Major disputes over Trafalgar Square 'riot' claims after demo

By staff writers
March 27, 2011

Demonstrators, police, media reporters and commentators are disagreeing seriously about claims and counterclaims concerning violent clashes in central London last night.

The confrontations, which came after a peaceful, celebratory 400,000 strong TUC-organised 'March for the Alternative' protest in the capital, have received intensive attention from press and TV - taking attention away from the majority demonstration against swingeing public service and jobs cuts which critics argue target the most vulnerable.

Many web, Twitter and blog accounts questioned the intense 'mainstream media' focus on the violence of a few in and around Trafalgar Square.

Police claimed those involved were bent on "senseless violence". Sky TV said they were attacking officers - though their own cameras appeared to be purely behind the police lines.

The BBC sought to give a slightly more rounded picture, but still concentrated heavily on "protester" and "anarchist" violence.

The non-violent UK Uncut movement, which carries out peaceful occupations and symbolic actions against companies it seeks to prove are evading tax and leeching money, has complained strongly about widespread media misrepresentation of its actions and intent.

Nonviolent activists occupied elite store Fortnum & Mason, which was subsequently attacked by a handful of other people. But many news reports simply conflated the two.

"The main thing now, is to work on a counter-strategy. We've been misrepresented but how can we mobilise people who can see through it?", said UK Uncut (

"BBC: Please draw clearer distinctions between (a) the TUC march, (b) the UKUncut action, and (c) violence by police and rioters," tweeted Neutrondecay (Alex).

"The BBC keep talking about the scrutiny the police are under, but they aren't scrutinising the police," declared another protest supporter, Sian Ushka.

Meanwhile, New Statesman and radical writer Laurie Penny ( was one of only a couple of independent journalists inside the 'kettle zone' established by the police after some people attached stickers to the Olympic Clock and one threw a flare into police lines.

Ms Penny says that the police went "ballistic" after these incidents, and recounted various acts of inappropriate or violent conduct by the authorities, as well as a number of the mainly young people gathered there.

"I don't condone violence against any human beings, in or out of uniform. I'm here to report on the protests," she tweeted. "Hand on heart, I saw both sides kicking off today. But this [police response] is totally disproportionate. It was just kids having a party [at the beginning]."

"I saw most of the regular UK-Uncutters [] cuffed and carted into police vans despite damaging nothing and harming no-one," she added later.

"Huge fights breaking out in Trafalgar between police and protesters," Ms Penny wrote earlier on. "I got hit by a flying barricade. This is getting seriously out of hand. Cops beating unarmed women in headscarves... Police hemmed in on the steps of the square, battering protesters."

Then, very seriously, "Just saw a police officer use a baton on a crying unarmed 19 year old girl", followed by "Protesters throwing bits of metal fence. Just got hit by one. C****t this is insane."

"One guy who tried to enter the square was seriously beaten up by six policemen. Just now, right in front of me," tweeted Sven Ruggenberg.

ThirdEstate produced photographic evidence ( that some police operatives were not wearing the identity badges that they are legally obliged to display.

Around 300 young people and protesters were reported to have been involved in the disturbances, along with a larger number of police - who described those they 'kettled', arrested and charged as "criminals" who were "rioting".

There were also reports about police containment and intervention tactics around London underground stations / train terminals, including Charing Cross and Kings Cross.

"Had long day of very peaceful, fun, high spirited protest amongst hundreds of thousands of people of diverse backgrounds. THAT is the news," said another Tweeter, pointing to the larger picture which a number of pro-government papers have sidelined in their Sunday headlines and reporting.

Observers say that a serious investigation of the claims and counterclaims is now needed to determine what caused and sustained the confrontations, and to verify some of the serious charges involved.

Also on Ekklesia: "Preparing the 'violent protesters' narrative for the anti-cuts march" -


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