free weekly direct action newsheet produced in Brighton, UK, since
1994 covering environmental and social issues, direct action protests
and campaigns, both UK and abroad. For this week's issue, Party
& Protest events listing, free SchMOVIES, archive and more
Guide To Public Order Situations
What we present here is a brief guide to surviving public
order situations and slowing down or preventing the police from
gaining the upper hand once a situation has occurred.
Bear in mind that the police are probably
much better equipped and trained for close combat than you or
I. They have been psyching themselves up for hours, are likely
to have plenty of reserves standing by and usually feel confident
with the law behind them. Beating the police is about outwitting
them, not necessarily hitting them over the head.
THE AIMS AND METHODS OF THE STATE
British Law has traditionally been concerned
with keeping the peace and not necessarily preventing or solving
crime. The roots of such public order policing can be traced
back to the common law offences introduced to control the havoc
caused by mercenaries returning from the Hundred Years War. These
laws evolved into the 1967 Riot Act, which established in law
the concept of arresting anyone present at a riot, regardless
of whether they are guilty of violent acts. The Riot Act no longer
exists, replaced by the Public Order Act in 1986. The reality
of the situation is that the police act as if it did.
The Public Order Manual of Tactical Operations
and Related Matters provides the police with clear instructions
for dealing with situations where public order is threatened.
This manual has never been made public, has no legal standing
and was never discussed by Parliament. It basically gives the
police guidance in the use of pre-emptive acts of violence, to
achieve the following:
- To break the crowd up into manageable portions, keep them moving
then eventually disperse them.
- To provoke violence as a way of justifying their actions and
flushing out any ringleaders.
- To contain the crowd and stop the trouble spreading.
- To intimidate and break the spirit of the crowd.
- To gather evidence for later.
The manual contains details of tactics which
include the use of snatch squads, baton charges and the use of
horses to disperse and intimidate large crowds. Make no mistake
- the cops will be prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure
that our actions and protests are ineffective.
So how do we make sure our actions are effective?
Don’t be tempted to stand around and fight
– get to where you can cause disruption without the police around.
Keep moving, as a group and individually. Fill
gaps. Never stand still – chaos puts the police off.
Nip police attempts to form lines or divide
the crowd in the bud.
Don’t be intimidated.
Do everything in small teams, prepare in advance.
Think defensively. Protect each other and escape
Always face outwards, ie. away from us and towards
Link arms as often as possible, form barriers,
use your body.
Move quickly and calmly, never giving the police
time to react.
Staying out of jail and hospital need not be
hard work. Most people caught up in riots manage it. But with
a bit of forethought you can turn surviving a public order situation
into a living order situation!
THE AIMS OF THE PROTESTERS
No one really ‘wins’ at the end of the day, but
that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are unhurt, still
free and some egg is still stuck to the face of your original
target after the police have been and gone.
With all that in mind, we suggest you stick to
these three basic aims when you find yourself in a riot:
Get you and your mates away safely, rather than
Find a place to cause embarrassment and economic
damage to your real target, rather than fighting.
Help others in trouble by administering first
aid and de-arresting, rather than fighting.
Always try to form an affinity group before
setting out and at least have a buddy system whereby everybody
has one person to look out for, and to act with, when a situation
Affinity groups are just a handful of people
who work together as a unit, as and when circumstances arise.
They can meet beforehand to discuss ideas and possible reactions,
practice or role play scenarios. The more your group meets, the
quicker your reaction times will get and your effectiveness will
improve. Affinity groups can often act without the need for internal
discussion, they naturally develop their own shorthand communications
and can divide up skills and equipment amongst each other. Water,
D-locks, paint, first aid, food, banners and spare clothes is
a lot for one person to carry, but divided up between five people
Do pay attention to what you’re going to wear
in advance. Consider precautions that are discrete, adaptable,
easy to apply and discard. Thinking about these threats in advance
Masking makes it difficult to identify individuals
in a crowd and if everyone masks up no one will stand out. The
cut off sleeve of a long sleeved t-shirt makes a good mask. Wear
it casually around your neck. If you wear glasses use a cut off
section of a stocking (hold-ups work best as they have thick elastic)
instead of a t-shirt, this prevents glasses steaming up. You can
use it as a hair-tie, if you’re a hippy type, until you need it.
A hooded top will cover most of your face and
a baseball cap on its own provides good protection from most static
cameras, which are usually mounted high up. Sunglasses give good
protection against harmful rays including UV and CCTV. Worth bearing
in mind is that the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 made an Amendment
to Section 60 of The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
It gives any uniformed police officer the power to insist on the
removal of any item of clothing a person is wearing or may wear
for the purpose of concealment of identity. The item can be seized
2) Truncheon blows.
A placard makes a good temporary shield and light
strips of plastic under your clothing on the forearm could offer
some protection. Unless you are intending to try and break police
lines, the best protective clothing is probably a good pair of
running shoes. More recently, the WOMBLES - inspired by Italy’s
Ya Basta group - have taken a more positive stance to protection
by wearing thick layers of padding under their clothes, together
with helmets. This enables them to keep police lines at bay, protecting
themselves and the crowd behind them from truncheon blows. They
are able to push through police lines and free demonstrators trapped
by the use of a Section 60 (see later).
3) CS Spray.
The best authorities suggest a solution of camden
tablets (used to clean home brewing equipment), some say use lots
of water, but its effectiveness is unclear. Whatever you do
don’t rub it in or take a hot shower. If in doubt get clear
and let the wind blow it away from your skin. This will take 20
4) Baton charges.
If you want to take a banner, use long strips
of plastic haulage tarps rather than a sheet. This can be used
as a moveable barrier to stop charging police or for you to advance
behind. Wrap the ends in on themselves so the police can’t easily
grab it. Hide behind and hold on tight.
If you aren’t doing anything else you should
always be defending.
Whether that means securing a building, strengthening
your position on the street, barricading (see later) or protecting
others. Here are some ideas:
Keep looking outwards. For example, if someone
is being given first aid, stand and face away from them.
Form cordons as much as possible. Anything the
police want, including buildings and especially sound systems
needs a strong outwardly facing cordon. Things may be quiet
and you feel like a prick linking arms or holding hands with
complete strangers, but do it. Repeat the mantra ‘It’s not a
hippy peacenik thang, it’s a rock hard revolutionary thang.’
Take a leaf out of the police manual: stand like you’re about
to do ‘the conga’ and stick your right hand down the back of
the trousers of the person in front, repeat along the line,
asking permission first. It’s virtually unbreakable.
Get into the habit of dancing with your back
towards the sound system.
Someone needs to watch the police from a good
vantage point, so that their next move can be pre-empted. On
top of the sounds van is not a good place; no one can hear when
you shout "Here come the dog handlers! Fucking run!" and any
gestures you do will be interpreted as dancing…
Sitting down is good for dissuading the police
from charging, but you should only do it in large numbers and
the crowd needs to feel confident. We advise you to sit down
as soon as the shout goes up, hesitating is not good, you can
assess the situation once you’re down there. Hopefully others
will do the same. If it still looks viable five seconds later,
link arms with your neighbours. There are times when sitting
down is not really recommended – horses are maybe too unpredictable
but the authors have never seen horses charge into a seated
crowd, the way they do into a standing crowd. It’s a good way
to avoid the crowd getting split up. Some particularly violent
gangs of police just aren’t worth it either. Only experience
will teach you when to sit down.
Barricades can be more hassle than they are
worth. A solid impassable barricade can reduce your own options
when you need to run. Bear in mind that anything you build now
you are likely to get dragged over later - leave out the barbed
wire. The best barricades are random matter strewn all over
the place – horses can’t easily charge over them, police find
it hard to hold a line in among them, but individuals can easily
pick their way through. If you know police are advancing from
only one direction and you have clear escape routes behind,
barricades can be sensible. The tactics the cops developed during
the 1980’s riots was to drive the van into crowds with TSG [Tactical
Support Group] in the back, jump out and arrest everyone they
caught. Barricades are an effective way of stopping this.
The best form of defence of all is CHAOS! A
complicated hierarchy needs orders to act on and those orders
come from individuals making informed decisions. If the situation
changes constantly they simply cannot keep up. Keep moving all
the time, weave in and out of the crowd. Change your appearance.
Open up new directions and possibilities, be unpredictable.
If you find yourself stood still and passive for more than a
minute then you’ve stopped acting defensively.
See also the stuff on the previous page about
BASIC POLICE CHOREOGRAPHY
With any crowd the police will be looking
to break it up as soon as possible. Crowd dispersal is achieved
with baton charges, horse charges and sometimes CS gas and vehicles.
Some particularly nasty or out of control units may pile straight
into the crowd, but there is usually a gap between the time they
arrive and the start of the dispersal. This stalling time is often
just dithering by the commanding officer, or psyching-tooling
up time for the troops (the latter is easy to spot). This aside,
there are three more reasons why they aren’t wading straight in,
see if you can spot them next time you’re waiting for ‘kick-off’:
They haven’t worked out where they’re going
to disperse you to.
They want to gather more evidence/flush out
more ring leaders. This involves keeping you right where they
can see you and provoking you like hell. They will film you
and photograph you and send out snatch squads to pick off individuals.
They are waiting for back up because you out
number them or are in danger of gaining the upper hand.
However, since Euston Station, November 30th
1999, the police have been using the tactic of coralling people
and preventing them from leaving. Section 60 of the Criminal
Justice Act 1994 gives police blanket powers to stop and search
anyone in a certain area where they ‘resonably suspect’ there
will be incidents of serious violence. Often this tactic is used
to gather information, but you’re not obliged to help. They can’t
read anything of yours (address book, bank cards etc) and
you don’t have to give a name or address, but they can
search you for weapons only. Being held for hours is dispiriting,
you can’t do much, and the police may push you about and provoke
an opportunity to crack a few skulls. This is where the WOMBLES
come into their own, you can take a more positive approach and
not just wait around until the cops allow to let you leave. The
old bill may also detain people to prevent a breach of the peace
where they fear one is imminent. The legality of this is questionable,
there will most likely be legal challenges in the near future.
THE DANCE STEPS
OK, so they’ve stopped fucking around and now
it’s time to send you home, with a great story to tell your friends
(let’s face it, they won’t see the truth on the news). The bulk
of the action is shocking in its predictability. The following
will be repeated over and over, in different combinations, until
they win or get bored:
Officers in lines will pen you in (preferably
on the pavement).
Officers in lines will push into a crowd to
divide it in half.
Batons/horses/CS spray attack penned in crowds
to lower morale.
Charges that slowly push you down a street (rush
of cops > fall back > strengthen line > repeat).
Crowds throwing missiles will be ‘put to flight’,
as it’s harder to throw stuff if you are running.
Shift changes. (Often look for the arrival of
reinforcements. It is important to try and spot the difference
for reasons of morale, and that they are vulnerable during shift
Most of the above require the individual officers
to be in tight lines, so it’s important to stop those lines forming.
Unfortunately we are quite bad at this. The first line drawn is
the most crucial and most people don’t see it coming. The police
will try and form lines right in amongst you if they can, thus
weakening your position at the same time as strengthening theirs.
LINE DANCING or STOPPING LINES FORMING
If the crowd seems volatile, the police will
hold right back and the first line drawn will be some distance
away. But if you are all hanging around looking confused and passive
they will sneak right in amongst you and the first lines will
be dividing lines. This is how it works:
The first divide the crowd up into ‘actors’ and
‘viewers’. Small groups of officers will move into the crowd and
start politely encouraging the timid ones onto the pavement. Once
the crowd starts moving the way they want, those little groups
of cops will get bigger and start joining up. Before you know
it, there’s two crowds on two pavements with two lines of cops
penning them in. Let the head cracking commence. Or…
Don’t stand and watch them.
Don’t look like you’ll let them get anywhere
Spot gaps in the crowd and fill them.
Work out which space they want to take and get
there with your mates first.
Get long tarp banners to the front to stop them
advancing and filming.
Protect your escape routes by standing in them.
Get those who have turned into spectators off
the pavements, back in the crowd and moving around.
Of course, now having resisted being split up
and penned in, they may just let fly with the baton charge. But
at least you’re now in a stronger position to deal with it and
escape. Whatever happens next, don’t just stand there waiting
for it. If you’ve managed to get their line drawn far away, you’ve
bought valuable time and space – so use it! Even if their line
is right up against you, they still haven’t broken down your numbers.
However, it’s only a matter of time before the
police try and get closer/break you up again. Use the time to
get out of there slowly and in one block, this is the last thing
they want – a large mob moving around freely. Whatever you do,
don’t stand there waiting for them to try again. You are now in
control to go and do whatever you want, so do it. If they have
blocked your only exit, try…
This involves moving your lines forward into
theirs, thus gaining more space and opening up more exits. Use
the front line as a solid wall, linking arms and moving slowly
forward. Use the long banner like a snowplough (this stops them
grabbing you or breaking the line, they can still hit you with
truncheons though). If there’s enough of you WOMBLED up, your
protective clothing will make that getaway that much safer and
A line of crowd control barriers can also be
carried by the front line like a snowplough to break into the
police ranks. The front of the ‘plough’ can then be opened once
their line is breached and the barriers pushed to the side to
contain the cops. This all needs a lot of co-ordination and balls,
the advantage gained will not last long, so push all your ranks
forward through the gap straight away.
USING YOUR BODY
Your body is your best and most adaptable tool.
It is best used in concert with others. For instance it could
take a long time for twenty to scale a wall, but stand two people
against the wall, bowed together with their arms locked and you’ve
got a set of human steps! (Those waiting to climb can link arms
around the steps to protect them). Always look for ways to use
your body to escape.
Keep looking for ways of increasing your numbers,
by joining up with other groups and absorbing stragglers. Everyone
has to get out and you’ll stand a better chance of getting out
unharmed, with all your belongings and equipment if you leave
together at the same time.
When the police want to isolate and arrest an
individual in a crowd they will usually employ a snatch squad.
Watch for groups of ten or so fully dressed cops,
rallying behind the police lines. They will be instructed by evidence
gatherers and a superior (you can often spot them pointing out
the person to be snatched). The lines will open temporarily to
let the squad through. Half the officers will perform the snatch,
the other half will surround them with batons, hitting anyone
who gets in the way. Once they have their target he/she is bundled
away, back behind police lines.
Try and beat the snatch squad by:
Keeping the crowd moving around.
Spot the squad preparing.
If possible warn the target to get the hell
out of the area.
Linking arms in an impenetrable wall in the
Surround the squad once they are in the crowd
and intimidate them so much that they panic and give up.
If you are being grabbed or pressure pointed,
keep your head and arms moving. Don’t lash out if you can help
it, or you will end up with an assault charge too.
The best time is to do this is as soon as the
snatch has happened. You need a group who know how to break grips
and some people to act as blockers. Once you’ve got your person
back all link arms and move off into the crowd. The police may
try and snatch back or arrest one of the de-arresters.
This guide is an ongoing project. Please send
your comments and additions to us for the next version, to ‘Public
Order Guide’ c/o Manchester Earth First! Dept. 29, 255 Wilmslow
Road, Manchester M14 5LW
(We made a few amendments for the Yearbook 2001
annual, to include stuff about CJA Section 60 and the WOMBLES.
Also check out www.freebeagles.org
for legal info on for political campaigners as the laws involved
in protesting are constantly changing.
PO Box 2600, Brighton, BN2 0EF, England
Phone: +44 (0)1273 685913
copyright - information for action - copy and distribute!