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Coronation Clampdown: 18 Hours in Elephant and Castle

While covering the arrest of Republican demonstrators last weekend, Mic Wright also discovered Westminster volunteers the Night Stars had been caught up in the Met dragnet

The high visibility jackets of the Night Star volunteers, arrested in Soho, clearly showing the Met logo. Screengrab: MIc Wright

Coronation Clampdown18 Hours in Elephant & Castle

While covering the arrest of Republican demonstrators last weekend, Mic Wright also discovered Westminster volunteers the Night Stars had been caught up in the Met dragnet

The King doesn’t smoke crack. The King probably doesn’t know what crack is. He knows the smell of fresh paint; always fresh paint. Every place he goes is cleaned and cleansed. He is a dweller in castles, not Elephant & Castle. The King will never visit the sweat-stink, crack-fugged, piss-tanged foyer of Walworth Police Station. He sees police in their finest uniforms or speeding beside his motorcade. He sees police bending themselves into every shape to reduce the friction of the world. 

The protestors from Republic – after months and months of negotiating with the Met for the right to protest near the Coronation procession – saw only police friction. When their van arrived in Trafalgar Square and they began to unload placards and drinks for the protestors who were coming to join them, they were greeted by 25 police officers and instant arrest. They were held for 18 hours at Walworth – given crap books and even worse coffee – before finally being released just after the 10 O’Clock News had gone off air. The timing was as deliberate as the ambush that brought Graham Smith, Republic’s CEO, and six other potential protestors to the cells at Walworth. 

The Republic Seven have now had their bail conditions removed and their phones returned. The Met has conceded that they were not planning illegal disruptions or to ‘lock on’. But then, the Met knew that from the start and the Republic Seven were detained in an attempt to decapitate the protest.

It still went on but was smaller and without speeches. The Labour MP (my constituency MP) Clive Lewis was warned off appearing with vague talk of “security threats” by the police and, anyway, he’d have had no amplification as Republic’s sound equipment was seized, just like the megaphone in the possession of another arrested supporter who was lifted in Hyde Park. 

Republican Arrests‘The Right to Protest is Dead. We Need a New Movement to Win it Back’

Republic were not alone in the stinking cells of Walworth: There were Animal Rising members – taken from a training course going on 5 miles from the procession and dragged t Walworth to be questioned about things they hadn’t even contemplated doing – as well as activists from Just Stop Oil (whose offices Animal Rising had been training at) who were treated more roughly and kept longer; some of their number didn’t get released until almost 4 am and most saw at least 20 hours in custody. They have been released without charge but not before their phones were seized and searched. 

The aim of these arrests was to deny the activists even the prospect of protesting and, in the seizure of their smartphones, to disrupt organising networks and prevent detainees who may have wanted to speak out to the media from doing so. That attempt extended to the choice of Walworth nick as the holding facility; 10 minutes walk from Elephant & Castle Tube, it is a grim little hole of a station and police commanders (rightly) assumed that most of the press and media, mesmerised by the gold and gooney of the Coronation service and procession, would not bother sending anyone out there. 

They were right. I arrived at 1.30 pm and stayed at the police station until 3.00 am; a reporter from PA was there for a few hours (and did a good job); a Sky News camera took some shots; and an ITV crew came to review Graham upon his release but was stymied when he didn’t emerge before their bulletin finished… just as the police had intended all along.

But by choosing not to chase up the arrests, the press and wider media missed a scoop that dropped into the lap of me, an independent journalist with a long-simmering grudge against most newspapers and broadcasters. 

The Night Stars

Three Westminster council volunteers, working for a scheme called Night Stars, were arrested in Soho at 2.00 am or nearabouts. They wear pink jackets labelled with the Met logo as well as Westminster Council branding and hand out flip flops and water as well as rape alarms. But it was the latter that caught the attention of the snarling meat bastards of the Territorial Support Group who, buoyed by a Section 60 search area, were inspecting the bags and personal belongings of everyone they came across.

The arrest of the Night Stars would not have been known until the Met decided to make it public – so possibly not at all – had I not been stood on the steps of Walworth station when two of the Night Stars Three were released. The two women – whose names I have not published at any point and won’t – had never been arrested before. The younger of the two was in tears as she left the station. They both have day jobs and were sad, angry and embarrassed to have been picked up. After talking to me, they left. I tweeted their story. 

A couple of hours later, the third Night Star, an Asian man called Riz, who is a popular figure in activist circles across London, walked out of detention. He didn’t come out at the same time as his colleagues because the police had waited longer to process him. While the woman had not been handcuffed or physically manhandled, Riz had been immediately cuffed by the TSG and held outside the station in those cuffs from 2.30 am to 5.00 am before he was taken inside. His wrists were raw from handcuff burn and he was really keen to tell his story. I filmed a video with him that showed his hi-vis jacket bears the logos of Westminster Council and… the Metropolitan Police. 

Riz Choudhry’s wrists after two and half hours in handcuffs. Photo: Mic Wright

Riz is an Extinction Rebellion supporter and has been there to support members of the group when they have been released from police custody in the past. He doesn’t take part in direct actions but is “known” to the police as an activist. He believes – and I do too – that he was racially profiled and targeted for harsher treatment. Like his colleagues, he had his phone taken and was released on bail. The bail has since been cancelled and he has not been charged with anything; after being without his phone for more than 24 hours, he now also has that back in his possession. 

Media Reaction

The video I took with Riz soon had a large number of retweets and I was asked by a large number of broadcasters and newspapers for permission to use it in their reports. I let any of them use it with – the exception of The Sun and The Daily Mail – on the proviso that I was credited and Riz was not misrepresented. 

The Times newspaper did not uphold that deal and I am currently negotiating a fee from them for the unauthorised image use (I will be donating it to Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil). On the Today programme, Justin Webb repeatedly referenced my reporting without ever mentioning who actually did that reporting. In the British media, independent reporters will often be used for their expertise but not credited for it or paid for it.

Thankfully, Nicky Campbell on BBC 5Live restored a little of my faith in the corporation by having me on his show and giving me time to speak, even if I had to battle against a former head of Royal Protection at the Met who told me in his dodderingly patrician manner that I should, “calm down”. Reader, I did not calm down. 

Coronation StrickenThe Sound of Slamming Portaloos

The lessons of 18 hours in Elephant & Castle were this for me: 

The police do not want us to see what they are doing and the media helps them if it can’t be bothered to send anyone to the far reaches of… South London. 

The new policing powers introduced by this government and enthusiastically pushed by Priti Patel then Suella Braverman make protest de facto illegal and make it threatening to be a journalist trying to do your job. 

Activists are among the best of us. The solidarity, hope, and strength I saw on the steps of and in the horrible foyer of Walworth police station made me see humanity kindly when the Metropolitan police had sent me into a slough of despair. 

I am still tired from those 18 hours in Elephant & Castle but I am also wide awake. I think you need to be too. 

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