Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The March for England and the limits of Public Order Legislation

Brighton is counting the cost of another protest by the March for England (MfE) on Sunday 27th April 2014. So far, there have been a reported 27 arrests and some local businesses were damaged during scuffles in the city centre as anti-fascists confronted them. The MfE attracted an estimated 100-150 and they were opposed by at least 1000 counter-protestors. As happened last year, Sussex Police conducted a massive operation to police the march and counter demonstration, with Superintendent Steve Whitton quoted as saying that up to a dozen different forces were involved, including officers from: Surrey, Hampshire, Dorset , Kent, Devon & Cornwall, City of London Police (CoLP) , the Metropolitan Police (MPS), and Thames Valley Police (TVP). A Police helicopter, eight horses and dog units were also in attendance, so estimates that costs of the policing will run to at least £1/2million seem realistic given the resources they had available on the day.
As happened in 2013, the MfE were allowed to march along a stretch of the seafront road, with barriers and police vans separating the two sides. However, there were also serious scuffles between counter-protestors and police as they headed north back to Brighton station afterwards, with horses being used to push the crowd back down Queens road. This has some similarities with the march in 2012, as it was on Queen's road where the Police had to cut the MfE march short and divert it through back streets because of the level of opposition they faced. Prior to this year's march, there had been speculation that the march might be cancelled or re-routed at the last minute because part of the road on the route along the seafront collapsed, leading some to Tweet that 'even the road don't want fascists on them'! However, other than announcing a slightly amended-route on 25/4/14, Sussex Police allowed the march to go ahead despite massive local opposition, including a unity statement signed by local trade unions, the local MP- Caroline Lucas, and most of the Green councillors on Brighton Council.

 The Argus: Violent clashes as March for England returns to Brighton
March for England protestor confronts counter-demonstrators 

Use of public order legislation:
After last year's March for England 2013, I looked at how I felt the Police selectively interpreted sections of the 1986 Public Order Act (POA) to justify why they felt forced to facilitate these marches that are highly disruptive and not wanted by the vast majority of Brighton residents. I felt that a similar attitude seemed to prevail this year as well, with Sussex Police issuing a public statement attempting to explain why they felt they could not ban such marches. Again, I think this is a rather selective and narrow interpretation of available legislation. For instance, S.13 of the POA does mention 'serious public disorder' as the benchmark for judging whether or not the police can apply to have a march banned, but I would argue that definitions of 'serious disorder' can be a matter of subjective interpretation, and the police have used other legislation in different circumstances to prevent such events going ahead. For example, in November 2011, the Metropolitan Police arrested 156 English Defence League (EDL) supporters to prevent a 'breach of the peace' (BOP), because they thought they were going to target the Occupy protests that were under way in London at the time. One does not have to have committed a specific offence to be arrested to prevent a BOP (the police merely have to fear that it may occur if they do not make the arrest), and so such arrests have been used in the past as a kind of catch-all tactic to remove people from potentially volatile situations and then release them later once the threat of a BOP is over. Such BOP arrests used to be a fairly common occurrence at trade union and environmental protests in the 1980s and 1990s, although they seem to have become less common in recent years (possibly to avoid contravening the European human rights convention, which protects the right to peaceful protest).

There was however, a noticeable difference in how the POA was implemented when compared to how it has been used against other anti-fascist protests. For instance, I explored in a previous blog in September 2013 how nearly 300 anti-fascist protestors were arrested en masse under the POA while protesting against an EDL march in London. While  Sussex Police invoked Sections 12 and 14 of the POA this Sunday (which meant they could place temporal and spatial restrictions on the march and any counter-protests), no mass arrests happened, and local media have reported just one person as having been arrested under these sections of the POA. Why this happened is a matter of speculation, but I would suggest two possible reasons (although I'm sure there could be others).

Firstly, the fluid nature of the situation (especially when crowds were blocking the route of the March for England North to the station), may have meant that it was not practical (or even feasible) for the police to have conducted mass arrests in central Brighton on a busy Sunday afternoon- whereas the MPS had created a large sterile area for the EDL protest in London in September 2013, and it was easier to detain people en masse within this space (especially as this area was close to the City of London, which was largely empty on the Saturday afternoon that the protest happened).
Secondly, it's possible that the police were wary of making arrests under the POA because of Caroline Lucas's recent acquittal in Court after being arrested at the fracking  protests in Balcombe last August. She had been charged under S.14, but it emerged in Court that the police had  made mistakes in issuing the necessary conditions and directions, as illustrated by local journalist Ruth Hayhurst;

The district judge at the trial of MP Caroline Lucas and four other anti-fracking campaigners said conditions imposed on people at the Balcombe protest on August 19th were unlawful. He said the senior police officer who issued the conditions was not authorised to do so, he was wrong to issue them and they were so vague and unclear as to be meaningless.

Therefore, perhaps Caroline's recent victory meant that Sussex Police were reluctant to make fresh arrests under the same legislation, in case a similar verdict was reached in future trials arising from any mass arrests. She was also visibly present (see photo below) in the pen that was designated by the police as the 'authorised' protest area under S.14, so maybe she scared them off from making a repeat performance!    

Brighton MP Caroline Lucas joins protest against March for England
Caroline Lucas in the Section 14 pen (from demotix.com)

Wider context of the POA:
There are also wider problems associated with current  public order legislation. For instance, Nadine El-Enany (In Press) suggested that the more serious sections of the POA (such as S.2- 'Violent Disorder' which can result in up to five years in prison if found guilty) are routinely used against those who engage in what she terms 'unwanted political activity' p.1. For instance, 58 protestors were charged with 'Violent Disorder' following the 2010 student tuition fees protests, with 12 receiving prison sentences on conviction (although the vast majority who pleaded not guilty were eventually acquitted by a jury, including Alfie Meadows). She argues that such legislation is often used in a political way to try and de-contextualise and so de-legitimise protestors' actions;

 'The criminal law acts to de-contextualise the behaviour of individuals from the social context in which that behaviour took place [ ]. The social context in which actions take place ought, however, to be entirely relevant when assessing the ethics of an individual's actions' p.16

Events such as the March for England can create a great deal of disruption, and the opposing perspectives held by the different groups involved are not easily reconciled. For instance, the MfE seem determined to continue requesting permission to march in Brighton (despite the fact that the vast majority of the local community do not want them to do so), and the police claim that they are duty bound to facilitate them if they are approached. I would argue that it is a little disingenuous for the police to make this claim, as such an approach is predicated upon a rather selective interpretation of minor sections of the POA, and that in other situations, more serious public order legislation is often invoked if it suits their aims and tactics. I'm not saying the situation will necessarily be resolved if the police started mass arresting MfE protestors next time they appear at Brighton's city limits (and I  imagine some counter protestors would probably prefer to oppose the MfE themselves, rather than relying on the police). However, specific problems associated with the MfE coming to Brighton, and the wider social contexts in which such groups can emerge, need to be considered, as solutions are unlikely to found by merely relying on the selective (and sometimes politicised) use of controversial public order legislation.  

N. El-Enany, (In Press) ‘The criminalisation of the right to protest’, in F. Pakes and D. Pritchard (eds.) Riot: Unrest and Protest on the Global Stage. Palgrave Macmillan.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

South Korean ship tragedy

Hopes are now beginning to fade in the search for survivors from the The Sewol ferry that sank off the coast of South Korea yesterday (16/4/2014). Nearly 180 people have been rescued so far, but there are still over 280 people missing (including many school children), so tragically the current confirmed death toll of 18 will probably  rise. Generally, I think the media coverage has been less sensationalist in their reporting of this tragedy than they could have been, but I did see some video from the BBC that had the headline 'footage shows panic as boats arrive' on the front page (although this changed to 'footage from boats shows rescue'  when one clicks on the link to the clip). As usual, the footage shows the exact opposite of clich├ęd accounts of 'panic' as people calmly wait their turn to be rescued and then get into the rescue boat in quite an orderly fashion. 

Information is still coming in about what caused this disaster, but there already seem to be similarities with the sinking of the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy in January 2012. For instance, there is speculation that the ship deviated from its planned course & hit an underwater object, and the captain is currently being interviewed by Police after apparently being one of the first to abandon ship. Unlike the Costa Concordia though, many less people seem to have successfully evacuated, as the ship appears to have sank quickly in deeper waters. A distress call was sent out at around 09:00 local time, but the ferry sank within two hours. It seems that only two of the 46 life-rafts were launched, and this could be an indicator of how quickly the ship went down, as there may not have been time to launch others- especially because of the degree of listing shown in aerial footage, which would also have made evacuation more difficult. A similar disaster happened in 1994 when the MV Estonia sank in the Baltic Sea, killing over 800 people. An interview study with survivors (Cornwell et al, 2001) found that  the low number of survivors and apparent lack of co-operation could be explained much better in terms of the physical constraints of the situation (as the boat listed at a large angle and then quickly sank), rather than because people behaved in a selfish or 'panicked' way. 

Speculation is already emerging that one reason for the high number of people still missing is that they were told to wait and not evacuate from the Sewol until it was possibly too late, and the BBC quotes a survivor as saying;

"We must have waited 30 to 40 minutes after the crew told us to stay put. Then everything tilted over and everyone started screaming and scrambling to get out," 
In the same report another believed that more could have escaped if they had left in time;
"If people had jumped into the water... they could have been rescued. But we were told not to go out."
I haven't seen any explanations offered yet for why people were not told to evacuate immediately, and it is possible that such an order was not issued because the speed of the sinking meant that the seriousness of the situation was not realised until it was too late. However, I do hope that there were no attempts by the crew to withhold information from passengers. In a previous post on the sinking of the Costa Concordia, I highlighted some worrying reports that passengers were initially deceived as to the nature of the incident by the crew and were told that there was nothing to worry about. I argued that information should not be withheld from people in emergencies, as this can delay their evacuation until it becomes too late for them to escape successfully, and could end up having fatal consequences because of a misplaced fear that they would 'panic'.

Cornwell, B., Harmon, W., Mason, M., Merz, B., & Lampe, M. (2001). Panic or situational constraints?The case of the M/V Estonia. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 19, 5-25.

Monday, 14 April 2014

The Hillsborough disaster and moral panics about crowds

This week sees the 25th anniversary of the worst sporting tragedy in the UK- the Hillsborough football disaster, where 96[1]Liverpool fans died at an FA cup semi-final game against Nottingham Forest. As a mark of respect, all domestic football matches on Saturday 12/4/14 started seven minutes late, and various tributes were held by football fans across the country. The disaster is a scar on sporting events in the UK (and indeed on the conscience of the nation), not just because of the scale of the tragedy, but also because of the controversy generated in its aftermath, and the shocking injustices experienced by the victims’ families and survivors. This resulted in David Cameron apologizing for the 'double injustice' of Hillsborough when the report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) was issued in September 2012. The fallout from Hillsborough is still being felt 25 years on, with a new round of inquests after the quashing of the original ‘accidental death’ verdicts in December 2012. These inquests are currently hearing profiles of the 96 victims with some very moving accounts by their families, and there are also ongoing separate police and IPCC investigations into the disaster, so the tragedy is very much in the public consciousness at the moment. I would also argue that such disasters illustrate what can happen when crowds are viewed negatively by those charged with their safe management. 

Crowd safety management- not crowd ‘control’:
It is now largely accepted that Hillsborough was a preventable disaster, and measures have been taken since to ensure that such crushes can never happen again (such as re-designing perimeter fences in football stadia so that they can be opened quickly if any crushes begin in future). However, the 1989 Taylor Report argued that it was a miracle that such a disaster had not happened before, and highlighted the tragic irony that before Hillsborough no-one had ever died in a pitch invasion at a UK football match, but on 15/4/1989, 96 Liverpool fans died preventing a fictitious one. One of the things that I think is so tragic about the Hillsborough disaster is that the way the authorities viewed football (and other) crowds in the 1980s influenced how they were policed, which may have contributed to the chain of events leading up to the disaster, and the lack of realisation that a fatal crush was developing until it was too late. This may also have been exacerbated by the police believing that Liverpool fans were attempting to invade the pitch (see picture below that shows the police cordon near the half-way line while the disaster was at its height) when in fact they were merely trying to escape the fatal crush. A common underlying theme emerges from this catalogue of mistakes- that football matches (and I would argue crowd events in general) in the 1980s were all too often seen as a potential public order problem instead of a public safety issue. This is explicitly stated in the HIP report which concluded that at Hillsborough;
'the collective policing mindset prioritised crowd control over crowd safety.' p.4

Myself and others who are involved in the study of crowd emergency behaviour and safety management are often very critical of such approaches. For instance Fruin (2002) believed there is a clear difference between crowd ‘control’ and ‘management’;
‘Crowd management is defined as the systematic planning for, and supervision of, the orderly movement and assembly of people. Crowd control is the restriction or limitation of group behavior.’  p.6

This is not just a semantic issue either, as illustrated in John Drury’s blog post written after the HIP was published;
  ‘Approaching the crowd with a view to crowd control risks undermining crowd safety.'

Therefore, I would argue that it is this very emphasis on ‘crowd control’ that creates an approach to crowds that then guides how they are managed, and it was this mentality that informed public order policing strategy at football matches in the 1980s that may have contributed to the disaster at Hillsborough.
Police cordon at the height of the disaster

Post-disaster narratives of blame:
It was not just the disaster itself that made Hillsborough infamous, but also the subsequent attempts to deflect blame for the tragedy onto the victims that have so hurt their families and survivors, resulting in an enduring sense of injustice that is still felt today. However, I also think that the lies that were disseminated about the fans' alleged behaviour (which have since been shown to be totally without foundation) were all too readily accepted by politicians and the media, and this was influenced by a pervasive (but largely false[2]) view in society that crowds are not to be trusted because of their potential for ‘irrational’ behaviour.
The most notorious example of these was perhaps the false allegations that appeared on the front page of the Sun newspaper, under the headline ‘The Truth’ four days after the disaster. I would argue that such irrationalist views of crowds also permeated to the very top of the British establishment, as highlighted by reports that senior police officers briefed the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher days after the tragedy that drunken Liverpool fans were to blame for the tragedy, despite there being no evidence to support this claim. Margaret Thatcher’s chief Press Secretary Bernard Ingham also provoked outrage by defiantly sticking to the myth that Liverpool fans were to blame and the city should ‘shut up about Hillsborough’, and Boris Johnson was recently forced to apologise for an article that appeared in The Spectator magazine when he was editor, that falsely blamed drunken fans for the tragedy. This has all exacerbated the sense of injustice, and a recent article in the Daily Telegraph looks at the shocking treatment of victims after Hillsborough, arguing that derogatory stereotypes of Liverpuddlians have also helped contribute to the enduring myth that somehow fans were to blame.

Margaret Thatcher visiting Hillsborough after the disaster with senior police officers, Home Secretary Douglas Hurd, her Press secretary Bernard Ingham, & other Tory politicians

There is almost a sense of moral panic in the way society views crowds, in that they are often seen as vehicles for potential ‘disorder’ or mass ‘panic’, despite over 30 years’ worth of research into crowds by psychologists[3] finding that such concepts are largely myths & that crowds often behave much more sensibly than they are usually given credit for. When tragedies happen, it is usually because of a failure of crowd management techniques (as opposed to any ‘irrational’ behaviour on the part of the victims), and attempts to blame victims are often part of a strategy to deflect blame away from those responsible for such mismanagement. I have argued in a previous blog post that using emotive terms such as ‘panic’ to describe victims’ behaviour in disasters can serve such attempts to shift blame. I think that this deep societal mistrust of crowds was a major contribution to the context in which Hillsborough happened, and why the despicable slurs that were spread about the victims were allowed to remain unchecked in popular discourse for so long- which no doubt added to the pain and distress of those who knew the truth about what happened. Therefore, in order to help avoid future Hillsboroughs I think we need to develop a less negative view of crowd behaviour in popular discourse, or as I concluded in my blogpost when the HIP report was released;
‘we all need to take responsibility for ensuring that we adopt a less pathological view towards crowds, and try to develop crowd safety strategies at large events that prevent such disasters from ever happening again’


Cocking, C. & Drury, J. (2014) Talking about Hillsborough: ‘Panic’ as discourse in survivors’ accounts of the 1989 football stadium disaster. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 24 (2) 86-99. DOI: 10.1002/casp.2153; http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/casp.2153/abstract
 Fruin, J. J. (2002). The causes and prevention of crowd disasters. Originally presented at the First International Conference on Engineering for Crowd Safety, London, England, March 1993 (Revised exclusively for crowdsafe.com, January 2002.)

[1] 95 died on the day, and one was left in a persistent vegetative state, dying nearly 4 years later
[2] My blog attempts to correct the common myths that are often perpetuated in the media/ popular discourse etc; http://dontpaniccorrectingmythsaboutthecrowd.blogspot.co.uk/
[3] See Drury (2014) for a recent overview of the study of the psychology of crowd behaviour