Police’s 2001 May Day kettling was lawful, European court rules

The European Court of Human Rights has found that the police’s use of the controversial kettling tactic at a 2001 demonstration was lawful.

The use of the tactic during a violent May Day demonstration in Oxford Street in May 2001 was taken to Strasbourg by protestor Lois Austin and three other members of the public: George Black, Bronwyn Lowenthal, and Peter O’Shea.

A majority of 14 ECHR judges to 3 backed the House of Lords’ 2009 verdict that kettling was a necessary, proportionate and lawful crowd control measure that had not deprived the applicants of their liberty.

It was the first major use of the coralling tactic, which has been repeated by the Met and other police forces to manage subsequent protests.

Austin was represented by KhanChristian solicitors Louise Christian and Katharine Craig, who instructed Doughty Street Chambers’ Philippa Kaufmann QC and Heather Williams QC.

Black was represented by Liberty legal director James Welch.

Lowenthal and O’Shea were represented by Bindmans partner John Halford, who instructed Matrix Chambers’ Alex Bailin QC and Ben Emmerson QC, and Michael Fordham QC of Blackstone Chambers.

The UK Government was represented by its agent, John Grainger, from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and counsel Christian Papaleontiou, who instructed Lord David Pannick QC and James Segan of Blackstone.

The ruling stated: “The police imposed their cordon to isolate and contain a large crowd in dangerous conditions. This had been the least intrusive and most effective means to protect the public from violence.”

Lawyers for the applicants argued that being held inside a cordon for seven hours without food, water or toilets – even those people not involved in the protest – was a breach of their human rights.