Two young protesters have raised a legal action in the High Court challenging the police use of “kettling”. The controversial tactic was deployed against them and thousands of other protestors during a demonstration against the increase in tuition fees on 9 December 2010.
Rosie Bergonzi (17) and James Moulding (18) were kettled by the Metropolitan Police on the afternoon of the protest in Parliament Square and were not released from Westminster Bridge until around 11.30pm that night. They are seeking damages under the Human Rights Act 1998.
Kettling, whereby police cordons are established to contain protestors in one place and to prevent them from leaving, has been used increasingly frequently by the Metropolitan Police in response to peaceful demonstrations.
The case is the latest action taken by PIL on behalf of individuals seeking to challenge the legality of the Coalition Government’s series of cuts. PIL is also leading judicial reviews in relation to library closures and to the increase in tuition fees itself.
Rosie, a sixth form student from Brighton, was “kettled” along with her friends. For over nine hours, she was detained without food or water or access to toilet facilities. As she was being released from Westminster Bridge, she was punched in her side by a male police officer in an apparently unprovoked attack. James, who was accompanied by several minors, asked repeatedly for his group to be let out of the kettle, but his requests were continually refused. By the time they were eventually released they had almost missed the last train back to Peterborough.
James Moulding said today:
“Kettling is a clear infringement of the fundamental right to peaceful protest. It is a form of collective punishment and a dangerous and a lazy policing tactic that simply does not belong in a modern democracy.”
Rosie Bergonzi stated:
“The police response to the student protest was completely out of proportion. Being forced to stand with no food, water or toilet facilities for such a prolonged period was not something I deserved for attempting to make a peaceful protest.”
The Claimants allege breaches of their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, including their right not to be deprived arbitrarily of their liberty, the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of assembly. A separate legal action is being led by the human rights organisation, Liberty.
James and Rosie are represented by a legal team led by the solicitor Phil Shiner and the human rights barrister, Rabinder Singh QC. Mr Shiner said today:
“Kettling has become the stock police response to peaceful protest. On 9 December, it appears to have been resorted to by default. The chilling effect upon the democratic right to peaceful protest has been recognised by the Metropolitan Police, and the lengthy deprivation of liberty to which my clients were subjected is wholly unacceptable.”