Friday, September 30, 2005

Police shoot own foot and egg Labour’s face over terror

The police seem hell-bent on embarrassing the government that gave them the extra powers to combat terrorism by using the powers as a convenient way of stopping any civil dissent, no matter how peaceful and obviously non-threatening it may be.

In other words, when they’re too lazy to think of a legitimate reason to detain someone or too mean-spirited to let them proceed, the plods whip out an anti-terror citation.

The stupidity of this was demonstrated in full glare of the media at the most inopportune moment the government could have feared when an 82 year old man was manhandled out of the Labour Party conference in Brighton for shouting “Nonsense!” during a speech by Jack Straw about the decision to invade Iraq. The octogenarian was then barred from re-entering the conference under anti-terror laws. Disgraceful.

Why do I relish the fact that this absurdity was highlighted in the most embarrassing way possible? Well. I have been a victim of it too.

Earlier this year, Peter Tatchell, myself, and a group of our colleagues from OutRage! headed down to Windsor to watch the ‘Royal Wedding’™ procession and to display posters which said “Charles can Marry Twice – We Can’t Marry Once” in protest at the ban on allowing same-sex couples to wed. We were briefly detained under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act despite it being a well known fact that OutRage! is not a violent organisation and that Peter is not a terrorist. They threatened to confiscate our posters and remove us from the area if we tried to display them again. Had it not been for Peter’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the laws of free speech and protest, the might have succeeded in intimidating is into complying.

Of course, all this was recorded by several TV crews who converged on the commotion.

But the question must be asked: If this happened to us, and it happened to an old aged pensioner at a Labour conference, how many other people who didn’t happen to be in shouting distance of a TV camera has this happened to?

Quite apart from the sensible debate to be had about the substance of this legislation, lazy police officers flinging it around like a trump card in a childish board game will do far more damage to the credibility of the government’s anti-terror proposals than any other factor.


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