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Wednesday, July 18, 2012 

The return of pre-emptive policing.

Last week Craig Murray wrote that those visiting London during the Olympics from authoritarian states would be hard pressed to notice much in the way of difference. For those thinking that was a bit strong, then it seems the British Transport Police are trying their level best to live up to the very worst of expectations. Depending on who you believe, yesterday saw the BTP arrest either four or up to thirty graffiti artists, all of whom were bailed on draconian conditions banning them from any railway system for leisure travel, from carrying art equipment and from being within a mile of any Olympic venue.

The BTP claims that the arrests were made in connection with "incidents of criminal damage committed between January 2007 and July 2012", something that Darren Cullen, one of the men arrested finds difficult to believe. Talking to the Guardian, he says that he has never painted illegally, and considering he runs a company that works with other corporate firms to provide graffiti-style art to them that seems perfectly believable. The London Vandal blog suggests that others arrested were similarly either "retired" or hadn't touched a spray can in years, more than suggesting these were raids aimed at picking off those either well known in the community or to the police with the intention of ensuring that they wouldn't be able to go anywhere near any Olympic venues with artistic intentions. Even if the BTP's account is more accurate than that from the graffiti artists themselves, then the specific condition barring them from within a mile of any Olympic venue is ridiculously broad, and in any case the condition stopping them from carry spray paint ought to be enough to cover any eventuality.

What's more, we can look forward to the pre-emptive arrest becoming standard practice due to the ruling from the High Court today that those detained prior and during the royal wedding were dealt with perfectly legally. Among those who had asked for a judicial review into the police's tactics was someone dressed as a zombie who was on their way home. Justifying the arrest, the officer wrote in his witness statement (paragraph 51):

"… we were also told to … look out for potential breaches of the peace for which the police response would be pre-emptive, if necessary, and zero tolerance of potential disorder. While acknowledging the right to peaceful protest, the vast majority of the crowds that day would be supportive of the wedding and therefore there was a concern that, potentially, any public display of anti-wedding sentiment in the faces of that supportive crowd could lead to breaches of the peace. (By this I mean fights breaking out.) Moreover, on the basis of recent events, those displaying anti-wedding views might well be intending to disrupt the wedding itself, if they could."

In other words, the "justification" for some of the arrests was that it was for their own good, more evidence of how the Public Order Act is in desperate need of redrafting. At least in the case of the wedding some of the arrests were "intelligence" led; the BTP seems to have just picked on old hands they knew about, and without the slightest evidence they had any attention of doing anything. That this is happening under the civil liberties defending coalition rather than ZanuNuLiarbore seems to have passed some people by; where is Henry Porter now, incidentally?

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