New Labour’s anti-terror legislation is being used this week against protesters wanting to take part in the climate camp near Heathrow airport.
The government has given the police the go-ahead to deal “robustly” with campaigners.
This move follows the failure last week of an attempt to use anti-stalking laws to prevent protesters from “harassing” BAA, the airport corporation.
The police used anti-terror laws to stop and search everyone approaching the camp, to prevent any access to the site by vehicles, and to “inspect” the site.
The heavyhanded tactics have been paralleled by scaremongering in the mainstream media, with headlines such as “Heathrow Protesters ‘Are Terrorists’ ” and “Extremists To Hijack Climate Change Demo”.
But these tactics have not been enough to scare off the protesters. “The camp is brilliant,” one told Socialist Worker on Tuesday of this week. “People of all ages and backgrounds have been turning up to take part.”
The police haven’t been exactly welcoming, he added. “A woman on her way to the camp was held for 30 hours under the legislation – then they let her go without charge. Another guy was arrested then released – the police said he looked too old to have his student rail card.
“The police are being heavyhanded because they can be. At one point they were refusing to allow water or medical supplies onto the camp. It’s basically petty bullying.”
The number of police at Heathrow has more than doubled from the 800 meant to protect the airport against a terrorist attack to the 1,800 to protect the airport from climate campaigners.
Alistair from Birmingham was cycling to the protest on Tuesday of this week.
He told Socialist Worker, “Cyclists are coming from all over to join the camp – I’ve met people who have got this far from all over Britain.
“We went to meet people near London City airport and picked up police along the way as well – at the last count there were eight coppers on bikes with us, and six vans full of police following behind.”
One activist from Edinburgh said there was anger at police use of counter-terrorism legislation to hold demonstrators:
“To invoke anti-terrorist legislation to stop us from our protest is really inappropriate and irresponsible.
“This isn’t just about people’s freedom to fly. This is about people’s freedom to live on a planet that has a future.”