Disabled student arrested under anti-terror laws whilst filming protest

While assembling the interactive online map of the Smash EDO demonstration, I came upon several harrowing stories. This was by far the most distressing. The student writing the letter is still under bail terms.

Hi Josh,

I am happy to tell you about what happened to me on the 15th.

I saw the start of the protest up at Sussex Uni as I’m a student there. I’m a 2nd year psychology student and for my final year I have to come up with a project. I had decided early to do my project on crowd behaviour in a protest setting, so I thought the protest would be a perfect opportunity to get some video and still shots. I headed over to the Caroline of Brunswick on Ditchling Rd, and at around 3pm I left the pub to film the protest.

I walked across the level, wearing a baseball cap, Liverpool scarf over the bottom half of my face, a black jean jacket, Liverpool shirt, jeans and trainers. This is just how I dress – I am proud of my team! And the reason why I had the scarf over my mouth was because I suffer from a medical condition called Fibromyalgia Syndrome (similar to Chornic Fatigue Symdrome) and had been ill for over 2 months . . . So I always have to be sure that I am wrapped up warm.

I headed over towards Lewes Road, and filmed protesters being surrounded by riot police, just by the bottom of Elm Grove. At this point I was grabbed from behind and a policeman started pushing/marching me towards the other side of the road. He was quite rough with me and nearly pushed me into a police car and then managed to knock me into a riot policeman. Once he let go of me I went onto the pavement and started filming a girl who told me she’d been assaulted by a policeman.

After this I then headed towards the level again, and filmed about 5-6 policemen in riot gear lined up on the level side of Union Rd. Two officers came up to me and ordered me to remove my scarf. It was about 3.30pm.

I informed the police officers that I was not part of the protest, and that my scarf was to keep me warm. He then insisted again and again that I remove my scarf, I said no, and why should I? At this point he pulled my scarf off the lower part of my face, he couldn’t pull it off as when I wear a scarf I tie it up at the back so it stays put when I’m out and about. By this point both police officers had hold of me, one on each arm.

Due to my condition and being dyslexic when I am put in a stressful situation I don’t have a clear understanding of what is happing to me. I don’t remember the police officer telling me why I had to remove my scarf only that I had to. I remember trying to tell the police over and over that I was a student and I had FMS, but he didn’t believe me, just pulled me away.

I was taken to the wall opposite the level on Union Rd and put into a police van. I was in the van for perhaps half an hour. I asked the police officers in the van if I could at least leave the van so I could stretch my legs, as it’s really not that big inside the van and my joints were starting to seize up. The answer was no.

By the time we got to the police station I was in incredible pain to the point where I was in tears and unable to stop crying no matter how hard I tried. They took all of my clothes and possessions – even my trainers, shirt and mobile phone – and gave me a flimsy tracksuit and plimsolls. The police were nice enough to give me a couple of painkillers and let me sit down whilst they were processing me. They also gave me blankets, as I was incredibly cold after they had taken away my clothing. Some staff at the station kept asking me if I was ok as I can imagine I really didn’t look at all well by this point, I also had a couple of officers ask if I required assistance when walking as I was finding it very hard. I was told that I had been arrested under an alleged Public Order Act offence under Section 60AA.

I have no idea how long I was in the cell for. I asked for doctor as my back was going into spasms and I needed a stronger pain killer in order to deal with it. I didn’t at any point get to see a doctor. Also I spoke to a custody solicitor but I was cut off from them – I asked to be put back through to her but was not. There are points where I think I did just black out for a second or so but again I can’t be sure, all I remember for the most part was sitting with my back up to the wall with the blanket over me trying to keep warm. I couldn’t lie down as it was too painful.

I was fetched for my interview by a really nice officer who was quite concerned over me, as by this time I was pale white and shivering lots, and finding it near impossible to walk. I was left in a corner waiting for the two officers who were going to interview me. There were a group of detectives standing around and I remember one of them making a comment to me but I was at this point in so much pain I couldn’t make out what he was saying but him and his mates were laughing so I can only imagine it was something he said to me.

Whilst in the interview I told the police every movement I had made that day in great detail. My interview used up 2 tapes. I think I left the police station around 10pm. I found out, whilst I was waiting for my things to return, that my partner had been in and handed the staff my medication to give to me. I then found out that the police were keeping all of the clothing they had taken from me (my cap, scarf, jacket, shirt, jeans, and trainers), as well as my mobile phone and my camera.

I had to leave the police station in only the flimsy clothes they’d given me. The police were nice enough to ring me a taxi. Thankfully, there were friends of the people who’d been arrested outside, and one of them lent me her jacket. I couldn’t stop shaking because my body was in so much shock. Due to this day I had to spend a week off Uni in pain, and I came down with a cold which makes any pain I feel worse.

I haven’t been able to put into words how the police made me feel that day. The whole experience has scared me so much. I have found when I go to Uni I do have little panic attacks whenever I know I’m within 300 meters of Home Farm Rd [the centre of the protest]. Even talking about it now I feel like I’m going to burst into tears. I have never been in trouble with the police before! But since that day, everything I thought about our society and the police has been put in question.

The police will keep me waiting till January to find out what they will do next. All the while I am feeling the stress, something which makes my FMS worse and does impact my studies. The police won’t even respond to my solicitor. They already have letters from my academic tutor asserting that I’m a student and this was my project, and form my doctor showing I do suffer form FMS. Apparently this is not enough. What can an innocent person do to prove they are innocent?

All I feel at the moment is anger, as that is the only thing that is keeping me fighting . . . the police had got me on bail until January 15th but at least I got the terms changed. Now I am fighting to get back my clothes and things they have taken for evidence. If I didn’t have this anger I would just sit still until January, but I think that would be wrong of me to do as I am not guilty of any crime. To be deemed guilty and then have to prove your innocence is a scary, crushing feeling. Especially as I was brought up to believe you were innocent until proved guilty.

Sorry if I’ve ranted a bit ;o)


Postscript: The law under which the student was arrested was section 60AA, brought in as part of the Anti-terrorism, Cr
ime and Security Act
of November 2001.

4 thoughts on “Disabled student arrested under anti-terror laws whilst filming protest”

  1. Thanks JD for your thoughts. I think anyone else reading this will understand that the Police were not being reasonable, and that might does not equal right.

  2. I honestly think this is a disgrace. I must take everything I read with a pinch of salt but this is just out of order.

  3. This is just typical of how disability awareness is misunderstood by general society….If I were you, I would consider making an official complaint of disability hate crime by the officers who arrested you as they did not believe you when you told them you needed the scarf on for a medical reason….their actions seem to suggest that we disabled people need to walk around with some sort of identification symbol…like Hitler made the Jews wear a Yellow Star! I would also make consider making a complaint to the Police Complaints Authority as they denied you a doctor and medication and placed you in a position of risk by taking all your clothes and again not ensuring that they understood your need for keeping warm…..I would also make a formal request to get your video back as it will prove your version of events and show that the arresting officers over reacted…I could understand them using Public Order Legislation against you, but to stoop to a ridiculous claim of using anti-terrorism legislation is baffling…Am here to help where I can. Adam.

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