SPEAK deploy Evidence Gatherers

Taken from Arkangel

In what could possibly be a first of its kind, SPEAK, the organisation who are currently campaigning against Oxford University’s plans to build a new animal research laboratory, deployed Evidence Gatherers at a protest they organised in Oxford yesterday, 22nd July.

A spokesperson for SPEAK commented that: “two teams made up of 3 people were deployed as Evidence Gatherers”. The reason given for this new initiative was because of the behavior of Thames Valley Police in the past; “Unfortunately we have had to resort to such measures that, at the end of the day constitute policing the police due to their appalling behaviour in the past.”

The catalyst for the initiative comes after a peaceful demonstration held by SPEAK on the 21st June was brutally broken up by the police. Many were injured in the incident including elderly people. Police are said to have thrown protestors across the road, many sustaining injuries as they were dragged along the road by officers. 5 people were arrested on the day, one of them was a 70 year old woman, who had to have her injuries looked at by a doctor.

It has long been suspected by SPEAK that Thames Valley Police are heavily influenced by Oxford University. If a closer look is taken at the Thames Valley Police Authority, it highlights what could possibly constitute a conflict of interest. Two individuals on the authority, Ben Simpson who is a Magistrate Member for Oxfordshire and Lord Bradshaw both hold key positions at Oxford University – both men are vice-chairmen of the authority.

A peaceful demo held by SPEAK in January, earlier this year was similarly violently broken up by Thames Valley Police officers. Having offered a mutually agreeable route to SPEAK officials who had entered into negotiations with the police, the 500 strong March had the agreed route blocked by Thames Valley Police officers who had reneged on the agreement.

There can be little doubt that the officers present at negotiations had made it clear to the SPEAK officials that they would be allowed a set route which would include going past the partially built lab. In fact, SPEAK have a recording of one of the negotiation meetings they had just a week before Thames Valley police officers brutally attacked the peaceful procession. The chief police negotiator Supt. Clive Shepherd is clearly heard saying on the audio evidence “It would be unreasonable of us (Thames Valley Police) to say you can’t go to the site (the partially built lab).” At 36 minutes and 10 seconds into the meeting Thames Valley Police negotiator commented: “Good news, you are going to the site”! (To listen to the audio evidence click here.) On the 14th January, however, as the procession made its way on the agreed route, they found their path blocked by a line of police officers.

SPEAK intend to maintain a presence of Evidence Gatherers in Oxford during events that have been organised by the group in order to force the police to act in an appropriate way. The spokesperson for SPEAK commented: “up until now the police believed they could get away with attacking peaceful protests but as we saw from today’s event they do not like to be photographed or videoed. Of course they are always trying to harass and intimidate peaceful protestors by constantly sticking long lenses and video cameras in the faces of animal rights campaigners but when the table is turned, they don’t like it. The only difference between what we are doing and what they do is that our intention is not to harass police officers but document any illegal behaviour and there is no doubt, the police officers at yesterday’s event were very mindful as to how they treated peaceful protestors with just a few exceptions.”

When asked how the police officers reacted to the change of roles, the SPEAK spokesperson commented: “all during the day they (the police) tried to make out that the Evidence Gatherers were part of the protest. This was just a convenient way for the police to try to stop the Evidence Gatherers from doing their job. However, despite the best efforts of the police to harass the Evidence Gatherers, they maintained their discipline in the face of much provocation.”

SPEAK, in the lead up to yesterday’s event had notified the Area Commander of Oxford David McWhirter of what they intended to do. Arkangel have been given access to a copy of the email sent to Mr. McWhirter which reads as follows:

Dear Mr. McWhirter

This is a courtesy email to put you on notice that due to the behaviour of Thames Valley Police officers in the past relating to the policing of SPEAK events, we feel it is only appropriate that ‘Evidence Gatherers’ be deployed by us on the 22nd July in order to expose any behaviour by police officers that could be judged to be illegal.

Unfortunately it is not a decision we reached lightly but as you are aware SPEAK has audio evidence that illustrates that Thames Valley Police might not be as impartial as they should be. We also have video evidence taken on the 21st June that clearly shows an excessive use of force by police officers against peaceful protestors. What is very worrying about the behaviour of some Thames Valley Police officers is the fact that a 70 year old protestor had extensive bruising to her body due to the actions of police officers on this day. Of course her injuries have been recorded by an independent body.

As area commander of Oxford we hope that you will support us as we try to highlight the possible illegal behaviour by some of your officers. As a responsible police officer we are sure that you will want any behaviour that might constitute an assault brought to your attention in order for you to take action against any offending officers.

The ‘Evidence Gathering’ team will of course introduce themselves to senior police officers on the ground on the 22nd July, so that a course of conduct can be discussed if necessary. The ‘Evidence Gathering’ team will not be taking part in the event planned for the day. Their role will be only to gather evidence if such a need arises – of course we are sure that you share our hopes that this will not be necessary.

We do not expect our ‘Evidence Gatherers’ to be impeded in any way, unless of course any laws are broken by them. However, just in case this is not the case, we will also have legal observers present who will be discreetly monitoring the situation to make sure that both parties act in a responsible manner.

Should you require any clarification regarding this matter, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Yours sincerely

SPEAK

And a note was given out on the day to police officers who tried to impede and in some circumstances assault the Evidence Gatherers that read:

EVIDENCE GATHERERS

Notice to Police

The role of the Evidence Gatherer, as is our legal right, is to monitor and document any behaviour by the police that might constitute a breach of their duties.

Evidence Gatherers are not part of the demonstration. Evidence Gatherers have been instructed to remain impartial at all times and their role on the day is to document the behaviour of the Police and nothing more. If the police are doing nothing wrong then they have nothing to fear.

As Evidence Gatherers we expect to be allowed to go about our lawful business. Any attempt by the police to impede, harass or intimidate an Evidence Gatherer will result in such actions being documented and recorded by those acting as covert Evidence Gatherers and may result in legal proceeding being brought against those officers acting in an illegal manner.

Any evidence collected is subject to legal privilege. Any attempt to seize, tamper or destroy evidence will result in the matter being referred to the appropriate Department of Professional Standards.

SPEAK have described yesterday’s deployment of Evidence Gatherers as “a great success”, and have vowed to continue to use them in the future. “Yesterday’s use of Evidence Gatherers was, as far as we are aware, the first time that such a deployment has been used by animal rights protestors. We are still learning, but we are learning fast, and we have allot of positive things to take from their use yesterday. We will continue to learn and, in an age when the police are becoming ever more politicised and are being used as instruments of the state, then Evidence Gatherers are becoming a necessity rather than a luxury. At some point in the future we hope to be offering a training programme to other animal rights groups who might be experiencing similar illegal behaviour by the police.”

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