I’m a photographer who was working yesterday, 6 July, on a shoot at Gleneagles for Community Care magazine. The brief was to photograph emergency social workers covering the demonstration and to shoot the demo itself.
Firstly, I am absolutely NOT a conspiracy theorist who believes every event to be determined by dark forces. However, serious questions must be asked about the way that a relatively small peaceful demo led to such evil scenes as we witnessed on TV screens around the world last night.
I arrived, like most of the press, at the furthest point from Auchterarder — a steel fence blocking the further advancement of the demonstration. A number of us waiting there suddenly came to realise we were facing a situation where, unless stewards took some initiative, a Hillsborough-style disaster could easily happen.
A solid wall down one side of the road to our right and an immovable steel fence behind us, we watched as three thousand determined people advanced. The senior police officer that I called to behind the fence had no response when I asked him if there was a strategy should people start to be crushed. He turned away.
I did alert the chief steward to the danger when the march arrived. He took action by lining up stewards and key figures from G8 Alternatives (including George Galloway) in front of the fence to act as a form of human shield.
Moving on, I walked away from the fence following the route of the demo to the right. In front of us was a field of crops, across the field was the famous five mile perimeter fence surrounding Gleneagles, beyond that a line of mounted police. It seemed like a film set.
Any protester feeling frustrated by a leisurely walk in the country and looking to be a little bit radical could not fail to be tempted by this expanse of crops leading to the fence.
I said to a number of other photographers ‘So this is where its supposed to happen?’ Behind us, the three film crews who had set up in advance on cherry-pickers overlooking the field had obviously been pre-warned in order to obtain permission to use the driveways of private homes.
The situation was similar to that at Welling, London in 1993 where the path of a 50,000 strong anti-Nazi demonstration was blocked by the Metropolitan police with nowhere for it to go. On that occasion a graveyard wall fortunately collapsed under crowd pressure. Again on that day we saw a small army of press including at least four TV crews set up on platforms waiting for the show to start.
But, to return to yesterday’s events, after 15 minutes or so, a single protester entered the field, followed soon by two or three others. A steady flow then ensued while the police stood by inactive. I listened in as a Channel 4 reporter standing in the field and speaking to camera pointed out that the police seemed unconcerned at the invasion of the field as ‘the only damage could be to crops’. As a ragtag file of perhaps 200 demonstrators snaked their way towards the security fence, a band struck up near where I was standing. The atmosphere was upbeat. There was no ominous presence of the usual handful of ‘anarchists’ in black masks. There was no reason to believe that much would happen to justify the presence of the large numbers of press.
At this point I left to visit and photograph another team of emergency social workers in Perth. As I walked back to the centre of Auchterarder my phone rang. A friend back up on the road overlooking the field sounded alarmed. She told me about the fleet of riot police vans which were arriving, the mounted officers reappearing on the scene, and the huge Chinook helicopters disgorging riot police across the field. Another photographer and I tried to return but were blocked by police despite our NUJ cards.
I later watched footage of dog handlers and other riot police clearing the field of the handful of skinny youths who could easily have been kept out in the first place had the will been there.
We are told that some were attacking the fence. I look forward to seeing evidence that this was so threatening as to demand even a tenth of the response given which was as if operating in a war zone rather than a small Scottish town in which the forces of law and order had total control of the streets. Helicopters? Where had they flown from? Were there not more than adequate numbers of officers within 500 metres on the ground? Was it not obvious that one or two protesters would shake the fence? It was to me and many others.
The implications of yesterday’s events could be far reaching. The viewing public have been sold a fiction of another ‘violent’ demonstration. They have seen the ‘necessity’ of our combined police forces using massive force to control a handful of youths. Many questions need to be asked about this event and others.
I returned to Edinburgh to find my 17 year old daughter in a state of shock. On her way to work here in the city she came upon a small group of demonstrators who had been prevented from travelling to Gleneagles by the police. They were marching in Edinburgh instead. She witnessed three Manchester police run into a crowd of protesters. seize a steward, and throw him to the ground whereupon she said that their colleagues then joined them in beating the guy on the ground. I believe her when she said this was witnessed by a large number of people.
We cannot allow these fictions to go unchecked. An inquiry into policing of the G8 event is essential. A huge amount of footage must be available from an array of amateurs on the ground, professional crews and photographers. This needs to be resolved.
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