Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Burning Flags

On one of the demos I worked on the other day the topic of flag burning was raised during the initial briefing, in response to the huge number of people in Trafalgar Square on Saturday holding a veritable bonfire before they started off towards the Israeli Embassy. At present in the UK, flag burning is not a specific offence in criminal law and there is case law that states simply burning a flag isn't enough to charge or convict for racial incitement of violence or to charge or convict for any public order act offence. The high court decided that the act of burning a flag was nothing more than destruction of personal property, if the person doing the burning owned the flag.

A couple of years ago some officers from ACPO suggested making flag burning a specific offence in order to prevent groups deliberately causing extreme offence to others and unnecessarily escalating demonstrations into violent conflict. There are always going to be people at demos who will try and provoke other people or have a go at the Police to get some 'good' images on Indymedia, and they really don't care how they go about it. I've worked on plenty of demonstrations that have been rather pleasant and perfectly legal, as well as a few others where a minority have been there to do nothing but start a fight.

Personally, I find flag burning extremely offensive. It's more than just a piece of cloth with dye on it, it's a symbol of identity and history and burning it is intended to cause offence and intimidate people into reacting. I've been at demos where some people do it just because it's the 'in thing' to do and they don't care or can't understand why some people are extremely offended, because they (by their own admission) don't care about their own country, flag, its meaning or its history.

A couple of the demonstrations over the last couple of days have been extremely heated but ultimately peaceful, and even as the thousands of people rallied around speakers they didn't get the flags out to set them on fire and they all (for the most part) dispersed afterwards without any incident. The longer the trouble in the Middle East carries on, the longer the demos about it over here are going to continue. Most will be passionate but peaceful, others will be violent. The large demo on Saturday turned pretty ugly after the protestors left Trafalgar Square and Police officers were pelted with bottles, bricks, banners and anything else to hand until it was later brought under control.

After the unbelievable indecisiveness by senior officers at the Notting Hill carnival this year to relieve untrained and unprotected Level 3 officers with properly equipped and trained L2 or L1 officers after they were subject to sustained attacks with bottles and bricks (and were literally begging for additional assistance and support) it was actually quite refreshing to hear a ground commander on the radio pull the officers out and send in the specialist riot teams of the TSG along with L2's within a few minutes of everything going pear shaped. I've no doubt one of the commanders taking a direct hit to his own head influenced the speed of the decision making.

With more demos planned for the foreseeable future including advertised rallies of the same nature on Saturday and Sunday, we're going to have some interesting days ahead in the Capital, along with the usual day to day Policing requirements and requests from the public!

After 12-15,000 people had a relatively peaceful if somewhat heated demo in Trafalgar Square, here's what happened when most of them decided to march to the embassy via Pall Mall and St James's Street -

This vid was footage after it kicked off from around Kensington Gardens -

And yes, those officers on core response teams were still answering 999 calls, despite having had most of their public order trained officers stripped from normal team strength for the day!



Blue Eyes said...

Interesting! But should "causing extreme" offence be a criminal offence? As far as I am concerned, however deathly serious or utterly ridiculous these "causes" may be, people still have the right to get worked up about them and have a good old shouting match with their sworn enemies. The situation should only be defused once it turns into a public order situation rather than a causing offence situation i.e. when there is a risk that people will start getting hurt.

That said, I don't know why people choose to air their frustrations in London when this particular conflict has SFA to do with Britain...

TWINING said...

MCM, Messrs Ghaffur and co called for it to be a specific crime.

TWINING said...

I agree it should be an offence. That will sort out the bigots and those that hide behind religion from genuine people. In fact I called for flag burning to be banned too.....in fact I call for it again.....

Metcountymounty said...

Blue Eyes - As far as offence goes I don't think I'm alone in considering burning a national flag to be as bad as burning a religious effigy such as Christ or Mohammed. As for causing extreme offence possibly not being criminal, you could argue that walking up to someone in the street and calling them every name under the sun as aggressively as possible, or threatening them without actually touching them shouldn't be a criminal offence (ie Sec 5/4/4a public order) for the same reason, don't you think?

Twining - with you all the way on that one!

Blue Eyes said...

I see your point, as in the flag burning clearly might cause harassment, alarm or distress in a section of people (usually the ones whose flag is being burnt). When the "attack" is on a particular race or nationality maybe you are right, but on a general level we should be free to be offended by another person's behaviour and strong enough to get over it. If we go around criminalising expression in this way then won't we end up in a situation where we can't say boo to a goose without someone becoming "offended"? What if I say that I don't agree with X or Y political policy, that could offend someone.

Bit incoherent but I hope you will understand where I am coming from!

Max said...


hope you and your team got through it in one piece. Having done the G8 and a couple of others I know how it can go pear shaped very quickly.

Hope you made some ching.

Paul said...

MCM, am I not right in thinking that the public order act in fact states "a threat cannot constitute words alone"?

Bad language aside, I was under the impression that you could tell someone you would kill them, and provided you did not lay a finger on them you avoided a specific offence.

Paul said...

MMM! Two posts back to back.

Blue Eyes, do you not think that part of the police role is serving the public interest? If I were to burn a photo of your family, you'd probably be offended. I doubt it is committing a specific offence (unless it falls under ASB?)... but surely you'd still want the police to do something?

Anonymous said...

Burning Flags - Burning Bridges!

There's nothing quite like a good old fashioned row and shouting match - trouble is people DO get "offended", especially when what you really think about them comes tumbling out of one's mouth in the heat of the moment - just like Tourettes. However, I fully understand where blue eyes is coming from, and agree.

What I find really quite offensive and insulting, is patronising arrogance and ignorance, and the fact that certain people think that it is okay to completely ignore serious crimes done to myself. These people, who do have quite a lot to hide, justify their appallingly cruel behaviour, with an age old trick and slur of "mad person". Pot-Kettle-Black methinks!

Now that "mad" slur really IS deeply offensive, when the facts were accepted a long time ago, as the truth, but covered up by government of the day. There can be possibly NOTHING more offensive, than government denial and cover up, of the murder of one's sister - Lynne Whitely 1956, and the cover up of serious abuse and corruption. I am deeply offended by this disgaceful saga, which has caused me considerable distress, over a very long period of time.

But does Jacqui Smith even give a damn? Maybe she does, but Gordon most certainly doesn't.

Mary Fairy Poppins

Metcountymounty said...

Max - a couple got a bit of a mullering but nothing more than minor cuts and bruising but it was close. We made a bit, just waiting for the less than 5's at the moment as we're off but they're trying to resource from teams on duty first before spending the cash on overtime that they are getting sent by the central ops planning!!

Paul 0151 - section 5 and 4 of the public order act can be words alone (as in threatening/abusive/insulting words or behaviour causing harassment, alarm or distress) but if you're talking about threats to kill it will be contextual along with some semblance of immediacy such as a 6'5" meathead to a small woman he doesn't know alone in the middle of the night alone in a street etc, which is why it can't be by text alone by someone in the next village (as much as the timewasting chav bastards think it is every bloody day). It's the normal person test, if you think a normal person would be or is reasonably threatened by the action then the offence would be complete.

Blue Eyes said...

Actually I wouldn't want the police to "do something", strange as that might sound. I would be very upset and angry, but if no specific offence had been committed what would the police be "doing" exactly?

The police are primarily there to keep the peace on the streets and in this case it means preventing the pro-Israel and pro-Palestine lobbies from beating each other to a pulp on the streets. The police's job is not to stop people "offending" each other.

As I said, in a free society we have to accepted that people will do things we don't like, just as we will do things that others will not like. For example some people find eating beef or pork offensive but I'm afraid they will have to get over it because why should I not eat beef or just to appease them? Likewise I might get very upset if people put on a play about how awful my culture was, but I would have to get over that.

Hibbo said...

Nice work in the first clip MCM; if they want to get through, just run away and let them!

I assume random baton beatings are reserved for those weak idiots whom protest against taxes and stuff, certainly not against a very violent religious group who will give you a fight and then sue you.

Hibbo said...

Comment moderation?

D'OH! That was a waste of time then!

Metcountymounty said...

Hibbo - that's what happens when a 'peaceful' demonstration turns ugly and there is only one PSU (20 odd officers) at the head of the march trying to control 12,000 people without shields or full riot gear! What they did was to sprint up the road to try and put a cordon in with baton charges after coming under fire with bricks and bottles. That worked long enough to get fully kitted up shield teams around the flank to the head of the march and bring it under control using baton and shield charges - usually reserved for pensioners demonstrating about their winter fuel bills :) - the only other option for them was to stand ground, get over run and get the shit kicked out of them. As an aside a couple of officers were 'extracted' by some of the FIT teams after they were over run on some of the side streets, and yes, batons did meet heads.

Anonymous said...

MCM, Personally I would not make burning flags illegal in itself, not because I don’t agree with your reasons. I simply don’t believe that there is a right not to be offended; going down that road would make it illegal to bring disrepute to any national or religious symbol. Such as burning effigies (Guy’s) and making fun of the Monarchy (head of the Church of England)

Joseph K.

Area Trace No Search said...

Did you get your recall to duty?

The biggest effect here has been (as you mentioned) a dangerously low amount of officers on the ground on our already depleted teams.

Ho hum.

Metcountymounty said...

Area - Yup!! see you there if you're working it along with half the Met!

Anonymous said...

MCM, when you have support for the cause, do you still beat the shit out of them or go easy?

Just wondering.

Bridge said...

Re video #1

I thought diversity was meant to enrich our society - I don't see much difference between that riot and the Battle of Cable Street, aside from the bottle-throwers being slightly more swarthy-looking than Mosley's mob.

TonyF said...

It's a bit odd this flag burning issue. After being in the services for 22 years, I should be offended about seeing the Union Flag being burned. But for some reason I can't work up the enthusiasm. If it were any of the Ensigns, I would be the first in the queue with a suitable weapon. But recent governments have devalued the Union Jack to the point of it being worthless.

Also, if the worst the lackwits can do is burn a bit of coloured cloth, let em. Then when they have finished ( if they do it in this country) stick them in a Herc, strap them to a pallet and throw them out at 500' and 250 kts over a their own country.

R/T said...

Did you go today or are you on tomorrow? Look out for my buddies, would you?!! BTW - were you anywhere near the fake hand grenade that came over last week?

Anonymous said...

It is hardly surprising that people are angry and demonstrating about Israel's attacks on Gaza. Israel has suffered 13 deaths so far, and Gaza about 800, and still Israel bombs Gaza to bits, killing women and children. SHAME ON THEM.

Shame too on Hamas for hiding amongst civilians and getting them killed and injured, especially the women and children. I am disgusted and appalled by the arrogance of both sides in this stupid war.

I am also disgusted by George Bush and his war-mongers backing Israel over this war and for abstaining on the UN resolution for an end to the conflict. So much for Tony Blair's special "friendship" with George Bush. A fat load of good that has turned out to be in Blair's role as "Peace Envoy" for the Middle East. Try harder Tony.

George Bush was quoted by the media recently, admitting that their invasion of Iraq WAS a mistake, because it made matters worse. And yet here he is again, determined to cause havoc just before he leaves the White House, by encouraging Israel to attack Gaza. Is this George Bush sticking two fingers up to the world and hoping to start a global conflict?

The Bush administration really has shown its true colours on this issue. They LIKE to cause trouble and start wars, because it keeps the arms industry in business and huge profit. They don't appear to give a toss if they enrage volatile fanatics, like Iran and other Muslim extremists.

The lot of them are a disgrace. They claim to be God loving, God fearing Muslims and Christians, but they encourage war and hatred in defiance of God's will and command for humanity.

WOLVES IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING, doing the devil's work for him, by making war, instead of peace.
Shame on the lot of you hypocrites.


Metcountymounty said...

anon 2355 - I don't really care who is protesting against what, it's not as if we're ever going to see a mass rally for burglars or rapists marching for their right to exercise their chosen profession/hobbies for us to really go to town on are we? If someone is going to attack me or my colleagues then I'll fight back, no matter what side they are on. There is no difference between a bottle, scaffolding clip, battery or brick whether it's thrown by someone who is pro/anti anything, it still fucking hurts and still does damage to property and people.

Bridge - according to the labour/socialist party yes. according to experience no.

TonyF - why 500'? I'd rather give them O2 (so they don't pass out) and HALO them from 30k' without a chute.

R/T - 16 hours yesterday, long old day being on your feet in the cold (and I missed my last bloody train) We were at the front when the 'peaceful protestors' broke through their own THREE RANKS of stewards to try and get through our lines, then at the north gate when it went properly wrong and one of our serial was dropped and a couple of others injured. Then later on round the front when the shops were smashed in and all the knives stolen and distributed through the crowd and we had unlit petrol bottles thrown at us.

But hey, it was all the Police's fault for starting it, of course.

It was one of the most unpleasant days I've had in quite some time. I heard about the grenade at the briefing the next day but it doesn't surprise me at all really. The marches have attracted a 'peaceful' bunch after all.

Veritas - 6000+ rockets and mortars over 3 years into civvy targets with only 17 fatalities doesn't mean they didn't try to kill more, it just means their munitions and training is shite, and quite frankly if you poke a bear often enough eventually it's going to get pissed off and rip your face off.

There are two sides to every story and having seen how the supporters of one side deal with anyone who disagrees with them or even appears to support the other side by refusing to comment or tries to prevent them getting somewhere they shouldn't, my mind is made up on the matter. Other than that I'm not going to comment.

TheBinarySurfer said...

I think this man said it best:


Well worth listening to (odd just how many times on police blogs i can point to Bill Hicks!)

Von Spreuth said...

Hel. I know the law, but the translation from German.O.K so lets try to remember;StGB 1 §90a Verunglimpfung des Staates und seiner Symbole.Offences book (Strafgesetzbuch, StGB) insulting, or bringing into disrepute the symbol of the State.

StGB 1 §90a Verunglimpfung des Staates und seiner Symbole.Who publicaly, in a crowd or meeting, or through written word…§§2 The colours, the flag, the crest or the National anthem of Germany, or one of it´s constituent Countrys, demeans or dispparages will be sentenced to three years in prison or a fine.Also sentenced will be any person who openly (Publicaly) destroys, removes, damages, makes unusable or defaces the national flag, or flags of the constituent countrys, or any Ministerial (Government departmental), symbols or signs of authority, or comits insults or dissorderly conduct towards same.This also applys to other countries flags and symbols.

May be you should try arresting them under case law as found by an E.U member state, under E.U law?Von Brandenburg-Preußen.

Anonymous said...

The ITV news showed demonstators in Iran burning a picture of Barack Obama recently. Had it been a picture of George Bush I could have understood their hatred of him because he is so arrogant, and has caused trouble. But Barack Obama isn't even in the White House yet, and is nothing like George Bush. And didn't Barack Obama have years of education in an Islamic school, because his father is a Muslim?

It saddens me to see such ignorance and bigotry against Obama, who actually spoke out AGAINST the Israeli attack on Gaza.
Barack Obama is not the bad guy, and nor is he an "enemy" of Islam.

God save us from the fanatics and the warmongers.


Hogday said...

MCM, you might want to take a peek at this http://thebronzeblog.blogspot.com/2009/01/disgusting.html

I stepped up to defend the Met before I found your blog on last weeks demo. I couldn't let that pass, I'm afraid. My last comment may bring forth some interesting comparisons from this blogger..

Von Spreuth said...

Barack Obama is not the bad guy, and nor is he an "enemy" of Islam.

God save us from the fanatics and the warmongers.
17 January 2009 02:34

Oh get OVER it. He is a politician and will be JUST as bent, corrupt and as full of lies as ALL the others.

Von Brandenburg-Preußen.