Fears police tactics at G20 protests will lead to violence
• Met warns of G20 clashes and says officers 'up for it'
• Protest groups raise concerns as thousands set to march
Paul Lewis, Sandra Laville, John Vidal | March 27, 2009
Tens of thousands of protesters are expected to march through London tomorrow ahead of the G20 summit, amid mounting concern that over-aggressive police tactics may incite violence when world leaders gather to discuss the global economic meltdown.
Yesterday, the Metropolitan police was understood to have contacted a number of protest groups warning that the main day of protest, Wednesday, 1 April would be "very violent", and senior commanders have insisted that they are "up for it, and up to it", should there be any trouble.
The force has refused to rule out the use of anti-terror legislation, with Sir Paul Stephenson, the Met commissioner, conceding that the week ahead, in which President Barack Obama will lead a cortege of other world leaders to the UK, will be the Met's greatest challenge.
Senior officers insist there is intelligence that some activists demonstrating against climate change, capitalism, war and globalisation are intent on violence and will try to disrupt the summit. They say that some troublemakers who were active in the 1990s have emerged once more, and that chatter between groups shows they are forging alliances to take their message to world leaders. Some protesters have also promised to storm buildings, taking out their anger over the collapse of the capitalist economy with direct action designed to bring London to a standstill.
However, David Howarth, a Liberal Democrat MP who is leading a parliamentary group of observers at the protests next week, said: "I am increasingly worried that what the police are saying about the protests will end up in a self-fulfilling prophecy. By talking up the prospect of violence they will put off peaceful demonstrators and start to attract other sorts."
Andrew Dismore MP, who chairs the joint common human rights, said police language in recent days had been "not very helpful".
"The police have a duty under the Human Rights Act to facilitate protest and not frustrate it. If they act in a confrontational way and use confrontation language, they will start to provoke the kind of behaviour they are seeking to prevent. There may well be a fringe element that want to incite violence. But that doesn't mean police should criminalise every protester."
The direct action group Climate Camp – which is organising a mass overnight camp in the Square Mile on Wednesday night – claimed yesterday that it had tried to talk to the Met, but its efforts at dialogue had been ignored. Lawyers acting for the group contacted City of London police on 10 March. In correspondence seen by the Guardian, solicitors said they were "willing to liaise" and requested names and contact details of officers.
Subsequent requests have been made with the Metropolitan police. An email sent from the Met on Tuesday said their request had been forwarded to the operation command unit for consideration.
"We've been constantly frustrated by our attempts to talk to the police about the 1st of April," said Climate Camp's Liz Shaw. "They don't return our letters, they say that they'll call us back, and they prevent us from attending public meetings they are speaking at. Surely they would want to enter into some sort of dialogue with us in advance of the event."
Last night Scotland Yard denied that it had received any communication from the group and said it had been looking forward to hearing from them.
The police operation over the next week will involve thousands of officers from six forces. Commander Bob Broadhurst of the Metropolitan police, who is in overall charge, admitted his officers would be at full stretch.
They face the multiple challenges of protecting visitors such as Obama, who is on his first presidential trip to Britain, and allowing the public to demonstrate.
The first test may come tomorrow at the Put People First march to Hyde Park, which is organised by a coalition of more than 100 trade unions, churches ,charities and campaign groups marching under the banner "jobs, justice and climate".
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber will say at the rally: "It is right to be angry as there is nothing inevitable about this recession … Today is the birth of a powerful progressive voice."
There was also anger tonight over the cost of the summit after Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch-Brown disclosed the bill for staging the conference stands at £19m.
But Gordon Brown yesterday urged voters not to be cynical about the outcome of the G20, saying he had not travelled the globe this week simply to publish a communique.
Downing Street aides suggested that there may be a follow-up G20 summit in six months, which may also revisit the issue of whether there should be a further international co-ordinated stimulus in 2010.
Lord Malloch-Brown, Gordon Brown's G20 envoy, said yesterday it was "likely" there will need to be a stimulus in 2010, adding the test of the summit will be whether the recession is shallower and shorter than it would have otherwise been.