Tag Archives: Heritage Wardens

Occupy Democracy February – “Equality and Representation”

Last weekend, ‘Occupy Democracy’ returned to Parliament Square for a series of events around ‘Equality and Representation’. Despite an ongoing legal challenge against the GLA over previous repression, on Saturday they faced further arrests by police who appeared to be having difficulty providing a legal basis for their actions.

The afternoon began peacefully on the pavement by Churchill’s statue with a presentation on Islamaphobia, followed by a mock funeral for democracy at the foot of Mandela’s statue.

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Then the activists walked on to the grass area and unfurled a huge tarpaulin, on which they continued debate, with an inspirational offering from Kerry-anne Mendoza (aka Scriptonite).

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Heritage Wardens and police kept interrupting proceedings and attempting to hand over pieces of paper and information to members of the group, but were mostly ignored. Police numbers were also building up, with TSG officers arriving on the scene, and suddenly a dozen or more officers bundled into the crowd, ignoring the shouts that there were elderly and infirm individuals present, and they made their first arrest of the evening, targeting Donnachadh McCarthy, author and media activist. The authorities clearly see him as some sort of focus, as this is the fourth arrest he has endured.

From then on, the evening descended into a petty legal farce and police actions which successfully disrupted the planned events. Superintendent Kohli, heading the police operation, began the evening in assured form claiming his conscience was clear, but as legal arguments ensued, he was heard arguing with CPS about whether CCTV was needed to support any charges, and later literally refused to speak with Bindman’s lawyers and drove away into the night. See the video.

Each of the several more arrests over the evening followed the same bizarre pantomime. A Heritage Warden, surrounded by a large group of TSG officers, would randomly select a member of the public on the grass and (if they didn’t run away), would ask them to leave the grass, without giving any reason for the request. He then claimed they were breaking a Bye-Law by not following a “reasonable direction”, but constant requests to be told the “reason” for the request were ignored. He then asked for a name and address, and if refused, police piled in to arrest the person targeted.

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At one point, people in chorus (using the ‘mic check’ technique of call and response), described to the wardens and officers that some months ago, a Bindman’s solicitor had explained to the commanding Inspector why this exact same scenario was unlawful, and as a result he had withdrawn nearly 200 officers allowing the occupation to continue peacefully – this caused the police and wardens to withdraw and huddle for a while, but they returned for more arrests soon after.

The argument lies around whether a Warden can just issue a direction to leave (which clearly opens him/her up to the dangers of discrimination or infringement of human rights), or whether the “reasonable direction” has to have one of the reasons defined by the rest of the Bye-Laws.

The arrestees were released hours later, and all except Donnachadh, who is facing other charges, were told there would be ‘No Further Action’. Thus, the entire police operation seriously disrupted a peaceful and probably entirely lawful assembly by a few dozen people wishing to discuss the state of democracy in front of Parliament. It seems the occupy movement have a point.

They returned the next day and again held many of their workshops (with topics including ‘feeding the homeless’, ‘black activism’, ‘Greece and Syriza’) on the pavement next to Churchill’s statue.

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Romayne Phoenix

Romayne Phoenix

But when they peacefully moved to the grass, they faced further intimidation and harassment from wardens and police threatening further arrests.

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They finished the day by holding a small rally in front of Parliament.

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Superintendent Kohli certainly had CCTV covered on the Sunday, with a crew of four mysterious figures observing and filming from an overlooking window, and an unmarked green van sporting a powerful surveillance camera just behind the gates of Westminster.

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Occupy Democracy return to the Square on the day of the massive Climate March next month on the 7th.

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Occupy Democracy in Parliament Square Sat. 24th Jan 2015

Occupy have held several events in Parliament Square over the last few months (covered in previous blogs). Their attempts to hold democratic peaceful meetings in front of the so-called ‘Mother of Democracy’ Parliamentary buildings, have been met with repression ranging from petty and laughable jobsworthism to full-blown police aggression. The Mayor of London has spent huge amounts (according to FoI requests more than a quarter of a million pounds of public money last October alone) putting up huge ugly fencing in the name of protecting the grass and the area’s “heritage” for tourists. Interestingly, the word ‘heritage’ was until very recently purely about inheritance, possession and ownership, rather than its currently implied connection with culture, so perhaps Boris is being at least etymologically honest.

At the weekend, there was a large anti-Trident protest near Parliament, so ‘Occupy’ called for a follow-on assembly in Parliament Square discussing and highlighting the corporate connections and influence on Government policy around the issues of arms sales, war, and nuclear weapons.

As the Trident protest ended in Old Palace Yard, a couple of hundred activists marched on to Parliament Square, ignoring a “Heritage Warden” who tried to repel them, and setting up some large banners and making themselves comfortable for an afternoon of debate, speakers, and occasional music.

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The “Heritage Wardens” were originally meant to stop pigeon-feeders, anti-social behaviour, and illegal trading, but their powers were extended dramatically by new Bye-Laws based on the contentious PRASRA law which was written as a direct response to Brian Haw’s continued successful 10-year peace vigil, and the threat of Occupy encampments following the St.Paul’s protest in solidarity with Wall Street.

So now, these wardens work for a small private security business managed by an ex-soldier who served in Afghanistan. Perhaps you remember that one of the reasons the corporate media told us we had to fight the Taliban was that they didn’t allow anyone to play musical instruments? We were apparently going to bring the Afghan people freedom from such draconian repression. How ironic then, that this veteran now has his private troop of jumped-up caretakers running after a gentle acoustic guitarist, as they did on Saturday, and as they can be seen doing on a regular basis in Trafalgar Square, warning that the playing of musical instruments is prohibited.

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Watched by police Forward Intelligence Teams, with more than half a dozen police vans parked round the Square, and listened in to by several more intelligence officers dressed as Police Liaison in their baby-blue, a group of around a hundred stayed well into the evening.

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In defiance of the Bye-Laws and the past police violence and arrests, they held their ground for several hours into the cold night, and handed round a tiny megaphone, while sitting on tarpaulin (both acts banned by the Bye-Laws), as they discussed what ‘Occupy’ stands for, what its demands are, and how to counter the corporate control of Government and develop a true democracy based on the will of and acting for the good of ordinary people.

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This tiny and completely peaceful act of defiance (hardly noticed by the corporate media or the world at large) showed up the insanity of previous expensive and pointless repression and symbolised how disobedience can win small battles, and as we know from history, can eventually create vast changes.

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‘Occupy’ have launched a Judicial Review against the Mayor of London over the previous fencing and repression (https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/news/press-releases/liberty-launches-judicial-review-fencing-around-parliament-square-gardens), and have announced their return for a weekend occupation of the Square beginning on 14th February, with the fitting theme of love, equality and representation.

http://www.occupydemocracy.org.uk

Occupy returns to Parliament Square

This morning, Occupy activists began another weekend occupation of Parliament Square. Once again, fences have gone up, not just around the grass (supposedly closed for repairs), but also around all the concreted areas, along with high fences around the grass in front of the Supreme Court at the rear of the Square.

GLA notices state that the Square is closed to the public, and warn that “failure to comply with a reasonable request from an authorised officer is a criminal offence” – this begs the question, what is “reasonable”? It’s hard to get any “reason” for the closure, mainly because if the authorities admit it is in order to stop protest, they will fall foul of human rights law, so they contort themselves into totally unreasonable knots to avoid stating the bleeding obvious.

GLA notice

Unperturbed, the activists set up on the pavement at the front of the Square, sitting on a tarpaulin to listen to various speakers throughout the day, including a fascinating history of squatting and squatting law by Phoenix.

Pheonix on squatting

They received regular honks of support from passing motorists, who could hardly miss the huge “Real Democracy” banner held throughout the day by several volunteers.

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Banner

Policing was fairly low-key for much of the day, but very intelligence-led, with FIT photographers working there this morning, a very high definition camera on a stalk above an unmarked van parked up behind the gates at Parliament, and some Police Liaison Officers, who showed their real agenda by mainly liaising with the Heritage Wardens rather than the activists.

Liaison

Police surveillance camera

Meanwhile, up the road at Downing Street, there was a protest about fuel poverty, with two men stripped down to Bermuda shorts, occasionally joined by a third, braving the cold in solidarity with the growing number of UK citizens unable to heat their homes.

Fuel Poverty

Fuel Poverty at Downing St

They are promoting Fuel Poverty Action’s “Energy Bill of Rights” which you can find out how to support by visiting their website.

Occupy have announced that 30 volunteers are holding the protest area overnight, and you can see their full programme of events for tomorrow here.

UPDATE – around 8pm, activists opened the barriers and asserted their rights to enter the Square. Some activists sat on a tarpaulin and a large number of police with no more pressing business (must be a very quiet crime night in London) arrived on the scene.

Then and now – Parliament Square, democracy and repression.

Back in 2007, Brian Haw battled against a government desperate to close his, by then, 6 year long vigil. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While his own small encampment held ground, he was gradually joined by others, a few legitimate supporters, but several homeless people and other campers, who set up around the square nearby. The GLA put up fences, attached signs warning of “no unauthorised access”, and gave out copies of a nice letter from the GLA’s PR man, Benjamin McKnight, stating that the Mayor of London (then Ken Livingstone) respected peaceful protest, but that the other camping was an eyesore and a health hazard. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  

At the time, we all thought things had got pretty bad, but seven years on, things have changed for the worse. SOCPA was replaced with PRASRA, and the power of seizure was introduced, covering any equipment that might facilitate an overnight stay, any placards or written material, any musical instruments, any structures, and any amplification.

The Mayor (now Boris Johnson) clearly no longer respects peaceful protest, as every item associated with normal protest activity is now proscribed. The PRASRA law, on which the 2012 Parks bye-laws are based, is a very nasty, unjust, undemocratic, and draconian piece of legislation, as it confers powers on warranted “Heritage Wardens”, who with the help of the police, can use force to seize items they consider fall under the wide definitions, can ban people who don’t follow their “reasonable direction”, and can mostly get away with doing this without the hindrance of any judicial framework where they can be challenged.

Now too, “no unauthorised access” has been replaced with a lie. The 2014 signs say the area is “closed for repair”. 01 occupy21

The only repairs required are the result of the jackboots of, not 78 this time, but several hundred police, who have used the PRASRA legislation to intimidate, abuse, and harass a group of people who have publicly announced a nine-day series of workshops, discussions, and other peaceful events around the subject of democracy. 02 occupy21

The lie is further unravelled by the sight of dogs deployed to frighten off any possible incursions, while it’s wardens and police who patrol the grass behind high fences, rather than gardeners.

This morning, around 30 people were arrested, dragged away one by one by dozens of police, surveilled by a hovering helicopter in an austerity-busting costly operation to retrieve a measly £5 tarpaulin, used to keep bottoms dry on the wet soil. And even after they had seized their pathetic booty, police weren’t content. As if like rabid dogs, once they’d tasted some tarpaulin, they needed more. They attacked an elderly man on the pavement, who was carrying a folded up tarpaulin, arresting him as he tried to keep hold of it, and ignoring his cries that he had fought in World War II to stop fascism. One notable arrest, who was promptly de-arrested once police realised who she was, was Green GLA member, Jenny Jones.

After all this evil, I didn’t know what to expect when I visited the Square early this evening, but what I saw left my heart singing.

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‘Occupy democracy’ continues despite the police, the petty wardens, the fences, the dogs, the lies, and even a hurricane. 

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One man sat at the foot of Churchill’s statue, wearing a policeman’s hat, borrowed to keep the rain off, and guarding a big yellow sign that declared “The revolution will not be confiscated”. And behind him, a crowd of around a hundred people listened intently to speakers, and took turns sharing ideas, as part of the continuing programme of events, delayed by interruptions, but not abandoned. 05 occupy21 For updates and inspiration, see occupydemocracy.org.uk or follow @occupydemocracy #occupydemocracy

Heritage Wardens in Trafalgar Square hassle student film-makers

Two years ago I was hassled by Heritage Wardens on Parliament Square and told to stop taking photographs.

At the time, I interviewed the manager of the Wardens, Mr. Dean Eardley, who claimed that even for non-commercial use, there was a list of websites I could/could not publish to.

http://london.indymedia.org/articles/11962

My film and story was taken up by the NUJ, the BPPA and ‘Peace News’. Because Ed Sterns at Scotland Yard had given an assurance, when new bye-laws were introduced, that this sort of thing would not happen, the head of the BPPA took the matter up with them. MP John McDonnell agreed to table an Early Day Motion in Parliament over the issue. The NUJ also approached the mayor’s office.

In the end, the GLA offered an apology that stated unequivocally that the Heritage Warden had “overstated his authority and misquoted the bye-laws”. They said that “action would be taken to address this lapse of standards”.

In a public statement, the GLA apologised for the incident and clarified that “There are no restrictions on photography or filming for private or amateur use.” They stated that prior authorisation was required for “commercial filming”, but they clarified that “commercial photography or filming is that which is done for financial gain”, that there are no other restrictions and that “what someone does with their photographic or video material is entirely a matter for the person taking the image or recording”.

The Support Services Manager, Chris Harris, who gave all these public assurances, said that the issues I’d highlighted “had been taken very seriously and that action had been taken to address them”.

You would think then, wouldn’t you, that Mr. Eardley would have been told of this apology, and re-educated about his interpretation of restrictions on filming, but not only does he claim (at the end of yesterday’s new footage) that he knows nothing about any apology, but also, he is seen happily defending his wardens behaviour of hassling student film-makers, asking for their ID, and telling them to stop filming.

The new incident began yesterday afternoon when, passing through Trafalgar Square, i caught a Heritage Warden interfering with two small student groups, the first interviewing people about extremism, the other filming a small-scale drama project with one actor. Both were told they couldn’t film on the square, and the first lot were asked for their IDs.

When questioned, the Heritage Warden I spoke to at first said it was the Bye-Law. I asked him to show it to me. He told me I could look for myself on the boards around the Square – these boards DO list the Bye-Laws, but I wanted the Warden to show me which law he was enforcing – he refused. He then said it wasn’t a Bye-Law, but was the “protocols”. I asked whether this had any legal authority, and he couldn’t understand what I meant, telling me it was just his job. I asked to see a copy of the protocol, and he went off for a while, but came back with nothing, saying the printer wasn’t working. I asked to speak to his manager, and was told I’d have to wait a few minutes. Then I was told the manager wouldn’t speak to me but I could phone a number.

Soon after, I spotted Mr Eardley. The interview with him makes up most of the short film I’ve posted. He admitted that the Wardens were not relying on Bye-Laws at all, but on a “student protocol” which he claimed was set by the GLA who would be able to supply me with a copy. He also claimed that his staff were not “directing” students to stop filming, but “advising” them. This is not what three different students told me.

I don’t yet know whether the whole thing is another of Mr. Eardley’s fanciful ideas (like the list of approved websites he invented in 2012), or whether the GLA are reneging on all the assurances they have given about freedom to film, but either way, this interference with people going about their private business is intolerable and must stop.

I’ve asked for a copy of the “protocols” from the GLA and contacted the NUJ again. This post will be updated as the story unfolds.