The Thick Blue Line

This entry was posted on
Tuesday, August 2nd, 2005
3:01 am and is filed
under The War on Stupid.

Gawd bless those men in blue for enforcing an unenforceable law… or at the very least making a very good show of things.

Who’d be in the army these days, eh? Or the police force, for that matter. What a thankless bloody task that is.

Think about it. With Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Charles Clarke off on holiday (crisis or no crisis, these men deserve time with their families, damn it) who’s in charge of home affairs? Hazel Blears, that’s who.

And if the shit really hits the fan, who’s in charge? John Prescott, that’s who.

Now, you can say what you like about Blair, Straw and Clarke, but they know how to stifle dissent – or at least how to make a convincing ‘tut tut tut’ noise when others go too far on such matters – but Blears and Prescott couldn’t organise a shitfight in a sewer.

Yesterday, as 300 or so people gathered in Parliament Square either as part of Brian Haw’s demonstration or in open defiance of the very new, mostly secret and generally stupid law banning spontaneous protest at the heart of our democracy, the police handed out flyers warning us that:

“We believe that you may be, or are about to be, involved in a demonstration located within an area subject to the provisions of the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. The map on the reverse of this leaflet clearly defines the area concerned.”

So, without reading further, I turned to the map – and then discovered that people could not keep and read this notice without being willing accomplices to a violation of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988:


Yes, the police had lifted their map entirely from StreetMap, which is; a copyright work. © BTex Ltd 1997,1998,1999,2000,2001,2002,2003,2004. The lack of any notation suggested the work had been lifted without permission. (You can read the non-offending side of this document via a close-up here.)

Here’s where it first gets interesting:

1) I did the same thing myself:

westminster map revised

2) Doesn’t my map look familiar? Yes, yes it does. The police did *exactly* the same thing that I was forced to do. Even though the Home Office released their official map two weeks ago while suggesting that it had always been available to the public.

Now, I’m man enough to admit my wrong-doing. If BTex Ltd wish me to withdraw my version of their map from Teh Interwebs, I will do so.

But I’m not a police force using a copyrighted image without permission with the intention of enforcing a law with it, now am I?

I’m also not a police force with instructions provided by the Home Office and sent forth with a map that’s so poorly executed (by the Home Office) or so poorly publicised (by the Home Office) that even those ‘in the know’ can’t find it or see fit to use it.

On the face of it all, it would appear that – while admittedly (and reluctantly) being in violation of copyright – has been doing a superior job to that of the Home Office in its interpretation and publication of area-sensitive legislation.

But wait… it gets better:

The police ran out of warning flyers!


Y’see, they ‘ran out’ about 5 minutes after I advised Superintendent Malcolm Simpson of the small copyright problem and then advised the crowd of the problem via the ‘open mic’ megaphone. But they were back on the case about 10 minutes later, after a *very* speedy copy-run… or a quick phone call to head office.

Either way, we wuz Warned. There were already plenty of ‘nice’ policemen in the square, plus two mini-buses full of ‘do the jobbers’ doing laps… and another four mini-buses on stand-by in Great College Street. (So many police and not enough warning flyers… what gives?)

In this glorious tension-filled lull, I approached the ‘open mic’ megaphone yet again.

Whether or not you accept that I’ve been an active member of Brian Haw’s protest since May 15, 2003 (see bottom photo) there was no denying that – by taking a ballpoint pen and showing the crowd how to apply it to a piece of paper with a certain amount of pressure and manoeuvre that pen in such a way as to make a clearly recognisable smiley-face – I had organised and taken part in a completely different (and totally unauthorised) demonstration.

I did this in full view of dozens of police officers (and their cameras), the media (and their cameras) and about 300 witnesses (and their cameras).

Even though this was in direct violation of the new Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005:

Any person who-
(a) organises a demonstration in a public place in the designated area, or
(b) takes part in a demonstration in a public place in the designated area, or
(c) carries on a demonstration by himself in a public place in the designated area,
is guilty of an offence if, when the demonstration starts, authorisation for the demonstration has not been given under section 131(2)

(Note – In case you missed the significance of this, I was demonstrating the correct use of a ballpoint pen. In clear violation of the new act, which appears to have been drafted by a 7-year-old.)

But no-one arrested me.

Instead they chose to arrest an elderly woman. And then about 4 other people. But not under the new legislation, it would appear.

No, I have the sneaking suspicion that these people were threatened with arrests under the new law, but actually arrested for resisting arrest, verbal assault, littering, or the usual nonsense.

Why do I think this?

What a guy!Because I approached Superintendent Malcolm Simpson (image, right, via) and asked if arrests were being made under the new law. Actually, a journalist beat me to it by about two seconds, but he was informed that he should contact the press office.

But I had the same question. And I pressed him on it.

Those of us assembled – whether we had taken part in copyright infringement or not – had a right to know if arrests were being made for this ‘offence’. Remember that their official warning in the form of a leaflet read:

“We believe that you *may* be, or are *about* to be, involved in a demonstration located within an area subject to the provisions of the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.”

Were we so involved? Had that time come?

Were these arrests being made under this new legislation?

His answer? I’ll give it to you verbatim:

“What do you think?”

Now, please remember that this man is a Superintendent in charge of police, not school prefects or cub scouts. Your general officer of the law may get away with snarky and disingenuous comments like this, but a superintendent?

I asked again, and was rewarded with the Ignore side of his face.

This is what has me thinking that yesterday’s arrests were a bluff. A few ‘show’ arrests on any pretext available that would allow the police – who appeared to be operating on uncertain ground and/or with poor instructions – to scatter the crowd and discourage others without actually putting the new law on the line.

But I guess for the official poop, we’ll all have to wait until morning.

See also:

News links:
BBC – Arrests over Parliament demo ban
Guardian – Activists clash with police over ban on protests
Guardian – Five arrested during Westminster free speech protest

Coming soon: Charles the Safety Elephant: The Movie!Take particular note of the new line from the Home Office, that; “the new laws simply put static protests on the same footing as processions, for which police also need to be notified.”

Well, I guess we can expect to see this law applied nationwide sometime soon, then.

Please also note that the police did not arrest Lauren Booth (Cherie’s sister) or Jeremy Corbyn MP… even though Jeremy was using the megaphone when the first arrests were made.

How Parliament passed the Statute Law banning the right of Legitimate Protest within sight of itself and the Government.

Revealing comments from a witness: Not one to normally criticize the Met, I found the police presence intimidating (I counted at least 5 clusters of moody police photographers) and aggressive. One passer by/tourist (provacateur?) seemed to take pleasure in shouting at us that we were “stupid” and that the police were “here to help” whilst we were conveying our disgust at the way that 5 fully grown male officers were dragging a peaceful lady to their van. I overheard one officer say that “we’ve got 3” when asked how many arrests they had made followed by “we need 6” worried me, like they had a target. When asked for the name of the Police station that the “perpetrators” had been taken to, the police gave 3 different names, one example of their smug disrespect for these good people. The sheer number and expense of the police operation amazed me: 2 Helicopters, 7 Police Vans, 4 “prison wagons” for arrests and just way too many police officers. Such a waste of resources, yet I am sure that they (and other clones) will say that it’s our fault, keeping them from “real” policing like catching terrorists. Funny how they never seem low on manpower for these kind of things.

A target? That would be an interesting thing to confirm. Oh, and ‘nick p’ forgot to mention the manned video camera atop Westminster that filmed the entire event from start to finish (see pic at right).

UPDATE – Following a convincing campaign by The Sun, I’ve had a change of heart:
Let’s put GREAT back into BRITAIN – you can do your bit!

About Tim Ireland

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