This year’s G20 protests in London brought the spotlight on the ‘kettling’ method used to control disorderly crowds. Protestors were ‘kettled’, or contained, for several hours and the tactic is now being reviewed in the wake of controversy. Two alleged incidents of police assault, including one implicated in the death of newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson, overshadowed the overall policing of the protests.
Despite these, police chiefs say there were relatively few arrests and injuries compared to previous summits. Professor Jim Waddington, Director of the University’s History and Governance Research Institute (HAGRI), feels the focus has been on these isolated incidents. He is a strong advocate of using ‘boredom rather than fear’ as a principal weapon for crowd control and was instrumental in the establishment of the kettling technique.
While researching public order policing in London, he trained in all levels from shield carrier to command. He was then able to observe how this was carried out in practice. He witnessed first-hand the police dispersal tactics in action during London's violent poll tax riot in March 1990.
What began as a peaceful gathering in Trafalgar Square, including many children, turned into something sinister when a smaller number who had been causing trouble near Downing Street were moved on to Trafalgar Square. Instead of calming things down, the peaceful protestors dispersed and trouble increased.
"We were were left with a crowd of about 3,000 and most of them were confrontational and violent."
"I know how to handle myself but I don’t mind admitting that I was scared. What was most frightening was that people were serious about doing damage to police officers; their intentions were very clear and there was no doubting the ferocity of the riot"
The result was more than 500 police officers left with injuries. Professor Waddington sent a memo to the Assistant Commissioner responsible for Territorial Operations at Metropolitan Police to outline his concerns.
“I said I thought the decision to disperse the crowd had been counter-productive and it would have been better to have contained the protestors until they calmed down and could disperse under controlled conditions.”
This struck a chord and was a catalyst to the kettling method. Having set the wheels in motion, Professor Waddington became an academic observer to the development of the technique and saw it put into action during May Day protests in 2000.
‘Guerrilla gardeners’ were planning to dig up the centre of Parliament Square. By fortunate coincidence, new turf had been laid which had not taken sufficiently and was due to be removed. Keeping this knowledge to themselves, police did not stop the protestors from digging. It was only when activities spiralled into defacing the Cenotaph that the kettling method was put into action.
Riot officers shut off exits to contain the protestors and after some time negotiations took place. Arrangements were eventually made to allow them to leave at an agreed time through a guarded route.
“This was an example of kettling working. It was all very negotiated and sensible, problems arise when people will not calm down or if it is not carried out proportionally.”
Professor Waddington was a police officer in Birmingham in the 1960s before undertaking research roles. During the 1980s, police using force was a very topical issue; he wanted to carry out research to understand the realities police were faced with.
He joined the University of Wolverhampton in 2006.
" I felt there was an opportunity moving to a university which is committed to delivering work-related degrees."
It has been here that he has achieved one of his ambitions, to set up a BSc in Policing.
“This was an aspiration I’d long held. My view is that whilst we educate to graduate standard for social work, nursing, law, engineering and accounting, police training tends to be foundation degrees or purely theoretical courses. Policing is a very important occupation and needs to be professionalised.”
West Midlands Police have been enthusiastic backers of the venture and are providing third year work placements. Graduates will be able to work for any police force in the country after they graduate. Recruitment for the course, which was launched in September, has exceeded expectations. Plans to achieve 30 students for the second year intake have now been raised to 90, after early targets were exceeded.
“I don’t see why we shouldn’t play a highly significant role in the recruitment of officers,” says Professor Waddington.
“We send young people out in uniform and ask them to undertake hugely demanding tasks, exercising authority in dealing with all manner of social problems and disorder, from neighbourhood quarrels to domestic violence and abuse.”
Professor Waddington believes students will be well-prepared for the realities of life in the force.
“The media portrayal of policing is all action and excitement but it wasn’t and isn’t like that. The ‘Gene Hunt’ stereotype was a far cry from the reality of policing then or now. Most crime is nothing like it’s portrayed on TV or in films.
"Criminals are overwhelmingly rather sad people. The people you will see in a custody suite have no hope and no vision. They may have multiple disadvantages, drug addictions and are often very incompetent. It is very different to what you would imagine.
“Our course equips students for the reality of policing and dispels the myths. We provide students with a realistic and professional view.
“There are some excellent practical aspects of the course but we certainly don’t pull any academic punches. Cross-working with Schools within the University is proving very beneficial. They are able to learn about mental health issues through the School of Health, which is invaluable given that around 80 per cent of those who pass through custody have some form of mental illness.
“The law element of the course involves our students on modules with LLB students from the School of Legal Studies and doesn’t just focus on criminal law. The law is constantly changing, particularly in regard to terrorism and public order.”
These are areas Professor Waddington has much experience of and his expertise is called on nationally and internationally. In the aftermath of the 7/7 London terrorist bombings he was invited by Sir Ian Blair to chair the Metropolitan Police Authority's consultation exercise on 'Policing Terror Together' at Central Hall, Westminster. He was also part of the Goldstone Commission, appointed to investigate political violence and intimidation that occurred between July 1991 and the 1994 general election that ended apartheid in South Africa. The Commission played a critical role in defusing the political violence that erupted. His latest research will examine public perceptions of police through use of video clips, for which the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has awarded a £98,000 grant.
The work should lead to some interesting findings. And it’s certainly less hazardous than some of his earlier projects.
When training as a firearms officer in order to write a book, he was required to abseil down the outside of buildings and climb into windows, despite having no head for heights. His training could not be undertaken by an academic today because of restrictions on civilian use of the types of guns used by police so he feels fortunate to have received the experiences he has.
“I have had a lot of opportunities and unprecedented access. I’ve been very lucky.”