Met Police authorised to use plastic bullets at student protests

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Metropolitan Police Officers at tomorrow’s student protests in London will have the right to fire plastic bullets at protesters, it has emerged this week.

The demonstration, endorsed by the National Union of Students (NUS), is the second major protest against the rise in university tuition fees in as many years.

In 2012/13, the University of Southampton will be charging prospective students £9,000 per year, the maximum allowed, for tuition.

As it did last year, Southampton University Student’s Union has organised return coaches to take students to and from the demonstration, where protestors will meet at 12 noon in Central London.

Union Policy passed at last year’s AGM states that: “Any nationally organised demonstration against a rise in tuition fees must be attended by our members, subject to Union Council’s consent.”

Last year’s November protests were marred by violence, after a small minority of participants descended into violent clashes with police and the destruction of property, including the Millbank Building which houses the Conservative Party Headquarters.

Here in Southampton, students and sabbaticals alike are hoping that the day will pass without incident. Speaking in the Telegraph, Police Commander Simon Pountain stressed that the weapons were not being deployed but were available in reserve should it be deemed that his officers’ lives were at risk. He emphasised:

“We certainly don’t see it as inevitable that we will witness a repeat of last year’s scenes of violence and criminal damage. However, it would be negligent if we did not plan a response to the small minority who may be intent on disruption and may not intend to be peaceful… I have asked for authority to have them available to me.”

With the exception of conflicts in Northern Ireland, baton rounds have not seen use in the UK, making the prospect of their deployment against thousands of students and schoolchildren tomorrow unlikely. Speaking of the policing at tomorrow’s demonstration, a press release from the Met states:

“There are a range of tactics available if there is criminality and violence associated with the event. One of these is the authority to deploy baton rounds in extreme circumstances.”

The news comes in the wake of the August Riots earlier this year and growing concerns over the police’s heavy-handed tactics in cases of crowd control, including the death of G20 protestor Ian Tomlinson in 2009 and the controversial method of ‘kettling’ witnessed last year.

Although authority was given to use baton rounds in the cases of looting and violence during the ‘summer disorder’ earlier this year, it was not used, and tomorrow is believed to be the first instance in which the use of baton rounds has been authorised for a protest march.

Speaking to the Wessex Scene, SUSU President Sam Ling questioned the negligence of the Met police’s decision to use baton rounds without having any contact with those organising the demonstration, suggesting that the police’s confrontational stance will only work exacerbate what should be a safe and peaceful day for all involved:

“What the police have done is irresponsible. Because they are pre-empting violence, people will turn up expecting it. We’ve done a lot of work to make it peaceful.”

Following talks with Sean Ruston, Education Officer at Warwick University and Chairperson of the Aldwych Group, students from Southampton will form part of a 200-300 strong group of students from across the country, considerably smaller than the mass of protestors expected to turn up tomorrow. Sam Ling told us:

“We’ll be hanging towards the back of the protests and staying together, making sure that everybody’s safe.”

In light of the recent developments, The Union’s risk assessment, completed prior to tomorrow’s demonstration, has been adjusted to reflect possible police intervention, with the emphasis still being placed on peaceful protest.

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Discussion2 Comments

  1. avatar

    Police ALWAYS have the right to use baton rounds, they don’t need any authorisation other than a senior officer.

    The Met have totally missed the point; the baton rounds, which were recommended after the summer’s violence should have no place in an otherwise peaceful protest unless they are needed, at which point a senior officer needs to take a decision at that point.

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