Tools of the Trade: The History of British Restraints

By Rees A, 24 March 2017

What form of technology is the police? Rees A offers a forensic analysis of the tools of jurisprudence and policing


yu cyaant awsk Clinton McCurbin

bout im haxfixiasham

an yu cyaant awsk Joy Gardner

bout her sufficaeshan

yu cyannt awsk Colin Roach

if im really shoot imself

an yu cyaant awsk Vincent Graham

if a im stab imself

– Linton Kwesi Johnson, ‘Liesense Fi Kill’


This is a history that has to be told in partial memories, fragmented stories, through the remains of broken struggles and broken bodies, in between the lines of public reports. It is not an official history or a victorious history. Maybe the only story there ever is to tell about the police is one of defeat: any other story would be that of their impossibility. This story, then, is another unhappy one made out of many other unhappy ones. It takes place in the gap between lives and the police line and is told with the tools that fill that gap.


Cheiralgia paresthetica is ‘a neuropathy of the hand generally caused by compression or trauma to the superficial branch of the radial nerve.’1 It is commonly referred to as ‘handcuff neuropathy’ due to its usual cause. In more severe cases treatment involves putting the patient under local anaesthetic, cutting through the layers of skin and fat and muscle on your arm or wrist, and decompressing the affected area of nerve. Damage can be permanent. In the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) entry for handcuffs, officers are advised that:


Handcuffs that are not double locked may tighten and cause injury to the detained person's wrist. Handcuffs should be double locked and checked for tightness unless it is clearly impractical to do so. For example, if the detained person is struggling or violent. In these circumstances, steps should be taken to help ensure that the circulation of blood is not restricted and that no unnecessary injury is caused.2


Handcuff neuropathy is one of the more frequent medical problems afflicting those taken into custody. From one point of view it’s the result of the bad application of the cuff: a procedural irregularity that can be done away with through better training. From another, it’s a punishment for resisting arrest, questioning an officer, protesting. What is readable between the lines of the SOP is a counter-indication explaining how to use the tools of the trade to harm and maim. Cheiralgia paresthetica is as much the result of sadism as it is individual incompetence; a sadism that is combined and systemic in the police force. Indeed in an institution that employs tens of thousands of people, and holds responsibility for their level of training, any individual incompetence, multiplied across the force, is itself institutional sadism. A coordinated and predictable accident. hxckid84, suffering from a botched handcuffing and asking for medical advice, described the experience of cheiralgia paresthetica on Yahoo! Answers:


hi all, i was arrested on friday night and handcuffed very tightly. i can't remember much as I was drunk (reason i was arrested). Since then my left arm has been tingling and specifrically the shoulder muscle refuses to work. I have feeling in it but my wrists are very bruised and sore and my shoulder muscle being paralysed is really worrying me. whats the problem? will it be permanent? i canot make it move at all. its no sunday and still no improvement. my whole arm is weak and 'asleep'.3


While role-playing just this arrest scenario with rigid handcuffs, John Franklin – himself a police officer – suffered a similar injury. He was left unable to go back to work and experiencing bouts of depression and anxiety. Ultimately the courts awarded him a payout of £108,137 damages. The damage was done because Franklin was incorrectly treated like any other arrestee on a Friday night. For Franklin as for hxckid84, ‘extreme pain was caused frequently and […] there was no properly defined signal taught them to stop it.’4


The SOP then goes on to remind officers that ‘from time-to-time [sic] handcuffs may become contaminated with blood or other body fluids.’ If the contamination isn’t too bad, officers are advised to put on a set of disposable plastic gloves and clean the cuffs with disinfectant. When contamination is more serious (i.e. blood/spit/piss/shit) officers are advised to dispose of cuffs in the manner they would any other item of clinical waste. There is no mention of where this blood/spit/piss/shit has come from, the arrestee’s body. Its materialisation ‘from time-to-time’ is a matter of good housekeeping for the Met. You want to hit the streets looking your best.



You rarely feel the touch of a police officer’s skin on yours. You feel the glove. You feel the baton. You feel the cuff or the boot. But bare flesh is strictly prohibited. Communication between flesh would be too messy, it must be constantly excised from police work. There must likewise be no easy means of dialogue between officers and their public. Anyone subjected to a police kettle knows the effect of this enforced monologue. Moving from one blocked entrance to the next, always being told you’ll be let out at another time or another place. Anti-fascists demonstrating against the EDL in Tower Hamlets in 2013 experienced an exception to this when they were greeted by police megaphones inside a kettle, and even found cops trying to converse with them one to one. But this was only to inform them that sections 12 and 14 of the Public Order Act (1986) had been imposed, requiring them to do the impossible and leave on pain of arrest. The police only did them this kindness because a requirement when convicting on these grounds is that the arrestee knew at the time that the sections were in effect (they have even been known to hand out leaflets to protesters in order to get their message across). Even then charges were dropped against all but a handful of the 300 arrestees on the day, and many are looking to receive compensation for wrongful arrest in the near future.


Care: Lethal and Less-lethal


Every interaction is mediated by a univocal technological apparatus that dampens and denies the voice of a mass that is its silent – and consequently suspect – object. Those moments where officers do listen (and they are few) are opportunities for intelligence gathering, for gaining evidence to secure a defensible arrest, for reinforcing the idea that they’re not all that bad if you get to know them (but if you get on their wrong side they’ll fuck you up). To facilitate this univocity your relationship with police is always mediated by a more or less complex assemblage of tools for the better management of human resources; guns, best practice, procedural manuals, tazers, the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and the Police Act (1997), pepper spray, the Human Rights Act (1998), Bronze Command, Silver Command, Gold Command, riot shields and helmets, extensive courses of training designed to correct vulnerability out of every aspect of the police officer’s body, the Evidence Gathering Team (EGT) and their camera, the dog and the horse, Police Liaison Officers (PLO), an officer’s notebook. According to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) all these, and even water canon and rubber bullets, are ‘the tools it needs to protect the public and its officers.’ They are not threats to public safety, but its very embodiment.


This is a methodology of care that occupies itself with the minutiae of legal-technical maintenance, set apart from a violent police practice that mechanically redistributes bodies and their fluids by way of a multitude of tools, implements and weapons. In the context of this ever-expanding repertoire of techniques of repression, the easy and uninterrupted circulation of bodies (live or dead) is the very definition of public order. Its first and most absolute codification came with Metropolitan Commissioner McNee’s declaration at a press conference in 1981 that the days of ‘winning by appearance to lose’ when ‘policing a free society’ were over.5 In its place came the confident assertion that ‘if you keep off the streets of London and behave yourself, you won’t have the SPG to worry about.’6 Since then the police have persisted in reminding us that we’ve never stopped living this defeat. Redistributing streets as they see fit.7 But streets, even more than days, are where we live, so where are we meant to go when even their passive occupation is a declaration of war?


The natural and inevitable counterpart to this legal-technical philosophy of policing by corporeal redistribution is the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). At last count all eight of its Senior Investigators and ten out of twenty Deputy Senior Investigators were ex-police.8 They apparently understand ‘the job’ better than any civilian could. Another statistic, tied to the first, is that since the IPCC’s inception in 2004, 827 people have died during or following police contact, and not a single police officer has been convicted in relation to any of these deaths. At the notorious Brixton Police Station, on the death of Sean Rigg following contact with police in 2008, the IPCC’s first priority wasn’t a forensic examination of the body or the custody suite, but writing a press release in collaboration with senior officers.9 Seven years earlier, at the same station, Ricky Bishop suffered unexplained injuries to his face and limbs before being taken to nearby King’s College Hospital where he died. Twelve officers were involved in his detention, yet none of them could explain what happened, where the injuries had come from or when they had occurred. The IPCC could not explain what happened either, and the coroner recorded a verdict of death by ‘misadventure’.


Policing is definitely a contact sport. ‘Contact’ not only includes custody but shootings, assaults, pursuits, and ‘road traffic incidents’ (being run over by a police van or car). This record of non-conviction goes back to a time before the birth of the IPCC — or its predecessor the Police Complaints Authority (1985), or even its ancestor the Police Complaints Board (1977) to 1971 when David Oluwale’s murderers were convicted of assault.10



For Ani DiFranco, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt every tool is a weapon if you hold it right. But every tool is also a weapon if you hold it wrong. A whole host of more or less advanced technology is brought into operation in every death from police contact; handcuffs, shields, guns, press releases, radios, notebooks, batons, helmets, uniforms everywhere. Any history of the use of technology by police must at the same time be a history of its misuse. And any guide to the proper use of equipment is also legible as a guide to its proper misuse. In 1979 Blair Peach found this out. According to the coroner it was probably either a Motorola personal radio (police issue) or something like a rubber tube, filled with ball bearings (non-police issue) that made contact with his skull.11 In searches of Special Patrol Group (SPG) premises at the time, investigators found baseball bats, coshes, sticks, knives and a number of other non-issue items prohibited – even to police officers – as offensive weapons under the Prevention of Crime Act (1953). There is no question that whatever finally killed Peach, it had been used incorrectly, improvised to fit the circumstances.


Police decided there was a risk that Joy Gardner would bite them, so they wrapped thirteen feet of plastic tape around her head and placed her in a ‘body-belt’.12 Nick Cohen reported on this belt’s resemblance to ‘slave manacles.’13 This isn’t a coincidence. Hiatt and Company was founded in Birmingham in 1780 to sell ‘Prisoner Handcuffs to the Trade’.14 Its history ‘is virtually synonymous with the history of British restraints.’15 Hiatt’s history is also synonymous with the history of slavery, selling ‘Nigger collars’ and other such vital tools of the trade to trans-Atlantic slavers. Gardner’s restraints were the direct descendent of these ‘Nigger collars.’ The ‘job’ and the ‘trade’ have a common ancestry. In the late 19th and early 20th century Hiatt were also manufacturing cuffs with ‘M&C’ printed on them – military and colonial – used to secure the dark cells that ensured the British Empire continued to bathe in permanent sunlight. More recently Hiatt were the first British company to introduce the now ubiquitous rigid cuff design with their Quik-Cuffs (1992) and Speedcuffs (1993). Speedcuffs are praised by officers for being more secure, and allowing for the greater manipulation of detainees. They have been responsible for cases of handcuff related injuries across America and Europe. Odds are the cuffs used on hxckid84 and John Franklin were Hiatt Speedcuffs. If you’ve ever been arrested you’ve probably experienced them yourself. Hiatt’s factory finally closed in 2008 and production was moved abroad by Safariland, a US subsidiary of BAE Systems (named with nostalgia for the Safaris its founder took with his father in an Africa still largely subject to colonial rule from Europe). The scale of production in Birmingham was no longer cost-effective given the expansion of the global security market and the centralisation of production under the aegis of BAE Systems. So an old and eminent name in the restraint business was absorbed into a new and more profitable formation of the global security industry.16



These days it’s not only handcuffs that are imported into Britain from overseas by the police service. In Cities Under Siege, Stephen Graham emphasises, after Michel Foucault, that:


the resurgence of explicitly colonial strategies and techniques amongst nation-states such as the US, UK and Israel in the contemporary ‘post-colonial’ period involves not just the deployment of the techniques of the new military urbanism in foreign war-zones but their diffusion and imitation through the securitization of Western urban life.17


This ‘Foucauldian boomerang’ – whereby colonial models are brought back home, inflecting the techniques, apparatuses and institutions of power with a practice that resembles ‘internal colonisation’ – has had a diffuse and lasting effect on every aspect of policing in the UK. The ‘shoot-to-kill’ policies devised to combat suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and Haifa have been adopted by police across Europe and America, ‘a process which led directly to the state killing of Jean Charles de Menezes by London anti-terrorist police on 22 July 2005.’18 Drones are now as much a part of the armoury of the MPS as the CIA. Indefinite detention operates in Belmarsh as well as Guantanamo.


In 1981 Paul Conroy and David Moore discovered that vans were also weapons if you drove them right. Police dispersal tactics during the Toxteth Riots included driving vans through groups of people to get them off the streets. Moore died under a van and Conroy suffered serious injuries. Anti-fascists had first experienced this technique in Leicester in 1979 (three days before the death of Blair Peach). On the narrow Belvoir street, ‘transit vans were driven through the crowds at high speed.’19 This tactic had originally been deployed in the early 1970s with ‘success’ by Northern Ireland’s Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). CS gas used at Toxteth severely injured four more people and was another innovation imported across the Irish Sea from the policeman’s laboratory in Belfast. Tory Party spokesperson for Northern Ireland, John Biggs-Davidson, confirmed this metabolism in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute in 1973, warning ‘if we lose in Belfast we may have to fight in Brixton or Birmingham’ (or, in fact, Leicester or Liverpool).20



In Spring 2013 I was visiting the British Library – a safety deposit box of ‘British’ ‘culture’, impervious to self-reflection just as much as fire – when I saw police officers stopping and talking to two children at its gate. These children were black and on their lunch break from school had gone to the library to smoke a cigarette in the Library’s courtyard. The officers said there had been incidents of bike theft reported in the area and they needed to search them. First the officer ran his hands up and down their body, then he checked in their pockets, then he opened their wallets and looked inside, then he ran his finger round the rim of their trainers, then he opened their bags and checked inside, then he warned them of the dangers of smoking cigarettes underage. Neither child had a bike with him. They were being searched in connection with a bike crime. Lock cutters don't fit in your pockets and they don’t fit in your wallet and they don’t fit in the rim of your shoe. The children did not match any description of anybody seen stealing bikes in the area. That day no bike theft had been reported.21 None of what happened to them was legal and none of what happened to them was surprising. They were in the white space of the British Library and were being warned by the police that trespassing on that white space would mean sacrificing their bodily autonomy, their time, their freedom. I explained to them that the search had probably been illegal and that they could make a complaint, but the length of the search (over 30 minutes) had meant that they were late for afternoon class and they would probably get in trouble again with their teachers at the other end once they made it back through the school gates.


Towards the end of the last parliament, then Home-Secretary (now Prime Minister) Theresa May questioned the use of Stop and Search powers by the Metropolitan and other police authorities, wondering whether it might be inefficient and possibly even racist. While news to the BBC and ITN and the daily newspapers, this was not news to anybody who has seen or experienced stop and search in their daily life. Before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 were the so-called ‘sus’ laws. The laws came out of the Vagrancy Act 1824 and were designed to criminalise the massive numbers of soldiers and sailors discharged after the victorious conclusion to the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. All across Europe reactionary governments were reinstated by the British monarchy, paving the way for unobstructed Empire building over the next century. In Britain, the men who had helped accomplish this feat were being locked away for begging for food on the side of the road. The act declared that,


every suspected person or reputed thief, frequenting any river, canal, or navigable stream, dock, or basin, or any quay, wharf, or warehouse near or adjoining thereto, or any street, highway, or avenue leading thereto, or any place of public resort, or any avenue leading thereto, or any street, or any highway or any place adjacent to a street or highway; with intent to commit an arrestable offence […] shall be deemed a rogue and vagabond.22


If you keep off the streets of London and behave yourself, you won’t have the magistrate to worry about. This law was still being used in Brixton in 1981 when Operation Swamp ’81 saw over 1000 (mostly black) people stopped and searched. This was racial profiling on a mass scale and without any cause beyond a desire to intimidate. Commander Marshall, head of Scotland Yard’s Community Relations department, pointed out in evidence to the 1976 Select Committee on Race Relations:


Recently there has been a growth in the tendency for members of London’s West Indian communities to combine against police by interfering with police officers who are effecting the arrest of a black person […] in the last 12 months, 40 such incidents have been recorded. Each carries a potential for large scale disorder.


This is what happened in Brixton in 1981. People rose up and kicked the police out. On Coldharbour Lane an SPG van was overturned and its windows smashed with bricks. Police officers were hit with bricks and mortar, they were hit by Molotov cocktails and by shouts of abuse. Then the streets were cleared of police, shops were looted and a pub was burnt down. The ‘sus’ law was quickly repealed in 1981 and replaced with other search powers over the 1980s: search powers that are still in use today. With these powers police carried on harassing black people like before, like the change in the law meant nothing, because the change in the law meant nothing.


In Patrick Keiller’s London Robinson remarks that in all his time in the city, he had only ever seen the police stop black men in cars. Try to remember if you’ve ever seen a white person stopped in a car or stopped and searched. In 2013 only one in ten stops led to an arrest; black people were five times as likely to be stopped and searched, Asian people twice as likely; black people are no more likely than white people to be arrested; the Metropolitan Police in London made a third of all these stops. These figures are familiar to everyone and if you don’t know them you can probably guess them. There is nothing particularly exceptional about them: racial disparities appear in every single aspect of the judicial system, from the British State’s hermeneutics of suspicion all the way to its theory of justice.


In June 2013, while driving home two brothers, H and A, were subjected to a ‘hard-stop’ on the Woolwich flyover by the Metropolitan Police Counter-Terrorism Command (SO15). This is the technique that had been used in the murder of Azelle Rodney, and again in the murder of Mark Duggan. During the assault they had their car windows smashed and were repeatedly hit with guns. At no point did police identify themselves. According to A during the attack police racially abused them, ‘I was on the pavement in a pool of blood and they were still hitting me and shouting abuse like “you black terrorist scum”.’ At points H was convinced he was going to die. Neither brother was ever questioned about terrorism offences. A wasn’t even arrested, taken to hospital in handcuffs by officers before being left to take the bus home – past the wreck of the car he had been a passenger in – with blood still caked on his face and caked on the passenger side of the car. They both continue to suffer from the physical and psychological consequences of the attack.23 ‘Robust’ counter-terrorism, developed through a trans-Atlantic consensus on the danger of Muslim subjects, and the decades and centuries of cumulative fear of the politics of black sociability, combined in this attack to produce a hybrid articulation of the policed subject: the ‘black terrorist’.24 An enemy within that can be conveniently transcribed quickly back across to foreignness, whether through the sudden rediscovery that racial difference in Britain never really went away, or with the fabulous prospect of removal of citizenship by the state even for people who have no other nationality (effectively rendering them stateless).25 The reason this diagnosis of the ‘black terrorist’ gained currency so quickly, appeared suddenly legible in the aftermath of the Woolwich attack, is that behind its novelty lies a whole complex of well-used images and tropes that have been drawn and redrawn across black bodies for over half a century. H and A had spent much of their adult lives (and some of their childhood) subject to repeated Stop and Searches, each time the officers identified them according to these racial tropes. The gang member, the gangster, the dealer, the thug, the mugger, the Rasta, the alien.26 The ‘black terrorist’ plays on this repertoire of sedimented racist common sense, persistently activating black criminality as the suture to bind these notions into a single streamline (if contradictory) narrative. After the English riots police quickly arrested all ‘known gang members’, and then told the media that gangs (of black people) were definitely behind the disturbances. Police didn’t need to investigate because they already knew who their enemy was, they didn’t need to pause for breath when verbally abusing H and A because they already knew what to call them.



Tooling up Against the Re-tooled


During the Stockport Messenger strike in 1983, this reorganisation of the techniques and models of policing along colonial lines went hand-in-hand with the transformation of the mode of newspaper production according to the capitalist imperative of an increased rate of exploitation. The Wapping dispute in 1986 is more familiar to most as a site of antagonism between print-workers and newspaper bosses. But Warrington was the first workplace in the period to experience the point at which traditional methods of production and labour organisation within the newspaper industry collapsed in the face of a concerted attempt at recomposition by capital, focused on the undoing of the ‘closed shop.’ Through a strategy of escalation and the implementation of recently enacted trade union laws (the 1980 and 1982 Employment Acts), the owners of the Stockport Messenger broke the power of the previously dominant National Graphical Association (NGA). At the same time the mass pickets organised by the NGA (with attendance often running into the thousands) were dispersed with a tactical force previously unseen in post-war British industrial disputes: on the largest night of protest ‘four thousand pickets were dispersed by police using new […] riot control tactics implemented with unprecedented ferocity.’27 Snatch squads dragged pickets out, brought them to the back of police lines and made them ‘run the gauntlet’, where they ‘were punched and kicked and people came out bloodied [and] limping.’ The most serious police violence was saved for late in the night when officers launched repeated charges against terrified pickets, left


screaming […] running away, falling over […] And as people were running away and falling over, riot police were running up to them and kicking them and hitting them with their batons, even though they were already on the ground.28


These tactics were not a matter of rogue officers' behaviour or miscommunication from command: they resulted directly from the decision to introduce colonial innovations in crowd control into UK policing. In autumn 1981 a meeting of ACPO focused on a discussion of public order that embraced the experiences of the MPS, the RUC, and ‘a detailed outline of colonial policing tactics […] presented by […] the [Hong Kong] Police Director of Operations.’ Tactical options presented at this meeting would come to determine the shape of industrial disputes (such as Warrington) for the rest of the decade. Roy Henry, Hong Kong’s Commissioner of Police, would later remark that arrest and dispersal tactics he witnessed used against strikers were ‘“all very similar” to the methods Hong Kong had taught the police in Britain.’29



Again. Riot shields were first introduced to London in Lewisham and Notting Hill in 1977. The first instance was a community demonstration against the National Front, the second an annual Carnival organised by London’s black population. There are generally two kinds of riot shield in use in the UK: long shields and short shields. Whereas long shields are defensive, short shields allow for baton attacks and are even misused as weapons themselves. Reports from their very earliest use in Notting Hill indicate that police were happy to thrust their hard edges into the faces of carnival-goers. Video footage shows that at the G20 demonstrations in 2008, more than a generation later, short shields were still being used in exactly the same way against climate protesters.30 In Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police one officer explains how he knew when the TSG were planning violent dispersal at a demonstration against the BNP, based on just this adaptation of shield use:


Now I found myself on the other side of the shield […] The only advantage it gave me was that I could see the tactics being used whereas my targets [the protesters] could not. I knew that when the long shields were out, that was fine because all they could do was push. But when the short shields came out you knew that it was trouble. […] With the short shields, you really have to get out of the way. That was the time to run.31


Shields (and the new helmets accompanying them) were tools originally imported wholesale from Northern Ireland and then increasingly distributed across the police service through the 1980s.


It was no surprise when in 2014 – in the midst of a renewed attempt to recompose the working class along still more austere lines and a corresponding fear of black urban socialisation – Boris Johnson and his cheerleaders at ACPO gleefully suggested that water canon would be needed for ‘reducing the ability of protesters to throw large injury-causing missiles (for example large masonry) at police.’ Ultimately their manoeuvres were thwarted by a Home Secretary adamant that she, not the MPs, controls policing decisions regardless of questions of appropriateness or capacity. However the impetus to re-tool carries on unabated across the British policing establishment. Somewhere in Sussex sits a warehouse containing the UK’s ‘National Barrier Asset’, a ‘Bi-Steel re-deployable anti-attack vehicle barrier system’, or massive bomb-proof fence. Its total length is undisclosed but it has grown substantially over the previous decade: it is currently something like 5-10 miles long (of which two miles are deployed right now in Calais alone as defence against the tired, the poor, and the wretched…). One day this country will be one continuous fence.


The official line is that this re-tooling happened and is happening in order to avoid a repeat of the situation at Notting Hill in 1976, and then Brixton in 1981, when police officers were left defending themselves from masonry and bottles using bin lids and traffic cones. Yet this idea of immediate response to public order problems with chance technical innovations begins to look ridiculous when you place in the scales the threat of a few bricks against a mass of shields; helmets; CS gas; armoured vans; body armour; new intricate restraints; advanced forms for record keeping and evidence gathering; new formations and methods of assault; DNA collection and retention; more than a hundred thousand agents of law and order; three decades of defeat and counting.


Re-tooling and re-skilling took time, coming about not through the first grasping response of a shocked political class, but as a result of a structural transformation in policing models. This shift can be dated back to the early 1970s. What it found in 'public order situations' was not a cause but a testing ground.32 This was a period when the fear of new forms of industrial dispute and urban (often black) socialisation became coupled with an increasing exhaustion with old models of social compact. Considered as part of these wider transformations of class struggle, such developments in the apparatus of public order policing begin to appear in their true light. They were (and continue to be) attempts to recompose the distribution of force in the UK.





This piece was originally written around Spring 2014, so in one sense it can be said to be unfortunately out of date. But the everyday push and pull of life under the arbitrary force of the state continues. In that sense it is unfortunately current. Since I first wrote it, I have struggled with rounding it off with any kind of conclusion. To conclude at all, I think, would probably be dishonest towards what I want to say and what needs to be said.


These stories and histories don’t have a conclusion. Many of those convicted for the 2011 riots are now back out of prison. Operation Shield - a pilot project for the collective punishment of ‘gang’ members and their families – has run through Lambeth, Westminster, Haringey; its tools – both administrative and coercive – are now being generalised in Tower Hamlets, Brent, and across London. Working class young people having a water fight in Hyde Park found themselves interpolated as a riot. Notting Hill Carnival has come and gone and come and gone, with the Metropolitan Police Federation announcing this year that they want it abolished entirely or at least heavily curtailed. Former Home Secretary – now Prime Minister – Theresa May curtailed Stop and Search to a degree, but it is still way above the levels of even six or seven years ago, and it still disproportionately targets black people and people of colour. Eight years after Sean Rigg’s murder there is still no justice. On the morning of the anniversary of his death, a man died in the street in South-east London following contact with police. A week before, black ex-footballer Dalian Atkinson died after being tazered by police. A vibrant, local, and well-rooted Black Lives Matter movement has begun to emerge in the UK, ruining people’s holidays with the thought that the bodies of the many murdered by police will not go away, be forgotten, stay buried. Sadiq Khan, the new mayor of London, has sold Boris Johnson’s water cannons and unveiled a new force of 600 kevlar-clad armed motorcyclists ready to bring death to the streets at a moment’s notice.


History and horror continue. Complexes of force move through our streets and our bodies with impunity and the grip of the police does not loosen of its own volition. But in all of this the managers of state show not only the basis of a strategy of re-armament, but also the base of their fear. It’s not the brick that scares them, but the strength of the hand that throws it.33



5 Tony Jefferson, The Case Against Paramilitary Policing, Buckingham : Open University Press, 1990, p.8. This notion of public order policing was formulated by Robert Mark, Met Commissioner between 1972-77.

6 The SPG (Special Patrol Group) was the ultra-violent precursor to today’s Territorial Support Group (TSG)

7  This is what happened after the Brixton riots in 1981, when the police and council, seeing the strategic importance of Railton Road – commonly known as ‘The Front Line’ to rioters – closed it off for more than a year and reconstructed it around a new, more restricted plan that defanged it as a site of effective conflict. This is also the import of the chant ‘Whose streets? Our streets!’ A recognition that we have never known them to be our streets, and the promise of their being held in common is only that.

9 Ken Fero, Who Polices The Police?, Migrant Media, video, 52 minutes, 2012,

11 Cass Report, 1979. Available alongside other documents related to Peach’s death released by the MPS in May 2010,

12 ‘Joy Gardner's family sues police’, February, 1999,

13 Nick Cohen, ‘Why did Joy Gardner die?’, August, 1993,

14 Tom Peterkin, ‘Handcuff shortage with closure of Hiatt & Company’, June 2008,

15 Alex R. Nichols, Handcuffs and other Restraints, Stroud: Kingscourt, 1997.

16 An indication of just how dramatically this industry has grown can be taken from the history of ‘multinational security services company’ G4S, headquartered in Crawley in the south of England. As of 2015 G4S employs over 618,000 people worldwide, as compared to only 53,139 in 2004 when still trading under the name ‘Securicor.’

17 Stephen Graham, Cities Under Siege, London, 2010, p.17.

18 Ibid., p.17.

19 ‘Support the Leicester 87!’ 1979.

20 ‘The Role of the armed forces in peacekeeping in the 1970s’, RUSI Seminar, 4 April 1973.

21 I know this because I subsequently made a Freedom of Information request to the British Library to find out all instances of bicycle crime on their property in the preceding year and the dates did not match up.

24 One of Lee Rigby’s killers, Michael Adebolajo, camera-phone in hand, quickly came to epitomise this. Army 'drummer and machine gunner' Rigby attracted more attention than most British war casualties because he died in Woolwich (South London) rather than Basra or Helmland. See also:

26 Paul Gilroy, ‘Police and Thieves’, in The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 70s Britain.

27 M. Dickinson, To Break a Union: The Messenger, the State and the NGA, Manchester, 1984, p.10.

28 Colin Bourne, quoted in ibid., p.140.

29 G. Northam, ‘A fair degree of force?’, The Listener, 31 October 1985, pp.3-5, p.4.

31 ‘Mr Black’ quoted in Paul Lewis & Rob Evans, Undercover: The True Story of Britains Secret Police, London, 2013.

32 1972 was the year of the flying pickets in the docks and on the building sites, of the miners’ strike at Saltley coke depot. It was also in 1972 that the MPS began a review of its public order policing strategy, that led to a shift of priorities for the SPG from assisting borough forces with ‘high crime’ problems, to an increasingly militarised response to the development of new proletarian tactics in class conflict.

33 I have @piombo on twitter to thank for this observation. ACPO Water Cannon Briefing Document, Jan 2014