London Metropolitan Police have been accused of using plain clothed officers to infiltrate the G20 protests held in london this April in order to provoke violence.
The accusation has come after several weeks of shock after news of the death of Ian Tomlinson at police hands and the injuring of many others.
Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, who was present during the disturbances outside the Bank of England on April 1st, said: “When I was in the middle of the crowd, two people came over to me and said: ‘There are people over there who we believe are policemen and who have been encouraging the crowd to throw things at the police.'”
When people become suspicious the two men made a hasty exit via the police cordon. They were also believed to have displayed ID cards to allow them to pass.
Antonio Olmos, a freelance photographer at the scene, said: “I had seen an individual wearing black clothes who in my mind looked like a rugby player not a protester, who seemed to be encouraging his fellow protesters to be more aggressive toward to police, i.e., in the throwing of bottles, pushing against police lines etc.
“Just as I noticed this behaviour several protesters turned on this individual and accused him of being police. He produced some sort of ID when he approached the police lines and he was quickly let through at a time when no one, including press, were being allowed to leave the police cordon around the Bank of England.”
Metropolitan Police chief Sir Paul Stephenson has so far refused to comment on the issue.
Police conduct in early April is widely regarded to have been unacceptable, with officers across the city engaging in frequently unprovoked attacks on demonstrators.
After enclosing protestors outside the Bank of England – a method also known as ‘kettling’ – units of the Special Territorial Group were conspicuous by their lack of ID badges as they assaulted several people in the crowd.
Officers present gave no reason for the sudden decision to enclose the crowd, nor would they respond to inquiries on how long people would be confined. In one instance a man claiming to be diabetic and wishing to return home to take his medication was refused permission to leave.
Others claimed that police had visible stockpiles of bottled water, yet refused to release them to a crowd that had now been stood in the sun for many hours. Later that evening a massed police charge was aimed at the Climate Camp, where environmental activists had gathered. Despite repeated chants of “this is not a riot” from protestors, officers smashed into the gathering and forcefully dispersed it.
The Independent Police Complains Commission received over 250 complaints over the course of the G20 protests, with 121 of these being over the use of force. The use of plain-clothes police officers has been a recurring method in the history of modern policing. However, whilst officially they are only used to identify potential troublemakers, unofficially they can be used to provoke violence.
Historically the term ‘agent provocateur’ was coined in France and used to describe police agents who would infiltrate underground organisations in order to discredit them. Since then such individuals have been suspected of being in operation within the workers movement in varying countries.
In the 1960s FBI agents were alleged to work in organisations such as the Black Panthers in order to drive them to commit violent acts, whilst MI5 and Special Branch personnel have admitted to operating in the British political left during the 1980s.
As this goes to press, Tom Brake has declared his intention to present his account of the G20 protest to a parliamentary committee on human rights. Mr Brake said: “The police strategy of locking in all the protesters, peaceful or otherwise for up to six hours, in my view, put peaceful protesters at greater risk, increased the likelihood of violence as well as having serious implications for peaceful protests in the future. These are matters that a full inquiry will need to consider.”
Last month’s (May) Socialist Appeal editorial quoted Engels that the state ‘consists not merely of armed men but also of material adjuncts, prisons and institutions of coercion of all kinds.’ Marxists say that the state as a rule serves the interests of the ruling class. The case of the agents provocateurs at the G20 demonstrations shows this is as true as ever.
This article first appeared on Socialist Appeal.
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This post was written by Daniel Read