COP26 marchers resist unlawful kettling tactics

9 November 2021 — NetPol

Photo credit: @YCLBritain

Police Scotland have come under heavy criticism after kettling a group of young people at the main COP26 climate march in Glasgow on Saturday, bringing tens of thousands of people marching behind them to a standstill.

‘Kettling’ is a controversial police containment tactic and has come under strong criticism from many civil rights and campaign groups. It involves holding protesters in uncomfortable, even dangerous conditions for many hours, and has a deterrent effect on participation in protests.

Saturday’s Climate March saw an estimated 100,000 people take to the streets in Glasgow to call for climate justice. With Police Scotland promising 10,000 officers a day on duty throughout COP26, campaigners started to see a heavy and visible police presence from the start. However, one group in particular, the Young Communist League (marching with the Youth Block), was singled out for special attention from early in the march and was surrounded by rows of police officers on all sides and accompanied on the route.

During the march, police decided to kettle this group, largely made up of young people, which brought the entire march to a standstill. No reason was given and they were held for several hours. Police unlawfully told people wishing to leave the kettle that they could do so only on the condition that they provide personal details and allow police to photograph them. After the group kept their masks on and collectively refused to comply with this order, they were eventually released without having their details taken.

Although the official police account is that the use of kettling tactics was for public safety reasons, stewards with the COP26 Coalition reported that they were left to manage a dangerous crowd situation as around 50,000 people marching behind the kettle were blocked by police cordons, putting people at risk of a crush.

Stewards were forced to disobey police instructions to filter the march through a 2m gap at the edge of the kettle because of the obvious risk to public safety. Many of the marchers stayed with the kettle chanting “let them go” as a solidarity gesture, while young people inside the kettle sang and chanted.

This isn’t the first time Police Scotland have used kettling to shut down protests in Glasgow – an XR ‘Greenwash’ protest was kettled for over 4 hours a few days earlier, with participants denied access to food, water, toilets, and medication. Legal observers on the ground reported that people were left without medical assistance by police after someone suffered a panic attack, and medically vulnerable people were detained in close quarters for several hours.

The police are able to impose a kettle if they believe it is necessary to prevent disorder or protect public safety” but not to “directly or indirectly stifle or discourage protest”. Officers use reasonable force to form and maintain a kettle, and have a huge amount of discretion in how long to keep people trapped inside one.

You may notice a kettle forming by watching the way the police are lining up or marching in formation, or starting to form lines around groups of people. However it is not always possible to spot a kettle until you are in one – and police often feign forming a kettle to get people to disperse. For more on the legal background of kettling, see Netpol’s guide to kettles.

If you are caught in a kettle, here are some key things to remember:

  • Keep your face covered. There is often heavy police surveillance within kettles, and officers may demand that you have your picture taken in order to leave the kettle. There is no legal basis for this demand, and you can refuse to comply.
  • No personal details. The police have no legal basis to demand that you give personal details in order to leave the kettle, and you can refuse to comply. However, as with photographs, some people may wish to give their details in order to leave the kettle sooner.
  • Make a note of what’s happening. Note down the time you are kettled from and till, if police give any reasons for your detention, and any relevant details such as people being denied medical attention or care while within the kettle.

If you were kettled as part of either of these demonstrations at COP26, we want to hear from you. Email with your first hand account, and include any photos or video from the event.

Netpol are producing a report on the policing of the COP26 protests, and your evidence is vital to help us do it.

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