A TALE OF TWO PROTESTS:
Why were the Left silent when riot squads inflicted terrible
injuries on peaceful country folk in 2004?
16th April 2009
The truncheons are going up and down like steam pistons.
A man with blood all over his head gets another whack from a
policeman in full riot gear.
A 37-year-old mother of two young boys, who has been
pushed forward from the crowd by sheer pressure of bodies,
is following a police order to 'get back' when an officer
comes up behind her and pushes her to the ground.
Bleeding from a head wound and bruised all over, she is being comforted by a female friend when another police officer comes along, sits on the friend and forces her arms behind her head.
Might is right: Batons raised,
police force back the peaceful marchers at the
pro-hunting demonstration in 2004
All around, there are bloody faces and bloody clothes. By
the end of the day, the police will have inflicted dozens of
what the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC)
will describe as 'serious head injuries'.
And yet, as these battered protesters make their way home - or come round in a hospital bed or a police cell - the voices of the liberal Left are strangely silent.
Those who are usually so quick to shriek
about 'police brutality' and to demand rigorous inquiries
are not terribly bothered. The alleged misconduct of the
police does not lead
the BBC bulletins.
Fast-forward two years, and there is finally an official inquiry and charges are brought against seven police officers.
Blood pours down the head of a
protester during the 2004 demonstration
In the event, the policemen all walk free. The inquiry
establishes that officers deliberately concealed their
badges and identities. But its chief conclusion is only a
suggestion that, after future punch-ups, police batons
should be retained for forensic analysis. And that is that.
Where are the cries of 'Shame!' and 'Injustice!' from The
Guardian? Where is the civil liberties brigade - or George
Galloway, or the usual gang of maverick Labour backbenchers?
They don't give a stuff. Because these protesters are
deemed to be a bunch of spoilt brats and middle-class
They are supporters of the Countryside Alliance who came to demonstrate in favour of hunting. As far as the Left is concerned, they deserved a good kick.
Class warfare: Just
two of the protesters who felt the full force of the police
As far as the Metropolitan Police commanders are
concerned, these were Tory-voting country folk and, thus,
anathema to the metropolitan elite in charge of the country.
So the police thought they deserved a good kick, too. And
they got one.
That is why, watching the footage of the latest police
'atrocity' during this month's G20 demonstrations, I am not
as 'deeply shocked' as many others.
In fact, compared to the Parliament Square pro-hunting
demonstration of 2004, the latest punch-up in the City was a
fairly mild affair. And I speak as one who was reporting
from the thick of both.
I am in no way diminishing the death of Ian Tomlinson,
the newspaper vendor who was simply trying to go home when
he was pushed to the ground by a policeman and died soon
And I have viewed the latest film of a young lady being slapped across the chops by a thuggish-looking copper who then draws a baton and gives her a whack across the legs.
Shock: Stunned and
bloodied demonstrators outside Parliament
But the overall police conduct around the Bank of England - during which a bank was ransacked - was considerably less brutish and violent than that deployed in 2004.
The prevalence of good-quality cameras among the latest
demonstrators has clearly had a restraining effect on the
more gung-ho elements within the Metropolitan Police. And
that is, unquestionably, a good thing.
But the outraged champions of liberty who are currently
bemoaning police brutality might be on stronger ground if
they had shown consistency over the years.
It is fashionable to decry our descent into a police
state; the headbangers of the Left used to say the same
thing during the Thatcher years.
But while there were undoubtedly some police hooligans at large during the miners' strike, that was a violent, prolonged civil struggle led by a union leader - Arthur Scargill - who thrived on conflict. It was not a demonstration.
overall police conduct during the 2004 demonstration was
more violent and brutish than at the recent G20 protests
What we have seen since the rise of New Labour in 1997 is
the subtle influence of a new political culture.
The vast majority of police officers are honourable,
decent people who want to make Britain a safe place. But
it's no longer enough to be a good copper. You must be
fluent in the new mantras of the new political class.
Just as the old, proud neutrality of the Civil Service
has been corroded by Labour commissars, so the police have
learned to ape the new political class rather than question
The best example of this was in Parliament Square in 2004
when the Countryside Alliance (CA) had mobilised a protest
with just four days' notice that Parliament was about to
vote on a new hunting ban.
According to CA spokesman Tim Bonner: 'We told the police there would be 15,000 people, but they didn't believe us, and would not work with us.'
Blood-splattered men walk among the crowds
The protesters were a mish-mash of hunt workers, students
and field sports lovers with a single issue. A few were
toffs, but most were just ordinary working people with the
'There were some very angry Welsh boys fired up and
looking for a scrap,' Bonner recalls. 'But the vast majority
just wanted to make sure Parliament knew the depth of
A few hardcore protesters had planned a sit-down
demonstration in the road in front of Parliament. But as
they tried to get to the road, the line of police switched
to a full riot contingent, with visors down.
'They were antagonising us from the start, making jokes
about toffs wanting a fight,' says Jane Thorpe-Codman, a
hunt supporter from Cambridgeshire ('I'm no toff - I'm a
farmer's daughter from Stockport who didn't have two
shillings to rub together').
A wounded youth was among
thousands of pro-hunters at the protest
She recalls: 'Some people started pushing at the back,
and then the police just lashed out with their batons. I got
pushed through on to the road. A policeman shouted at me to
get back, so I started to go back when a policeman shoved me
down on the ground and that's how I was injured.'
When she got home, her builder husband Andrew and her
young sons were shocked to see her black eye and scarred
She went on to spend hours giving evidence to the IPCC,
but it came to nothing. 'They were very thorough and had
plenty of video evidence, but nothing happened. It all felt
very Big Brother,' she says.
She believes that there was a political and class
dimension to the police behaviour. 'Our democracy is
suffering,' she argues.
Yet another protester sports a
Once, this sort of remark was confined to the loopier end
of the student union building. But times have changed.
Jane, now 41, is a housewife, entrepreneur and a leading
light of her local Conservative association. 'I teach my
boys respect for the police, of course, but I can never look
at the police in quite the same way,' she says.
There were plenty of images of battered protesters that
day, but few of the crowd had the same smart digital cameras
which today's anarchists produced.
The 2004 carnage was far bloodier, too. But there were no
laments in the liberal press the following day. Most of the
wounded didn't complain anyway. They had cows to milk and
children to fetch from school.
The Guardian editorial writers described the hunt
demonstration as 'an attack on the liberty of the British
people' and 'a series of assaults on police protecting the
House [sic] of Parliament'.
I did not notice them describing this month's City
rioting as 'a series of assaults on police protecting the
Bank of England'. It was a thoroughly legitimate protest
against the evil abuses of capitalism, Comrade.
In fact, for all the rhetoric, the April 1 riot had no
real focus or purpose beyond smashing a few City windows.
The 2004 demonstration - regardless of one's views on
hunting - was about preserving a way of life.
In 21st-century Britain, it would seem to be more
dangerous to protest in defence of a cause than to pick a
gratuitous fight with the police.
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