by Daphne Liddle
MORE THAN 100 people attending a meeting in Nottingham to discuss an environmental protest were arrested in the early hours of Monday morning and charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass and criminal damage.
The meeting had been taking place in the suburb of Sneinton in a school building, empty for the Easter break, and the school authorities say they knew nothing of the meeting.
But police did considerable damage to doors and furniture in the school as they raided the meeting so that the re-opening of the nursery section had to be delayed while repairs were made.
Local residents alerted the press to large numbers of police vehicles outside the school in the middle of the night.
The 114 people arrested were all released on bail within a day. None had been charged with actually committing any offence, only conspiring to do so.
Police are allowed to make pre-emptive arrests if they believe there is serious danger to life from terrorism. In this instance a police spokesperson said they found "specialist equipment" at the site and believed there was a serious threat to the coal-fired power station at Radcliffe-on-Soar.
A city councillor said that if police had information that there was some kind of danger to the East Midlands power supply, then they needed to take action.
But, if we have learned anything in recent months and years, it is that early accounts by police spokespersons to justify particular actions are not always to be relied upon.
The police raid was almost certainly based on inside intelligence, suggesting that the protesters’ organisation had been infiltrated by police spies.
The arrests have raised concerns among civil liberties pressure groups and indicate a worrying trend of police arresting people on suspicion they may be about to commit a crime.
While this may be justified if lives are at stake, in general environmental protesters have traditionally used non-violent civil disobedience and their tactics have never so far been likely to risk injury to people.
But under recent anti-terror legislation police evidence for suspecting that life-threatening criminal damage was about to happen could be hear in secret and would be impossible for those accused to challenge.
It could give police the opportunity to pounce pre-emptively on the organisers of almost any kind of peaceful demonstration.
Meanwhile the suspicion is that the police tactics are being used to discourage people from using their right to peaceful protest.
The Metropolitan Police have come under further pressure over excess violence used during the G20 protests on 1st April.
Video footage has emerged of a large police sergeant striking a small women protester, first with his hand across her face and then with his baton to her legs, causing her to fall over.
And, like the police officer filmed striking and knocking over newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson shortly before he died, this police sergeant also had his identity number obscured.
Nevertheless he has been identified and suspended.