Sunday, December 12, 2010

On the line for Alfie

ARE the Metropolitan Police slipping?

STUDENTS from the University of Middlesex held a vigil at Charing Cross hospital today for their friend Alfie Meadows, 20, who is undergoing brain surgery after being hit on the head by a police truncheon during the demonstration in London on Thursday.

Forgive the cynicism of my question, but two names come to mind straight away. Kevin Gateley, Warwick University student, killed by a blow to the head in Red Lion Square in 1974, and teacher Blair Peach, similarly killed five years later in Southall.

More recently we saw news vendor Ian Tomlinson die as a result of being knocked to the ground by police during the G20 protests in the City, though he was not even taking part in the demonstration, but trying to make his way home, and that was the City of London police, not the Met.

In none of these cases has any police officer been brought to book for the attack.

Fortunately, Alfie was not killed outright, and hopefully his life will be saved by the surgeons' skills, so we will be spared another martyr.

But it will be no thanks to the Metropolitan Police if he lives.

Alfie's mother, Susan Matthews, has said that when her son was taken to Chelsea and Westminster hospital, police officers objected to him being treated there. Only the intervention of an ambulance worker allowed her son to receive urgent medical treatment for the stroke he suffered after receiving his injury. "If he hadn't, Alfie would have been transferred and he could have died," she said.

"The ambulance man took us to Chelsea and Westminster hospital. That [hospital] had been given over to police injuries and there was a standoff in the corridor. Alfie was obviously a protester and the police didn't want him there, but the ambulance man insisted that he stayed."

She said that he was then asked to take Alfie to another hospital. "The ambulance man was appalled and he said: 'I'm getting angry now, and I'm not going to do this.'

"The senior nurse in charge took us into a resuscitation room to keep us away from the police because, she said, they were finding it upsetting to see protesters in the hospital."

The injury to Alfie, a second-year undergraduate studying Philosophy at Middlesex University, is already the subject of an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Investigators interviewed Alfie at Charing Cross hospital where he was taken for surgery as his condition began to deteriorate. His mother, an English literature lecturer at Roehampton University, said that her son had made a good recovery after a three-hour operation.

"The first thing Alfie said when he woke up was about how many other people had been hurt and how the police had been striking and bashing everyone. Any one of those kids there could have been Alfie. I'm from the generation of Blair Peach and we knew that anyone could die if they were hit. He's amazingly jolly now. I don't know it that is from a sense of having survived or the morphine."

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "The issue is under IPCC investigation."

Alfie Meadows was reportedly beaten over the head as he tried to leave the Parliament Square area where demonstrators were kettled by the police. He collapsed unconscious and bleeding. There are claims that police officers refused to allow another injured and unconsciousness student to be taken out of the 'kettle' for medical treatment.

This reminds me of Wapping, during the printworkers' battle against Rupert Murdoch's News International, when I saw trade unionists hurriedly clear the way for an ambulance, but police refused their pleas to let it through to reach the injured.

“Attacks on police officers and property show that some of the protesters have no respect for London or its citizens,” said Tory Home Secretary Theresa May, shortly after voting for measures that attack the future of so many young people.

In fact, having learned they can get away with killing people, and still expect the support of politicians and press, the Met have more the attitude of an occupying force than of a body respecting and protecting ordinary citizens. Many officers look forward to a good ruck, or more particularly, a good opportunity to cave a few heads in. In circumstances where the decision has been taken from above to crack down on demonstrators, it is the decent copper with democratic ideas and sympathies with the public, who is more likely to feel they are in the wrong job.

For the papers, of course, what counts is property, whether theirs and their class's, or their state's, and the damage to Prince Charles' Roller. Yesterday, the student who made the front page of the Mail was one from a more privileged background who allegedly vandalised the Cenotaph, not the one lying in Charing Cross hospital with head injuries.

Tory prime minister David Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne and London mayor Boris Johnson, are said to have been no strangers to riotous behaviour and damaging property in their younger days, but they were just toffs infused with alcohol, confident that the world belonged to them, and expecting due deference from the police; not young people full of ideals, fighting for their own future and a better world for everyone. Now they expect respect and order, and Cameron dropped the usual line about a "violent minority" and attacked all those who had come to demonstrate.

With tactics like kettling, and what we saw again on Thursday, police on horseback charging into a dense, contained crowd who can't get away, it is clear the aim is not to prevent violence but to create and excel at it. It is a wonder there were not more serious injuries. Many of those taking part in these demonstrations have been youngsters still at school. Police had warned parents before Thursday not to let their kids take part. Was that a warning or a threat? Whatever lesson the state thinks it is teaching, the young people are learning something else.


Alfie was recovering yesterday in hospital, and able to talk to visitors, including his Mum and one of his lecturers from college who was able to report:

'Saw Alfie today for a few hours. He's doing as well as can be hoped for and is very concerned for the other protesters who got hurt on the demo. He is as astute and kind as ever.'

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