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Policing of 'Refugees Are Welcome Here' demo

To: The Chief Constable
Strathclyde Police

Dear Chief Constable,

Policing of ‘Refugees Are Welcome Here’ demonstration and rally on June 16th

As one of many who took part in the recent ‘Refugees Are Welcome Here’ (RAWH) demonstration and rally in Glasgow city centre on June 16th, I am angry at the way in which the policing of the rally and subsequent events was mishandled by your officers.

Following a successful and, to my knowledge, incident free demonstration, the rally in George Square began at about 1:25. A police helicopter hovered overhead throughout, making it difficult to hear the speakers and prompting comments from two of them.

The rally ended abruptly shortly after 2, when the Chair announced, unexpectedly and without explanation, that the rally had to finish early. He then advised the gathering to leave the Square promptly and in groups, avoiding its South side. I left at this point, wondering why the rally had been curtailed, and why there was a need for these unusual precautions on leaving.

I later heard from the organisers that, for about 15 minutes previously, senior police officers had been pressing them to hurry up and bring the rally to a close, even though, as they were reminded, the rally had the approval of Glasgow City Council and Strathclyde Police to continue until 3. Finally, with five speakers still waiting to speak, the most senior officer, citing the Public Order Act, ordered the organisers to close the rally immediately and advise those attending to leave, as the rally was deemed to be endangering public safety. Though unaware of any issue of public safety, or any reason why those attending the rally (but not others) should have to leave the Square, or any need for special precautions on leaving, the organisers felt they could not risk a confrontation with the police, and therefore had no choice but to obey.

From personal observation, I can confirm that the rally was peaceful and orderly throughout, and raised no issue of public safety.

As I left at this point, I have no direct personal knowledge of what followed; the following relies on eye witness accounts which I believe to be substantially accurate.

When the rally closed, most of the few hundred people attending left promptly, as advised. A small group who remained were herded by the police into a corner of the Square, and detained there in a police kettle. One of them who tried to leave was arrested, detained and charged with breach of the peace.

With the bulk of the rally removed from the Square and the remaining minority kettled, a group of about 25 members and supporters of the Scottish Defence League (SDL), some of them previously involved in an incident before the RAWH demonstration, marched onto the Square escorted by your officers, carrying banners, flags and placards, and proceeded to stage a rally in the area from which the RAWH rally had just been removed. After about 15 minutes, the rally ended, and the group marched off the Square and down Buchanan Street, escorted by your officers. During the rally and following march, members of the group were observed to make Nazi salutes, shout Nazi and Islamophobic slogans, and racially abuse bystanders, all in clear view and hearing of your officers, who did not intervene, except to arrest three bystanders who responded to these provocations.

My complaints are as follows:

  1. My civil liberties, and those of the others at the rally, were unreasonably curtailed, and our right to peaceful public assembly denied, by the premature closure and dispersal of the rally. The rights of the group who were kettled were particularly badly abused.
  2. Your officers misled the RAWH rally organisers by fabricating a clearly false issue of public safety in order to coerce them, under an implied threat of arrest of individuals and forced dispersal of the rally, into abandoning the rally and advising those attending to leave. As we now know, their true purpose was to clear the way for an unauthorised rally by the SDL.
  3. Having removed a fictitious hazard to public safety emanating from a peaceful and orderly rally, your officers ushered onto the Square an aggressive, racist rabble, whose provocative, abusive and threatening conduct, on the Square and later on Buchanan Street, created a real, and predictable threat to public order and safety, which your officers then failed to deal with appropriately.
  4. Your officers allowed the SDL to march, for the first time, in Glasgow city centre. They did so knowing that the SDL did not have the approval of Glasgow City Council for a march on this occasion, and that, on several previous occasions when they had applied to hold a march, they had always been turned down.
  5. The most shocking and unacceptable aspect of these events is that senior police officers colluded with the SDL by dispersing a legitimate, orderly rally by means of deceit and coercion, including kettling, in order to clear the way for an unauthorised and provocative rally and march by an aggressive, unruly mob of racists and Nazis. The collusion continued with your officers disregarding the provocative, abusive and threatening conduct of the group while arresting bystanders who responded.

This is a major scandal. Nothing like it must ever happen again. The officers responsible should be held to account.

I call on you to:

  1. Drop all charges against those arrested during these events.
  2. Conduct a thorough enquiry into the policing of these events, taking evidence from witnesses and publishing its findings. The enquiry should identify the officers responsible for the relevant decisions, and should be empowered to recommend disciplinary action against any officer involved, at any level.
  3. Apologise publicly to the organisers and sponsors of the RAWH demonstration and rally for the gross mishandling of the policing of these events by your officers.

I look forward to your detailed reply to each of my complaints and requests.

Yours faithfully,
John R. Porter