My experience of being 'kettled'


This piece in the Guardian on the controversy over police tactics on 'kettling' at the student loan protests caught my attention, because I was there in the middle of it, for most of the day.

Now for the caveats.  I think the police were superb, doing an impossible job. And I think amidst the mostly peaceful protesters were professional agent provocateurs determined to cause trouble.  But having experienced being 'kettled', with my daughter, I suspect that this action caused more trouble than it stopped.

I spent most of the day at Parliament Square, watching various MPs arrive at the House of Commons, and then the main protest march arrive, and the crowds build.  I found myself having been standing peacefully watching, to suddenly face a phalanx of police horses and police with riot shields charging towards me, and then to be herded like cattle into the centre of Parliament Square.  I had just been 'kettled' apparently for my own safety.

Now as a middle aged man, I was allowed to then walk out of the 'kettle' whilst younger people were detained behind the police lines.  I saw middle aged fathers like me in despair as their teenage children were ripped away from them and held hostage.  Dad's pleading to get their children out of the 'kettle' were told their kids would not be allowed out.

I rang my daughter who had been with friends, who had faced a similar shock of being rounded up, but had managed to 'escape' being chased by police, and had decided to stay in a McDonalds. I suggested that she make her way home.  It didn't take much to see that things were going to get ugly, and the thought that she might be herded back into Parliament Square, did not make me think how 'kettling' would keep her safe in there.

I stood for a couple more hours, watching as groups of students and parents, and adults, arrived outside Parliament, and the repeating pattern of them being surrounded by policemen on horses and driven into the crowd in parliament square.  I saw young people crushed against horses and policemen pleading to be let out, to only be hit and forced back into a growing and seething crowd.

Like a living creature this forced collection of people crushed by policemen seemed to pulse as it grew and expanded, with more and more people being pushed into its maw.  Finally looking on watching what must now be over 10,000 people forced and crushed into the confined space of Parliament Square, the violence erupted, with fireworks, and missiles.  Like a powder keg that finally exploded.

At that point I decided to make my way home.

Again I am not berating the police, or justifying any violence, I am questioning the one tactic of 'kettling'.  It was deeply disturbing to experience, and from what I saw, was highly conflictual and inflammatory, and as unfair on students and parents as it was on the police.

Every police officer even as they faced missiles and fireworks, address me as 'sir' and exhibited concern for my well being.  Extraordinary people under huge pressure. But one police office did hit me from behind, as I and group of middle aged men, outside Westminster Abbey decided to walk away foam the growing crowds towards Victoria.  I was shoved from behind and nearly fell over, as I was told to 'move' as  group of police officers overran me, chasing after some student further up the road.

I put it down to the price of exercising my democratic right to protest.  I could have stayed at home and watched it all on the TV, but with my convictions that the party I had voted for had betrayed their pledges, as I saw education thrown to the markets, and the future of young people given over to debts, I wanted to stand outside Parliament and have my government know that I was not happy with them.

Alas it's too easy with the media to reduce the protest to a seething mob of spoilt sponging students intent on violence.  What I saw was many parents like me with their kids, despondent and hoping that by being there their government might listen and take the time to come up with something better.