pretty polarised but, by the dictionary definition of charge and, I think common use, this surely does not qualify as such.

  2. I commented on the Inspector Gadget blog earlier, knowing it is written by a serving inspector, and read by many more. I raised a few sensible points (I thought) and got a sensible reply.

    Lots of passion around this issue, but I hate to object to something without at least having an alternative… despite the thoughtful response from the “other side” I still feel the use of horses was excessive, but at least have a slightly better understanding of life on the other side of the barricade.

    Anyway, thought you’d be interested, original post here, you’ll need to scroll down a little for my comment and the replies.


  3. @James c

    Well this is a legal blog, and one thing that lawyers often do is to deal with semantics and, in advocacy, the use of emotional phrasing. CharonQC, in an earlier tweet, referred to this as a charge :-

    “And Police think this horse charge is acceptable? http://bit.ly/hM0b6c Police will have to act within law or face the consequences.”

    In this context, “charge” is an emotionally loaded word. It has echoes of Peterloo and Winter Palace massacres or some events in the miner’s strike. The implication in the tweet is also that the police could well have been acting illegally.

    I also see that the demonstration is now claimed to be one of children, a further ratcheting up of the emotional content. In another context a group with a similar age range would have been described as “young adults” where it suited the purpose of the advocate. I suspect in, strictly legal terms, that the latter would be a more accurate description, but it doesn’t suit the purpose does it?

    (One might question what those who are truly children might be doing on a normal school day, but then maybe that’s a bit old-fashioned of me). As it is, I doubt that many so qualified, but has anybody done a proper assessment.

    Also CharonQC has been tweeting his impression that the wrecked police van was, indeed, “bait” and was thereby intended to be a possible excuse for this action once the inevitable small core of more extreme activists took over. He’s also tweeted to directly connect Nick Clegg with these consequences.

    “Lib-Dems – proud of your leader Clegg? – kettling kids is not British – sorry… kids were not violent #resignclegg http://bit.ly/hVgCl4

    However, to take what I did see, then it’s pretty nearly impossible from this to judge whether it was operationally required or not. According to the Inspector Gadget blog (in a response), it was stated that taking a column of police horses at a slow trot into a crowd is more effective and usually safer than a mass shoving exercise. People do get injured, or even killed, in crowd crushes (albeit the latter is rare in demonstrations as far as I can tell). However, I’m certainly not qualified in crowd control matters, but evidence posted by just one side. I rather suspect crowd control is an inherently difficult thing when there is a minority involved who do want to see confrontation. We either get Millbank-type events, or complaints of police mistreatment. I for one wouldn’t want that responsibility.

    Now this does not mean I think that all police action is justified – the Ian Tomlinson affair looked like a fairly open and shut case of casual brutality by an individual policeman, albeit not with obvious evidence of a centrally controlled intent. I might not even agree with the police in this case. But what I do detest is the use of what I perceive as inaccurate, deliberately emotive phrasing.

    Also, the Nick Clegg baiting is surely past its ell-by date, at least as a topic of debate. It evades the real issues over just what is the future of tertiary education, what’s the purpose of it, and how it will be funded (and, indeed, how much of it is justified). My personal feeling is that politicians have been feeding the young a lie for years over this matter, and it was raised to an art form by Tony Blair. (Yes, lie is an emotive term – maybe it was just lazy thinking, which also qualifies).

    Measured against that, this is a side-show and, if Twitter trending is to be believed, hardly registered.

  4. Steve

    1. I was not at the demonstration and I think it not unreasonable of me to change my position on twitter using the word ‘charge’ – used widely on mainstream media – to formulate the question as I did – asking the reader to consider whether this was a wise use of police horses.

    2. The Tories signalled their intention to re-shape education. the Lib-Dems signed a pledge saying they would oppose university fee rises. it is, therefore, not unreasonable to directly connect (as many do) student protest to the apostasy of some Lib-Dems. I understand that Charlie Kennedy, Ming Campbell and a few others will stand by their pledge and vote against.

    3. It has been suggested, widely, that the Police van was placed in position as bait. I do not know whether it was. the Police have not given a clear answer to this proposition as far as I understand it – save to say that they abandoned the vehicle.

    4. For the avoidance of doubt – I have no sympathy with those who use violence against person or property to achieve their protest aims. It is hardly surprising that Police use firm procedures to deter or prevent such behaviour or in arrest thereafter. Firm procedures must, of course, be proportionate and sanctioned by law. Any excess of power must be subject to law.

    5. I have considerable sympathy for Police put into the front line to deal with protest when it becomes other than peaceful. It is wholly unacceptable in our society that a protester should inflict injury on a police officer. I also have sympathy for the ‘heat of the moment’ argument when both protester and police officer exceed the bounds of reasonable behaviour – as a part mitigation, if not full defence.

    6. As far as I can see from press reports there were children age 15 at the demonstration. Whether these are children or young adults is moot. Most of the protesters were peaceful. I do have concerns that kettling – an effective crowd control resource – may have been over applied. I ask the question of those who were there and those who are in a better position to judge.

    7. I would not wish our faith in police to be undermined by the activity of a few officers who over step the mark – whether in the Ian Tomlinson affair or other difficult situations. We need to give support to Police – not unconditional support, but support if they act within the terms of the powers given to them by Parliament. I cannot imagine that experience Police officers would object to such a statement.

    Protest is going to continue. At some point – god forbid – it is possible that a protester, a peaceful protester or a police officer is going to be very badly injured or worse.

    It is, therefore, not unreasonable for measured and reasoned debate, analysis and discussion to take place.

    I accept that I may use emotive words to put a proposition – but I am always prepared to listen to argument.

    I do think that the Clegg and the Lib-dems are, rightly, bearing the focus of much student discontent for going back on their pledge.

    The problem of course (as you identify) is how to afford to keep good universities offering high quality education. We were fortunate in that we did not have to pay university fees. The last generation had to pay £3000 p.a.. Future generations may well have to pay £6-9,000 +.

    At least they do not need to pay up front and will only have to repay when they are earning. it is not ideal – but unless we can derive taxation surpluses elsewhere there is a very real danger that education in this country will suffer and that cannot be good for the long term economic health of the country.

    I would have thought it not unreasonable for industry to pay towards education. Why shouldn’t law firms contribute to the cost of educating their future members? It may be difficult to organise – but should such difficulty rule out consideration of the idea?

  5. @CharonQC

    Thanks for the comprehensive replay. On the points

    1) I’m well aware that the term charge has been used in the media, although I would say not generally. I don’t find that its use is very conducive to analysis.

    2) No problem with criticising the LibDems for changing their tune. It rather shows the lack of thought (some might call it cynicism) of the policy in the first place. However, I don’t see how is can be connected to this particular event, and it provides no answers.

    3) As far as the abandoned vehicle goes, it’s not impossible it was there are bait, but it wasn’t the only piece of public property damaged, and in any event, it’s hardly acceptable.

    4) I’d to see any excesses dealt with, although it’s a bit of a sledgehammer approach to use the law and it has a high level of proof required. There is surely some possibility of establishing some form of independent oversight that could review events like this and make appropriate changes.

    5) I have some sympathy for the “heat of the moment” argument. It was good to see that the 18 year old who dropped a fire extinguisher was not prosecuted for attempted murder (as some suggested). It was, of course, a hugely reckless act, but there is scope for taking a cooler view.

    6) I’m sure there were some 15 year olds, and I wouldn’t call such young adults, but the point is did that characterise the group? Certainly it didn’t seem so from the videos, although I’m, maybe, not personally a great judge of age.

    7) I certainly don’t give unconditional support to the police, but I’d like to see more analysis, and Twitter gives one a highly polarised and selective view.

    I also don’t like the principle of kettling in that it traps the innocent as well as those intent on trouble. I seem to recall it has been tested in law, but again I’d like to see some independent body reviewing this, although not doubt such a group would be seen as partisan.

    On the education side, then the issue I have is with us creating a world where young people find it neecessary to spend three years and get into debt because we’ve ratched up the entry criteria for some quite mundane jobs to require a degree. I know many like this – the economy simply doesn’t generate sufficient jobs of that type (some recruiters claim there are only appropriate jobs for perhaps 30% of graduates). We used to have a whole tradition of companies engaged in educating and training staff along with evening classes. We seem to have lost that – indeed what was a good and respectable educational institution in my home town became part of a rather poor university offering so-so degrees with a near 30% drop-out rate.

    It’s that fundamental review of the nature and structure of

    Of course I did benefit from free university education myself (indeed a full grant), and I think there is some good case in adjusting the tax and benefits system which is now rather benefitting the better off older people, but what I wouldn’t want to see is resources wasted on the slogan of all education being good in itself. Like literature, it might be. But it doesn’t all have to be put into a 3-4 year fulltime degree course.

  6. Steve – I do appreciate the time you take to add good value to my blog with your perceptive comments – and, while it is unlikely I will always agree with commenters, I get very real pleasure (and increased knowledge and understanding) from discussing issues with those who take trouble to write.

    I don’t think we are to far apart on the issues raised here…. and, certainly, I agree with your point on the Police van not being the only property damaged. I have no problem at all with protesters who damage property intentionally or who resort to violence being prosecuted.

    There are some who say on twitter and elsewhere that non-violent protest doesn’t work…..and that governments only take notice when there is violent protest. I hope we do not come to be accepting of that line of thinking over the difficult months ahead.

  7. I’ve see the argument made many a time that if protest is peaceful, then nobody takes any notice, and nothing changes so they have to damage property. It certainly didn’t start with Twitter.

    I think that argument has got some intellectual credibility where a group is disenfranchised in some way, but sometimes it reads as if some people are fundamentally disatisfied with the operation of democracy. Indeed I recall not a few of those from my student days, albeit that I went to possibly the least political college in the UK (although we did have Trevor Phillips) and the rather odd Piers Corbyn.

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