The torrential rain was shed from the policeman’s flat hat via its curved plastic peak, forming a curtain of water that flowed down in front of him, obscuring his face.
His name was Martin. A female colleague stood in solidarity beside him. Two other female policemen were filming with a large video camera from three metres away. Thirty yards down the road were large groups of burly policemen in fluorescent jackets, and beyond them the Tactical Support Group sat behind the dark windows of their mesh covered minibuses, fingering their shields and batons.
Facing Martin were the protestors. There were six of us, average age about 70. We were all absolutely sodden through, but still clutched umbrellas and tried to find angles from which to reduce the wind driven assault of cold water. As the rain was extremely noisy, and probably we don’t hear quite as well as we used to, we kept shuffling towards Martin and leaning forward to try to catch his words, before they were blown away or drowned.
Martin was reading the riot act. Or, to be precise, he was reading an order made under the Public Order Act 1986. With no sense that he understood the absurdity of his words, he intoned:
“I reasonably believe that this assembly has been organised with criminal intent. I reasonably believe that this assembly may result in violence to persons and to property. I reasonably believe that this assembly may cause disruption to the life of the community”.
Some of my top teeth are no longer natural and I get dizzy after climbing a flight of stairs or getting out the bath. I was cold and wet and longing for a nice hot cup of tea. I felt perhaps proud, but rather puzzled, to be taken for a serious criminal danger to the city of Leicester.
Behind Martin stood the paramilitary security guards of the Israeli weapons factory. They did not look really nice. I wondered if Martin was facing in the right direction.
I sneaked this photo of one of them from the taxi as I was leaving. Not entirely what you expect to find down a wooded lane outside Leicester.
Overhead a red police drone buzzed. What it could see, that the scores of police eyes on us could not see, remains a mystery. It was possibly on the lookout for subversive messages on the top of umbrellas.
I found the police operator round the corner who, to be fair, was probably sheltering from the downpour under a tree rather than deliberately hiding behind the hedge.
The factory makes, among other things, components for the kind of drones that kill women and children in Gaza on a regular basis.
I would like you to meet Liane. One of the Palestinian children killed this week in Gaza by weaponry of the Elbit weapons company we were picketing. Whether her death involved any components made in this precise Leicester Elbit factory I do not know. It is probable.
Look into Liane’s eyes, then tell me you do not wish you had been with me, standing in the rain.
When Martin had finished speaking I replied, rather to his, and everybody else’s, surprise. He had started moving away but returned to listen.
I said that I was not an organiser of the protest, just a supporter. But the Order he had read out did not apply. We were just six people – that is not enough people to constitute an “assembly” under Part 2 of the 1986 Public Order Act.
I then went to the police camera team and said the same thing to them. As they were filming for evidence purposes to show the Order had been made, I asked them to maintain the tape for evidence that the police had been told we were not an assembly in terms of the act.
They were really not very happy about this. You could see the cogs whirring as they wondered whether they could arrest me. I presume all these police had arrived after an operational briefing that they were dealing with violent Middle Eastern terrorists, and they were having a brief bout of cognitive dissonance.
There are of course people who resolve cognitive dissonance by an immediate resort to violence, and rather a higher proportion of such people than you might expect, find their way into the police force, so I then wandered off with some friendly remarks about the weather.
I reported yesterday on the incredibly heavy handed policing of this protest. The Chief Constable of Leicestershire, Robert Nixon, has instructed the protest must be “stamped out”, according to one police officer I spoke with.
About sixty protestors have been arrested, and some 50 released on bail on condition they leave the county of Leicestershire completely.
Some have even been arrested hundreds of miles away, for the new crime of planning to attend a demonstration.
— Palestine Action (@Pal_action) May 4, 2023
Earlier that day I had witnessed the police harass a mother in hijab. Two male officers, not accompanied by a female officer, arriving to quiz her on why three children present at the protest were not at school.
Truancy is not in general a police matter, and if an intervention was deemed necessary it should have been carried out by a qualified local authority officer. The cultural insensitivity on display was remarkable, and it underlined the fact that every single police officer I saw over two days was white.
This picture, from a few days earlier at the same protest, illustrates it well. Leicester is a very multi-cultural city, but these are the county police.
Each time I arrived at the protest, I went walking around to count the number of police and see what they were doing. Generally I chatted with whoever was in charge, and made plain I thought they were far more heavy handed than was compatible with the right to protest.
I received a message from Palestine Action to the effect that friendly chats with the police are not really how they roll. I respect their position and its cause, but my own view is that if you treat the police officers personally as the enemy, it makes it hard to complain when they do the same to you.
On this final visit I noted, in addition to the ordinary and tactical support group minibuses; the drone squad, at least four marked police cars, the same number of unmarked cars with uniformed officers inside, and five cars parked up with occupants in civilian clothes sitting there for hours ostensibly doing nothing at all.
I called an Uber to leave. I then said my farewells, and my phone beeped saying the Uber had arrived, indicating the pick up point. I walked to the car and opened the back door – and there behind the dark windows were some burly policemen in plain clothes and a directional microphone.
The bearded driver was furious. He yelled at me “Why did you open that door?”
I replied “Well, if you will go around in disguise, people will mistake you for an Uber”.
The car doors were pulled shut again in anger and the car drove off. Three different groups of policemen approached, all yelling out “Why did you open that door?” “What were you doing with that car?”
Laughing, I replied “I am sorry, I thought it was my Uber”. Fortunately that very second my Uber pulled up next to me. I got in and left, giggling away.
The action at Elbit is continuous. I shall definitely be back at some stage. Please do get yourselves there. I regard it as a moral duty. We were just a few gentle souls in the rain, but I am proud to have been there.
Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.
Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.
Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.
Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:
Paypal address for one-off donations: [email protected]
Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:
Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
Sort code 6 0 – 4 0 – 0 5
Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB
Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.