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Policing the SDL - Scottish Police respond to complaint

Response from Scottish Police to a complaint from Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees, over the police handing of GCtWR and SDL demonstrations on 16 June 2012

Sir Stephen House QPM
Professional Standards Department P.O. Box 21184 ALLOA FK10 9DE

Dear Mr Morris,


I refer to my previous letter of 30 August 2012, within which I confirmed that I would write again when I had received the findings of the independent review of the policing of these events, conducted by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland (HMICS).

I am now in receipt of the HMICS review report and in a position to fully respond to your complaint about the police.

I believe it would be helpful if I provided you with an overview of the policing operation on 16 June 2012 and the events leading up to that date, which were subsequently reviewed by HMICS.Saturday 16 June 2012 was a busy day for the former Strathclyde Police within Glasgow city centre due to a number of events occurring throughout the day, including a procession involving over 600 Irish Republican Supporters through the city centre and a number of family events occurring at Kelvingrove Park. This was in addition to the policing requirements of the procession and rally by the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees and the demonstration by the British National Party (BNP) and Scottish Defence League (SDL).

Prior to this, the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees had applied to Glasgow City Council for permission to hold a procession and rally in George Square, Glasgow. Following initial dialogue, the date of 16 June 2012 was agreed. At a meeting on 21 May 2012 it was decided that the duration of the event would be from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm. Due to a number of other events occurring on the agreed date, the starting point for the procession was subsequently changed from Kelvingrove Park to George Square, Glasgow.

On Wednesday 13 June 2012 the force received information that the BNP and SDL were planning to hold a demonstration in George Square, Glasgow to coincide with the welcome to refugees procession and rally. As a result, the force reviewed its response and planning arrangements. During the revised planning the only document that outlined the expected duration of the welcome to refugees event was not available to, or not examined in detail by, those involved in the subsequent planning and the time the event was due to conclude was for some unexplained reason subsequently communicated as 2:00 pm.

Contact was made by the force with the BNP/SDL and agreement was reached for a peaceful protest at an alternative location (Washington Street at the Broomielaw, Glasgow) between 1:00pm and 2:00pm that day as it was sufficiently removed from the welcome to refugees procession.

On 16 June 2012 there was a confrontation involving a small group of BNP/SDL supporters and those setting up the welcome to refugees stall. Police were quickly on the scene and the BNP/SDL supporters moved off without further incident.

At the agreed BNP/SDL assembly point (Washington Street at the Broomielaw, Glasgow) BNP/SDL members expressed their disquiet that the location was not within sight of the welcome to refugees procession, with a number indicating that they were going to leave the area with a view to assembling in George Square, Glasgow. The police were able to cordon this group at this time and negotiated with them to continue their protest for the agreed length of time. A decision was then made to facilitate the BNP/SDL protest at George Square for the duration of 1 hour, commencing at 2:00pm. This was based on the information that the welcome to refugees rally would be concluded by this time.

In order to facilitate the BNP/SDL protesters to relocate to George Square, the police at this location spoke to organisers of the welcome to refugees rally to ensure that the square was clear before the BNP/SDL would be allowed to enter it. At this time it became clear that there was inconsistency in the time for the event's conclusion. Enquiries were made with Glasgow City Council seeking clarification, however this did not provide further clarity. The organisers of the welcome to refugees rally were thereafter formally requested by police to bring the rally to a close.

The BNP/SDL were thereafter escorted by police to the North West corner of George Square whilst the few remaining from the rally were directed to the South East corner of the square with the police creating a sterile area between both groups. On their approach to the square, members of the BNP/SDL protest were chanting and a number of the welcome to refugees rally began to reassemble. However, after a short period of time participants from both groups dispersed.

Following these events, seven Complaints About the Police were received by Strathclyde Police, mainly concerning the handling of the protest by the force, a perceived lack of action by the police in dealing with criminal acts during the protest and the early closure of the rally in George Square by police.

Strathclyde Police established an investigation team to review evidence gathered on the day and from various CCTV systems. This confirmed that a number of offences were committed by individuals involved in the BNP/SDL protest whilst under escort and their actions and behaviour were not dealt with as robustly as the force would have wished. Fifteen persons were subsequently arrested and charged with offences including racially aggravated harassment and threatening and abusive behaviour relative to the Criminal Law Consolidation (Scotland) Act 1995 and the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2012.

Strathclyde Police also instigated an internal review of the operational strategy and tactics it deployed before, during and after the event. This review resulted in a number of recommendations such as the deployment of Hate Crime Advisors and the implementation of pro-active arrest policies at such events. The review also recommended that event commanders receive training based on the learning from the event on 16 June 2012. All the recommendations were subsequently adopted by Strathclyde Police and have also informed the Police Scotland approach to the policing of such events since its inception in April 2013.

Although the HMICS review found no evidence to suggest any misuse of powers or guidance or systematic failings in the force's approach to policing the protest, they highlighted a number of lessons to be learned and made the following recommendations;

  1. Communicating with the public and partners: That the force should, in cases where events are likely to cause disruption, develop the use of key messages by community officers during routine patrols prior to events and provide appropriate information to other agencies and businesses that could be affected.
  2. Engagement with protest organisers and groups: The force should adopt a three phased approach to engaging with organisers and groups prior to, during and after such events, wherever possible using the same individual officers and preferably those that will be operating during the policing of the event to improve understanding of expectations and the boundaries of what is acceptable thereby improving trust and confidence.
  3. Developing a media strategy: The force should ensure that a media strategy, including pre-prepared statements and an identified media spokesperson, is considered when planning such events.
  4. Debriefing public order events: The force should develop formal procedures for debriefing public order events to ensure a structured approach that captures learning in an auditable format with consideration being given to include protest organisers to improve trust and confidence.

In their review report HMICS noted that the force had already conducted an internal review and taken action in setting out revised instruction on enforcement of the law in relation to unacceptable behaviour at marches and demonstrations. HMICS therefore did not make a recommendation in this regard.

I have attempted to provide an overall view of the events and subsequent reviews by Strathclyde Police and HMICS and I hope this information will be of benefit to you in relation to your concerns about the policing of these events and your concern that the welcome to refugees rally was closed to facilitate a protest by the SDL/BNP.

I can confirm that Strathclyde Police accepted the HMICS recommendations in full and together with the findings of the internal Strathclyde Police review, they now inform the Police Scotland approach to the policing of events.

I trust that the foregoing explanation of the events of 16 June 2012 and the subsequent reviews explains the position of the former Strathclyde Police and gives you some indication of the Police Scotland approach going forward. There were clearly some shortcomings in the policing of the event on the day, and whilst much has been learned from them, I recognise that a number of people, including you, were disappointed in the way Strathclyde Police dealt with the event. I sincerely hope that the action that has been taken to address this has been evident in the Police Scotland approach to recent similar events in Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland.

Can I finally apologise for the delay in providing this response, which has been due to a delay in receiving the HMICS review document, together with structural changes and the associated challenges which have resulted from the transition to Police Scotland. I am aware that you were invited to attend meetings with Assistant Chief Constable Nicholson and HMICS during the period of the review and trust this kept you updated on progress.

If you are not satisfied with the way in which your complaint has been handled, you may contact the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC), 2nd Floor, Hamilton House, Caird Park, Hamilton, ML3 OQA. If you decide to contact PIRC, you must submit an application form to them within 3 months of the date of this letter, otherwise they may not be able to deal with your complaint.

Yours sincerely