Kettling Zombies

By DeusExMacintosh

It’s really annoying. You go to all the trouble of arranging a Royal Zombie Wedding Celebration and nobody comes…

…because they’re kettled by the police a few blocks away being stopped and searched, questioned, arrested and drug tested.

“Sorry son, you’re positive for formaldehyde. We’ll have to take you in…”

We asked if we could go now. They said they had to still hold us as the way we were dressed indicated that we may disturb the peace. We kept pointing out that we’d just been drinking coffee in Starbucks. They said that this was true but we might go on to meet others and create a disturbance elsewhere. I have since seen footage that a man filming this was, himself, arrested.

I wanted to use my phone to text or call a friend, update the Twitter hashtag on the flashmob, etc., but an officer told me to put it away. I have no idea, looking back, whether that was something they had a right to request or simply a police officer’s personal preference. Either way, from 11:45 we were incommunicado.

I asked what we could do to prove that we were bored now and wanted to leave. The police seemed pleased to know we had changes of clothes and makeup remover with us and said that would count in our favour, but no, we couldn’t go yet. The stop and search process was apparently still going on, despite the fact that they’d finished searching our bags and pockets, and had given each of us our little stop and search forms.

There were five zombies: myself, Amy, Erich, Ludi and a girl we didn’t really get a chance to talk to, who the Guardian article identified as ‘Deborah, 19’. There were five zombies lined up along the Starbucks window and sixteen police officers…

We (four) are looking at our options. If Deborah, 19, wants to get in touch then please do. We were stopped and searched using legislation designed to prevent football hooliganism, and the police used the powers of arrest as an arbitrary method of dispersal. We were released without charge as there was nothing to charge us with – but they were clearly hoping we’d crawl away, chastened and grateful that it was over. However – and I can’t emphasize this enough – we weren’t doing anything illegal. This was police harassment.

This was pretty mild police harassment as it goes and almost every officer we met was perfectly pleasant – but this does not undo the overall shittiness that our right to free assembly was revoked and we were illegally arrested and detained simply because the police didn’t like the look of us.

We are looking into things such as Black and Green Cross, various legal aid, Liberty, maybe even the Twitter joke trial people.

When it comes to battles to fight, I never imagined mine would be the right to dress up like an idiot, but this is the one that’s happened to me and I’m not going to let it slide. Being arrested and detained for nearly four hours is not an expectable, acceptable, or legal consequence of wearing some fake blood.

Metropolitan police: you have messed with the wrong zombies.

Do read the full account – I roared laughing when I got to the bit where you find out that the police arrested a Quaker zombie! Apparently the planned beheading of royals in effigy at the event was considered just too provocative (guess it’ll be a quiet bonfire night this year) and the two anthropologists who were organising the drama part of the frolics had been pre-emptively arrested the previous evening and their guillotine impounded, so they didn’t make it either.

“This will be the arrest that you lot will be most ashamed of… it’ll be the most absurd arrest – ever!”

And the Professor, Chris Knight, was entirely correct… right up until the zombies.

Funny as it is, there’s a serious problem in the UK right now. The Starbucks Zombies were arrested under a Section 60 (of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994) blanket order meant to cover “Incidents involving serious violence” – eating brains yes, stirring lattes, not so much – and even worse was the removal of one suspected anarchist (apparently part of the republican protest rather than one of the undead) by what can only be described as a snatch squad of skin-heads in hoodies who jumped him en masse and dragged him out of Soho Square. They were belatedly identified by uniformed officers as plainclothes police.

You know things are getting bad when the police start giving the BNP a bad name.

As a non-lawyer I’d really like to know what legal justification there is for essentially ‘disappearing’ someone like this unless you seriously think that a threat of actual violence is imminent? Beheading the members of the royal family in effigy on the day of the Royal Wedding I personally consider silly and deliberately provocative. The “Muslims Against Crusades” crowd made their political point and then sensibly cancelled their ‘protest’ once maximum publicity had been achieved. The appropriate response to the mock execution would have been an advisory visit to let them know that even representations of a physical threat would be considered inappropriate when that close to the real event and if they persisted, to arrest them for the breach when they set up the guillotine at the park (sort of a yellow card/red card system). The obvious solution would simply be to obtain a seizure order for the equipment the night before – but presumably that would actually require a case to be justified before a magistrate (though I could be wrong, look at RIPA). Locking up and/or dispersing wannabe attendees of what was essentially an alternative zombie-themed street party based on a dubious interpretation of legislative authority was both far easier and stupidly heavily handed. Complete overkill, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Congratulations Inspector Welsh, PC Plod and company, so you got to spoil someone’s barbeque. The forces of the undead will indeed tremble (and shamble, and groan). Would there have been gay zombies? We’ll never know as the only ones to effectively get through were a pair of Zombie American Moms with strollers and their two little zombie girls.

Sure, the Starbucks Zombies can sue: damages have been won against the British police before where false arrest and false imprisonment were similarly used to short-circuit a protest at the Golden Jubilee celebrations back in 2002. But the point is we still end up in the same place with the police exercising a remarkably consistent “detain first and apologise later” policy. Previously section 44 of the Terrorism Act was the one that used to be invoked to prevent protests — variously against an arms show and visits by the Chinese premier. Human Rights group Liberty finally fought the legislation to a standstill in the courts last year when the stop and search powers were ultimately revoked. Validating an identical practice under a different piece of legislation doesn’t seem to be a great improvement.

I support the police and admire their efforts – it’s a tough job and an unpopular one. I have even had one of the Forward Intelligence Team fellas over for dinner (no, he didn’t bring the video camera… at least that I’m aware of). I can appreciate that maintaining security for the Royal Wedding is important and that after the Trafalgar Square riot by the Black Bloc anarchists police were bound to be geographically sensitive – all the major landmarks involved in the celebrations on Friday actually occur in a surprisingly small area (it’s about the size of the Brisbane CBD). Regular readers will also know that I have zero truck with violence in any form, but I’m just as intransigent when it comes to the historic rights of citizenship which seem to be withering away rapidly in Britain. When an anonymous snatch squad can effectively kidnap someone out from a public park, you know things have gone WAY too far.

That this enforcement practice has been routine for over a decade now shows that the police are either unwilling or incapable of cleaning up their own house. As British citizens (living or undead) we need a constitutional convention that will place the protection of our individual rights of protest, assembly and speech above those involved in group security in any form (whether that’s the police bearing the physical risk in a crowd control situation rather than create another Hillsborough disaster — as came close to happening with a New Year crowd at one of London’s rail terminals this year — or the end to house arrest and individual internment of Muslim terror suspects). If this means a new Bill of Rights or other supplementary legislation, so be it – a sovereign Parliament has its own responsibilities to the people it governs. So does the Sovereign. Having wrested these fundamental rights from the Monarch with the Magna Carta, it would be quite ironic if we need to petition her for help to get them back. Personally, I’m willing to bear a little more personal physical risk as the price to be paid so that:

No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land.

It’s time to resurrect the corpus – habeas corpus that is

UPDATE (Yes, already): You wait for ever for a zombie wedding celebration and then three come along at once. It seems the Starbucks Zombie group are not actually related to the Gay Zombies above and one was in fact a student of one of the Anthropological Zombies arrested the previous evening (to which the other four were not related). Yes there seem to have been at least three distinct Zombie gatherings assembling for a flashmob in Soho Square that day but understandably police were taking no chances on any zombie-on-zombie violence so virtually none of them were allowed through.


  1. kvd
    Posted May 2, 2011 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    As British citizens (living or undead) we need a constitutional convention that will place the protection of our individual rights of protest, assembly and speech above those involved in group security of any form

    Yet another problem to be solved by putting more words on paper DEM? As far as I can tell these people had a right removed: to assemble at a particular time, on a particular day, while a million other citizens were looking elsewhere. They didn’t have their right to pursue redress removed; or to “do their thing” today, or any other time and place of their choosing.

    It seems to me, after a post on democracy, that somewhere in this an individual’s right becomes subject to some sort of qualifier as to potential or real infringement of others’ rights. More words on paper; more regulation forcing policing into a reactive role; more individual freedom; less collective peace and security? To me, the balance is somehow wrong.

  2. Posted May 2, 2011 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    The idea behind constitutional conventions is that they’re unwritten, although they tend (at least in the UK) to regulate the relationship between the Commons, the Lords and the Crown: eg, the Queen will always assent to legislation passed by both houses, the Lords will not block manifesto legislation passed by the Commons, ministers will be accountable to parliament, the Queen appoints as Prime Minister the person able to command the confidence of the Commons, etc.

    I am curious about this overreaction (for that’s what it seems to be); s 60 CJPOA requires ‘reasonable belief’ that serious violent incidents may occur, and the belief needs to be held by an officer above the rank of inspector. That said (spot the lawyer), the legislation is locality based, so in trawling for the Provos and the Islamonutjobs, the Met have succeeded in catching a bunch of people guilty of little more than being in poor taste:

    I’m tempted to contact some people at Oxford pro-bono about this, if the ‘Zombies’ haven’t already started talking to Liberty. It’s a matter within my expertise, but unfortunately I’m just a wee bit preoccupied at the moment…

  3. Posted May 2, 2011 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Yet another problem to be solved by putting more words on paper DEM?

    Words are all I have, kvd.

  4. kvd
    Posted May 2, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Touche DEM.

  5. Posted May 2, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    There would be more problematic costumes. With masks of Royals, doing a bump’n’grind dance could be provocative, (un)dressing in the form of “fashion” once used by the bride could be considered improperly attired in public, while a week ago, zombies attired in 1st century clothing from palestina might have caused a problem. Dressed as soldiers, a phalanx might pose a security risk.

    Someone dressed as Henry VIII (with a couple of headless mannequins in tow) could be tricky in context.

    But… Serious question… One Zombie would have attracted merely a glance and a giggle, two zombies probably a bigger giggle… So, what is the “zombie plague” threshold requiring these heavy-handed actions, when does an individual legal act multiplied by a number of individuals, when not doing things like blocking traffic, become something for action?

  6. Posted May 2, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    England was notorious for mob violence long before modern soccer hooligans. But I suspect the more recent over-sensitivity is a product of a more diverse society, the growth of the notion that ‘there ought to be a law’ is the answer to everything added to trying to media manage a showpiece mass event and risk-averse public officials (the criticism for being too restrictive would be nothing compared to what it would be if the police let things “get out of hand”).

  7. kvd
    Posted May 2, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    I thought ‘pro bono’ meant something like for the public good – not legal services for free. Mr & Mrs Public were either watching the wedding in person, or curled up on a couch at home watching the wedding. Dunno where Sonny was.

  8. Posted May 2, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    ‘pro bono publico’ does indeed = ‘for the public good’. The phrase was coined by Cicero, and came up specifically in the context of counsel taking briefs where the litigant could not afford representation, or could only afford a certain sum (10,000 sesterces is a commonly mentioned figure in sources from Cicero’s period).

  9. Posted May 2, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    I grew up in Queensland so I know that more than three zombies makes it an illegal demonstration. 😉

    My suspicion is that the police saw zombies outside or re-entering Starbucks (a prime anti-capitalist target) and assumed that being “protestors” they were there to trash the place rather than patronise it.

    Reason #147 to NOT buy Starbucks coffee – you’ll get arrested!

  10. Posted May 5, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    dem @ 10

    I suspect differently to you. Remember, they arrested the ringleader (in their terms) the night before. They’d taken a decision about zombies and goulishness. The two women with kids in a stroller were too much trouble but this batch had run away from the intended kettle, and needed to be caught.

  11. Posted May 5, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    There’s a Simon Pegg film in this somewhere… “The Wrong Zombies”!

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *