Children lose London protest ‘kettling’ case against police

The High Court has rejected claims by three teenagers that the police unlawfully corralled, or “kettled”, them during tuition fee demonstrations in London.

Judges dismissed their claim for damages for alleged human rights violations the three said occurred when they were detained in the kettle in Whitehall, Westminster, for several hours in freezing temperatures without food and with very little water.

Adam Castle, 16, his sister Rosie, 15, and Sam Eaton, 16, all from north London, were among 10 friends who gathered with thousands of other students, lecturers and teachers in Trafalgar Square on November 24 last year during the National Student Walkout anti-fees protests.

Today Lord Justice Pitchford and Mr Justice Supperstone, sitting at London’s High Court, ruled the Met Police commissioner had acted within his powers and did not breach any of his public law duties, and the containment action taken by the police was “necessary, proportionate and lawful”.

The court had heard the teenagers were in a mass of demonstrators who set off to march towards the Houses of Parliament from Trafalgar Square, but as they moved down Whitehall, Met officers used the tactic of kettling to contain them.

Rosie, a pupil at Camden School for Girls, was trapped for about six hours and the boys, from Acland Burghley school, for about seven-and-a-half hours.

At a recent hearing the judges were told that many of the young demonstrators were still in school uniform.

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Martin Westgate QC, appearing for the teenagers, said he accepted the decision to impose the kettle was lawful because of police fears that breaches of the peace were imminent.

But he argued the police operation became unlawful because of the failure to have a release plan communicated to the frontline officers.

He said Met commanders also failed to take account of their duties under section 11 of the Children Act 2004 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and to support their right to demonstrate and enjoy freedom of expression under the 1998 Human Rights Act.

Dismissing the application for judicial review, the judges observed that Ivan Hare, appearing for the commissioner, had pointed out “there was a plan for the release of the vulnerable, including schoolchildren”.

The judges also rejected the argument that the duration of the containment made it unlawful.

They said it had been necessary and reasonable to search those leaving for arms, and arrest those suspected of committing offences.

The judges said: “There was, we conclude, evidence from more than one source that significant numbers of the protesters were armed.

“Those who were armed and leaving the containment posed an additional and obvious risk for imminent breaches of the peace at locations outside the cordon.

“There was evidence of continuing violence at both the Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square ends of Whitehall.

“Some of those being released were re-forming in order to re-join elsewhere.

“Later, in Parliament Square, officers had difficulty persuading even schoolchildren to disperse.”

The judges said: “While there was a considerable delay beyond the time at which a general dispersal was planned - 4pm, and that delay is regrettable, particularly when the young and vulnerable were affected, we conclude that it was justified by events occurring outside the cordon which required careful handling of those within the containment.

“The action taken, having regard to the need to safeguard children and to promote their welfare, was necessary, proportionate and lawful.”

The judges ruled that any interference that did take place with the teenagers’ rights to liberty and to demonstrate “was for a legitimate reason, in accordance with the law, and proportionate to the legitimate aim of preventing an imminent breach of the peace”.

Any application to appeal against today’s ruling will be dealt with at a later date.

At the recent hearing which led to today’s ruling, Adam Castle said outside court: “We were punished for protesting and everyone was left demoralised.

“It was one of the coldest days of the year and we had not been prepared for being held into the night.”

Later, the Met Police issued a statement welcoming the ruling.

“The court has acknowledged that the Whitehall containment was `necessary, proportionate and lawful’ and not prolonged for any unlawful purpose. The ruling also found that repeated efforts were made to identify children within it, particularly those in school uniform.

“As the judgment points out, a bronze commander was given responsibility for the release of the vulnerable from the containment, who treated that responsibility as a `specific obligation towards school children’.

“Policing the protests on the 24 November 2010 was extremely challenging.

“Police lines repeatedly came under attack as a crowd of about 3,000 demonstrators made their way down Whitehall from Trafalgar Square. In order to prevent a breach of the peace and damage to buildings, a containment was implemented at Whitehall.

“During the period of the containment, a police carrier within the crowd was attacked. Damage was also caused to telephone boxes, bus stops, the Old War Office and the Treasury and there were attempted incursions into buildings in Whitehall. This sets into context the scale of disorder that day.”