I was pleased to see in the Mirror newspaper that the Space Hijackers, who I described in 2009 on one of the many times I’ve photographed them as “a group who call themselves ‘Anarchitects’ whose various projects over the last ten years given a new creative face to protest” have got a payout from the Met Police over their arrest at the G20 protests in April 2009.
It’s perhaps a little unfair on the Met, as it was the City of London Police who actually arrested them on clearly spurious grounds for ‘impersonating police officers‘, but the Met were in charge, and presumably pressed the Crown Prosecution Service to proceed with the ridiculous case against them. It was almost certainly simply as an attempt to deflect criticism away from the police handling of the event, which they had spent days in the media talking up into a riot, and where they then engaged in riot against the protesters. Unfortunately for their plans, one of those who got caught up in the police riot, a newspaper seller on his way home, was killed by a police officer. Even more unfortunately for them, the unprovoked attack was caught on video, and a few days later the story of Ian Tomlinson hit the news headlines.
I didn’t do a great job at the G20 protests, though I started reasonably photographing the street theatre and carnival in Meltdown – Financial Fools Day, and managed (with some difficulty) to be on the spot for the start of the Climate Camp in the City, I left the area early to cover a protest march in the West End, managing to evade the police containment by walking out as they moved in force to deal with the protesters.
Other photographers who were trapped inside the huge police cordon around the area (it was one of those days when police just laughed at press cards) got some rather better pictures – and some colleagues had arms broken or lost teeth when police attacked them. Finally the press did manage to get out through the police lines – and when most had gone, the police stormed the peaceful Climate Camp in Bishopsgate, batoning down protesters who stood facing them simply raising their hands and chanting “This is not a riot!”. The protesters were wrong, it was a riot, but a riot by the police. Later it got worse still.
Police had arrested the Space Hijackers on their way to join the Climate Camp protest, so I didn’t manage to photograph them in their ‘police uniforms’ there, though I got that opportunity a few weeks later in May 2009, when they organised ‘Guilty‘, a party at Bank, the centre of the G20 protests, inviting people to come dressed either as guilty criminals or as police, and for the guilty to give themselves in.
The Space Hijackers have also been very generous in giving support to the police during the two protest marches by police in London, on each occasion setting up a stall on the route providing free advice on how to protest and suggesting suitable slogans and placards. So it’s good to see them getting a little payment from the Met.
As well as being motivated by police politics, the CPS decision to prosecute was also clearly a political one on wider grounds. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that they were prosecuted because they were anti-capitalist protesters. Others get away with similar or much more serious breaches of impersonation all the time.
Of course there are others on the streets of London every day who do impersonate police officers, but if you are a large commercial organisation (and probably giving big handouts to the Tory Party or jobs to former cabinet ministers etc, along with the odd brown envelope here and there) they don’t bother you.
Some council employees too, for example in Newham, wear uniforms that seem more like police than many of the police – and giving them titles such as ‘Law Enforcement officers’ surely are designed to confuse the public into thinking they are police. Its perhaps time the Met took a serious look at some of those who are clearly ‘impersonating police officers’ and threatened them with action under section 90 of the Police Act 1996.