How did the police, with their long history of spying on protest groups, know who supports Sisters Uncut?
A report into the heavy-handed policing of Clapham’s Sarah Everard vigil reveals officers were ordered to “look for and engage” with people associated with feminist group Sisters Uncut.
The report from Her Majestys Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) reveals that officers working on the vigil were briefed that Sisters Uncut were likely to attend.
The report’s authors interviewed police officers but failed to speak to Sisters Uncut or any other protesters. Their report has been widely criticised by police monitoring groups who questioned their independence.
The report implies that Sisters Uncut had “other causes in mind” seperate to the protest’s main goal of “the promotion of societal improvements in womens’ safety.
Sisters Uncut is an all-female or non-binary feminist group which was founded in 2014 and primarily campaigns against violence against women and cuts to services for victims of violence.
The report says: “We understand that local community officers deployed to [Clapham] Common were briefed to look for and engage with people associated with Sisters Uncut”.
It does not say how officers were supposed to know who was associated with Sisters Uncut but the Metropolitan Police has a long history of spying on protest groups, particularly those critical of the police.
In the 1990s, an officer called David Hagan spied on the family of a murdered black man called Stephen Lawrence so that the police could defend themselves against criticism of their investigation into his death. This was only revealed in 2013.
The HMICFRS report, whose author is unnamed, said that the police’s targetting of Sisters Uncut did not go far enough. It said: “Because the Silver Commander had decided to keep the policing relatively low profile, there were no plans to deploy forward intelligence officers to identify people associated with Sisters Uncut (or any other protest groups) with a view to speaking to them before they arrived at Clapham Common.”
Forward intelligence teams wear blue bibs and try to gather information from protesters by speaking to them in a friendly manner.
The report continues: “It would have been preferable to have briefed and deployed officers to look for people associated with Sisters Uncut or other known protest groups at and around London Underground stations and bus stops near the Common. The Gold Commander’s log included “pre arrival engagement and comms with people before they arrive (after 4pm Saturday) – so around tube stations …”. But the plan didn’t appear to include intelligence collection at these places.”
While the report does not blame the police, it does acknowledge that the police’s actions caused a change in the crowd’s mood and that the police knew that that would be the case.
It says: “At 7.31pm, a sergeant told a police constable that arrests were going to be made in the bandstand so to expect a ‘flare-up’ in crowd mood.” Officers then approached the bandstand, grabbed the arm of a woman and “escorted her” to a police car.
“It was evident that the arrest of, primarily, women at the bandstand had an influence on the crowd’s behaviour,” the report said. The crowd chanted “let her go” and criticised the police’s officers’ actions.
The report makes no mention of Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House’s claim that officers had plastic bottles thrown at them. At a seperate recent protest in Bristol, Avon and Someset police falsely claimed that their officers had suffered broken bones and a collapsed lung.
Violence was also reported at a vigil in Brighton as male officers knocked a female protestor to the floor to arrest her.
HMICFRS has been under fire recently after a whistleblowing employee claimed a report she worked on had been skewed towards the government’s view, with conclusions reached before evidence was gathered and assessed.
Joe Lo is a co-editor of Left Foot Forward
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