Monday 14 November 2011

MPA meeting - Regarding the policing of this years peaceful UFFC march

Policing at the UFFC march 2011 (Picture by Delroy Constantine-Simms)
24 November · 10:00am to 1pm
Metropolitan Police Authority,
10 Dean Farrar Street London SW1H 0NY

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Letter from Samantha Rigg-David on behalf of UFFC (United Friends and Families Campaign):
MPA Full authority Meeting - Question to be raised regarding the policing of the UFFC march - 29th Oct 2011.

Catherine Crawford
Chief Executive
Metropolitan Police Authority
10 Dean Farrar Street

7th November 2011

Dear Catherine,

Re: Policing at United Families and Friends Deaths in Custody March

I write on behalf of the United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC) to raise a question for the MPA Full Authority meeting on Thursday 24th November regarding the policing of the recent Deaths in Custody March in central London on Saturday 29th October 2011. We are aware the organisation INQUEST has also written to the MPA regarding this matter,

UFFC, a coalition of bereaved families, has been hosting an annual procession for 13 years in remembrance of loved ones who have died in custody or state care. The stewarded march, led by family members, entails a silent procession from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street. Following this, family members share experiences of the loss of their loved ones and then deliver a letter to Downing Street containing a list of recommendations for consideration by the Prime Minister. Traffic is often temporarily blocked in the process for a short time. Although it is an emotional event, the march has always passed peacefully and typically disperses around 4pm. The march provides a rare opportunity for grieving families to come together to highlight concerns to those in authority and also provide mutual support. Policing of the march in the past has appeared to be proportionate both in response to the sensitive nature of the event and also in recognition that it does not pose a threat to public order.

This year, at about 3pm, after delivering the letter to Downing Street family members and friends found themselves subject to aggressive and degrading treatment at the hands of a large deployment of what we believe were TSG officers. In addition to this a helicopter was flying overhead and we also noticed a FIT team had been deployed.

The sudden deployment of around 100 officers, in addition to the large number of uniformed officers already present, and the ensuing treatment caused panic, physical injury and distress to the remaining marchers. Attempts were made by stewards, legal observers and marchers to talk to the police, informing them this move was provocative and appealing for restraint, but this was ignored. The officers performed a ‘sweep’ of the road, as if clearing it of rubbish, pushing aside and trampling on anybody in their way. We believe there was only a small crowd of marchers in the road at this point with around half the march on the opposite side of the road. The actions of the police caused marchers on the opposite side of the road to move forward to join those being swept in an attempt to provide some sort of safety in numbers against this attack.

Many of those that the police ‘swept’ were vulnerable bereaved relatives including parents, grandparents and children. At one point officers picked up the mother of someone who had died in custody by her arms and legs and deposited her on the road like a ‘sack of potatoes’. Children were screaming in fear. After this the police began to form a kettle, which caused widespread intimidation and forced marchers to disperse in an undignified and cajoled manner without any proper closure to the march. Those who attended the march have told me they feel traumatised by the experience.

We understand it is not the role of the MPA to investigate the actions of individual officers on the march, however it does hold responsibility for holding the police to account over operational and tactical matters.

We believe it was both entirely unwarranted and unnecessarily confrontational to deploy these officers and wish the MPA to fulfil its public duty by assisting us in scrutinising how and why this decision was taken. I wish to attend the full authority meeting to raise this question in person.

We are fully cognisant of the climate of the times, in terms of heightened public interest around deaths in custody and levels of tension around public order policing. However, we believe this calls for intelligent and sensitive policing. We do not accept that the response of the police was justifiable, proportionate or in accordance with ACPO guidance around keeping the peace.

Yours sincerely

Samantha Rigg-David

(Sister of Sean Rigg)

On behalf of UFFC

All photographs taken at UFFC march 2011 by Delroy Constantine-Simms