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Gareth Peirce on police terror
tactics and state impunity
Gareth Peirce speaking in London on 4 February 2013
As Alfie Meadows prepares for his third trial for violent
disorder at the 2010 student protests despite being nearly killed by a police
baton strike, campaigning solicitor Gareth Peirce has criticised police over
its history of cover-ups and immunity from prosecution after acting unlawfully
Peirce, who has acted in some of the country’s highest profile cases
including the Birmingham Six, Jean Charles De Menzes, Moazzam Begg and Julian
Assange, highlighted a recent UN report that described the way the British
government has dealt with the right to protest as ‘shocking’.
The report described having to ask permission to demonstrate
outside parliament as ‘wrong’, called for a judge-led inquiry into the
embedding of undercover police officers into non-violent protest groups and
warned of another Hillsborough like tragedy if the current police tactics,
including kettling, continue.
Peirce said the state used demonstrations as an opportunity
to assert its power and to experiment in ways to assert that power while
committing crimes itself.
Instead of protesters focusing on their campaigns, they now
have to fight an ongoing battle against the state to enjoy that right, she
At a recent meeting to commemorate Bloody Sunday speakers
highlighted ‘cover-ups’ and ‘acting with impunity’ as a repetitive feature of
state intervention at demonstrations, she said.
She said: “If the state comes in to assert its power, to
crush the protest, it can’t do it lawfully, it does it unlawfully, and it goes
to extreme ends to assert its power yet it enjoys absolute immunity from the
After hearing from a friend of Blair Peach, a miner at
Orgreave, a football fan at Hillsborough, Alfie Meadows and Carole Duggan’s
aunt at a meeting, organised by Defend The Right To Protest called Justice Denied, Peirce tied the
cases together with the thread of state violence, cover-up and impunity.
The solicitor said in Southall, when protesters marched
against fascists in 1979 the police formed themselves into an army and cavalry
and rode into crowds smashing people on the head.
Blair Peach was killed by a baton strike to the head.
The police then went onto a commune and again hit everyone
over the head before arresting and prosecuting them with false charges sapping
the energy and resources of the
community, she said.
The tactics the police learnt from Southall, she said, were
put into effect at Orgreave five years later in 1984. By then the police had
formed themselves into standing armies with chief constables of each county
giving themselves ‘absolute exceptional powers’ over tactics.
Peirce said: “At Orgreave they lured the miners in. As one
miner said ‘we were like the Belgrano waiting to be sunk’. [Then] the [police]
ranks opened and in charged police horses followed by [police with] short
shields. It was like a medieval army with shields and cavalry smashing the miners
over the heads and then arresting them. But not being an army they have to
justify [the arrests].
“It was certainly intended to smash the miners strike and in
many ways it did. It sapped the strength of the union. It had to. After one day
at Orgreave they had 95 of their members facing potential life imprisonment. It
was intended to destroy them.
“Come the trial these officers had no idea who they had
arrested. So they sat in a classroom and were told what happened that day and
they wrote it all down. So when the trial came, two-by-two, officers said who
they had arrested. But because on that sunny day the nation’s photographers
were there every police officer was in shot. So 48 days into the trial the
prosecution gives up, they don’t even get to the defence. It was a pack of
lies, but what happened; immunity.
A few years later at Hillsborough, she said, the same chief
constables ‘behaving like dictators’ sat down the same officers in a classroom
and dictated a ‘pack of lies’ as they did at Orgreave, and that is what the
Hillsborough families have exposed after so many years.
“But like Bloody Sunday shows, Southall shows, Orgreave
shows and Hillsborough shows it’s state criminality for a purpose. To assert
power and to use any means necessary.”