Britain: Justice for May Day detainees

DURING PEACEFUL protests last year on May Day in London, the Metropolitan police at Oxford Circus penned thousands of people in, for several hours. Two of those held are to sue the police for wrongful detention. One of them, Lois Austin, a leading member of the Socialist Party (CWI section in England and Wales), was prevented from picking up her eleven month old daughter, Eilis, from a nursery.

This case has received a lot of coverage in the British media in the run-up to May Day 2002. It was the lead story on the main BBC television news bulletin for London on 29 April. This included an interview with Lois Austin, alongside her daughter.

Police heavy handed, intimidating and provocative

The Justice for May Day Detainees, which Socialist Party members played a key role in initiating, have produced the following leaflet:

On May Day 2001 the police detained up to 3,000 protestors in Oxford Circus for between seven and nine hours. We were held without food, water, or toilet facilities. Some protesters were forced into the humiliation of having to urinate in the street.

Some older protesters were obviously made unwell by the containment and were still not allowed to leave by the police. There were also protesters under sixteen who were held and unable to contact parents and kept for up to seven to nine hours.

The police were dressed in full riot gear and used extremely heavy handed, intimidating and provocative tactics. They continually pushed the protesters into a smaller and smaller area of Oxford Circus, causing a crush and people to fear for their safety.

It was not until around 9pm that the police finally opened up a small corridor at one end of Regent St to allow protesters to leave. We were photographed and manhandled by police officers as we were leaving. During this containment some protesters began to organise. We contacted sympathetic MP’s and solicitors. The legal advice we received was that the police were acting illegally. Our human and civil rights were being denied us. Since last Mayday around 100 protesters have come forward to take legal action against the police for unlawful imprisonment.

Proceedings were lodged in the High Court on Monday 29 th April against the police. Two test cases have gone forward. The first case concerns a mother who was not allowed to leave to collect her baby from a nursery. Consequently her child was left for sixteen hours. The second, a non-protester who was caught up with the protesters in Oxford circus and the police refused to let him leave.

The case alleges that the police falsely imprisoned both of the defendants and that the police were in breach of Articles 5,10 and 11 of the Convention of Human Rights.

This legal case is about defending the democratic right to protest. It’s about ensuring that every time the police act illegally they do not go unchallenged.

There are still many protesters who were there last Mayday and have not come forward to take part in the legal action. If you were contained in Oxford circus or anywhere else in central London contact us about joining in the legal action.

For more information phone 0208 558 7947 or Email:

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April 2002