Disabled activists who took part in a peaceful protest outside the offices of a government benefits contractor have raised concerns over the use of a controversial police tactic to control their demonstration.
More than 50 protesters took part in the protest outside the headquarters of the company Atos Origin, near Euston station in central London, on 24 January.
Metropolitan police officers prevented the protesters from entering the Atos offices, but shortly afterwards set up metal fences hemming them in to a small area and allowing only one exit – a controversial containment tactic known as “kettling”.
Some of the protesters have questioned the police tactics for what was a small, peaceful action. One activist tried to break through the police line, but there was no violence or threats of violence from any of the protesters.
Labour MP John McDonnell has tabled an early day motion (edm 1344) praising the disabled people who took part in the demonstration, and expressing concern on behalf of protesters about being kettled and “unduly restricted in their demonstration”.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, who helped organise the protest, said she told police that some of the protestors had “serious medical conditions which may well cause problems” if they were kept behind the barriers.
She added: “A number of people with mental health conditions felt very threatened by the barricades around us.”
The police tactics come only a month after the same force launched an internal investigation after disabled activist Jody McIntyre was allegedly hit with a baton and twice pulled from his wheelchair during the student tuition fees protests.
Adam Lotun, another of the Atos protesters, said: “I don’t know why they felt they needed to contain that group of people.
“All of a sudden there were barriers around us – no warning, no discussion. It wasn’t as if there was a violent element that was consistently trying to break out and cause any damage.”
He was also angry that the police refused to allow disabled protesters – including a pregnant woman with a guide dog – to use the nearby toilet facilities at either Atos or a neighbouring gym.
No-one from the Metropolitan police was available to comment.
Meanwhile, security staff employed by the University of Birmingham took photographs and filmed disabled students taking part in a peaceful protest against cuts to disability benefits outside their university library.
Student Claire Lister, who is to lodge a complaint with the university authorities over the filming, said: “What they were trying to do is to stop people protesting by using intimidation tactics.”
A university spokeswoman said the university “acknowledges the right of students and staff to protest peacefully”, and that about six of its staff were present “to ensure there was no disruption to library services”.
She added: “A visual record was made of the event, and a notice was posted nearby to notify protesters about this, which is a legal requirement.
“There was no verbal intimidation and the event was entirely peaceful. The university is currently unaware of any complaints being received in relation to this matter.”
27 January 2011