Liberty has announced it is seeking a judicial review of the decision by the Metropolitan Police to search dozens of peaceful protesters en route to a non-violent demonstration at an Essex oil refinery in October 2010.
The human rights organisation is acting for Dave Howarth, who travelled with friends from Birmingham to London to take part in the protest. The group, along with other peaceful protesters, boarded a train bound for Coryton at Fenchurch Street station. A large number of police officers lined the platform and searched Howarth, his friends and with everyone else on board whom Liberty describes as "looking at all like protesters."
The police searches – conducted under Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 – revealed nothing. One of Howarth’s friends reportedly overhead an officer involved claiming police were “only doing what they were told”. Following the search, the group continued to Coryton Refinery where they took part in the peaceful, non-violent protest as planned, later returning to Birmingham.
Liberty is seeking a High Court ruling that the Metropolitan Police action was unlawful. The police claimed they had information suggesting protesters were carrying molasses – which resembles oil – and might use it to damage property. Although they were a told the molasses was in large containers, the officers searched the protesters' wallets. The searches of so many people on their way to a peaceful protest were disproportionate, says Liberty.
Evidence also suggests that the officers who conducted the searches considered themselves to be acting under instruction rather than making their own individual decisions as to whether the searches were justified.
James Welch, Legal Director for Liberty, said:“The right to protest is fundamentally important in a democracy. While the police play in important role in ensuring that demonstrations remain peaceful, they need to avoid action that will have a chilling effect on the right to protest. The blanket searching of so many protesters was completely over the top.”