The Metropolitan Police have begun a fresh spate of arrests following the hunting demonstration in Parliament Square on 15 September last year, the day the Hunting Bill was passed.
Twenty-one hunt supporters were arrested that day. In the past month eight more have been arrested, and unconfirmed reports indicate that as many as 50 further arrests are being considered. All are being charged under section four of the Public Order Act — for example, for exhibiting aggressive behaviour or swearing at police.
Many of those recently arrested made formal complaints about police behaviour at the demo to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), prompting theories that evidence gathered by the IPCC on complainants may be helping to secure arrests.
“It is linked with the IPCC. The person complains, he’s interviewed, his face matched with a scene on the video and the police go back to charge him,” said barrister Richard Griffiths, who is defending two of the protestors arrested in the past month.
“I’ve heard the police have stills from videos and have put ‘do you know this man’ types of poster in police stations around the country — as they do for football hooligans.
“Whether it’s getting into a malicious prosecution action against the police I don’t know — but it’s being used to frighten field sports supporters. People are being charged with offences they clearly haven’t committed.
“It is serious that the police are being used in this way; it’s not about hunting any more,” added Griffiths, who is also concerned about the inconsistency of evidence being used by the police. He is appealing to other solicitors handling these cases to come forward so video evidence can be co-ordinated.
Mal Williams, huntsman and master of the South Herefordshire, complained to the IPCC five weeks before he received a letter asking him to go to his local police station to be arrested.
“Two senior police officers came up [from London] to meet me at Hereford police station,” said Williams. “I couldn’t work out why I was being arrested. Then it dawned on me; I made a complaint after my kennel huntsman, Steven Lenton, was bashed and had to have 24 stitches in his head. Four or five weeks later, I’m having my collar felt by the Met.”
The IPCC was set up last April specifically to handle complaints against the police independently. It received nearly 400 complaints over police behaviour at the Parliament Square demo and has conducted a huge number of face-to-face interviews with hunt supporters.
An IPCC spokesman explained that the organisation is required to pass on evidence that might defend the police reaction. In this case, aggressive behaviour towards the police would be a defence.
“If we turn up matter supporting the defence of the complainant or police officer involved, we must disclose it to the Crown Prosecution Service,” said the spokesman, who vehemently denied that the IPCC was helping the Met to identify protestors.